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Functional brain mapping of the relaxation response and meditation

Lazar, Sara W.; Bush, George; Gollub, Randy L.; Fricchione, Gregory L.; Khalsa, Gurucharan; Benson, Herbert

AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM

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.

1 Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital-East, CNY-9, 149 13th Street, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA

2 NMR Center, MGH-East, CNY-9, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA

3 Department of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women's Hospital, USA

4 Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, USA

5 Mind/Body Medical Institute, Boston, MA 02115, USA

6 Corresponding Author and Address: Sara W. Lazar, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital-East, CNY-9, 149 13th Street, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA

Acknowledgements: Supported by the Mind-Body Medical Institute, Clinical Research Training Grant (5T32MH016259), NIDA 00275, NIMH 01611, NARSAD, The Forrest C. Lattner Foundation, Inc. The authors also wish to thank Terry Campell, Bruce Rosen, Julie Bates, Ary Goldberger, Joe Meitus, Jeff Hausdorf and our intrepid subjects.

Received 15 February 2000; accepted 5 March 2000

© 2000 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins