Meditation is often promoted as a solution for stress – and now new research shows that allowing the mind to wander during meditation may help the brain process memories and emotions, Medical Daily reported.
In a study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers from Norway and Australia classified mediation techniques into two groups: concentrative and nondirective. During concentrative meditation, the person focuses attention on his or her breathing and specific thoughts, while suppressing other thoughts. Nondirective meditation allows the mind to wander and doesn’t require attention to breathing or sounds.
Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers looked at the brain activity of 14 people, all of whom were experienced in Acem meditation, a well-known nondirective form of meditation. Observing the participants’ brains during nondirective and concentrative meditation, researchers found that participants had a higher level of activity in the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex— which is dedicated to processing thoughts and feelings— during nondirective meditation.
"This area of the brain has its highest activity when we rest,” said study author Svend Davanger, a neuroscientist at the University of Oslo. “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.”
The medial prefrontal cortex is the self-assessing portion of the brain, helping a person to gain perspective on past experiences, memories and related feelings. It’s most engaged when a person is thinking about their future, feeling empathy or engaging in social interactions.