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Meditation reorganizes the brain’s spatial topography

A new unifying model of how meditation affects brain activity and connectivity has been developed based on a meta-analysis of brain scanning studies. The model identifies three "layers" of self-processing in the brain that connect the body, environment, and mental state: the interoceptive level (processing signals from internal organs), the exteroceptive level (processing sensory stimuli from the outside world), and the mental level of personality and memories. The default mode network (DMN), associated with processing of the mental self and activated during "mind wandering," and the central executive network (CEN), which plays a role in attentional mechanisms, are emphasized in the so-called topographic reorganization model of meditation.

Studies have shown that advanced meditators exhibit decreased activity in the DMN and increased activity in regions of the CEN, particularly the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). At the same time, functional connectivity between the CEN and DMN increases. These changes are believed to result in a reorganization of the brain's spatial topography, with a reduction in DMN activity representing reduced mental self-processing and increased dlPFC activity associated with the ability to focus attention.

Normally, mental self-processing takes precedence over exteroceptive and interoceptive signals, but meditators are able to shift their attention away from the self and "synchronize" the three self-processing layers. By focusing more attention on exteroceptive and interoceptive signals and less on the mental self, they achieve a state of "non-dual awareness," in which the inner and outer worlds exist in an undivided continuum and the self, body, and environment are strongly aligned. This allows them to be fully present in the moment rather than split between the inner and outer worlds.
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