neuroscience and spiritual practices

'Nondirective' meditation is most effective according to neuroscientists

Meditation has been practised since antiquity and comes in many practice forms. (Michelangelo Gratton/



Published Friday, May 16, 2014 10:25AM EDT

(Relaxnews) - Instead of imagining yourself on a hot, sunny beach, the more effective meditative method is to let the mind wander aimlessly, says a team of researchers from Norway and Australia.

Because during MRI tests, subjects who practiced “nondirective” meditation -- the kind that encourages the mind to wander at will -- were found to have higher activity in the part of the brain dedicated to processing thoughts and feelings, compared to those who were instructed to focus on a specific idea.

For their research, scientists from the University of Oslo and the University of Sydney examined the brain activity of 14 subjects in an MRI machine while they practiced two forms of meditation.

In nondirective meditation, subjects focused on breathing or a meditative sound, but beyond that were allowed to let their mind wander at will.

In concentrative meditation, subjects were instructed to focus their attention on their breathing and on a specific image or thought. The aim? To suppress other thoughts and distractions.

In addition to MRI scans, subjects also underwent different meditation activities and tasks.

"The study indicates that nondirective meditation allows for more room to process memories and emotions than during concentrated meditation," said neuroscientist and study co-author Svend Davanger from the University of Oslo.

"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.”

On the other hand, when subjects underwent thought-specific meditation, neural activity levels were similar to the brain at rest.

The latest research, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, builds on a series of interesting studies that shed light on how meditation can optimize the brain and help with overall well-being.

A 2012 study published in Frontiers in Cognition found that different meditation techniques can help spur creativity, while researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that it can likewise help ease anxiety and depression.

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