Mindfulness may be so successful in helping with a range of conditions, from depression to pain, by working as a sort of "volume knob" for sensations, according to a new review of studies from Brown University researchers.
In their paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,
the researchers proposed that mindfulness meditation works by enabling a
person to have better control over brain processing of pain and
Specifically, the researchers postulate that mindfulness meditation
plays a role in the controlling of cortical alpha rhythms, which have
been shown in brain imaging studies to play a role in what senses our
bodies and minds pay attention to. They note the "intimate connection in mindfulness between mind and
body," since the meditation traditionally begins with a
highly localized focus on body and breath sensations, such as watching your breath.
localized sensory focus, the scientists write, enhances control over
localized alpha rhythms in the primary somatosensory cortex where
sensations from different body are “mapped” by the brain.
In effect, what the researchers propose is that by learning to control their focus on the present somatic
moment, mindfulness meditators develop a more sensitive “volume knob”
for controlling spatially specific, localized sensory cortical alpha
rhythms. Efficient modulation of cortical alpha rhythms in turn enables
optimal filtering of sensory information.
Meditators learn not only to
control what specific body sensations they pay attention to, but also
how to regulate attention so that it does not become biased toward
negative physical sensations such as chronic pain. The localized
attentional control of somatosensory alpha rhythms becomes generalized
to better regulate bias toward internally focused negative thoughts, as
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