Skip to main content Skip to search
Details
Displaying 1 - 7 of 7
Touch Healing (TH) therapies, defined here as treatments whose primary route of administration is tactile contact and/or active guiding of somatic attention, are ubiquitous across cultures. Despite increasing integration of TH into mainstream medicine through therapies such as Reiki, Therapeutic Touch,TM and somatically focused meditation practices such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, relatively little is known about potential underlying mechanisms. Here, we present a neuroscientific explanation for the prevalence and effectiveness of TH therapies for relieving chronic pain. We begin with a cross-cultural review of several different types of TH treatments and identify common characteristics, including: light tactile contact and/or a somatosensory attention directed toward the body, a behaviorally relevant context, a relaxed context and repeated treatment sessions. These cardinal features are also key elements of established mechanisms of neural plasticity in somatosensory cortical maps, suggesting that sensory reorganization is a mechanism for the healing observed. Consideration of the potential health benefits of meditation practice specifically suggests that these practices provide training in the regulation of neural and perceptual dynamics that provide ongoing resistance to the development of maladaptive somatic representations. This model provides several direct predictions for investigating ways that TH may induce cortical plasticity and dynamics in pain remediation.
Zotero Tags:
Zotero Collections:

Cued spatial attention modulates functionally relevant alpha rhythms in visual cortices in humans. Here, we present evidence for analogous phenomena in primary somatosensory neocortex (SI). Using magnetoencephalography, we measured changes in the SI mu rhythm containing mu-alpha (7–14 Hz) and mu-beta (15–29 Hz) components. We found that cued attention impacted mu-alpha in the somatopically localized hand representation in SI, showing decreased power after attention was cued to the hand and increased power after attention was cued to the foot, with significant differences observed 500–1100 ms after cue. Mu-beta showed differences in a time window 800–850 ms after cue. The visual cue also drove an early evoked response beginning ∼70 ms after cue with distinct peaks modulated with cued attention. Distinct components of the tactile stimulus-evoked response were also modulated with cued attention. Analysis of a second dataset showed that, on a trial-by-trial basis, tactile detection probabilities decreased linearly with prestimulus mu-alpha and mu-beta power. These results support the growing consensus that cue-induced alpha modulation is a functionally relevant sensory gating mechanism deployed by attention. Further, while cued attention had a weaker effect on the allocation of mu-beta, oscillations in this band also predicted tactile detection.
Zotero Tags:
Zotero Collections:

During selective attention, ∼7–14 Hz alpha rhythms are modulated in early sensory cortices, suggesting a mechanistic role for these dynamics in perception. Here, we investigated whether alpha modulation can be enhanced by “mindfulness” meditation (MM), a program training practitioners in sustained attention to body and breath-related sensations. We hypothesized that participants in the MM group would exhibit enhanced alpha power modulation in a localized representation in the primary somatosensory neocortex in response to a cue, as compared to participants in the control group. Healthy subjects were randomized to 8-weeks of MM training or a control group. Using magnetoencephalographic (MEG) recording of the SI finger representation, we found meditators demonstrated enhanced alpha power modulation in response to a cue. This finding is the first to show enhanced local alpha modulation following sustained attentional training, and implicates this form of enhanced dynamic neural regulation in the behavioral effects of meditative practice.
Zotero Collections:

Previous research indicates that long-term meditation practice is associated with altered resting electroencephalogram patterns, suggestive of long lasting changes in brain activity. We hypothesized that meditation practice might also be associated with changes in the brain’s physical structure. Magnetic resonance imaging was used to assess cortical thickness in 20 participants with extensive Insight meditation experience, which involves focused attention to internal experiences. Brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula. Between-group differences in prefrontal cortical thickness were most pronounced in older participants, suggesting that meditation might offset age-related cortical thinning. Finally, the thickness of two regions correlated with meditation experience. These data provide the first structural evidence for experience-dependent cortical plasticity associated with meditation practice.

Previous research indicates that long-term meditation practice is associated with altered resting electroencephalogram patterns, suggestive of long lasting changes in brain activity. We hypothesized that meditation practice might also be associated with changes in the brain’s physical structure. Magnetic resonance imaging was used to assess cortical thickness in 20 participants with extensive Insight meditation experience, which involves focused attention to internal experiences. Brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula. Between-group differences in prefrontal cortical thickness were most pronounced in older participants, suggesting that meditation might offset age-related cortical thinning. Finally, the thickness of two regions correlated with meditation experience. These data provide the first structural evidence for experience-dependent cortical plasticity associated with meditation practice.
Zotero Tags:
Zotero Collections:

Using a common set of mindfulness exercises, mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) have been shown to reduce distress in chronic pain and decrease risk of depression relapse. These standardized mindfulness (ST-Mindfulness) practices predominantly require attending to breath and body sensations. Here, we offer a novel view of ST-Mindfulness's somatic focus as a form of training for optimizing attentional modulation of 7–14 Hz alpha rhythms that play a key role in filtering inputs to primary sensory neocortex and organizing the flow of sensory information in the brain. In support of the framework, we describe our previous finding that ST-Mindfulness enhanced attentional regulation of alpha in primary somatosensory cortex (SI). The framework allows us to make several predictions. In chronic pain, we predict somatic attention in ST-Mindfulness “de-biases” alpha in SI, freeing up pain-focused attentional resources. In depression relapse, we predict ST-Mindfulness's somatic attention competes with internally focused rumination, as internally focused cognitive processes (including working memory) rely on alpha filtering of sensory input. Our computational model predicts ST-Mindfulness enhances top-down modulation of alpha by facilitating precise alterations in timing and efficacy of SI thalamocortical inputs. We conclude by considering how the framework aligns with Buddhist teachings that mindfulness starts with “mindfulness of the body.” Translating this theory into neurophysiology, we hypothesize that with its somatic focus, mindfulness' top-down alpha rhythm modulation in SI enhances gain control which, in turn, sensitizes practitioners to better detect and regulate when the mind wanders from its somatic focus. This enhanced regulation of somatic mind-wandering may be an important early stage of mindfulness training that leads to enhanced cognitive regulation and metacognition.
Zotero Tags:
Zotero Collections: