Our lab investigates whether mindful body awareness is an “active ingredient” in mindfulness meditation, Tai Chi and other mind-body therapies. The motivation for our investigation comes from the fact that mindfulness and Tai Chi share a common thread: both therapies train a close, focused attention to body sensations during meditative practice. Our lab investigates whether this body-focused attention enhances attentional regulation over brain rhythms.
As a proof of concept, our 2011 brain study used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to discover that after 8-weeks of mindfulness training, meditators were able to use body-focused attentional cues (to focus towards or focus away from the hand) to more finely regulate “sensory volume knobs” in groups of neurons in the primary somatosensory cortex hand map [SI, see above] — by regulating localized 10 Hz alpha rhythm power in SI.
The broader goal of these investigations is to use MEG and other methods to discover whether mind-body therapies’ effects on brain rhythms related to body awareness can serve as markers of therapeutic change, especially in disorders such as chronic pain, aging and depression–since these are the contexts where mindfulness meditation and Tai Chi have shown clearest positive therapeutic impacts.
Catherine Kerr TEDx talk:
Mindfulness starts with the body… a view from the brain
Our longterm plan is to translate the basic scientific mechanisms involved in mind-body contemplative practices into optimized training programs that can be made broadly available for patients and health care practitioners.