There is growing interest in the effects of meditation practices on health. Meditation targets the practitioner's brain/mind, with subsequent positive effects on bodily functions. However, there is great need for rigorous studies that establish if meditation does indeed produce long-lasting changes in the brain, what these changes may be, and their functional significance for healthy subjects in daily life as well as in clinical populations. Project 1 of the Center Proposal aims at demonstrating effects of meditation training on behavior as well as on neurobiological markers related to emotion and emotion regulation. Project 2 will evaluate the effects of meditation training on inflammatory markers and its potential benefits in a clinical population with asthma, a typical inflammatory disease. This project (Project 3) aims at establishing the functional significance of our previous observation of meditation-induced changes in electroencephalographic (EEG) activity during sleep for brain activity and cognitive functioning during wakefulness. In the previous NCCAM project we found that long term meditators had an increase in EEG gamma activity during non rapid eye movement sleep as compared to meditation naive individuals. This increase was specific for the gamma range, and correlated with the length of meditation practice. We will evaluate if this increased gamma activity during sleep in long term meditators is associated with changes in sleep mentation (a change in the occurrence and cognitive aspects of dream reports). We will also evaluate if meditation-induced changes in brain activity during sleep are associated with changes in brain activity and cognitive function during wakefulness. We will then assess whether the differences in brain activity patterns and cognitive function observed in long term meditators can be induced in meditation naive individuals after intense 8 week meditation training, enhanced by post-training meditation boosters. Finally, we will assess the general significance of our findings for health, by correlating meditation-induced brain activity changes with inflammatory markers in a population of asthmatic patients.
If the predictions delineated in the present Project are confirmed, such evidence will provide strong support to the notion that meditation training can affect basic neurobiological functions and cognitive performance in a substantial and lasting manner. Such evidence will provide a novel, rational basis for designing meditation-based interventions to improve both health and wellness.
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