Neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations

Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological medicine, 40(08), 1239-1252. Full text.

From the Abstract. Mindfulness meditation (MM) practices constitute an important group of meditative practices that have received growing attention. The aim of the present paper was to systematically review current evidence on the neurobiological changes and clinical benefits related to MM practice in psychiatric disorders, in physical illnesses and in healthy subjects.

Electroencephalographic (EEG) studies have revealed a significant increase in alpha and theta activity during meditation. Neuroimaging studies showed that MM practice activates the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and that long-term meditation practice is associated with an enhancement of cerebral areas related to attention.

From a clinical viewpoint, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has shown efficacy for many psychiatric and physical conditions and also for healthy subjects, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is mainly efficacious in reducing relapses of depression in patients with three or more episodes, Zen meditation significantly reduces blood pressure and Vipassana meditation shows efficacy in reducing alcohol and substance abuse in prisoners. However, given the low-quality designs of current studies it is difficult to establish whether clinical outcomes are due to specific or non-specific effects of MM.

Improves self-control capacity and reduces smoking

Tang, Y. Y., Tang, R., & Posner, M. I. (2013). Brief meditation training induces smoking reduction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Epub before print, August 5, full text.

More than 5 million deaths a year are attributable to tobacco smoking, but attempts to help people either quit or reduce their smoking often fail, perhaps in part because the intention to quit activates brain networks related to craving.

We recruited participants interested in general stress reduction and randomly assigned them to meditation training or a relaxation training control. Among smokers, 2 weeks of meditation training (5 hours in total) produced a significant reduction in smoking of 60%; no reduction was found in the relaxation control. Resting-state brain scans showed increased activity for the meditation group in the anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortex, brain areas related to self-control. These results suggest that brief meditation training improves self-control capacity and reduces smoking.