The neurobiology of mindfulness (review)

Zeidan, F. (2014). The Neurobiology of Mindfulness Meditation. In The Handbook of Mindfulness. New York: Guilford Press. In press. Full text.

From the Introduction. For thousands of years, contemplatives have reported that enhancements in sensory awareness, cognition, and health can be accomplished through meditation practice. Before the development and utilization of neuroimaging and other scientific methodologies, the scientific world cast these descriptions as reflections of a relaxation response at best, and report biases associated with practitioner zeal at worst.

The recent surge in number of mindfulness-based studies has supported the claim that mindfulness meditation can improve a range of mental and physical health outcomes, and neuroimaging studies are beginning to identify the brain mechanisms that mediate the relationships between mindfulness meditation and such outcomes.

Although the neuroscientific investigation of mindfulness meditation is in its infancy, the premise of this chapter is that mindfulness meditation engages a unique, distributed network of brain regions. This chapter builds on previous neuroscientific work by offering a complementary perspective that focuses on a temporal account of the neurobiology of mindfulness, which considers the neurobiological basis of how mindfulness engages the brain over time. I first provide a brief overview describing some key neuroimaging methodologies used in research.

In the sections to follow, I provide a descriptive account of the neurobiological correlates of dispositional mindfulness, brief meditation training (1 week or less), the mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) program (approximately 8 weeks), and finally expert meditators (more than 1,000 hours of practice).

The subsequent section, concerning mindfulness and the default mode network, briefly describes how different levels of mindfulness-related experience affect task- independent neural processing. I then provide a longitudinal perspective of the brain structural correlates associated with different levels of mindfulness. Finally, I discuss considerations for future mindfulnessbased and other contemplative practice research.

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