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What Your Brain Does When You Meditate

May 20, 2014 04:16 PM EDT

Researchers have recently discovered how different meditation techniques cause brain activity to change in remarkably different ways, showing that meditation can truly impact the activity of the mind.

These findings are detailed in a study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

According to the study, researchers assessed the brains of 14 participants in real time as they underwent two different types of meditation - concentrative and nondirective.

The research team classified concentrative meditation techniques as meditative approaches that have the subject focus on the process of breathing or certain thoughts to block out other thoughts. Nondirective meditation, on the other hand, was defined as a meditative technique that involved focusing on breathing or a sound and then "letting go" to let the mind wander.

According to the study, all fourteen participants were in adequate mental health and reportedly were already highly experienced in Acem meditation - a technique that falls under the nondirective category.

All these participants were asked to rest, practice nondirective mediation and concentrative meditation while undergoing MRI scans.

Interestingly, the scans revealed that concentrative meditation brain activity was very similar to resting brain activity. However, the researchers found that while in the midst of nondirective meditation, the brains of the participants proved highly active in areas associated with self-reflection and emotion.

"The study indicates that nondirective meditation allows for more room to process memories and emotions than during concentrated meditation," Svend Davanger, a co-author of the study, said in a Norwegian University of Science and Technology news release.

"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," Davanger explained.

The study was published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience on February 26.

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