It is well known that meditation is generally good for you, and now we are learning that it can be tailored to produce specific beneficial results. Previous studies have shown that meditation increases the size of your brain in areas associated with focused attention and compassion. This new research suggests that the type of meditation that you practice will influence which parts of your brain are most affected. This is analogous to physical training, where if you want to build up one particular muscle group there are special exercises that concentrate on developing that area. Similarly, it appears that certain types of meditation are better for developing certain parts of your brain.
The latest research comes from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, and it looked at the effects of three different meditation techniques over a nine month period. One technique was based on mindfulness meditation, and it taught people to direct their attention to the breath or body. A second type concentrated on compassion and emotional connection via loving kindness meditations. A final method encouraged people to think about issues from different points of view. MRI scans taken after each three-month course showed that the parts of the brain involved in the specific skill that was being trained grew thicker in comparison with scans from a control group.
Mindfulness meditation increased thickness in the areas linked to attention, while compassion-based meditation increased the part of the brain associated with bringing emotions into conscious awareness. The meditations on perspective boosted regions of the brain involved with problem solving. Tania Singer, the lead researcher on the study, says that meditation courses can be designed for specific outcomes, just as exercise programmes might target certain physical weaknesses. She went on to say that: “We still have to see how this affects everyday life, but if there are changes in real life then this could be very significant.”