June 2, 2014

Nondirective Meditation Stimulates Brain To Process More Thoughts and Feelings

I've used this photo  before. So what. I like it.
Meditation doesn't just calm our thoughts and lower our stress. A team of Australian and Norwegian researchers has found that one type of meditation produces higher activity in areas of the brain associated with processing thoughts and feelings. I’ve found the same thing.

There are many types of meditation – mindfulness, Zen, drumming, Chakra, transcendental... the list goes on. But the  researchers say we can put all these techniques into one of two groups:
  • Concentrative meditation focuses on breathing or mantras that block other thoughts.
  • Nondirective meditation may also focus on breathing or a meditation sound. But it isn't designed to block thoughts; rather, it encourages the mind to wander. Modern meditation techniques tend to fall into this category. So does my own variety.  
"Remarkable" Study Results 
Results of the study were published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. The small study involved 14 experienced meditation practitioners. All underwent magnetic resonance (MRI) while they rested, while they practiced one nondirective meditation, and while they practiced one concentrative technique.

The researchers found that subjects showed greater activity in brain areas associated with self-related thoughts and feelings during nondirective meditation than they showed while resting. But when they switched to concentrative meditation, their brain activity was about the same as it was while subjects rested.

“The study indicates that nondirective meditation allows for more room to process memories and emotions than during concentrated meditation,” said Svend Davanger, a neuroscientist at the University of Oslo and co-author of the study. He added:
This area of the brain has its highest activity when we rest. It represents a kind of basic operating system 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 Schappi Meditation Techniques -- Directive and Nondirective
I experimented -- usually without success -- with meditation for years. I started with directive varieties, usually the "breathe in, breathe out" approach designed to empty my mind. Just one problem: my mind never emptied.

Nondirective meditation
suited me better, but I didn't notice dramatic results. In addition, I wasn't very good at following some guru's rules on how to meditate.

That all changed several years ago when I started my "quiet hour meditation" after my middle-of-the-night bathroom visit. My approach is very nondirective; I make it up as I go along and it keeps changing. At first, I sat in a chair and combined mindfulness meditation and progressive relaxation. Now I mix in a couple BIG exercises for Parkinson's, and two core muscle strengthening exercises my physical therapist recommended for my bad back... which is no longer all that bad.

I'm increasingly aware that the rewards of my "quiet hour" result not just from mindfulness meditation, but also from the 5-HTP serotonin booster I take for Parkinson's. For the first time in my life, I've faithfully maintained a self-development program for a couple of years, because it works.

Directive meditation has recently made a comeback in my life. Since last December I've been using RESPeRATE, a medical device that has helped some users lower their blood pressure. Reviewed in the January issue of the "Mayo Clinic Health Letter," the little apparatus uses a directive meditation -- breathe in, breathe out -- based on a personalized musical guid. This new gadget has played a part in my decision -- so far successful -- to stop taking blood pressure pills.


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