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Long-term meditation is associated with increased gray matter density in the brain stem

Vestergaard-Poulsen, Petera; van Beek, Martijnc; Skewes, Joshuaa c; Bjarkam, Carsten R.b; Stubberup, Michaeld; Bertelsen, Jesd; Roepstorff, Andreasa c

doi: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e328320012a

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:

Received 14 October 2008; accepted 30 October 2008

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.