Brain-Heart Interactions Underlying Traditional Tibetan Buddhist Meditation

Cereb Cortex. 2020 Mar 21;30(2):439-450. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhz095.


Despite accumulating evidence suggesting improvement in one's well-being as a result of meditation, little is known about if or how the brain and the periphery interact to produce these behavioral and mental changes. We hypothesize that meditation reflects changes in the neural representations of visceral activity, such as cardiac behavior, and investigated the integration of neural and visceral systems and the spontaneous whole brain spatiotemporal dynamics underlying traditional Tibetan Buddhist meditation. In a large cohort of long-term Tibetan Buddhist monk meditation practitioners, we found distinct transient modulations of the neural response to heartbeats in the default mode network (DMN), along with large-scale network reconfigurations in the gamma and theta bands of electroencephalography (EEG) activity induced by meditation. Additionally, temporal-frontal network connectivity in the EEG theta band was negatively correlated with the duration of meditation experience, and gamma oscillations were uniquely, directionally coupled to theta oscillations during meditation. Overall, these data suggest that the neural representation of cardiac activity in the DMN and large-scale spatiotemporal network integrations underlie the fundamental neural mechanism of meditation and further imply that meditation may utilize cortical plasticity, inducing both immediate and long-lasting changes in the intrinsic organization and activity of brain networks.

Keywords: ECG; EEG; consciousness; default mode network; meditation; neurovisceral integration.