This is What Happens to Your Brain When You Meditate

5 minute meditation Practicing meditation is a great way to allow both your body and mind to relax, while also giving you better focus and higher levels of productivity throughout the rest of your day. But, between Meditation Drumming, Chakra, Acem, and the many other forms of meditation, which one is the best for your? Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the University of Oslo and the University of Sydney are currently working to figure out how the brain works while practicing the different types of meditation.

Despite the numerous meditation techniques, each can be placed into two categories -- concentrative meditation and nondirective meditation. Concentrative meditation involves focusing your attention on breathing or specific thoughts, while simultaneously suppressing other thoughts. Nondirective meditation involves focusing on breathing or a meditation sound without any effort, while you allow your mind to wander.

Through the study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers tested 14 participants who had extensive experience with Acem, a Norwegian meditation technique, in an MRI machine. During the test, the participants practiced both categories of meditation and rested.

Researchers found that there was more activity in nondirective meditation than during rest periods in the part of the brain that processes self-related thoughts and feelings. During concentrative meditation, the activity in the same part of the brain was similar to that of the resting period.

“I was surprised that the activity of the brain was greatest when the person’s thoughts wandered freely on their own, rather than when the brain worked to be more strongly focused,” said Jian Xu, who is a physician at St. Olavs Hospital and a researcher at the Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging at NTNU.

“When the subjects stopped doing a specific task and were not really doing anything special, there was an increase in activity in the area of the brain where we process thoughts and feelings. It is described as a kind of resting network. And it was this area that was most active during nondirective meditation.”

 Dr. Svend Davanger, a neuroscientist and co-author of the study says the research suggests that nondirective meditation gives the brain more room to process memories and emotions.

“This area of the brain has its highest activity when we rest. It represents a kind of basic operating system, a resting network that takes over when external tasks do not require our attention. It is remarkable that a mental task like nondirective meditation results in even higher activity in this network than regular rest,” says Davanger.

He adds that he feels it is important to truly understand meditation since it is practiced by millions of people around the world.