Functional brain mapping of the relaxation response and meditation.
Meditation is a conscious mental process that induces a set of integrated physiologic changes termed the relaxation response. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to identify and characterize the brain regions that are active during a simple form of meditation. Significant (p<10(-7)) signal increases were observed in the group-averaged data in the dorsolateral prefrontal and parietal cortices, hippocampus/parahippocampus, temporal lobe, pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, striatum, and pre- and post-central gyri during meditation. Global fMRI signal decreases were also noted, although these were probably secondary to cardiorespiratory changes that often accompany meditation. The results indicate that the practice of meditation activates neural structures involved in attention and control of the autonomic nervous system.