To some (and until recently, us), meditation looks an awful lot like sitting. Relaxing, even. However, a recent study has found that a person who is meditating processes more thoughts and feelings than someone who is simply relaxing—but it depends on the type of meditation.
The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, took fourteen experts in Acem, a type of Norwegian meditation (see, and we didn’t even know Norwegians meditated) and put them through MRIs while they were meditating. According to researchers, there are two schools of meditation: concentrative and nondirective. Concentrative meditation involves focusing on breathing or specific thoughts, suppressing other thoughts. Nondirective meditation allows the mind to wander as it pleases.
Subjects were scanned while practicing concentrative and nondirective meditation, as well as just plain relaxing; insofar as one can relax during an MRI. Nondirective meditation led to higher rates of activity in the part of the brain that processes self-related thoughts and feelings. Concentrative meditation and relaxing weren’t any different than each other.