Luders and her colleagues (PDF here) have examined 44 people — 22 control subjects and 22 who had practiced various forms of meditation, including Zazen, Samatha and Vipassana, among others. The amount of time they had practiced ranged from five to 46 years, with an average of 24 years. More than half of all the meditators said that deep concentration was an essential part of their practice, and most meditated between 10 and 90 minutes every day. The MRI measurements found significantly larger cerebral measurements in meditators compared with controls: larger volumes of the right hippocampus and increased gray matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex, the right thalamus and the left inferior temporal lobe. Increases in the left and right anterior dorsal insula - which is a hub for internal autonomic, affective, and cognitive integration - were most pronounced. There were no regions where controls had significantly larger volumes or more gray matter than meditators. The enlarged brain areas are linked to emotions, making one wonder whether this reflects the increased 'emotional muscles' of meditators,i.e. their ability to regulate their emotions.
Cortical Surface Shown is the lateral view of the right cortical surface. The red circle indicates where the maximum effect occurred. Top: Larger gyrification in 50 long-term meditators compared to 50 well-matched controls. Bottom: Positive correlations between gyrification and the number of meditation years within the 50 meditators. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of California - Los Angeles)