Meditation can be defined as a form of mental training that aims to improve an individual’s core psychological capacities, such as attentional and emotional self-regulation. Meditation uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on an object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.
Meditation encompasses a family of complex practices that include mindfulness meditation, breath awareness meditation, mantra meditation, and certain movement meditations such as yoga, taijichuan, and styles of qigong. Of these practices, mindfulness meditation, often described as nonjudgmental attention to present-moment experiences, has received most attention in neuroscience research over the past four decades.
Although meditation research is still in its infancy, several studies have investigated changes in brain activation (at rest and during specific tasks) that are associated with the practice of, or that follow, training in mindfulness meditation. These studies have reported changes in multiple aspects of mental function in beginner and advanced meditators, healthy individuals and patient populations. The benefits of utilizing meditation as a therapeutic measure in the healthcare setting have been discussed and meditation-based interventions are increasingly being implemented as adjunct or complementary to classical medical or psychological approaches.
Current neurophysiological and imaging research findings have identified neural changes in association with meditation and provide a potentially promising avenue for future research. The following selected articles describe some of the more current research of various forms of meditation.