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.

The influence of noting and labeling practices in neural processing

Vago, D. R. (2013). Mapping modalities of self‐awareness in mindfulness practice: a potential mechanism for clarifying habits of mind. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Abstract.

To better understand the neurobiological mechanisms by which mindfulness-based practices function in a psychotherapeutic context, this article details the definition, techniques, and purposes ascribed to mindfulness training as described by its Buddhist tradition of origin and by contemporary neurocognitive models. Included is theory of how maladaptive mental processes become habitual and automatic, both from the Buddhist and Western psychological perspective.

Specific noting and labeling techniques in open monitoring meditation, described in the Theravada and Western contemporary traditions, are highlighted as providing unique access to multiple modalities of awareness. Potential explicit and implicit mechanisms are discussed by which such techniques can contribute to transforming maladaptive habits of mind and perceptual and cognitive biases, improving efficiency, facilitating integration, and providing the flexibility to switch between systems of self-processing. Finally, a model is provided to describe the timing by which noting and labeling practices have the potential to influence different stages of low- and high-level neural processing.

Hypotheses are proposed concerning both levels of processing in relation to the extent of practice. Implications for the nature of subjective experience and self-processing as it relates to one’s habits of mind, behavior, and relation to the external world, are also described.