How Brains Benefit from Meditation
Reported November 23, 2011
(Ivanhoe Newswire) – Advanced meditators appear to be able to switch off
areas of the brain associated with daydreaming, autism and schizophrenia,
according to this study conducted by Yale researchers.
Meditation's ability to help people stay focused on the moment has been
associated with increased happiness levels, Judson A. Brewer, assistant
professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study, was quoted as saying.
Understanding how meditation works will aid investigation into a host of
diseases, he said.
"Meditation has been shown to help in variety of health problems, such as
helping people quit smoking, cope with cancer, and even prevent psoriasis,"
The Yale team conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging scans on both
experienced and novice meditators as they practiced three different
They found that experienced meditators had decreased activity in areas of
the brain called the default mode network, which has been implicated in
lapses of attention and disorders such as anxiety, attention deficit and
hyperactivity disorder, and even the buildup of beta amyloid plaques in
Alzheimer's disease. The decrease in activity in this network, consisting of
the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortex, was seen in
experienced meditators regardless of the type of meditation they were doing.
The scans also showed that when the default mode network was active, brain
regions associated with self-monitoring and cognitive control were
co-activated in experienced meditators but not novices. This may indicate
that meditators are constantly monitoring and suppressing the emergence of
"me" thoughts, or mind-wandering. In pathological forms, these states are
associated with diseases such as autism and schizophrenia.
The meditators did this both during meditation, and also when just resting —
not being told to do anything in particular. This may indicate that
meditators have developed a "new" default mode in which there is more
present-centered awareness, and less "self"-centered, say the researchers.
"Meditation's ability to help people stay in the moment has been part of
philosophical and contemplative practices for thousands of years," Brewer
explained. "Conversely, the hallmarks of many forms of mental illness is a
preoccupation with one's own thoughts, a condition meditation seems to
affect. This gives us some nice cues as to the neural mechanisms of how it
might be working clinically."
SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online
November 21, 2011