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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2014, Article ID 679509, 7 pages
Research Article

Spinal fMRI of Interoceptive Attention/Awareness in Experts and Novices

1Department of Functional Brain Imaging, Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer, Tohoku University, Seiryo-machi 4-1, Aoba-ku, Sendai 980-8575, Japan
2International Research Institute of Disaster Science, Tohoku University, Sendai 980-8575, Japan
3Tohoku Medical Megabank Organization, Tohoku University, Sendai 980-8575, Japan
4Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Graduate School of Medicine, Tohoku University, Sendai 980-8575, Japan
5Institute of Nishino Breathing Method, Tokyo 150-0046, Japan
6Department of Respiratory Medicine, Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, Sendai 980-8574, Japan
7South Miyagi Medical Center, Miyagi, Shibata 989-1253, Japan

Received 14 April 2014; Revised 29 May 2014; Accepted 30 May 2014; Published 17 June 2014

Academic Editor: Timothy Schallert

Copyright © 2014 Keyvan Kashkouli Nejad et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Many disciplines/traditions that promote interoceptive (inner sensation of body parts) attention/awareness (IAA) train practitioners to both attend to and be aware of interoceptive sensory experiences in body parts. The effect of such practices has been investigated in previous imaging studies but limited to cerebral neural activity. Here, for the first time, we studied the impact of these practices on the spinal neural activity of experts and novices. We also attempted to clarify the effect of constant and deep breathing, a paradigm utilized in concentration practices to avoid mind wandering, on IAA-related spinal neural activity. Subjects performed IAA tasks with and without a deep and constant breathing pattern in two sessions. Results showed that neural activity in the spinal segment innervating the attended-to body area increased in experts ( ) when they performed IAA and that this increase was significantly larger for experts versus novices in each of the sessions ( ). The significant effects of IAA and expertise on spinal neural activity are consistent with and elaborate on previous reports showing similar effects on cerebral neural activity. As the spinal cord directly innervates body parts, the results might indicate that IAA has an instantaneous (possibly beneficial) effect on the physical body after extended training.