Hello ladies. I’m writing to you on Wondering Wednesday about a study on meditation and the brain that intrigues me. Essentially they came to the conclusion that an open focused non-directive meditation causes more activity in the brain, in the thought and emotional processing area, than does concentration meditation.
Researches out of Norway using brain imaging, discovered the areas in the brain that activate when a subject was doing non-focused meditation were quite active processing thoughts and emotions. This surprised the researchers.
They expected the “work” of concentrating on a specific focus would lead to more activity in the brain, then would no focus. So they concluded that the non-focused state in the brain was the resting state or a “resting network.”
Here’s my hypothesis of what is going on here: Our brains are hardwired to keep us safe and alive. Therefore, when awake, the brain circuitry is in a semi-state of alert, ready to fight, flee or freeze to avoid harm. A hair trigger so to speak, is always right there thanks to the amygdala and adrenal hormones.
Back to the study, when your mind is intentionally focused for a period of time on something, say your breathing, and all is quiet around you, your body relaxes as this focused state tells your amygdala that you are safe and it takes a break too.
The opposite would occur when you are non-directive or open-focused, paying some attention to thoughts or body sensations as they come and go. The ideal is that you don’t get caught up in them, but you notice the content or emotion.
In this case your amygdala goes to work, checking out each passing scenario to make sure you are not in harm’s way. The so-called “resting network” is really what I think is meant by the “default network,” where the past and future are activated, drawing from memory and past learning to keep you safe and on top of things. To quote* from one of the researchers, Svend Davanger, M.D., Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the University of Oslo, and co-author of the study said,
“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.”
The opposite of the brain areas stimulated by the default network is the “direct experience network” firing in your brain which occurs when you are in the moment, experiencing through your senses and body what is going on in the moment and your thoughts relate to what is occurring right now.
If you are engaged in concentration meditation, then you are engaged in the now, allowing your amygdala, and default network to disengage at the semi-alert state and be quiet. Whether you focus on your breathing, a mandala, a candle flame, a mantra or counting, this eases the semi-alert brain system, the default, and lets you be in direct experience, which is a resting of sorts.
This is my take on the research findings as summarized here by Rick Nauert, PhD on research done by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
- Reference used : Nauert, R. (2014). How Different Types of Meditation Affect the Brain.Psych Central. Retrieved on May 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/05/19/how-different-types-of-meditation-affect-the-brain/70052.html
Thanks for wondering with me today.
Creator of the Weight Loss MAP to Freedom for women who want to lose weight & keep it off for life without diets, pills or surgery.