MRI scans were used at Yale University on both experienced and novice meditators as they practised three different meditation techniques.
The experienced meditators had decreased activity in areas of the brain linked to attention lapses, anxiety, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder and even the build-up of the plaque implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.
This happened regardless of the type of meditation used.
The study indicated that experienced meditators were constantly monitoring and suppressing the emergence of “me” thoughts or mind wandering.
They did this both during meditation and also when just resting.
The researchers concluded that meditators have developed a method of being more present-centered and less self-centered.
Understanding how meditation works will aid investigation into a host of diseases says Judson Brewer, assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study.
“Meditation has been shown to help in variety of health problems, such as helping people quit smoking, cope with cancer, and even prevent psoriasis,” Brewer said.
“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.”
The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.