Differences in neurological activity in advanced meditators

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

(Hypothalamus image courtesy of Life Science Databases.)

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