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Areas associated with the default mode network (DMN) are substantially similar to those associated with meditation practice. However, no studies on DMN connectivity during resting states have been conducted on meditation practitioners. It was hypothesized that meditators would show heightened functional connectivity in areas of cortical midline activity. Thirty-five meditation practitioners and 33 healthy controls without meditation experience were included in this study. All subjects received 4.68-min resting state functional scanning runs. The posterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex were chosen as seed regions for the DMN map. Meditation practitioners demonstrated greater functional connectivity within the DMN in the medial prefrontal cortex area (x y z = 3 39 −21) than did controls. These results suggest that the long-term practice of meditation may be associated with functional changes in regions related to internalized attention even when meditation is not being practiced.

<p>Previous voxel-based morphometry (VBM) studies have revealed that meditation is associated with structural brain changes in regions underlying cognitive processes that are required for attention or mindfulness during meditation. This VBM study examined brain changes related to the practice of an emotion-oriented meditation: loving-kindness meditation (LKM). A 3 T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner captured images of the brain structures of 25 men, 10 of whom had practiced LKM in the Theravada tradition for at least 5 years. Compared with novices, more gray matter volume was detected in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in LKM experts. The right angular gyrus has not been previously reported to have structural differences associated with meditation, and its specific role in mind and cognitive empathy theory suggests the uniqueness of this finding for LKM practice. These regions are important for affective regulation associated with empathic response, anxiety and mood. At the same time, gray matter volume in the left temporal lobe in the LKM experts appeared to be greater, an observation that has also been reported in previous MRI meditation studies on meditation styles other than LKM. Overall, the findings of our study suggest that experience in LKM may influence brain structures associated with affective regulation.</p>

Human experiences can be broadly divided into those that are external and related to interaction with the environment, and experiences that are internal and self-related. The cerebral cortex appears to be divided into two corresponding systems: an “extrinsic” system composed of brain areas that respond more to external stimuli and tasks and an “intrinsic” system composed of brain areas that respond less to external stimuli and tasks. These two broad brain systems seem to compete with each other, such that their activity levels over time is usually anti-correlated, even when subjects are “at rest” and not performing any task. This study used meditation as an experimental manipulation to test whether this competition (anti-correlation) can be modulated by cognitive strategy. Participants either fixated without meditation (fixation), or engaged in non-dual awareness (NDA) or focused attention (FA) meditations. We computed inter-area correlations (“functional connectivity”) between pairs of brain regions within each system, and between the entire extrinsic and intrinsic systems. Anti-correlation between extrinsic vs. intrinsic systems was stronger during FA meditation and weaker during NDA meditation in comparison to fixation (without mediation). However, correlation between areas within each system did not change across conditions. These results suggest that the anti-correlation found between extrinsic and intrinsic systems is not an immutable property of brain organization and that practicing different forms of meditation can modulate this gross functional organization in profoundly different ways.

The capacity to focus one's attention for an extended period of time can be increased through training in contemplative practices. However, the cognitive processes engaged during meditation that support trait changes in cognition are not well characterized. We conducted a longitudinal wait-list controlled study of intensive meditation training. Retreat participants practiced focused attention (FA) meditation techniques for three months during an initial retreat. Wait-list participants later undertook formally identical training during a second retreat. Dense-array scalp-recorded electroencephalogram (EEG) data were collected during 6 min of mindfulness of breathing meditation at three assessment points during each retreat. Second-order blind source separation, along with a novel semi-automatic artifact removal tool (SMART), was used for data preprocessing. We observed replicable reductions in meditative state-related beta-band power bilaterally over anteriocentral and posterior scalp regions. In addition, individual alpha frequency (IAF) decreased across both retreats and in direct relation to the amount of meditative practice. These findings provide evidence for replicable longitudinal changes in brain oscillatory activity during meditation and increase our understanding of the cortical processes engaged during meditation that may support long-term improvements in cognition.

Mindfulness meditators practice the non-judgmental observation of the ongoing stream of internal experiences as they arise. Using voxel-based morphometry, this study investigated MRI brain images of 20 mindfulness (Vipassana) meditators (mean practice 8.6 years; 2 h daily) and compared the regional gray matter concentration to that of non-meditators matched for sex, age, education and handedness. Meditators were predicted to show greater gray matter concentration in regions that are typically activated during meditation. Results confirmed greater gray matter concentration for meditators in the right anterior insula, which is involved in interoceptive awareness. This group difference presumably reflects the training of bodily awareness during mindfulness meditation. Furthermore, meditators had greater gray matter concentration in the left inferior temporal gyrus and right hippocampus. Both regions have previously been found to be involved in meditation. The mean value of gray matter concentration in the left inferior temporal gyrus was predictable by the amount of meditation training, corroborating the assumption of a causal impact of meditation training on gray matter concentration in this region. Results suggest that meditation practice is associated with structural differences in regions that are typically activated during meditation and in regions that are relevant for the task of meditation.

<p>Buddhists have enjoyed the benefits of meditation for millennia. Here, renowned Buddhist teacher Yongey Mingyur invites us to join him in unlocking the secrets behind this practice. Working with neuroscientists at the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, Yongey Mingyur provides insights into modern research indicating that systematic training in meditation can enhance activity in areas of the brain associated with happiness and compassion. He has also worked with physicists across the country to develop a scientifically based interpretation of the Buddhist understanding of the nature of reality. Yongey Mingyur weaves together the principles of Tibetan Buddhism, neuroscience, and quantum physics in a way that will change the way we understand the human experience. Using the basic meditation practices he provides, we can discover paths through everyday problems, transforming obstacles into opportunities to recognize the unlimited potential of our own minds.--From publisher description.</p>

Practitioners understand "meditation," or mental training, to be a process of familiarization with one's own mental life leading to long-lasting changes in cognition and emotion. Little is known about this process and its impact on the brain. Here we find that long-term Buddhist practitioners self-induce sustained electroencephalographic high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations and phase-synchrony during meditation. These electroencephalogram patterns differ from those of controls, in particular over lateral frontoparietal electrodes. In addition, the ratio of gamma-band activity (25-42 Hz) to slow oscillatory activity (4-13 Hz) is initially higher in the resting baseline before meditation for the practitioners than the controls over medial frontoparietal electrodes. This difference increases sharply during meditation over most of the scalp electrodes and remains higher than the initial baseline in the postmeditation baseline. These data suggest that mental training involves temporal integrative mechanisms and may induce short-term and long-term neural changes.

<p>Today a brain scan reveals our thoughts and moods as clearly as an x-ray reveals our bones. We can actaully observe a person's brain registering a joke or experiencing a painful memory. In 'Mapping the Mind', award-winning journalist Rita Carter draws on the latest imaging technology and science to chart how human behavior and personality reflect the biological mechanisms behind thought and emotion. This acclaimed book, a compelling visual guide to the coconut-sized, wrinkled gray mass we carry around inside our heads, has now been completely revised and updated throughout. Among many other topics, Carter explores obsessions and addictions, the differences between men's and women's brains, and memory.</p>
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Using diffusion tensor imaging, several recent studies have shown that training results in changes in white matter efficiency as measured by fractional anisotropy (FA). In our work, we found that a form of mindfulness meditation, integrative body–mind training (IBMT), improved FA in areas surrounding the anterior cingulate cortex after 4-wk training more than controls given relaxation training. Reductions in radial diffusivity (RD) have been interpreted as improved myelin but reductions in axial diffusivity (AD) involve other mechanisms, such as axonal density. We now report that after 4-wk training with IBMT, both RD and AD decrease accompanied by increased FA, indicating improved efficiency of white matter involves increased myelin as well as other axonal changes. However, 2-wk IBMT reduced AD, but not RD or FA, and improved moods. Our results demonstrate the time-course of white matter neuroplasticity in short-term meditation. This dynamic pattern of white matter change involving the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain network related to self-regulation, could provide a means for intervention to improve or prevent mental disorders.

Many philosophical and contemplative traditions teach that “living in the moment” increases happiness. However, the default mode of humans appears to be that of mind-wandering, which correlates with unhappiness, and with activation in a network of brain areas associated with self-referential processing. We investigated brain activity in experienced meditators and matched meditation-naive controls as they performed several different meditations (Concentration, Loving-Kindness, Choiceless Awareness). We found that the main nodes of the default-mode network (medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices) were relatively deactivated in experienced meditators across all meditation types. Furthermore, functional connectivity analysis revealed stronger coupling in experienced meditators between the posterior cingulate, dorsal anterior cingulate, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices (regions previously implicated in self-monitoring and cognitive control), both at baseline and during meditation. Our findings demonstrate differences in the default-mode network that are consistent with decreased mind-wandering. As such, these provide a unique understanding of possible neural mechanisms of meditation.

The aim of mindfulness meditation is to develop present-focused, non-judgmental, attention. Therefore, experience in meditation should be associated with less anticipation and negative appraisal of pain. In this study we compared a group of individuals with meditation experience to a control group to test whether any differences in the affective appraisal of pain could be explained by lower anticipatory neural processing. Anticipatory and pain-evoked ERPs and reported pain unpleasantness were recorded in response to laser stimuli of matched subjective intensity between the two groups. ERP data were analysed after source estimation with LORETA. No group effects were found on the laser energies used to induce pain. More experienced meditators perceived the pain as less unpleasant relative to controls, with meditation experience correlating inversely with unpleasantness ratings. ERP source data for anticipation showed that in meditators, lower activity in midcingulate cortex relative to controls was related to the lower unpleasantness ratings, and was predicted by lifetime meditation experience. Meditators also reversed the normal positive correlation between medial prefrontal cortical activity and pain unpleasantness during anticipation. Meditation was also associated with lower activity in S2 and insula during the pain-evoked response, although the experiment could not disambiguate this activity from the preceding anticipation response. Our data is consistent with the hypothesis that meditation reduces the anticipation and negative appraisal of pain, but effects on pain-evoked activity are less clear and may originate from preceding anticipatory activity. Further work is required to directly test the causal relationship between meditation, pain anticipation, and pain experience.

Previous studies have documented the positive effects of mindfulness meditation on executive control. What has been lacking, however, is an understanding of the mechanism underlying this effect. Some theorists have described mindfulness as embodying two facets—present moment awareness and emotional acceptance. Here, we examine how the effect of meditation practice on executive control manifests in the brain, suggesting that emotional acceptance and performance monitoring play important roles. We investigated the effect of meditation practice on executive control and measured the neural correlates of performance monitoring, specifically, the error-related negativity (ERN), a neurophysiological response that occurs within 100 ms of error commission. Meditators and controls completed a Stroop task, during which we recorded ERN amplitudes with electroencephalography. Meditators showed greater executive control (i.e. fewer errors), a higher ERN and more emotional acceptance than controls. Finally, mediation pathway models further revealed that meditation practice relates to greater executive control and that this effect can be accounted for by heightened emotional acceptance, and to a lesser extent, increased brain-based performance monitoring.

<p>Meditation practice alters intrinsic resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) in the default mode network (DMN). However, little is known regarding the effects of meditation on other resting-state networks. The aim of current study was to investigate the effects of meditation experience and meditation-state functional connectivity (msFC) on multiple resting-state networks (RSNs). Meditation practitioners (MPs) performed two 5-minute scans, one during rest, one while meditating. A meditation naïve control group (CG) underwent one resting-state scan. Exploratory regression analyses of the relations between years of meditation practice and rsFC and msFC were conducted. During resting-state, MP as compared to CG exhibited greater rsFC within the Dorsal Attention Network (DAN). Among MP, meditation, as compared to rest, strengthened FC between the DAN and DMN and Salience network whereas it decreased FC between the DAN, dorsal medial PFC, and insula. Regression analyses revealed positive correlations between the number of years of meditation experience and msFC between DAN, thalamus, and anterior parietal sulcus, whereas negative correlations between DAN, lateral and superior parietal, and insula. These findings suggest that the practice of meditation strengthens FC within the DAN as well as strengthens the coupling between distributed networks that are involved in attention, self-referential processes, and affective response.</p>

Meditation is a mental training, which involves attention and the ability to maintain focus on a particular object. In this study we have applied a specific attentional task to simply measure the performance of the participants with different levels of meditation experience, rather than evaluating meditation practice per se or task performance during meditation. Our objective was to evaluate the performance of regular meditators and non-meditators during an fMRI adapted Stroop Word-Colour Task (SWCT), which requires attention and impulse control, using a block design paradigm. We selected 20 right-handed regular meditators and 19 non-meditators matched for age, years of education and gender. Participants had to choose the colour (red, blue or green) of single words presented visually in three conditions: congruent, neutral and incongruent. Non-meditators showed greater activity than meditators in the right medial frontal, middle temporal, precentral and postcentral gyri and the lentiform nucleus during the incongruent conditions. No regions were more activated in meditators relative to non-meditators in the same comparison. Non-meditators showed an increased pattern of brain activation relative to regular meditators under the same behavioural performance level. This suggests that meditation training improves efficiency, possibly via improved sustained attention and impulse control.

A three-stimulus auditory oddball series was presented to experienced Vipassana meditators during meditation and a control thought period to elicit event-related brain potentials (ERPs) in the two different mental states. The stimuli consisted of a frequent standard tone (500 Hz), an infrequent oddball tone (1000 Hz), and an infrequent distracter (white noise), with all stimuli passively presented through headphones and no task imposed. The strongest meditation compared to control state effects occurred for the distracter stimuli: N1 amplitude from the distracter was reduced frontally during meditation; P2 amplitude from both the distracter and oddball stimuli were somewhat reduced during meditation; P3a amplitude from the distracter was reduced during meditation. The meditation-induced reduction in P3a amplitude was strongest in participants reporting more hours of daily meditation practice and was not evident in participants reporting drowsiness during their experimental meditative session. The findings suggest that meditation state can decrease the amplitude of neurophysiologic processes that subserve attentional engagement elicited by unexpected and distracting stimuli. Consistent with the aim of Vipassana meditation to reduce cognitive and emotional reactivity, the state effect of reduced P3a amplitude to distracting stimuli reflects decreased automated reactivity and evaluative processing of task irrelevant attention-demanding stimuli.


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