While many Westerners have some familiarity with the concept of meditation, far fewer understand that various practitioners throughout history have developed their own techniques and traditions. While a huge variety of meditation approaches exist in the modern world, researchers have separated these types into two larger groups: concentrative meditation and nondirective meditation. The former group generally involves focusing inward and on the breath or, in the case of Transcendental Meditation, a mantra. The latter group is more closely identified with modern meditative practices, though the Zen tradition of zazen also involves nondirective methods of reaching a meditative state, ideally by reaching a state where one can passively observe the body and the mind.
While many people are content with finding a meditation technique that works for them, scientists have been working to discover how these techniques may impact the body. One recent study conducted by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, as well as other institutions, used MRI technology to track how concentrative meditation and nondirective meditation affect the brain. The results showed that nondirective meditation tended to be more highly correlated with activity in the brain’s resting network, where self-related thoughts are processed, while concentrative meditation tended to look like the brain at normal rest. While the study size was small, involving only 14 subjects, the promising results indicate further research is merited.