by Tara Deliberto
Meditation can actually increase the size of your cortex!
Here is a link to the article I read in the Gazette a couple of years ago.
There are many speculations as to what this increase in structure size has to do with increases in function; however, maybe we can piece some of the easy answers together by thinking about:
1) what functions of the cortex have been already been established
2) with what people self-report meditation helps them
First, the cortex is thought to control "higher-order" functioning, mainly rational thinking and mental control. Although I am not a Freud fan, it might be useful to illustrate the functions of the cortex by commenting that this is the structure where Freud's superego would reside in the brain. Because the cortex can be likened to a muscle in that size is positively correlated with strength/function (unless the increase in size is due to disease etc), we can assume that a bigger cortex means a higher capacity to carry out higher-order functions.
Second, it is very important to note that although SOME people use meditation to reduce stress in the moment, the focus of most serious meditation is NOT to be calm. One of the main focuses of meditation is to heighten awareness and become more in tune with what we are experiencing in the present moment. In this article, they did not use a stress-reduction exercise but one aimed at deep focus. Because thoughts intrusively pop in our minds about anything at all, it is an enormous task of self-control to focus on the immediate surroundings. Perhaps not surprisingly, most people report an increase in self-control as a result of meditation.
With that being said, I'm going to guess that this (very broadly) means meditation can really help increase self-control. If you practice self-control exercises through meditation, the part of your brain devoted to self-control (the cortex) gets bigger.