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Not all meditation is created equal: The benefits of different types

You have probably heard about the benefits of meditation. It’s become a thing. Google meditation and 400,000,000 results will pop up in less than 2 seconds! To say that meditation techniques are widely available is a classic understatement. At the same time, it can be daunting to know where to start. Fair enough. There are different types of meditation that have different benefits. And there are also lofty claims made about the benefits that aren’t always backed up with solid scientific research.

Regardless of the type of meditation, all require consistent daily practice to reap the rewards. With a consistent daily practice of 30 minutes, it has been revealed that the structure of your brain and your behavior can change.  Dr. Tania Singer, a neuroscientist responsible for some important research on meditation, advises us not to look at meditation as a single practice, because different mental practices train different skills and different parts of the brain.

Singer and her team divided meditation practices into three types. Each is outlined below in terms of the primary meditation practices, and the attendant benefits. Here is a summary of the research results:

Presence practices

The focus is on training attention and internal body awareness (mindfulness)

Practices: Body scan; Breathing meditation; Bringing attention to sensations (hearing and seeing);

Benefits:

  • Attention

Using a biological marker of stress (the presence of the stress related hormone cortisol), this mindfulness-based attention and internal body awareness training didn’t help with the cortisol stress response. This suggests that mindfulness practices may not be the best route if stress reduction is the intended goal.

With body awareness we are also better able to notice and label our emotions. Body awareness (via the body scan)  moves to a significant level of being better able to notice and label emotions   only after six months of practice and in 9 months, even more. This is important to keep in mind to temper big results promised in only a few days and sometimes even in just a few minutes.

The presence module did not lead to broad effects in terms of non-judgment, acceptance and compassion.

Affect practices

The training focuses on creating positive emotions, accepting difficult emotions and increasing motivation to be kind and helpful toward others (compassion)

Practices: Empathic listening, Loving-kindness, self-compassion[link to self-compassion ex], gratitude[link to gratitude blog]

Benefits:

  • Attention
  • Increased acting with awareness
  • Increased non-judgement, acceptance and compassion the most
  • Improved coping with social stress (the fear of being judged harshly or falling short of expectations)
  • Increased feelings of interdependence and interconnection with others
  • Significantly reduced the cortisol stress response

Perspective practices

The focus is on met-cognitive skills like becoming aware of your thinking, gaining

perspective on aspects of your personality, and taking the perspective of others.

Practices: Observing thoughts meditation and perspective taking exercise with a partner

Benefits:

  • Better self-understanding (understand own personality such as an inner critic/judge)
  • Helped people take the perspective of others
  • Improved coping with social stress (the fear of being judged harshly or falling short of expectations)
  • Increased feelings of interdependence and interconnection with others
  • Significantly reduced the cortisol stress response

Overall, this research suggests that the benefits of mindfulness practices may have be over inflated. It also suggests that affect practices are the most beneficial if you want to decrease your stress and increase your compassion.

 

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