Meditation and the brain - Neuronal correlates of mindfulness as assessed with near-infrared spectroscopy

Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging. 2018 Jan 30;271:24-33. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2017.04.002. Epub 2017 Apr 8.


Mindfulness meditation as a therapeutic intervention has been shown to have positive effects on psychological problems such as depression, pain or anxiety disorders. In this study, we used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to detect differences in hemodynamic responses of meditation experts (14 participants) and a control group (16 participants) in a resting and a mindfulness condition. In both conditions, the sound of a meditation bowl was used to find group differences in the auditory system and adjacent cortical areas. Different lateralization patterns of the brain were found in expert meditators while being in a resting state (amplified left hemisphere) or being in mindfulness state (amplified right hemisphere). Compared to the control group, meditation experts had a more widespread pattern of activation in the auditory cortex, while resting. In the mindfulness condition, the control group showed a decrease of activation in higher auditory areas (BA 1, 6 and 40), whereas the meditation experts had a significant increase in those areas. In addition, meditation expert had highly activated brain areas (BA 39, 40, 44 and 45) beyond the meditative task itself, indicating possible long-term changes in the brain and their positive effects on empathy, meta cognitive skills and health.

Keywords: Auditory cortex; DMN; KIMS-D; Meditation; Mindfulness; Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS).