How Your Brain Behaves During Passive Meditation

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The following post was originally part of a presentation Eric Thompson gave on the Neuroscience of Meditation at the MindHive event at Naropa University in March, 2010. It is based on the research of Newberg and d’Aquili.

Stage 1

  • Attention Association Area (AAA) in the right hemisphere is activated.
  • Eventually spreads to AAA in left hemisphere.
  • Deactivation of the surrounding areas in the frontal lobes.
  • Any burst of activity in these areas indicates the presence of random thoughts.

Stage 2

  • Increase in GABA.
  • Decreases stimuli arriving at frontal lobe.
  • Enhances focus.
  • Decreased activity in Orientation Association Area (OAA) in right parietal lobe.
  • Right parietal lobe normally mediates our sense of space.
  • Decreased activity results in the meditation of a felt sense of wholeness.

Stage 3

The hippocampus:

  • Conveys the emotional significance of the experience.
  • Imprints long-term memory.
  • Activates the right lateral amygdala.

The amygdala:

  • Confers emotional significance to the lack of incoming sensory information during meditation.
  • Influences the hypothalamus.

Stage 4

The ventromedial hypothalamus:

  • Activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Relaxation.
  • Bliss.
  • Profound quiescence.

Activity eventually spills over from the right hemisphere into the left hemisphere:

  • Left and right parietal areas (OAA) are then switched off.
  • Correlated with the dissolution of the self/non-self boundary.

Stage 5

Activity in the left hemisphere:

  • Eventually activates the sympathetic nervous system.
  • Arousal.
  • Alertness.
  • Clarity.

The resulting simultaneous activation of the parasympathetic (Yin) and sympathetic (Yang) nervous systems mediates:

  • Stability.
  • Equanimity.
  • Shamatha.
  • Spiritual experiences.

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