Extensive practice involving sustained attention can lead to changes in brain structure. Here, we report evidence of structural differences in the lower brainstem of participants engaged in the long-term practice of meditation. Using magnetic resonance imaging, we observed higher gray matter density in lower brain stem regions of experienced meditators compared with age-matched nonmeditators. Our findings show that long-term practitioners of meditation have structural differences in brainstem regions concerned with cardiorespiratory control. This could account for some of the cardiorespiratory parasympathetic effects and traits, as well as the cognitive, emotional, and immunoreactive impact reported in several studies of different meditation practices.
aCenter for Functionally Integrative Neuroscience
bInstitute of Anatomy
cInstitute of Anthropology, Archaeology and Linguistics, Aarhus University
dVaekstcenteret, Nr. Snede, Denmark
Correspondence to Associate Professor Peter Vestergaard-Poulsen, PhD, Center for Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, Aarhus University Hospital, Norrebrogade 44, Aarhus DK-8000, Denmark
Tel: +45 8949 4407; fax: +45 8949 6000; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Received 14 October 2008; accepted 30 October 2008