It is proposed that the mechanism through which mindfulness meditation exerts its effects is a process of enhanced self-regulation, including attention control, emotion regulation and self-awareness.
Research on mindfulness meditation faces a number of important challenges in study design that limit the interpretation of existing studies.
A number of changes in brain structure have been related to mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness practice enhances attention. The anterior cingulate cortex is the region associated with attention in which changes in activity and/or structure in response to mindfulness meditation are most consistently reported.
Mindfulness practice improves emotion regulation and reduces stress. Fronto-limbic networks involved in these processes show various patterns of engagement by mindfulness meditation.
Meditation practice has the potential to affect self-referential processing and improve present-moment awareness. The default mode networks — including the midline prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex, which support self-awareness — could be altered following mindfulness training.
Mindfulness meditation has potential for the treatment of clinical disorders and might facilitate the cultivation of a healthy mind and increased well-being.
Future research into mindfulness meditation should use randomized and actively controlled longitudinal studies with large sample sizes to validate previous findings.
The effects of mindfulness practice on neural structure and function need to be linked to behavioural performance, such as cognitive, affective and social functioning, in future research.
The complex mental state of mindfulness is likely to be supported by the large-scale brain networks; future work should take this into account rather than being restricted to activations in single brain areas.
Legend - Schematic view of some of the brain regions involved in attention control (the anterior cingulate cortex and the striatum), emotion regulation (multiple prefrontal regions, limbic regions and the striatum) and self-awareness (the insula, medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex and precuneus).