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World J Radiol. Jul 28, 2014; 6(7): 471-479
Published online Jul 28, 2014. doi: 10.4329/wjr.v6.i7.471
Neural mechanisms of mindfulness and meditation: Evidence from neuroimaging studies
William R Marchand
William R Marchand, Mental Health Service, George E Wahlen Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Salt Lake City, UT 84148, United States
William R Marchand, Department of Psychiatry, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, United States
Author contributions: Marchand WR reviewed the literature and wrote the manuscript.
Supported by The resources and the use of facilities at the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System
Correspondence to: William R Marchand, MD, Mental Health Service, George E Wahlen Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 500 Foothill Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84148, United States. wmarchand@me.com
Telephone: +1-801-5578950 Fax: +1-801-9983818
Received: December 30, 2013
Revised: May 1, 2014
Accepted: May 28, 2014
Published online: July 28, 2014
Abstract

Mindfulness is the dispassionate, moment-by-moment awareness of sensations, emotions and thoughts. Mindfulness-based interventions are being increasingly used for stress, psychological well being, coping with chronic illness as well as adjunctive treatments for psychiatric disorders. However, the neural mechanisms associated with mindfulness have not been well characterized. Recent functional and structural neuroimaging studies are beginning to provide insights into neural processes associated with the practice of mindfulness. A review of this literature revealed compelling evidence that mindfulness impacts the function of the medial cortex and associated default mode network as well as insula and amygdala. Additionally, mindfulness practice appears to effect lateral frontal regions and basal ganglia, at least in some cases. Structural imaging studies are consistent with these findings and also indicate changes in the hippocampus. While many questions remain unanswered, the current literature provides evidence of brain regions and networks relevant for understanding neural processes associated with mindfulness.

Keywords: Mindfulness, Meditation, Medial cortex, amygdala, Emotional control

Core tip: Mindfulness training is used for stress and as an adjunctive treatment for psychiatric disorders. Functional neuroimaging studies are beginning to provide insights into neural processes associated with the practice of mindfulness. These studies clearly indicate that the practice of mindfulness changes brain function in areas including the medial cortex, default mode network, insula, amygdala, lateral frontal regions and basal ganglia.