So what exactly is meditation? It is a mental exercise that uses techniques such as breath pacing to raise external or internal awareness with the purposes of relaxing the body and relieving the mind. Some common styles of meditation include yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness meditation. The focus of this article is mindfulness meditation because it has attracted great interest not only in the Western world but also among neuroscientists.
The following provide more detailed description of their findings:
Prefrontal cortex (PFC) is an important area for higher order thinking, processing of complex, abstract information, and metacognition. Results in this area across meditation styles are consistent with the idea that meditation engages, and possibly trains, metacognitive awareness.
Somatomotor cortex is the region that processes somatosensory information and motor information. It has been shown that long-term meditators have higher pain tolerance (which is equivalent to lower pain sensitivity) and they also have less perceived unpleasantness of painful stimuli than non-meditators.
Insula differences involved practitioners with an intensive, explicit focus on interoceptive body awareness, including attention to body posture, respiration, and temperature sensations.
Hippocampus appears to be critical for memory and contextualized emotional learning. This also relates to meditation’s effects on stress reduction. In animal studies, it has been shown that a supportive rearing environment can lead to structural changes in the hippocampus (e.g., increased density of glucocorticoid receptors) that have a protective effect against stress.
Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is crucial for self-control, focused problem-solving, and adaptive behavioral responses. Indeed, these processes are considered goals of the utmost importance in many meditation traditions. Both cross sectional and longitudinal studies show enhanced activation of regions of the ACC in experienced meditators.
Orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is richly connected to primary sensory regions as wellas the limbic system, including the amygdala, striatum, and hypothalamus. Enhanced emotional regulation is consistent with reports on reducing stress and anxiety after meditation.
Mindfulness meditation influences our ability to concentrate, strengthen our emotion regulation skills, and enhance our self-awareness.