Meditation induces physical relaxation and enhances cognition: A perplexing paradox

Prog Brain Res. 2019;244:85-99. doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2018.10.030. Epub 2019 Jan 3.


Meditation induces physical and mental relaxation. Experimental evidence has also suggested that meditation enhances cognition. The relaxation (physical and mental) and cognitive enhancement are quite opposite tasks. It is quite surprising, how meditation produces these two quasi opposite effects. It is well known that continued practice of sensori-motor and cognitive maneuvering would result in enhanced capacity of attaining physical and mental relaxation through decreased sympathetic excitation. It is further known that meditation results in better attentional regulation. The mechanism for meditation induced enhancement of cognitive function appears to be due to cognitive restructuring, autonomic changes and release of cytokines. Recently, it has been shown that the relaxation results in decreased levels of IL-1 and IL-6. Therefore, reduction of cytokines by practice of meditation could well explain the enhanced cognition. The question remains whether practice of meditation really enhances the cognition over and above the baseline levels through enhance neural plasticity. Future studies might answer such questions. There is a need for a unified hypothesis that could explain two opposing effects of meditation, namely relaxation and cognition enhancement through meditation.

Keywords: Cognition; Drift in attention; Meditation; Non-analytic attending thought wandering; Relaxation; Thought intrusion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Meditation*
  • Relaxation / physiology*