Cortical and autonomic responses during staged Taoist meditation: two distinct meditation strategies
Meditation is a consciousness state associated with specific physiological and neural correlates. Numerous investigations of these correlates reported controversial results which prevented a consistent depiction of the underlying neurophysiological processes. Here we investigated the dynamics of multiple neurophysiological indicators during a staged meditation session. We measured the physiological changes at rest and during the guided Taoist meditation in experienced meditators and naive subjects. We recorded EEG, respiration, galvanic skin response, and photoplethysmography. All subjects followed the same instructions split into 16 stages. In the experienced meditators group we identified two subgroups with different physiological markers dynamics. One subgroup showed several signs of general relaxation evident from the changes in heart rate variability, respiratory rate, and EEG rhythmic activity. The other subgroup exhibited mind concentration patterns primarily noticeable in the EEG recordings while no autonomic responses occurred. The duration and type of previous meditation experience or any baseline indicators we measured did not explain the segregation of the meditators into these two groups. These results suggest that two distinct meditation strategies could be used by experienced meditators, which partly explains the inconsistent results reported in the earlier studies evaluating meditation effects. Our findings are also relevant to the development of the high-end biofeedback systems.