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From thoughtless awareness to effortful cognition: alpha - theta cross-frequency dynamics in experienced meditators during meditation, rest and arithmetic
Tijdschriftbijdrage - Tijdschriftartikel
Neural activity is known to oscillate within discrete frequency bands and the synchronization between these rhythms is hypothesized to underlie information integration in the brain. Since strict synchronization is only possible for harmonic frequencies, a recent theory proposes that the interaction between different brain rhythms is facilitated by transient harmonic frequency arrangements. In this line, it has been recently shown that the transient occurrence of 2:1 harmonic cross-frequency relationships between alpha and theta rhythms (i.e. falpha ≈ 12 Hz; ftheta ≈ 6 Hz) is enhanced during effortful cognition. In this study, we tested whether achieving a state of 'mental emptiness' during meditation is accompanied by a relative decrease in the occurrence of 2:1 harmonic cross-frequency relationships between alpha and theta rhythms. Continuous EEG recordings (19 electrodes) were obtained from 43 highly experienced meditators during meditation practice, rest and an arithmetic task. We show that the occurrence of transient alpha:theta 2:1 harmonic relationships increased linearly from a meditative to an active cognitive processing state (i.e. meditation < rest < arithmetic task). It is argued that transient EEG cross-frequency arrangements that prevent alpha:theta cross-frequency coupling could facilitate the experience of 'mental emptiness' by avoiding the interaction between the memory and executive components of cognition.