Mindfulness physical therapy, pain management, rehabilitation

Mindful Attention to Breath Increases Amygdala–Prefrontal Cortex Connectivity

Doll and colleagues examined the effects of mindful attention to the breath on aversive emotions and activity in relevant brain areas.1 Twenty-six healthy control subjects were trained in mindfulness-based attention-to-breath meditation for two weeks and then stimulated with aversive pictures during both mindful attention-to-breath (ATB) and passive viewing while undergoing fMRI. Brain regions examined included the prefrontal cortex, important in executive function and emotional regulation, and the amygdala, associated with emotional responses to stimuli including fear processing. Results included (1) ATB was effective in regulating aversive emotions and (2) ATB down regulated amygdala activation and increased amygdala–prefrontal integration, with increased integration associated with mindfulness ability. Results suggest amygdala–dorsal prefrontal cortex integration as a potential neural pathway of emotion regulation by mindfulness practice.

The ability to be aware of and regulate emotions is a necessary skill for navigating life’s many ups and downs and for experiencing happiness and well-being. This research suggests that mindfulness-based breath awareness training promotes the effective regulation of averse emotions and does so by modulating prefrontal cortex – amygdala circuitry.

1Doll A, Holzel BK, Bratec SM, et al. Mindful attention to breath regulates emotions via increased amygdala-prefrontal cortex connectivity. Neuroimage. 2016;134:305-313