A study from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research has found that the type of meditation you practice can impact on the brain more powerfully than previously thought.
Conducted over a period of three months, subjects were separated into three groups, and three different types of meditation. The first “focused awareness meditation” group, worked to place their attention on a specific stimulus, either breathing, various parts of the body or a physical object.
The second group worked on a “kindness meditation” in groups of 2 to 4. The purpose was to increase empathy for others and put aside personal biases or assumptions.
The final group did a “non-judgemental meditation” where they would look with curiosity at their thoughts and feelings without allowing the commentary of personal opinion.
During the course of the study and immediately following it, the brains of participants were analysed and the results were startling.
The first group demonstrated enhanced thickness in areas of the anterior prefrontal cortex. This is a physical reaction to meditation that seems to have permanency rather than offer a temporary solution to an unwanted feeling such as stress or dread. Interestingly, the prefrontal cortex is linked to focus and attention – the thicker the area is, the more focus the subject is likely to have.
The second group, taking part in the kindness meditation, had chemical changes in areas associated with emotions. Again, this is not surprising but the potential permanency of the change certainly is.
Finally, the non-judgemental meditation group saw two changes – one to the area that increases the ability of an individual to understand the mental states of others, and an inhibition in the area of personal perspective or self-consciousness. While this may seem counterintuitive to the meditation itself, it, in fact, makes perfect sense – through only acknowledging thoughts and feelings rather than considering their ramifications, the subjects were externalising those things and making them – at least from their own perspective, somebody else’s.
The impact of the study will be profound for meditators, businesses and society as a whole. Understanding the types of meditation which can offer permanent changes in the brain’s chemical makeup in a positive way, means that meditation can be seen as a discipline and a training exercise for emotional and more traditional intelligence.
Further studies are needed, but the impact of the study is likely to resonate for years to come.
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