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 Functional brain mapping of the relaxation response and meditation

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PostSubject: Functional brain mapping of the relaxation response and meditation   Tue Sep 15, 2015 7:43 pm

Meditation (observing the breath and passively ignoring
everyday thoughts) is one technique that induces a set of
integrated physiological changes termed the relaxation
response and is effective as a complementary treatment for
many diseases [1±5]. Despite the successful use of relaxation
response-based treatments, few studies have addressed
the neurobiological underpinnings of meditation.

The practice of meditation induces a hypometabolic state
characterized by decreases in many physiological measures
[6±8] as well as by changes in EEG pattern [7±9]. These
EEG changes are different from those associated with sleep
[6±10], and suggest that while subjects are deeply relaxed
and have decreased peripheral activity, they are engaged
in an active mental state requiring intense neural activity.
This is in agreement with subjective reports of experienced
meditators [11,12].

Functional neuroimaging techniques offer an opportunity
to observe changes in regional brain activity and blood
¯ow during meditation. A recent PET study comparing
four different forms of meditation found that the inferior
frontal, fusiform, occipital and postcentral gyri all had
increased activity during a pooled average of meditative
states relative to a control condition [13]. Other studies
have reported increases in cerebral blood ¯ow to frontal
cortex during transcendental and yoga meditation practice
[14,15], in accordance with reports of increased frontal
alpha activity seen with EEG [6,7].

In this study we sought to apply the powerful imaging
capabilities of high ®eld strength fMRI to identify foci of
activity that are modulated by a very simple form of
meditation. Concomitant measures of cardiorespiratory
activity were also recorded in two subjects to determine
whether changes in these measures could potentially in¯uence
the fMRI data. We hypothesized that neural structures
that have a role in attention and arousal would be
activated during meditation (which requires focusing attention
on breathing and repeating a particular phrase),
and that the fully developed relaxation response would
differ from the early (induction) stage of meditation.
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