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Buddhist meditation practices have become a topic of widespread interest in both science and medicine. Traditional Buddhist formulations describe meditation as a state of relaxed alertness that must guard against both excessive hyperarousal (restlessness) and excessive hypoarousal (drowsiness, sleep). Modern applications of meditation have emphasized the hypoarousing and relaxing effects without as much emphasis on the arousing or alertness-promoting effects. In an attempt to counterbalance the plethora of data demonstrating the relaxing and hypoarousing effects of Buddhist meditation, this interdisciplinary review aims to provide evidence of meditation’s arousing or wake-promoting effects by drawing both from Buddhist textual sources and from scientific studies, including subjective, behavioral, and neuroimaging studies during wakefulness, meditation, and sleep. Factors that may influence whether meditation increases or decreases arousal are discussed, with particular emphasis on dose, expertise, and contemplative trajectory. The course of meditative progress suggests a nonlinear multiphasic trajectory such that early phases that are more effortful may produce more fatigue and sleep propensity, while later stages produce greater wakefulness as a result of neuroplastic changes and more efficient processing.

Humans suffer heavily from substance use disorders and other addictions. Despite much effort that has been put into understanding the mechanisms of the addictive process, treatment strategies have remained suboptimal over the past several decades. Mindfulness training, which is based on ancient Buddhist models of human suffering, has recently shown preliminary efficacy in treating addictions. These early models show remarkable similarity to current models of the addictive process, especially in their overlap with operant conditioning (positive and negative reinforcement). Further, they may provide explanatory power for the mechanisms of mindfulness training, including its effects on core addictive elements, such as craving, and the underlying neurobiological processes that may be active therein. In this review, using smoking as an example, we will highlight similarities between ancient and modern views of the addictive process, review studies of mindfulness training for addictions and their effects on craving and other components of this process, and discuss recent neuroimaging findings that may inform our understanding of the neural mechanisms of mindfulness training.

BackgroundWhile mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) employ two distinct practices, focused attention (FA) and open monitoring (OM), the integrated delivery of these practices in MBIs precludes understanding of their practice-specific effects or mechanisms of action. The purpose of this study is to isolate hypothesized active ingredients and practice-specific mechanistic target engagement by creating structurally equivalent interventions that differ only by the active ingredient (meditation practice) offered and to test whether the hypothesized components differentially engage the mechanistic targets that they are purported to engage. Methods Participants were intended to be representative of American meditators and had mild to severe affective disturbances. Measures of structural equivalence included participant-level (sample characteristics), treatment-level (program structure and duration, program materials, class size, attendance, homework compliance, etc.), and instructor-level variables (training, ratings and adherence/fidelity). Measures of differential validity included analysis of program materials and verification of differential mechanistic target engagement (cognitive and affective skills and beliefs about meditation acquired by participants after the 8-week training). Results The results indicate successful creation of structurally equivalent FA and OM programs that were matched on participant-level, treatment-level, and instructor-level variables. The interventions also differed as expected with respect to program materials as well as mechanistic targets engaged (skills and beliefs acquired). Conclusions These validated 8-week FA and OM training programs can be applied in future research to assess practice-specific effects of meditation.