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date: 12 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

In this chapter, contemplative practices are conceptualized as methods that function as neural exercises enhancing vagal regulation of the autonomic nervous system. The model presented proposes that specific voluntary behaviors (e.g., breath, vocalizations, and posture), which characterize ancient rituals and form the core of contemplative practices, can trigger a physiological state mediated by vagal pathways that fosters health and optimizes subjective experiences. The model emphasizes that, in order for the positive benefits of contemplative practices to be experienced, the rituals associated with contemplative practices (e.g., chants, prayers, meditation, and dance) must be performed in a context defined by physical features that are calming and soothing and promote feelings of safety.

Keywords: compassion, contemplative neuroscience, ancient rituals, autonomic nervous system, polyvagal theory, vagal brake, social engagement system, dissolution, neuroception

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