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New Research on Meditation—It’s All About the Brain

December 04, 2012
Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Josephine Briggs, M.D

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

View Dr. Briggs's biographical sketch

We are planning a series of blog posts to highlight some exciting work from our research portfolio. Research we support has led to more than 3,000 peer-reviewed papers; hundreds are published each year. We plan to highlight a few here, choosing examples that illustrate both the promise and the challenges of research on complementary health practices.

Currently one intriguing area is the effect of meditation on the brain. Meditation can be viewed as a kind of ‘mental exercise.’ NCCAM has supported a fair amount of research on its potential health benefits. We still do not have all the answers, but a number of studies support the notion that this ‘mental exercise’ helps regulate attention and emotion and improves the sense of well being. New insights are coming from incorporation of brain-imaging studies into meditation research. In particular, studies suggest that meditation is accompanied by changes in activation of select regions in the brain, particularly the amygdala, a region associated with processing of emotion.

A new NCCAM study, by Desbordes and colleagues, goes further and concludes that the changes in brain function in the amygdala seen during meditation are persistent, enduring even outside meditation sessions. Results were published this month in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. You can read more about how the study was conducted in our research spotlight. This is a small, single study that fits into the larger body of evidence.  I would agree with the authors who noted the need for further research, but I do think the findings provide additional insight into the effects of meditation on the brain—insights that may help to understand the determinants of mental states and the role of traditional practices like meditation in health.


Comments are now closed for this post.

How will meditation help a college student study better?

There’s been quite a few studies that show how meditation effects changes in the brain, one of the most promising being among those who suffer from depression. Here’s a link to a couple of videos that present some of these findings:<a href=””></a>  

It is an extremely imoiertant area of medical research but we need to keep in mind that the process of meditation needs to be defined in  each study.Further,in all studies it is going to be very difficult to ensure compliance.A subject may say he is meditating but whether he actually is etither doing it or even able to do it is always going to be difficult to judge.

Are there any publicly available datasets from research into meditation’s influence on well-being and mental health?  Where could I access them?

@Andy - The NCCAM Clinical Toolbox includes a list of many NIH-supported longitudinal studies that have collected information on one or more complementary health practices. The datasets for these studies are publicly available for interested researchers. One of the studies looked at meditation.  See the list of studies here:   


For more meditation related information, visit



Important insights. Meditation should probably be pushed more as it seems it’ll be needed with the ever-lowering remuneration rates for our med staff. I’d too love to see some publicly available information on studies done on meditation.

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 Without doubt, meditation favors a different mental state than we’re used. I always wondered what is the relationship between this state of mind and natural pcicotrópicos hallucinations like Ayahuasca, I mean, the experts says about this floor that Ayahuasca “explores our hard drive” and locates our traumas that there are in our subconscious. So, can the meditation also retrieve traumatic experiential facts that are hidden in our mind, behind the subconscious, causing pathological behavior?Marcos Fragua  

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@Jane - You can find more information about meditation, including research spotlights, current clinical studies on NCCAM's meditation portal page.

Depression is so serious thanks for this write up. I have found that medidation can end depression symptoms or atleast hold them back. I havr found some other great resources for support with depression. 

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Meditation is control the mind with the mind.

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i thankful for this blog.really mediation is most effective for mental health

Meditaition is great.  Really helps you relax.  As they say mind over matter.  If you are looking for some great tips to manage your depression I have found this site as well.Thanks,Sam

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very interisting article thanks for sharing.

Great article!I really like this blog post.Thanks

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