A joint study conducted by researchers at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the University of Oslo and the University of Sydney suggests that meditation helps the brain to process more thoughts and feelings than simple relaxation.
The researchers were analyzing how different types of meditation affect the brain. The different types of meditations can be broadly grouped into two sets, concentrative meditation, where the individual places emphases on his or her breathing and certain thoughts, and non-directive meditation which tells the person to allow his or her mind to wander around as it wants.
The researchers recruited around 14 people who were experienced in the Norwegian technique Acem meditation and asked them to both nondirective meditation and a more concentrative meditation task. On analyzing their brain activity through MRI, the researchers found that both non directive and concentrative meditation led to higher activity than during rest in the part of the brain dedicated to processing self-related thoughts and feelings.
"No one knows how the brain works when you meditate. That is why I'd like to study it. 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", lead researcher Jian Xu said.