I’ve written often before about the many physical, mental and emotional benefits of meditation (see list of previous posts below), so it’s of great interest that another research study has added to the mountain of evidence.
The latest, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that being able to focus on the present moment triggers specific brain activity that can impact on health and well-being.
“Many philosophical and contemplative traditions teach that ‘living in the moment’ increases happiness,” the investigators concluded. “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.”
They studied brain activity in experienced meditators who engaged in different forms of meditation (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,” they stated. “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 research generated quite a bit of online interest, including a report on a CNN Health blog.
“The study does not address the issue of cause: Is meditation changing the brain, or do people who already have these brain patterns get interested in meditation?
‘Emerging data from our group and others suggests that some things thought to be result of meditation might be cause of meditation,’ said Dr. Charles Raison, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
If some people are just better at keeping their minds from wandering, that would also be consistent with the Buddhist idea that your capabilities are the result of your Karmic path, so meditation may be better suited to some people than others, Raison said.
Someday, if brain scans become cheap enough, one day there might be a test to see who can benefit most from mindfulness training, Raison said.
In the meantime, scientists should explore these open questions by doing longitudinal studies, Raison said. That would involve assigning some people to meditate and some people to not meditate, and following the groups over time to see whether a change in brain activity patterns is visible.”
SOURCE: Published online before print November 23, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1112029108 PNAS November 23, 2011 abstract online
Previous TCJ/WCA Health Update posts on meditation include: