The plastic brain

We now know that throughout life the brain continues to change. Based on how we train it, on what we try out, on our experiences, the brain (neuro) changes and adapts (plasticity), constantly establishing new connections.

Scientific research has shown that doing Mindfulness meditation, even after a few weeks, causes a series of healthy changes in the brain and reorganises the neuronal networks.

Let’s look at some results below.


Compared to pre-practice, mindfulness meditation has produced significant activation in the anterior bilateral insula, cortex, putamen, inferior frontal gyrus (I), SII and SI corresponding to the nose and face. Mindfulness meditation has also been associated to significant deactivation in the thalamus, PAG, mPFC, DLPFC, cerebellum and PCC /precuneus. The placebo has been associated with de-activation in regions of the brain ranging from the midcingulate mediated cortex to ACC. The placebo produced significant activation in the left anterior insula compared to pre-practice. As regards the placebo, mindfulness meditation produced significantly greater activation in ACC, in the bilateral anterior insula, in the right putamen and in the SI of the nose and face. Compared to mindfulness meditation, the placebo produced greater activation in the DLPFC, mPFC, thalamus, PAG, PCC / precuneus and cerebellum. The conjunction analyses revealed a significant activation and overlap between the main effect of mindfulness meditation and placebo at the boundary between the ventral insula and the medial temporal lobe. The positions of the sections correspond to the standard stereotaxic space.


Abstract of The journal of Neuroscience – Corresponding author:
Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy and Department of Radiology, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27157,
Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina 28262,
Department of Anesthesiology, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio 45229


In both panels, the image of the left brain is an anatomical representation of the tractography paths between the right insula and the highly connected regions, and the right-hand diagram is a graphical representation of the same connections as the right insula. The displayed connections (cortical only, here) included the best 80% connection resistances in all insula pathways. (A) Shows pre-practical connections in the right insula, which showed the greatest structural reorganisation through the practice of mindfulness. (B) Represents the same two images as in (A) except post-practice.


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, USA
University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Champaign-Urbana, USA
Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Champaign-Urbana, USA
Department of Bioengineering, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Champaign-Urbana, USA
Northeastern University, Champaign-Urbana, USA
Department of Psychology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Champaign-Urbana, USA
The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH USA
Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Champaign-Urbana, USA
Neuroscience Program, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Champaign-Urbana, USA
Center for Brain Plasticity, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Champaign-Urbana, USA


Hypothesised neural mechanisms with which mindfulness-based interventions improve addictive behaviour.

The awareness-centred regulation model postulates that mindfulness-based interventions improve craving, negative affective states and automatic habit behaviour which supports addiction by improving functional connectivity (1) within a “top-down” brain network which assists metacognitive attention (dlPFC, dACC, parietal cortex) and (2) between this metacognitive attention-control network and “bottom-up” brain structures involved in automatism, memory consolidation, interoception and hedonic regulation.

Improved functional connectivity within these neural circuits may allow people to self-regulate addictive impulses and restructure reward processes to support healthy, goal-oriented behaviour. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), anterior dorsal cortex of the dorsal cingulate, posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), dorsal stratum (DS), ventral striatum (VS), Thalamus, hippocampus (HIPP), amygdala (AMY), orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), medial prefrontal cortex (MFC).



Garland et al. Langer EJ. Matters of mind: mindfulness/mindlessness in perspective. Conscious Cogn.

Diagram showing the effects of intervention components based on mindfulness on the mechanisms and results involved in the treatment of addictive behaviour.

Mindfulness-based treatment of addiction: current state of the field and envisioning the next wave of research.
Center on Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development, University of Utah, 395 South, 1500 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84112 USA
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, USA


Topographic diagrams showing the distribution of electrical activity in the error tests within a fixed time frame from -50 to 50 ms around the onset of stimulation in depressed patients (n = 59) and healthy controls (n = 18), as well as in the aggregate sample.

Pre-post-treatment differences of the ERN in the mindfulness group and the resting group of FCz and Fz. For each test, the graphs show the timelines (averages) of the ERR in the mindfulness group (on the left) and the resting group (halfway) in the pre- and post-treatment evaluations. The right panels show the standard means and errors of the individual ERN magnitudes before and after treatment for mindfulness and rest groups. Topographic maps show the distributions of pre-post-treatment differences (pre-post) in the mindfulness group (on the left) and the resting group (halfway).


Dahlem Center for Neuroimaging of Emotions, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Mood Disorders Centre, University of Exeter, Sir Henry Wellcome Building for Mood Disorders Research, Perry Road, Exeter, EX4 4QG UK

In some cases, mindfulness has helped to:

Reduce depression relapse rates by: 44%
Experience less intense pain by: 40%
Experience less unpleasant pain by: 57%




  • It reduces cortisol levels. Research shows that practising mindfulness leads to lower levels of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone.

Matousek et al (2010), Jacobs Tonya et al (2013), Tange et al (2007)

  • It decreases the levels of inflammatory chemicals which we release when we are stressed, such as cytokines which cause different symptoms of depression.

Witek-Janusek et al (2008), Rosenktanz et al (2013)

  • It increases melatonin and serotonin, neurotransmitters which are involved in the stability of mood, in the development of positive emotions, in the prevention of stress and in the aging processes.

Solberg et al (2004), Yu X et al (2011), Larouche et al (2015)

  • It significantly increases the release of dopamine, the substance linked to the sense of well-being, increases the nervous signals in the regions connected to mood regulation and attention control.

Kjaer et al (2002), Rubia (2009), Chiesa et al (2010)

  • It decreases the activity and the thickness of the amygdala, a structure of the limbic system that regulates our reactions to stress, related to fear and anxiety and which is overactive in depressed people.

Creswell et al (2007), Way et al (2010)

  • It reduces rumination (a wandering mind), as it reduces the activity of the default brain network. The default mode of humans is in fact that of a wandering mind which correlates with unhappiness.

Brewer et al (2011)

  • It increases activity in the left prefrontal cortex. The activation of this area is linked to feelings of well-being, positive emotions and emotional regulation.

Richard Davidson et al (2003)

  • It activates the parasympathetic nervous system (meditation mindfulness of the breath), which restores the body from the reactions of stress with a consequent decrease of the heartbeat and arterial pressure.

Melville et al (2012)

  • It increases the immune response, which indicates that meditation can help strengthen the immune system.

Richard Davidson et al (2003) Tange et al (2007)

  • It increases the thickness of grey matter in areas such as the hippocampus, which plays an important role in learning and memory processes.

Hozel et al (2011)