Neurophysiological Effects of Meditation

Part 3 of 3 Post Series: Neurophysiological Effects of Meditation

Calm Stu


Studies uncovering neurophysiological evidence of the effects of meditation make use of neuroimaging technologies.  Neuroimaging technologies include positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG).  PET scans during a study of Yoga Nidra Meditation showed an increase in activity in the left frontal and limbic brain regions (Lou, 1999).  The left frontal cortex is associated with increased positive emotions, while the limbic brain regions are believed to be correlated with emotional regulation.  Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies showed changes in many brain regions including the amygdala, hypothalamus, and hippocampus, all of which are parts of the limbic system of the brain.  The amygdala is often referred to as the ‘fear center’, the hippocampus is the ‘memory center’ and the hypothalamus is considered the master regulator of emotions.  EEG studies backed up what was found in both PET and fMRI studies.  EEG studies found increased theta and alpha frequencies in the left frontal brain region.  This has been a common finding and has been suggested to reflect an enhanced ability to sustain attention and focus (Cahn and Polich, 2006).  According to other researchers this increased activity of low frequency theta and alpha waves is also positively correlated with increased feelings of happiness and joy (Rubia, 2009).   According to Psychology Today, “Neuroscientists have found that meditators shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex. Brain waves in the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex. This mental shift decreases the negative effects of stress, mild depression and anxiety. There is also less activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear.” (Barber, 2001)

Resources

  1. Barbor, C. (May 01, 2001). The Science of Meditation.  Psychology Today (online periodical). Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200105/the-science-meditation
  2. Cahn, B.R., Polich, J. (2006). Meditation states and traits: EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies. Psychological Bulletin, 132 (2), 180–211.
  3. Lou, H.C., Kjaer, T.W., Friberg, L., Wildschiodtz, G., Holm, S., Nowak, M. (1999). A PET study of meditation and the resting state of normal consciousness. Human Brain Mapping, 7 (2), 98–105.
  4. Rubia, K. (2009). The neurobiology of meditation and its clinical effectiveness in psychiatric disorders. Biological Psychology, 82(1), 1-11.
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Published in: on May 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It’s only when u give detailed Scientific reasons to prove yoga benefits, that people from west start to believe. It is so sad that Now Indians are going the West way n the West is coming towards east. When will we realize the illusion? Thanks for the information. -Vasu

    • I agree. It is unfortunate that experiential evidence lacks validity for many modern yogis. It is one’s personal truth that should weigh in the heaviest.


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