Reductions in perceived stress following Transcendental Meditation practice are associated with increased brain regional connectivity at rest.Brain Cogn. 2020 03; 139:105517.BC
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is defined as a mental process of transcending using a silent mantra. Previous work showed that relatively brief period of TM practice leads to decreases in stress and anxiety. However, whether these changes are subserved by specific morpho-functional brain modifications (as observed in other meditation techniques) is still unclear. Using a longitudinal design, we combined psychometric questionnaires, structural and resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (RS-fMRI) to investigate the potential brain modifications underlying the psychological effects of TM. The final sample included 19 naïve subjects instructed to complete two daily 20-min TM sessions, and 15 volunteers in the control group. Both groups were evaluated at recruitment (T0) and after 3 months (T1). At T1, only meditators showed a decrease in perceived anxiety and stress (t(18) = 2.53, p = 0.02), which correlated negatively with T1-T0 changes in functional connectivity among posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), precuneus and left superior parietal lobule. Additionally, TM practice was associated with increased connectivity between PCC and right insula, likely reflecting changes in interoceptive awareness. No structural changes were observed in meditators or control subjects. These preliminary findings indicate that beneficial effects of TM may be mediated by functional brain changes that take place after a short practice period of 3 months.