New Research Findings: Which Meditation Methods Are Best To Reduce Stress?


Meditation at sunset: image via meditationoasis.comMeditation at sunset: image via meditationoasis.comThose who want to practice meditation are often initially challenged to pick 'the best way' to meditate.  Some experts argue for mindfulness meditation, like focusing on your breathing or on body parts, or about a specific object or even a real problem one is experiencing.  Others prefer a non-directed, open-minded meditation in which one allows thoughts to come and go without dwelling on them or judging them or even reacting to them.  A team of researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the University of Oslo, and the University of Sydney recently published their findings on the respective methods and their effects on the brain as seen on magnetic resonance imagery (MRI).

The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, looked at the scans of 14 participants practiced in acem meditation.  They underwent MRI while practicing acem, another non-directed meditation method, and a mindfulness meditation method with 15 minute breaks between each exercise. 

The MRI images were remarkably similar between acem and the second non-directed meditation method, but remarkably different between the two non-directed methods and the mindfulness method.  Below is an example.


MRI meditation comparisons: image credit: Norwegian University of Science and Technology via medxpress.comMRI meditation comparisons: image credit: Norwegian University of Science and Technology via


The brain images on the right show more activity in the brain, similar to the activity seen on MRI when we are just resting. The areas of the brain that are shown in yellow are the areas that process our feelings and thoughts.  This kind of heightened brain activity is actually a positive activity for the brain, as one reseacher, neuroscientist Sven Davinger explains...

"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 non-directed meditation results in even higher activity in this network than regular rest."

The research interpretation, therefore, is that non-directed meditation is better for relaxation than mindfulness methods.  So specific practices such as acem and Zazen that allow thoughts to flow through one's mind with the only anchor being perhaps a meaningless sound or mantra (OM anyone?) to keep one from getting too involved in more than passing thoughts.

But mindful meditation has many beneficial uses beyond relaxation.  It is used and prescribed by medical practitioners, particularly for pain and for psychiatric and psychological conditions, like post traumatic stress disorder and certain types of paranoia, for example.

A good, concise explanation of mindfulness meditation and non-directed meditation, or acem, can be found on TheMeditationBlog.

sources:  Frontiers in Human Neuroscience via MedXpress, TheMeditationBlog