Experienced meditators may be able to switch off areas of the brain associated with daydreaming, anxiety, and certain psychiatric disorders like autism and schizophrenia, according to a new U.S. study.
“Meditation has been shown to help in a variety of health problems, such as helping people quit smoking, cope with cancer, and even prevent psoriasis,” the study’s lead author Judson A. Brewer of Yale University said in a press release.
The researchers performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans on experienced and novice meditators using three different meditation techniques.
The results showed decreased activity in the default mode network (DMN) in experienced meditators. This neural network has been associated with anxiety-based illnesses, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, and plaque formation in Alzheimer’s disease.
Decreased activity was seen in brain regions involved in this network, such as the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulated cortices, irrespective of the form of meditation undertaken during the experiment.
Similarly, when the DMN was active, brain areas linked to self-monitoring and cognitive control were found to be co-activated in experienced meditators but not in novices. This also happened when the meditators were not meditating but simply resting.
Meditation has been linked with increased happiness, said Brewer, according to the release.
The scientists believe that meditators can focus on the present moment better, and are constantly suppressing self-centered and wandering thoughts, which are strongly associated with autism and schizophrenia.
“Meditation’s ability to help people stay in the moment has been part of philosophical and contemplative practices for thousands of years,” Brewer said.
“Conversely, the hallmarks of many forms of mental illness is a preoccupation with one’s own thoughts, a condition meditation seems to affect. This gives us some nice cues as to the neural mechanisms of how it might be working clinically.
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