We are used to hearing that meditation is good for the brain, but now it seems that not just any kind of meditation will do. Just like physical exercise, the kind of improvements you get depends on exactly how you train – and most of us are doing it all wrong.
That the brain changes physically when we learn a new skill, like juggling or playing a musical instrument, has been known for over a decade. Previous studies had suggested that meditation does something similar for parts of the brain involved in focused attention.
Two new studies published in Science Advances suggest that certain kinds of meditation can change social and emotional circuitry, too. The research comes out of the ReSource Project at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, and looked at the effects of three different meditation techniques on the brains and bodies of more than 300 volunteers over 9 months.
One technique was based on mindfulness meditation, and taught people to direct attention to the breath or body. A second type concentrated on compassion and emotional connection via loving kindness meditations and non-judgmental problem-sharing sessions with a partner. A final method encouraged people to think about issues from different points of view, also via a mix of partnered sessions and solo meditation.
In one study, MRI scans taken after each three-month course showed that parts of the cortex involved in the specific skill that was trained grew thicker in comparison with scans from a control group.