The Big Reason Why Mind Wandering in Meditation Leads to Joy

A specific type of mind-wandering meditation is GOOD for you. It helps the brain process emotional experiences, thoughts or feelings leading to better stress management and in-turn happiness.

We all know that stress makes us react very fast. A lot of pent-up anger and unspoken thoughts are piled up from one stressful event to another. Wouldn’t it be nice to process it and get some closure? Scientific data agrees with that!

Researchers in Norway and Australia (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, University of Oslo and University of Sydney) conducted research to determine how the brain responds during different types of meditation.

They categorized meditation into two basic types: Concentrative—in which the meditating person only focuses attention on breathing or on a specific thought (while suppressing other thoughts); and Nondirectivein which the individual effortlessly focuses on breathing or a meditation sound, but beyond that, it is OK for the mind to wander.

For the study, researchers recruited fourteen individuals with extensive experience in a Norwegian style of non-directive meditation called Acem. As the subjects lay in an MRI machine, they were asked to participate in both nondirective meditation and concentrative meditation.

According to the MRI findings, non-directive meditation resulted in stronger activity in the part of the brain that processes self-related thoughts and feelings, compared to those in a resting state. When participants took part in concentrative meditation, the activity in this part of the brain was similar to those in a resting state.

The researchers were surprised that brain activity was greatest during the wandering-thought meditation instead of during concentrative meditation—when the brain had to work so hard at being focused.

Nondirective meditation allows the brain ‘more space’ to process memories and emotions, compared to concentrated meditation, said the researchers. Since this area of the brain tends to peak in activity when a person is at rest, the researchers found it remarkable that nondirective meditation resulted in even higher activity than regular rest.

So if you have something that’s bothering you, and your mind tends to wander during meditation, allow it to be free. In a lot of our courses, we try to include both concentrative and nondirective types of mediation for a wholesome experience. Processing your emotions and memories to a certain extent is a great tool for happiness and an enriching meditation.

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