Part 1 – Research into different Meditation types and their benefits.
Part 2 – One chosen meditation type, explaining the possible positive benefits of using it for someone suffering from: a) Depression, b) Stress, and c) Anxiety.
Plus I have added a suggested 2nd type to add at a later stage, explaining why.
In this article, which I am writing as an assignment for my “Mindfulness in Mental Health” course, I am sharing a lot of detail about meditation types, and research that has been done to show how they can benefit us. It is quite astonishing how much can be achieved! Even though I have been practising all sorts of types myself for many years, I did not realise that the benefits could be quite so huge.
I have also chosen one type to look at using, specifically for people suffering with Depression, Stress, or Anxiety. I discuss why I think that type of meditation would work well with these conditions, detailing the positive benefits of the type for each condition.
I have also included a secondary choice, to use after one has become confident in using the first choice, because I think it has additional benefits, which I will explain.
My chosen types are the two most recommended for their accessibility, but the first choice is the one most often recommended for this reason, plus the one most often shown to be of benefit for the conditions mentioned.
PART 1 :
It’s pretty ironic that I found learning about all the different types of meditation and the research into the benefits of each quite stressful! It’s just that there are so many types, and so much research, with so many articles already written about it, that it was quite a huge project to try to keep organised, and took ages. But it has been so worth it! There were many points throughout the project where I just felt incredibly happy. As a long-term practitioner and teacher of meditation, I was already familiar with most of the types, but it is so good to put together such a huge collection of evidence in an article I will now be able to share widely, and to be reminded of so many wonderful details!
I have been practising meditation pretty much all my life, and yet I never tried to follow one or other type specifically. It seems I have tried all types to a degree, often mixing methods as it turns out, but it has all been an organic progression of discovery and I have always been very happy with my results. I would still actually recommend mixing it up to anyone embarking on their own journey, follow your heart and intuition.
However, some methods are easier to start with, such as Mindfulness Meditation, and there is a huge body of studies to show that it is very effective for a whole host of things, including reducing the symptoms and recurrence of depression, and helping to deal with anxiety and stress (more details later). So it already looks like this is the method I would suggest beginning with, if you suffer from any of those conditions. The other huge benefit of this method is that it makes a person more self-aware – they become able to monitor themselves and use methods of coping as needed. That’s got to be a huge boon for anyone, as long as they are willing to get started and give it a chance.
I think maybe the biggest challenge for people suffering with depression, or anxiety, might be finding the initial motivation to engage with the process. Although I suggest that starting in a group situation may be best initially, I can see that finding, and then going to, a group might in itself be a difficult thing to achieve. However, most groups will really make you feel safe and comfortable if you give them the chance. You don’t really have to do much other than sit quietly and follow along with the meditations. Also, you could enlist someone to go with you if that would help. I feel prompted to suggest here that you look at things in a way that is the foundation of brief solution focused therapy – where you count every initial step you take as a huge plus – something you have already managed to achieve – so someone who manages to overcome inertia, or fear and anxiety, to get to a group, or start doing something themselves, is already considered to be well on the way to recovery.
For people suffering from stress – please don’t allow yourself to continue this way, take back control – take time for yourself, do whatever you need to do to get back your health and happiness. Don’t let anyone deter you in this, it’s absolutely crucial that you turn things around as soon as possible, before it gets worse. Define what is important to you and get well again, then you will be able to function properly for the good of yourself and everyone around you. As Mindworks.org says, “Meditation is a very grounded and important technique for relieving stress.”
According to mentalhealthdaily.com there are 3 primary methods of meditation: They say that the most popular types include Vipassana (focused attention or concentration), Mindfulness (open monitoring ), and Transcendental (effortless awareness), but that there are infinitely more, although they mostly fit into these categories of Concentration (or Focused Attention), Open Monitoring, or Effortless Awareness (Transcending).
The site then explains in more detail, but first I would like to say that I much prefer “focused attention”. I think that “concentration” tends to get in the way of the process, it should be a relaxed and gentle focus, never a forced thing. The same applies to divination or healing, you just have to be soft about it to let it flow well. Smiling helps soften things. Focus on breathing does help at the start of any meditation, and so does relaxing of all parts of your body.
Anyway, mentalhealthdaily.com says that Vipassana technique is to focus attention on one specific thing the whole time, eventually without distraction. It could be an external object or on the breathing. They say that you can also develop Mindfulness along with this.
They say that in Mindfulness, you let your attention flow freely, without judgement or attachment. You simply observe perceptions, thoughts, memories, and sensations that you experience, openly monitoring (or being mindful of them) but not becoming involved in them (remaining detached from them). You observe them almost from a third-person perspective. You notice but do not react positively or negatively. My husband says he feels like he is flying above his life, looking at it from a distance (creating detachment) and just observing the patterns, events, thoughts. To me, mindfulness can be quite a wakeful state of meditation, you can even do it while going about daily tasks, taking a walk, etc. When practised, you can even do it to a degree when in conversation (so that you don’t over-react to anything). Your view can easily become more objective than subjective, especially if you pause to allow for the switch. So it is great to use during everyday interactions and observations of the world, where you notice what you might otherwise have called beauty or ugliness, but you do not judge or attach to anything. It can be very helpful to detach your own thinking from events, then you can see that you could change your perspective, even train your own mind to help you manage life situations. You can become non-judgemental of others, and even of yourself, which helps you let go of all sorts of negatives and move forward into a positive flow of feeling able to cope. You can become non-judgemental of life itself – see how everything has to be included in some overall state of balance to allow life to even exist at all. Nothing is black & white after all, there are many details you may not know behind why a situation has become the way it seems. We can actually release a lot of pain & suffering by gaining a more objective perspective. As in Transcendental Meditation – everything is interconnected, but with Mindfulness this is generally more of a logical conclusion than in the blissful, mystical melding of TM. However, it appears that many places such as schools are open to teaching Mindfulness, possibly because it is quite a logical and accessible method, so this type of meditation is probably going to be the most useful to society as a whole. The effects are probably also the most tangible and obvious, and have been extensively researched and documented.
Mentalhealthdaily.com say that Transcendental Meditation is classified as effortless because it requires no mental effort or concentration. It is sometimes called “pure being” because the aim is to help you recognize your pure essence, or pure self, or true nature – by eliminating all thought. It is named “transcendental” because it involves emptiness. Apparently some say it’s like giving the brain a massage or a bath. Anyway, you silence the mind to become aware of deep states of consciousness, which can feel great. However it is generally considered more difficult to achieve, requiring patient practice. It my help to start with Vipassana type meditations to help still the chattering mind. For me, the mind slips into a state where it is empty of everyday stuff, then suddenly there is space for universal consciousness to flood in. This feels incredibly beautiful and benevolent, filling me with love, inspiration, gnosis, and peace. You have to relax the brain rather than use effort, and it’s easier to do in surroundings that you love. As a child I did this naturally when out on my own in the wilderness, as luckily I was fortunate enough to be able to do from a very young age. I used to very much struggle with accepting the human race as part of the all encompassing picture though, when they often seemed so against nature and even each other. I got much more sociable in boarding high school though. I still sometimes struggle with certain elements of humanity, but fortunately non-judgemental and loving kindness practices help, and I know that everyone must play their part. Although I still think there is a lot we could change, I guess I accept that it has to take all types to make a world, and we each make our own heaven or hell, at least to a point. I have to say I have to question how people being bombed by other people could be objective though, and many of the common personal development type phrases or quotes seem laughable in this context. But I can only hope that if more people meditate then there will less people to drop bombs.
Mentalhealthdaily.com then goes on to list many other techniques:
Guided meditations – are something that can be used to help you start out to learn about meditation, and each one can help with different things. You can find many online, in fact I create some myself. They often include music and/or nature sounds to relax you and words to guide you. However I suggest always listening to them first without headphones and without going deeply into them, so that you can assess their suitability for you. It’s no good being led into an ocean or under a waterfall if you are afraid of water, or being told to fly like an eagle if you are afraid of heights. Some meditations might lead you down steps to help deepen your meditation but I suggest you only do these if you are with someone else or more experienced. If you ever feel like you can’t get back to full awareness simply press any part of you touching the ground into the ground, or if you are not touching the ground you could press yourself onto the bed or chair etc. Or you could press your hands together or onto your legs, even rubbing them, and you could also try making a sound, like a hum, to help. If you are with someone else who doesn’t seem to be coming round after a session, then you can do this for them, pressing their feet, hands, legs, etc, and encouraging them gently to come back to full awareness of where you are. Many guided meditations will help you return fully anyway. A group leader will give people a little space to finish in case they are receiving some great enlightenment, then help ensure they return after a few moments. I’ve had the most amazing experiences with guided meditations taking me off on amazing adventures within moments, or taking me deep into healing peace, but I’ve also found others that bring me up short, going “Oh no! What?” Everyone is different so I am sure you will find plenty to suit you. Guided meditations are a bit like tools in a toolbox or brushes and paints in an art set, that you can use at will. One might talk you through dealing with anger, helping to change your perspective, whereas another one may simply take you on a stroll into a garden to sit peacefully on a bench and use all your senses to visualize and enjoy the surroundings. So guided meditations often tend to be used for specific purposes, whereas TM and Mindfulness Meditation my have a wider general effect on your state of mind or consciousness. Guided Meditations are like one path of Vipassana, where you focus on a journey or process, and of course the guide is helping you focus instead of you having to figure out how to focus on one object or thought. You will benefit from using a variety of Guided meditations, whereas TM and Mindfulness are more overreaching. With Mindfulness though, you will develop ways of applying it to help with any aspects of your life your wish to.
Affirmations – are also tools to help you with specific things. You can find ones that suit you, and you can also make up your own. They might be incorporated into guided or other forms of meditation, but they can also be used on their own, a bit like mantras, to assure you of certain positive things. My favourite is “I love, and am loved.” I use it often to open a meditation, together with deep, slow breathing, and a smile. It opens my energy to interlinking with the universal. A few other examples might be “My health and confidence is continually increasing”, or “I appreciate all those around me, their unique personalities and their part in my life”, or “I notice the beauty in small things everywhere in the moments of my life”, or “I am grateful for everything I have”. Even just one gratefulness & appreciation mantra first thing in the morning can change your outlook for the whole day, and at night it can bring great peace to your sleep.
A Body Scan meditation – can help you notice tensions in parts of your body and release them or learn whatever you might need to from them, and become more balanced.
Progressive Relaxation meditation – helps relax each part of your body progressively.
Music and guided Imagery can be used in many ways to help relax you and lead you towards achieving certain objectives. There might by musical mantras or sounds that you like, or recordings of music that can affect particular brainwave patterns, according to their frequency.
Loving Kindness (Metta Meditation) helps to cultivate unconditional love and kindness towards others. It’s derived from Theravada Buddhism. This of course does help you to feel a lot happier in yourself. There is scientific evidence for this, and of it increasing brain waves and neural activity. Heck, I know that even a smile makes you feel better, and this makes you smile more. Naturally, using the mind helps – any positive use has to help you by its very nature. In Theravada Buddhism, Metta apparently means any sort of love without attachment. You direct kindness and goodwill to yourself first, then out to others – at first to friends & family, then to strangers, then to even the more ‘difficult’. When consistently practised, feelings of pure joy will arise. Those who suffer from depression, negative thinking, and anger outbursts, will significantly benefit. I suggest we always check we are being humble when ‘doing good work’. Too much pride is never attractive and they do say that pride often comes before a fall. Rather it is good to learn to laugh at ourselves, it fits well with the natural flow of life and consciousness. I like to do loving kindness along with Tai Chi type movements that symbolize the sharing of love/energy between myself and the earth, and myself and others. Elsewhere Loving Kindness Meditation is referred to as Compassion Meditation.
Mindfulness Meditation (MBSR or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is one specific use for this). The idea is that you focus on a life circumstance or present moment, and pay attention to all emotions, physical sensations, and thoughts, without judgement. So it’s like Vipassana really, and can be done in deep meditation or in a more wakeful state. It’s supposed to help you become increasingly aware and non-reactive. They do say you can use it while sitting in a traffic jam, walking, eating, etc. You could focus on the wondrous taste of food and how it’s going to benefit your amazing body. It’s also great to help focus on the beauty around you, to become aware that there is so much you can be happy about in the world. Or at least to stay calm while in a tricky situation, maybe even learn from it. I think the teaching of mindfulness is most useful for giving people tools to help them cope with life, for enabling them to see things in different ways and not feel stuck in negative attitudes. I do love walking, with focus on breath and enjoying everything around. Our bodies and how they move and work are incredible, and you can feel connected to the natural world, the sun, the wind, the leaves blowing, the flowers reaching up their exquisite faces to the light, the variety of wildlife, and so on.
Qigong (Chi Gong) is rooted in Chinese Medicine, with the aim of unifying body, breath, and mind. It’s a moving meditation, and you can do a similar thing with other forms of movement such as Tai Chi. The goal is to cultivate and balance qi (chi) energy. It’s incorporated into Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. It’s obviously also good exercise. I do my own intuitive dances / exercises for this at home sometimes, only having a little knowledge of Tai Chi movements & principles, but it feels great. It incorporates a softness of gaze, solid stance, relaxation, central balance (dantien), and equanimity. Actually I also learnt about something called Trager Mentastics (mental gymnastics) which helped me a lot to intuitively create my movements. Then I add the flow of chi which you can direct to yourself, then others, then out to the universe, then into the earth, for example, so there can be a touch of loving kindness in there too.
Taoist Meditation derived from Lao Tzu in China, is about harmony – with nature mostly, but then we are part of nature. It incorporates concentration (I always prefer focus), mindfulness, contemplation, and advanced forms of visualization. Buddhist practices have significant parallels. The primary objective is to become one with the Tao, so it’s a bit like TM in that way too. [Tao (In Chinese philosophy) is the absolute principle underlying the universe, combining within itself the principles of yin and yang and signifying the way, or code of behaviour, that is in harmony with the natural order. The interpretation of Tao in the Tao-te-Ching developed into the philosophical religion of Taoism.]
Vajrayana (Tantric Buddhism) incorporated into Lama and Guru Yoga – is quite complex, but increases neurological adaptations such as stimulation and mental focus.
Vipassana means insight into reality – so the focus on an object, contemplation, and mindful breathing, helps you gain new insights. It also helps increase internal awareness, so is good for stress relief (which has been scientifically proven).
Yoga is considered an integral form of physical, mental, and spiritual practice, and is used in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. It dates back to pre-vedic Indian tradition. Many forms of yogic meditation can help achieve mental freedom, self-knowledge, and self-realization (moksha). Practice typically involves conduct (yamas and niyamas), postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation. The limbs of yoga that embody meditative practice are pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. There are chakra meditations, gazing meditations (trataka), kundalini, kriya (energy), nada (sound), pranayama (breath), self-inquiry, tantra, and third eye meditations.
Zen (or Zazen) comes from Chinese Buddhism and means seated meditation, but goes back to the 6th century Indian monk Bodhidharma. Generally you tame the mind by counting the breath. In the Soto tradition, observing the mind is the primary focus, being aware of thoughts non-judgmentally, so it’s similar to Mindfulness. Group meditations are called “Sesshin”, and “Koans” are sometimes used to gain insight through having to solve them. You can also do walking meditations called “Kinhin” as well as the sitting “Zen” ones.
Which Meditation should you practice?
I have never been the type of person to fit into boxes, to follow one tradition or another – I tend to draw what I want from different places, and luckily internet research allows us to access so much information! I prefer to be the ultimate master of myself, and am happy to learn from many masters, as long as they don’t want me to pay them exorbitant sums or become enslaved to their ‘faction’. I keep moving, keep learning, keep as fresh and stimulated as I possibly can despite my ageing.
Although the science of how meditation creates neural and physiological changes is quite new, we do know that different types of meditation produce specific neural and physiological adaptations – so choosing one form may literally transform your brain in an entirely different way than another. So choose wisely, or, as I do, mix it up!
Remember that meditation could increase social isolation if you separate yourself too much from those around you, so please ensure you do not allow it to do this, especially if you suffer from depression or anxiety. Perhaps you would be better meditating in a group than on your own. It is also probably safer at least to start with, in case you have any weird experiences, as the group leader will always be able to support you with knowledge and compassion.
Remember that, for anyone, it is no good to withdraw too much from the life around you, no matter how great your experiences of meditation might be, they are not a substitute for real life interactions and the environment around you. You need to keep the external balanced with the internal, in other words don’t lose your ability to get on with daily life by overdoing it. The benefits of meditation are actually supposed to be incorporated into daily life to become effective. Too much inward focus can become unhealthy if not balanced with the external. I love walking meditations where you can appreciate the weather, the flowers, trees etc, as this is nicely balanced, and you can even just do it on the way to work etc.
I say that the greatest thing to remember about meditation is that you need to integrate it into daily life. Your insights are really beneficial if you can make them work actively for you – to increase your understanding of and compassion for our world and all life, and your ability to actively engage with and enjoy it. For this reason I recommend that all meditation should ultimately be used this way, and therefore those types that encourage you to do this are the most beneficial.
On the website curiosity.com I found an article that also states that different types of meditation do different things to your brain, and they go into this in more detail.
They said that studies at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognition and Brain Sciences showed results of 300 volunteers using 3 different meditation techniques, for 3 months apiece, one 3 month period after the other. The details were published in Science Advances:
Mindfulness Meditation (including breathing, body scans, walking, and zeroing in on sights, smells, and tastes) was associated with developing a thicker prefrontal cortex and parietal lobe, both linked to attention control.
Compassion Meditation, also called loving kindness. (This included repeating phrases like “May you be happy, safe, healthy, and live with ease”. The phrases were firstly directed to themselves, then to someone close to them, then to someone they felt neutral about, and eventually to someone they had difficulties with, and finally to all beings on earth. They also focused on accepting their emotions and practising forgiveness and self-compassion. Then they told each other about experiences that were difficult or made them feel grateful, without interpretation or feedback.) This showed increases in the limbic system, which processes emotions, and also a boost to the anterior insula, which helps you consciously identify your emotions.
Perspective Taking Training asked volunteers to observe their own thoughts as mental events instead of representations of reality. In the first phase they labelled their thoughts “Me” or “Other”, “Past” or “Future”, and “Positive” or “Negative” – but as they progressed, they were able to just observe them coming and going without labels. There was also an exercise where participants learned about the Internal Family Systems (IFS) approach, which divides the mind into sub-personalities or parts, such as “Managers”, which try to keep you in control of situations, and “Exiles”, which try to protect you from pain, and “Firefighters”, which react when “Exiles” are activated in order to extinguish bad feelings. They all told stories from the perspective of one of these inner parts without telling the listeners which one, and the listeners had to figure it out from the story. This helped the storyteller take a bird’s-eye-view of their own experiences, and the listeners to infer the perspective of the storyteller. This process was associated with thickening of the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the left occipital region, and the middle temporal gyrus – all linked to Theory of Mind – the ability to understand that others have beliefs, intentions, and perspectives different from yours, and to infer what they might be.
So Meditation really is a basket label for a whole host of different cognitive exercises. If you asked a sport expert what sport does to your body, they would first ask which type of sport, as each one would affect different parts. So you can find a type of meditation to exercise or develop specific skills.
An article in New Scientist also said that some types of meditation change parts of the brain associated with attention and others can change social and emotional circuitry. Their article said that a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Oxford wondered if it made a difference if all test subjects followed the same set of types of meditation in the same order or not. He suggested that if all subjects did Mindfulness first that might make a difference to their attention ability for other types afterwards.
The same article says that a second study using the same volunteers looked at the impact of meditation on stress levels. The researchers found that Mindfulness alone made volunteers calmer, but their cortisol levels were no different from the control group. But after engaging in face-to-face sessions in addition to Compassion or Perspective based meditation, they showed a 51% drop in cortisol levels. This was regarded as important because most of the stress experienced in modern life is social – fear of being judged harshly or falling short of expectations – and it’s this that is linked to mental health problems and disease too.
So these findings show that Mindfulness Meditation alone may not save us from stress overload, but they thought that if it does help it would be more to do with practising it in a group situation.
In Forbes there was an article that said that increased IQ and enhanced brain function from ‘brain games’ is not evidenced, but meditation and mindfulness training have accumulated some impressive evidence, suggesting the practices can change our behaviour and moment-to-moment experience, as well as changing the structure and function of the brain. Basically the studies show that types of meditation activating certain parts of the brain, cause increases in corresponding areas. Apparently even just an 8 week MBSR program can shift brain function, improve well-being, and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. The findings “suggest a potential biological basis for how mindfulness and different aspects of social intelligence could be nurtured”. They go on to say that “with growing globalization, interconnectedness, and complexity of our societies, ‘soft skills’ have become increasingly important. Social competence allows for better understanding of others feelings and beliefs, and is crucial for successful cooperation.”
On the Chopra Centre website chopra.com it says that to be successful meditation needs to be simple, comfortable, and have results that make you want to keep going with it. They also say that the right approach is to use whatever types work best for you.
They list Primordial Sound as a meditation type, using a vibrational mantra. They also list MBSR, Zen, and TM as other types. They say similar things about Zen as the other sites I have quoted from do, but also add that “you can acquire insight through observing the breath and the mind. Zen emphasises the attainment of enlightenment, and the personal expression of insight”. They say that kundalini yoga has a large range of techniques that carefully and precisely support the mind and guide the body. They go on to add that “There are hundreds of meditations tailored to specific applications such as reducing stress, working on addictions, increasing vitality, clearing chakras” and so on. They also say that “research shows that spending time in mindful meditation of any type can combat anxiety, stress, and depression, while heightening optimism, creativity, and vitality”.
I say that of course, as you start to progress, you will naturally gain more of a sense of hope, confidence, and self-worth, as you are basically learning to help yourself through these tools. You are giving yourself the precious gift of time and attention for holistic renewal of mind, body, and spirit. It is like accepting a kiss from the source of life, that goes straight to your heart and soul like a drop of bliss. It is both relaxing and exciting at the same time!
Mindworks.org says “Meditation is practised in virtually every community throughout the world. Through it we can discover an intriguing sense of calmness and inner harmony, but also a way to reduce the stress of everyday life….. It’s about becoming mindful, more focused and peaceful internally, and more aware of how we think and how we affect others externally….. Meditation is a very grounded and important technique for relieving stress, while also working on one’s own self awareness.”
I say that it also helps you to learn to cope out here/there in the world, as long as you don’t allow yourself to be reclusive. Sure, you can do a lot of work with it all by yourself, but ultimately it should be about helping yourself to integrate all that learning and practice into life in the wider world. If you have trouble with this then please do practice in a group and/or ensure that you incorporate loving kindness type exercises into your practice, to enable your psyche to become a bit more socially oriented and gain some new perspectives. Meditation is very personal, but it is also about helping you become able to cope socially too, to understand others at the same time as learning to understand yourself, so that you can integrate less stressfully. I think it is often best to start practising in a group anyway, as you will learn so much from the group leaders and the rest of the group, but also keep it personal, your own treasure to develop as you see fit, until it truly shines within you.
Mindworks lists 6 meditation techniques (I have added some comments of my own in brackets) :
Spiritual – connecting with higher power, theistic or not, and self reflection in silence in contrast to internal chatter. They say that this can lead to self improvement as well as to better care for others and the world around us.
Mindfulness – which helps understanding of how our minds work to overcome dissatisfaction. They say you should: Acknowledge your reality, body, thoughts. / Observe your mind and thoughts. / Breathe. / Appreciate the present. / Be non-judgemental. They say that it reduces depression and anxiety, and gives a new perspective on things that distress us.
Movement – being grounded and present in your body as you move. This can be used in martial arts or in walking, gardening, washing up. There can be great peace in action. (I suggest we can even do this when eating, and focus on the chewing well, and imagining how well the gut is absorbing those nutrients to fuel our bodies. I also like to use it when dancing or doing exercises, I send love to myself and the earth and others, and the love returns, goes in circles, with my body merely being a part in that energetic cycle of love and life.)
Focused – on a task, the breath, feelings, the body, an external object, or on eating, exercising, etc. There should be no mind wandering, scattered mind. (Just be present and set any thoughts patiently aside.)
Visualization – Images in the mind to create a feeling or quality – often natural scenes (but you can literally do this in whatever place or way you wish, so you could imagine playing a game of basketball with your friend for example, or you could even use it to imagine yourself in a situation you might soon have to be in, to train yourself to be calm in that situation, in preparation for it.) It uses a powerful aspect of mind for positive personal transformation. You can also use mandalas or symbols to evoke qualities such as compassion and wisdom.
Chanting / Mantras – where you focus on sound, words, or melody in a contemplative way. Words or phrases can help clear the mind to be alert and connect to positive qualities.
Mindworks says that there is evidence that meditation improves sleep, reduces anxiety, relieves pain, lowers blood pressure, etc.
Healthline.com says pretty much the same, but instead of Visualization they list Transcendental as their 6th type of practice. They say that each type uses different skills & mindsets, and that overall “meditation is about altering consciousness, finding awareness, and achieving peace”. Some extras from them are :
Mindfulness – non judgemental awareness of thoughts. Observe and notice patterns, bodily sensations, and feelings.
Spiritual – can include the use of essential oils, which also have health benefits, for deep connection with God or the universe.
Focused – uses your senses, and can be internal or external. Can use bead counting, gong, candle flame, (flower), etc. If the mind wanders just return non-judgmentally to re-focus.
Movement – their info was the same as the other site’s.
Mantra – repeating word, phrase, or sound. Doesn’t matter what volume. Become alert and in tune with your environment. Experience deeper levels of awareness. This type might be easier for some who than focusing on breath or an object, and it’s also a good type to use if you don’t like silence. (You could use drumming to similar effect, or even the pounding of your feet if you are out on a run.)
Transcendental – the most popular and most studied type (although I think that recently Mindfulness might have overtaken it).TM uses structured processes and mantras specific to practitioners (teachers).
They also say that there is lots of evidence that meditation lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety and pain, eases depression symptoms, and improves sleep. They give this advice too: “Don’t force it. Gentle regular practice becomes sustaining and enjoyable. Open to possibility.”
Then again you have Lifeadvancer.com (in an article also shared on visualmeditation.co) saying there are 7 types. There is a new one listed here, and a fabulous description of Mindfulness:
TM – Transcendental – for enlightenment (as others did also say).
HRM – Heart Rhythm – for developing the application of consciousness, which concentrates on heart and breathing. To experience the mantra “I am part of all things and all things are part of me”. It has physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits, helping to handle stress, and to develop an appreciative, joyous spirit.
Kundalini – to feel energy rising up through the energy centres (chakras), and gain altered states of consciousness.
Guided Visualization – for goals such as healing, stress relief, and personal development. Using the imagination to create a positive experience which releases feel-good chemicals.
Qi Gong – to improve posture, respiration, and relaxation ability. Uses breath to circulate energy, and also uses movement and meditation. Helps control reactions to stress.
Zazen / Zen – for self guidance and mental discipline. Aim to forget all judgemental thoughts, ideas, and images. With a straight back, being centred, breathe to deepen and enhance the experience.
Mindfulness – to overcome suffering and understand natural wisdom. You acknowledge reality and accept wandering thoughts, focusing on the breath, and on the present, to gain understanding. It reduces anxiety, depression, and perceived distress.
Liveanddare.com takes a slightly different approach. The site says that there are loads more meditation types – 23 types of seated meditation plus lots of walking and other dynamic types, plus loads more not even listed.
They say that “scientists usually classify meditation types based on the way they focus attention, into 2 categories – focused attention and open monitoring.” But the writer of this piece adds a third – effortless presence.
Focused attention uses a single thing to focus on, such as breath, a mantra, a visualization, a part of the body, an external object, etc. With practice the attention strengthens and distraction subsides.
Open Monitoring means you should keep it open, monitor all aspects of experience without judgement or attachment. All perceptions, be they internal (such as thoughts, feelings, memories, etc), or external (such as sound, smell, etc), are to be recognised and seen for what they are. The process of non-reactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment, without going into them. (A sort of remote, non-involved, observation.)
Effortless Presence would then be the state where attention is not focused on anything in particular, but reposes on itself, quiet, empty, steady, (and introverted). They say it could be called “Choiceless Awareness” or “Pure Being”. Most quotes, the author says, refer to this state, and says that “this is actually the true purpose behind all kinds of meditation. All techniques recognize that objects of focus or the process of monitoring, are just a means to train the mind, so that effortless inner silence and deeper states of consciousness can be discovered. When the means (object or process) are left behind, there is then only the true self of the practitioner left as pure presence. In some techniques, this is the only focus from outset.”
I agree with all of this. I was lucky enough to grow up in the wilds of South Africa – in the Drakensberg foothills – and to be given the freedom to spend hours and hours wandering around and communing with nature – trees, streams, rocks, animals, birds, etc. I seemed to be a natural meditator, healer, and poet.
The writer then goes on to list types:
1) Buddhist Meditations
a) Zazen or Zen – Buddhist in origin, it is usually upright, but can include prostration. Focus on the breath, through the nose – count from 1-10 over and over. Or there is the Shikantaze practice of just sitting in the present moment, with no object of focus, just observing what passes through the mind and all around, without dwelling on anything.
b) Vipassana – means insight or clear seeing, and is also Buddhist. It includes Mindfulness of breathing, so the first stage is focus, then it goes on to the insight stage – on bodily sensations, and mental phenomena, observing and not clinging. “Breath is the primary object, then the secondary object is anything else that arises – movement, sound, smell, itchiness (of body, or mind) such as thought, memory, feeling etc. If a secondary object hooks your attention, you should label it with a note such as ‘thinking’, ‘memory’, ‘hearing’, ‘desiring’, ‘aversion’. The note should be general, not detailed – so hearing a sound is simply ‘hearing’, and not ‘a motorcycle’ or ‘voices’, or ‘a dog’; and ‘pain’ or ‘feeling’ does not specify of what or where; and ‘smelling’ should not be identified any further…. Just return to the primary object of the meditation after giving the one general label. Observe awareness without attachment, let thoughts and sensations arise and pass away. The basic labelling helps to keep you objective. As a result of this, clear seeing shows you that the observed phenomena are pervaded by 3 marks of existence – impermanence (Annica), unsatisfactoriness (dukkha), and emptiness of self (annata). As a result, equanimity, peace, and inner freedom is developed. This practice is excellent for grounding yourself in your body, and understanding the processes of your mind.” Vipassana or Mindfulness are recommended for beginners.
c) Mindfulness (also Buddhist in origin). “Sati / Anapanasati – an adaption from the other forms above. MBSR is part of this, and has been used in hospitals and health clinics. Focus is on the present moment, accepting non-judgmentally, yet paying attention to thoughts and emotions that arise, then returning the focus to the breath. Being aware of what is going on in your present moment experience without losing yourself in anything that arises. Recognize distractions generally and return to focus on the breath. Notice afterwards how different your mind and body feel. You can also do this while walking, eating, talking, doing daily tasks or chores, etc. Notice what is happening instead of going on autopilot. If speaking, pay attention to the words and how you speak them, then listen with presence and attention to any reply. Seated practice supports daily life practice. The Mindfulness now practiced in society at large, including in schools, is not Buddhism, but an adaption due to benefits in good physical and mental health and general wellbeing. It is disassociated from eastern concepts and philosophies.”
d) Loving Kindness (Metta) – Benevolence and good will. Originates from Buddhism, but “Compassion meditation is a contemporary scientific field that demonstrates the efficacy of Metta and related meditative practices. Generate in the heart and mind feelings of kindness and benevolence for self, then friend or family, then a neutral other, then for a ‘difficult’ person, then to strangers and everybody and gradually the entire universe. Can use specific words or sentences to evoke boundless warm heartedness, happiness, peace, joy. Great to practice if you are sometimes too hard on yourself or on others. Great to reduce insomnia, nightmares, or anger.”
2) Hindu Meditations – Vedic & Yogic
a) Mantra – a syllable or word used to focus, not an affirmation. Used in many traditions. Just keep repeating the sound or word – it can be chanted loudly or whispered lightly, to aid concentration. Repetition disconnects you from interfering thoughts – it’s a tool to support meditative practice. Deepak Chopra said “Mantras can be viewed as ancient power words with subtle intentions that help us connect to spirit, the source of everything in the universe.” The mantra may become a humming eventually, or disappear, leaving a state of deep inner peace. Perhaps mantras are easier to focus on than breathing, and can be especially useful of the mind is racing.
b) TM – (much as before)
c) Yoga Meditations – there are many types – it’s the oldest of all practices, with the widest variety in practice. Yoga means Union, and the highest goal is Spiritual Purification and Self Knowledge. Type groups are 1) Rules of Conduct – Yamas and Niyamas. 2) Physical postures – Asanas. 3) Breathing exercises – Pranayama. 4) Contemplative practices – Pratyahara, Dharana, and Samadhi.
3rd eye meditation is very common, and so are chakra meditations, mantras, visualizations of light, or gazing meditations – Trataka – where you gaze at an object, image, or symbol – Yantras. Even when eyes close, you keep the Trataka in the mind’s eye.
There is also Kundalini, Kriya Yoga, and Sound Meditation – Nada Yoga. Kriya involves a set of energization, breathing, and meditation exercises for self-realization. Sound involves first listening to external sounds then shifts to internal sounds of body and mind, with the ultimate goal being to hear no ultimate sound – Para Nada – which is a sound without vibration (that manifests as OM). Kundalini is complex and awakens energy at the base of the spine, and develops several psychic centres in the body, then finally to enlightenment. This ideally needs a guide.
Then there are Tantra, which are not about sex, but are contemplative. There are many of these: 1) merge mind and senses in the interior space in the spiritual heart. 2) When one object is perceived, all others become empty. Concentrate on that emptiness. 3) Concentrate on the space which occurs between 2 thoughts. 4) Fix your attention on the inside of your skull, with closed eyes. 5) Meditate on the occasion of any great delight. Meditate on the feeling of pain. 6) Dwell on the reality that exists between pain and pleasure. 7) Meditate on the void in one’s body, extending in all directions simultaneously. 8) Concentrate on the idea of a bottomless well or on standing in a very high place. 9) Listen to the Anahata sound (heart chakra). 10) Listen to the sound of a musical instrument as it dies away. 11) Contemplate the universe, and/or one’s own body, as being filled with bliss. 12) Concentrate intensely on the idea that the universe is completely void. 13) Contemplate that the same consciousness exists in all bodies. (Personally I love these listed above, but would teach them as advanced meditations.)
d) Self Enquiry and “I AM” Meditation – in Sanskrit = atma vichara, which means to investigate our true nature, find the answer to the “Who am I?” question, so giving intimate knowledge of our true self or being. It comes from India, popularized and expanded upon by Ramana Maharshi. The modern non-duality movement (neo-advaita) uses these teachings and others, such as those of Nisargadatta Maharaj and Papaji, plus variations. Many contemporary teachers employ these techniques, such as Mooji, Adyashanti, and Eckhart Tolle – and you can look these up on YouTube. (Gangaji is another I love.)
We tend to confuse the “I” or ego with our body, mind, roles, labels, etc, but it’s a big mystery as to exactly who this “I” is. When you ask “Who am I?” within yourself, reject any verbal answer, focus on subjective feeling – become one with it, go deep into it, to reveal your real self as pure consciousness, beyond all limitation. You bring your attention to the core element of your perception and experience. The “I” is not your personality, but a pure subjective feeling of existing – without any images or concepts attached to it. If thoughts arise, ask “to whom does this arise?” Then ask “who am I?” again to return to the subjective feeling of self, or presence. It is pure existence, objectless and choiceless awareness. Your feeling of BEING is the non-verbal “I am” that shines inside you without association of anything you perceive. With all other types of meditation, the “I” is focused on some object, internal or external, physical or mental. In self-enquiry the “I” is focusing on itself, the subject. The attention is turned towards its source. It brings a sense of inner freedom and peace, but can be hard to do, so maybe try Mooji guided ones first.
3) Chinese Meditations – Health, insight, contemplation, and visualization.
a) Taoist – from Lao Tzu – living in harmony with nature, or Tao. The main characteristic is the generation of, transformation of, and circulation of inner energy. The purpose is to quieten the body and mind, unify body and spirit, find inner peace, and harmonize with Tao. Some styles focus on improving health and longevity. 1) Zuowang = Emptiness of thought – so that the vital force and spirit are collected and replenished. (Similar to the Confucius discipline of “heart-mind fasting”.) You can allow thoughts and sensations to arise and fall without engaging with them. 2) Cunxiang = Chinese visualizations view different aspects of the cosmos in relation to one’s own body and self. 3) Zhuanqi = Chinese breathing meditation is to unite body and qi (chi) with SOFT vital breath. Can become aware of the “dynamisms of heaven and earth” through ascending and descending breath. 4) Neiguan = Inner vision – inside the body and mind, including the organs, “inner deities”, qi (vital force) movements, and thought processes. Acquainting one’s-self with the wisdom of nature in your body. 5) Neidan – Internal Alchemy – complex and esoteric self-transformation using visualization, breathing, movement, and concentration. Try joining breath and mind together, or focus on the dantien – lower abdomen. Body, nature, tai chi, and other martial arts go well with the philosophy & practice of Taoism.
b) Qigong (Chi Kung or Chi Gung) means life energy cultivation, and is a body-mind exercise for health, meditation, and martial arts. It typically involves slow body movement, inner focus, and regulated breathing. It favours circulation of energy in an inner alchemical mode. It can energize and strengthen the body, nourish body functions, cure disease, and cultivate spirituality.
4) Christian Meditation
In Eastern traditions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Daoism – meditative purpose is usually for transcending the mind and attaining enlightenment. But in the Christian tradition the goal of contemplative practice is moral purification and deeper understanding of the Bible, or a closer intimacy with God and Christ. It includes contemplative prayer, repetitive recitations, readings, or “sitting with God” (usually after a contemplative stage, focusing mind, heart, and soul on the presence of God.)
5) Guided Meditations
These are more of a modern phenomena, making it easy to start, helping to motivate, and cutting out distractions of modern life. Also helping with health, performance, and self-improvement, often in specific areas, with each meditation tending to have specific goals, on top of general relaxation and stress relief. Some specific possible benefits or aims could be: improving self-esteem and confidence, dealing with anger, developing gratefulness, a positive attitude, and noticing beauty everywhere. Or for joy, healing, renewal, unconditional love for self and others, forgiveness, letting go, balancing, recharging, cleansing, opening and aligning with universal flow, bliss, comfort, peace, connection with the natural world, insight into human relationships, communication, intuition, clarity, and intention. Or even for alignment with some perceived sacred power, or receiving shamanic type advice or wisdom from an ancient teacher you meet on your imaginary journey. It’s like cooking to recipes before you get the hang of it and can start creating your own dishes. People can even help you tailor guided meditations to your personal needs, but eventually you can create them yourself for unique taste and personal power.
a) Guides illustrate or guide the way for your attention with their voices, but with spaces for you to develop and deepen your experience and practice.
b) Guided imagery uses imagination and the visual powers of the brain (via descriptions), guiding you to imagine an object, place, entity, scene, etc. The purpose is usually for healing or relaxation and calmness.
c) Relaxation & Body Scans – for deep relaxation of the whole body, including the insides, often accompanied by music or nature sounds.
d) Affirmations – often coupled with relaxation and guided imagery – to imprint positive messages in the mind.
e) Binaural Beats – discovered by physicist Heinrich Willhelm Dove – when 2 frequencies are presented separately, one to each ear, your brain detects the phase variation between them and tries to reconcile the differences. This generates alpha waves (10hz) which is the brainwave associated with initial levels of meditation – so it’s a way to draw you into it, but you’d have to use headphones. (Yes, technology can help, but please try to minimise your exposure to EMF emissions, which could do more harm than good ultimately. Please do remember to listen to check you are okay with any meditation before you go deeply into it with headphones.)
Liveanddare.com also has a page on “Scientific Benefits of Meditation” – It’s subtitled “76 things you might be missing out on”, and they are arranged into 46 subheadings with promises to surprise. Their logo includes the words “happiness, health, energy, and performance”. They say there are over 3000 scientific studies and claim that this site is the only one to compile hundreds of these into an organised article.
In the summary it says that ”Some effects, such as increased compassion and social bonding, are more salient as a result of specific meditation techniques (such as Buddhist Loving-Kindness), however, any kind of authentic meditation will include most of these benefits in one degree or another. There is evidence that it will be more beneficial for you if you find a technique that you like better. Some studies indicate that 20 minutes a day for a few weeks was enough to start experiencing benefits.”
Their article includes a great infographic that shows levels of control groups as opposed to increases in benefits from Sport and Meditation, showing that 1) Focus increases tenfold from the control to the meditation group. 2) There is 50% less disease from control to meditation group, and sport benefits lie slightly over half way between the two. 3) The meditation group had 75% less depression, 30% less anxiety, and 65% more well-being. Then this amazingly long infographic lists info under headings:
Lessens worry, anxiety, and impulsivity
Lessens stress, fear, loneliness, and depression
Enhances self-esteem & self-acceptance
Improves resilience against pain & adversity
Increases optimism, relaxation, and awareness
Helps prevent emotional eating & smoking
Helps develop positive social connections
Improves mood & emotional intelligence
Increases mental health & focus
Increases memory retention & recall
Better cognitive skills & creative thinking
Better decision making & problem solving
Better information processing
Helps ignore distractions
Helps manage ADHD
Improves immune system & energy levels
Improves breathing & heart rates
Reduces blood pressure
Lessens heart & brain problems
Lessens inflammatory disorders & asthma
Lessens premenstrual & menopausal syndrome
Helps prevent arthritis, fibromyalgia, and even HIV
But there are even more benefits listed in the rest of the article:
1) Brain & Moods
Many studies, including UCLA ones, show that mindfulness decreases depression (as effectively as antidepressants), anxiety, stress, ruminative thinking, and dysfunctional beliefs. It can also increase bonding between mothers and babies in the womb. Lots of types of meditation have been shown to regulate mood and anxiety disorders, and to reduce stress and anxiety in general. Meditation also reduces the symptoms of panic disorder. A group of Harvard Neuroscientists ran a study where guided meditations and mindfulness were shown, via MRI scans, to increase the concentration of grey matter in the brains of students on an 8 week meditation course. The areas of the brain were those involved in learning and memory, regulating emotions, sense of self, and having perspective (frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes). There is a very marked difference in the before and after images. Other studies have also shown larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of grey matter for long-term meditators. Meditation was also shown to greatly improve psychomotor vigilance, and possibly decrease sleep needed. A University of Wisconsin study with Tibetan Monks, showed huge increases in gamma wave generation in their brains. 3 studies made with vipassana meditation in incarcerated populations suggested that it can reduce alcohol and substance abuse.
2) Mind & Performance
A UCLA study showed that during and after meditation training – subjects were more skilled at keeping focus, esp on repetitive and boring tasks. Another study showed students were able to improve performance on tests of cognitive skills, sometimes doing ten times better than those not meditating. They also performed better on information processing tasks that were designed to induce deadline stress. There was even evidence to show that meditators had a thicker prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula, and also to the effect that meditation might offset the loss of cognitive ability with old age (sources: Time, NCBI, and Link Springer). UCLA found that long term meditators have large amounts of gyrification (folding) of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster, make effective decisions, form memories, and improve attention skills. Phd psychotherapist Dr Ron Alexander, reports that meditation increases mental strength, resilience, and emotional intelligence. A research group from the University of Montreal compared Zen Masters with non meditators responses to painful heat while measuring brain activity (in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner). Though the scans showed they received all the pain, the masters reported feeling less. The Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre did a similar experiment with novice meditators, and found that they too experienced dramatically less pain than others, a reduction greater than the use of morphine or other pain relieving drugs could produce (about 50% reduction as opposed to about 25%). A study with ADHD adults and Mindfulness based cognitive therapy, showed reduced hyperactivity, reduced impulsivity, and increased “acting with awareness skills”. An Emory University study showed that meditations focusing on breath had increased connectivity with the brain networks controlling attention, increasing ability to keep focus in spite of distractions. NCBI says that long term meditation increases grey matter density in the areas for learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. The Martinos Centre for Biomedical Imaging and the Osher Research Centre both say that mindfulness meditation enhances numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall. Nottingham Trent University researchers found that when participants with issues of stress and low mood underwent meditation training, they experienced improvements in psychological well-being. In research conducted by the University of Washington and the University of Arizona, HR personnel were given 8 weeks training in either mindfulness meditation or body relaxation techniques. They were given a stressful multitasking test both before and after training. The meditators reported lower levels of stress and showed better memory for the tasks they had performed. They also switched tasks less often and remained focused on tasks longer. (The article states that multitasking is not productive in general as it induces stress, is costly for the brain, and induces feelings of distraction and dissatisfaction. I think that is the case if you are subjected to it by others, but if you choose to set up certain processes that work well for you, then it could be okay.) A UCLA study showed that vipassana meditation helps us allocate limited brain resources, reducing “attention blink” – basically memory was more even, with less gaps. Science Direct reports that research showed that after only 4 sessions of mindfulness meditation training, participants had significantly improved visuospatial processing skills, waking memory, and executive functioning. A study from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences showed that if even new meditators practiced before a stressful event, the adverse effects of stress were reduced. The University of Sussex found that people practicing mindfulness meditation experienced a greater pause between unconscious impulses and action – which demonstrates increased awareness of the unconscious mind. They were also less subject to hypnosis. Leiden University in the Netherlands demonstrated that open monitoring meditation (monitoring the content of experience from moment to moment in a non-reactive way), has positive effects in creativity and divergent thinking. Participants were more able to complete tasks where they were asked to creatively come up with new ideas (source: Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine).
3) Body & Health
A study of many high-risk individuals who were asked to either take a health education class promoting better diet and exercise, or take a transcendental meditation class, both accompanied by researchers for 5 years, found that the meditators had a 48% reduction in their overall risk of heart attack, stroke, and death. They found it significantly reduced risk for mortality, myocardial infarction, and stroke in coronary heart disease patients. These changes were associated with lower blood pressure and psychosocial stress factors. Other research pointed at similar conclusions. (Sources: Time magazine, American Heart Association, and Health Central.) A Harvard Medical School study demonstrated that after practicing yoga and meditation, individuals had improved mitochondrial energy production, consumption, and resilience, thus higher immunity and resilience to stress. Meditation Clinical research also shows that zen meditation (or zazen) reduces stress and blood pressure. Another study showed that ”relaxation response” had the same results – because relaxation results in the formation of nitric oxide, which opens up the blood vessels. (Source: Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, and NPR News.) A study in France and Spain, at the UW-Madison Waisman Centre, indicates that mindfulness meditation produces a range of genetic and molecular effects, reducing levels of inflammatory genes. In 3 other studies Mindfulness came top at preventing cellular level inflammation. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison studies were done where 2 groups were exposed to stress. One group got nutritional education, exercise, and music therapy. The other got mindfulness training. Mindfulness techniques were shown to be more effective in relieving inflammatory symptoms. (Source: Medical News Today.) The conclusion of over 20 studies from PubMed, PsycInfo, and the Cochrane databases, involving meditation, meditative prayer, yoga, and relaxation response, was that meditation and meditative prayer helped treat premenstrual syndrome & menopausal symptoms. Mindfulness also reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and premature death, according to the Journal of Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity. It reduces loneliness and the risk of depression, heart disease, alzheimer’s, and premature death, according to Health Central. PubMed also published a study showing that Mindfulness training reduced fibromyalgia symptoms, including stiffness. Korea Science says that a study by the Korean Association of Genuine Traditional Medicine showed that “Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique” showed significant decreases in heart rates and respiratory rates for up to 8 months after training. A UCLA study found that mindfulness meditation even helps treat HIV, explaining: “Lymphocytes, or CD4 T cells, are the ‘brains’ of the immune system, coordinating its activity. HIV attacks these and eats away at them, weakening the immune system.” But stress can accelerate the decline, so mindfulness meditation stops the decline and so slows the progression of the disease. Participants in an 8 week MBSR group showed no loss of CD4 T cells, as opposed to those who did a one day MBSR seminar, who still showed significant decline. Wiley online library says that meditation may make you live longer because some forms seem to be able to positively affect telomere length by reducing cognitive stress and stress arousal, and increasing positive states of mind and hormonal factors that may promote telomere maintenance. Telomeres are an essential part of human cells that affect how our cells age. There are a lot more studies that show that mindfulness can also: reduce metabolic syndrome, help manage the effects of trauma, help manage cholesterol, treat epilepsy, help you stop smoking, increase clarity of thinking, create a state of deep rest in body and mind, and increase skin resistance.
Meditation has been shown to improve personal and social relationships. Loving Kindness improves empathy and positivity in relationships, as many studies show, inc Emory University. Another study shows that the development of positive emotions, through compassion, builds up several personal resources, such as “a loving attitude towards one’s self & others, including acceptance, social support received, and positive relations with others”, plus “a feeling of competence about one’s life”, and includes “pathways thinking, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and ego resilience”. (Sources: Science Daily, NCBI, Plus One.) Loving Kindness meditation also reduces social isolation according to a study published by the American Psychological Association, as even a few moments of this type of meditation increases feelings of social connection and positivity towards others. It also decreases worry and increases the ability to receive compassion as well as give it, and extend it to one’s self, according to Stanford School of Medicine and Sage Journals. A study from Carnegie Mellon University shows that Mindfulness is useful in decreasing feelings of loneliness, and thus morbidity, mortality, and the expression of pro-inflammatory genes. (Source: ScienceDirect.) Doctors On TM say that scientists believe that TM helps manage emotional eating, thus prevents obesity.
5) Mindfulness for Kids
In a huge compilation of studies about Mindfulness in schools mindfulnessinschools.org presented a lot of research evidence of how it can help children. It reduces: depression, stress, anxiety, and reactivity, hostility towards others and conflict with peers, and substance use. It increases: cognitive retention, self-care, optimism and positive emotions, self-esteem, feelings of happiness and well-being, social skills, sleep, self-awareness, and academic performance. There were also numerous reports about benefits for teachers and other staff, including: increased open-minded curiosity, kindliness, empathy, compassion, acceptance, trust, patience, and non-striving; plus an increase in the skills of focusing, paying attention, and being able to switch attention. There were also improvements in physical and mental health, teaching self-efficacy, spatial memory, working memory, and sustained attention. It also increased work motivation and decreased stress, and increased the ability to give more appropriate support for students through being more motivated and autonomous.
(I think that the very fact that teachers and other school staff were offered the chance to use this, to offer children, and themselves, this opportunity – would make them feel happier in itself. I think that all workplaces should offer this sort of thing to their staff, and suggest that it would greatly increase staff retention and effective working. Working in a place where you could use a swimming pool and sauna, or get a massage once a week, or something, would surely be fantastic too! Too many places just expect to hammer work out of you without giving back a little human care. It is not surprising at all to me that introducing mindfulness in schools would make a massive difference. Giving a little time to improve well-being is invaluable, and is bound to have positive knock-on effects. At the very least it would make you feel appreciated and lift your mood, feel more open and less stressed, and generally be happier to give of yourself, plus more healthy and able to do so.)
Personally I know that healing or meditation before surgery helps in preparation and recovery, but the Liveanddare.com article says that just using the OM sound does this. (I guess that anything that takes the focus away from fear and replaces it with something positive would help both body and mind to relax, and perhaps even accept the process better.) The article also says that meditators are more able to affect the reality around us, in a quantum level. (I have to say I do experience a strange sense of something like this happening, and certainly embrace it.) Plus they say it can improve your sex life. (Well, yes, that could easily follow on from feeling better in mind and body anyway, especially if you experience improvements in self-esteem. Respect for each other and self-esteem are hugely significant in relationships and in all communication. This would all generally improve relationships naturally, but it can also change the way you use time and where you put focus.) They also say it reduces race and age prejudice. (Again, that would be an obvious knock-on effect of increased open-mindedness, loving-kindness, non-judgement, etc. Also if you feel better about yourself, it is bound to reduce irrational fears.)
So, in conclusion Liveanddare.com say that if you practice consistently – meditation will help you be healthier, happier, and improve your performance in pretty much any physical or mental task.
In the film “The Reality of Truth” which I accidentally came across just as I was about to start this article, it says that “Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a simple silent repetition to yourself of a mantra which allows you to transcend to subtler and subtler states of consciousness until you reach a place of universal consciousness – an endless field of energy that connects all of us, where all knowledge is contained, and where everything manifests from.” It is blissful, but it’s not meant as an escape – you are supposed to integrate the experience into your normal life, balance the inner and outer realities. They also say that more than 7 million people are practising TM worldwide.
However, I have read elsewhere, and especially on liveanddare.com that Transcendental Meditation tends to be monopolised by people who reckon they have dibs on it, wanting to charge you a hefty sum to teach you and to give you personal mantras to use. Apparently these are based on age and gender and are tantric names of Hindu deities. He says that much of the research about the benefits of this form of meditation is sponsored by them, and that although support from them is generally good, there is some indication of cultish behaviour. He says there are other ways of using mantras, and much cheaper similar techniques available such as Natural Stress Relief, created by a former TM teacher, which has stripped out some of the mysticism.
I have reached this state of bliss, gnosis, benevolence, and timelessness many times throughout childhood and adulthood, without mantras, so I have to say that the state is actually open to all of us – a gifted state of connection with the source of all, and everything in creation. There are other ways of emptying the mind than using mantras, which then lets in the universal consciousness, just as described above. If other things enter your mind, just set them gently aside as if on a shelf, and return to your focus. I used to use a trick which I devised myself to help empty the mind of distractions – imagining myself walking along in a lovely place first of all to help me relax, then stepping through a gate, and finding myself wrapped in mist so that there was very little stimulation for my senses to fool around with. (Or you could simply be floating in a cloud from the outset.) Many people open spontaneously to this state while immersed in nature. However, it is a blissful experience that opens your mind and heart, rather than a tool (as many more practical types of meditation are).
I suggest that, for those suffering from anxiety or depression, it is probably best to start out with meditation in a supportive group scenario so that you have the leader, and others, to help look after your best interests, ensuring you are okay, and answering any questions you may have; but also to avoid any possible sense of isolation that learning on your own might initially exacerbate. It’s great to have others around to share the experience with too. Once practised though, you will never feel isolated again, you will feel positively drawn to master your own life, backed up by a sense of wonder, interconnection, and appreciation.
My Mindfulness in Mental Health course material says that 8 weeks of meditation can literally rebuild the brain’s grey matter – according to a Harvard study of Massachusetts General Hospital. Rebuilding the grey matter helps the different types of glial cells to do their work – they are pretty much like housekeepers of the brain, ensuring it’s kept clean, balanced, safe, and able to operate optimally. So, people aren’t just relaxing with meditation, they are also physically boosting their brain and central nervous systems, etc. They are also developing great coping mechanisms for life. It’s no wonder it can help with stress, anxiety, and depression.
Mindfulness can also include focusing on what you eat, and how you eat, for example sitting down in a suitable environment, in an appropriate position, and chewing well; perhaps even reminding ourselves to be thankful for the food and company we may have. Mindfulness also helps you to become more aware of yourself and your needs, as well as of those around you, and all the things such as fresh tasty food, beautiful flowers, smiles, friends, etc.
I know quite a bit about the diet side of things, but looking at the statistics in my course materials (mod 6), it is an even bigger issue than I thought in relation to depression. I knew about most of the particular food issues and how they can make things worse, but didn’t realise things had gone wrong to quite such a high degree as shown here. One thing I would suggest adding is that it helps to use probiotics to help balance the gut in many cases, as if things are wrong down there for extended periods of time it can cause other health problems to arise, including autoimmune disease, and mental health issues. Antibiotics, and some other medical treatments, kill the good bacteria we need in our gut along with the bad ones, so we need to ensure it is repopulated with good ones in order to keep us healthy. It has been definitely shown that the state of the bacteria in our gut affects our state of mind / mood.
The Mindfulness in Mental Health course notes (in module 7) state that “Mindfulness is a fantastic tool for combating the effects of stress. Learning to control the mind and disallowing thoughts to run wild also gives the ability to prevent stress.” Good breathing, which is fundamental to mindfulness exercises, helps a lot to keep stress at bay. Another way mindfulness helps avoid stress is through focusing on appreciating every moment & experience to your fullest ability, and keeping things in balance both physically, such as through diet and exercise etc, and mentally. You tend not to worry too much about things, including the future, as you feel more able to cope generally.
There is a great quote included from Britta Holzel of Justus Liebig University & Harvard Medical School – “Mindfulness is not actually a single skill. Rather it is a multi-faceted mental practice that encompasses several mechanisms.” It makes you more aware, not just of your thoughts and emotions, together with giving you the means to regulate these, but also of your body, and your whole sense of being – so that you will recognise when you are healthy & happy, or not – and what you might be able to do about it if not – such as making changes in diet, exercise patterns, job, relationship, or social activities – if needed. It makes you more confident and in control of your life through understanding yourself better.
Of course, sometimes things might not need changing, but perhaps your attitude towards them could be tweaked a bit, and it gives you the ability to do that too. There’s a quote isn’t there about having the strength to make changes if needed, but the wisdom to accept things you can’t change. So if you feel you are stuck in a situation, at least you should be able to find ways of making it easier to cope with. An example that springs to mind is – if you are a caregiver, you could find ways of having respite time for yourself and using this to good effect, and/or find ways to bring more meaningful activities into your lives.
I have been watching a whole series of videos recently about Autoimmune Disease, Inflammation, Regaining your Brain from Alzheimer’s and/or protecting it from it, etc. According to the functional medicine specialists in these videos, the formation of both fat and plaque could actually be a protective response to try to stow away toxins or pathogens that might otherwise hurt our body or brain, so we need find ways of removing these primarily. They also said that the ideas given to us about cholesterol and saturated fats are now found to be erroneous, and that we need healthy fats to feed the brain. They re-iterated the deleterious effects of too much sugar (or toxic alternative sweeteners), including too many unrefined carbs in the diet, and in fact they often referred to Dementia as being Diabetes type 3. Anyway, Meditation and Brain Exercises figured quite prominently in these videos, as part of a helpful health regime, along with balanced diet, exercise, work-life balance, sleep, and relaxation. There are other helpful things mentioned as well, such as supplements, and the use of herbs and essential oils, but basically, meditation can help reduce symptoms, plus reduce the stress & inflammation that causes disease in the first place, as well as making you more relaxed, sociable, and aware of the need to take care of yourself.
As I learnt in my “Nutritional Therapy” course with the Health Sciences Academy, Epigenetics is the science of how what we do in all areas of our lives, including how we think, can turn on good potentials of our genes and switch off bad ones, so we are very seldom actually just stuck with our genes, and all these helpful factors can be doubly beneficial. Even just starting to do one thing differently could be the beginning of an upward spiral in overall health & well-being, and meditation is one of the things to offer that potential. Our minds and bodies are amazing. If we take the time to nurture ourselves, and treat causes rather than just try to mask symptoms and struggle on, then we can heal from just about anything!
CONCLUSION OF PART 1 :
So, I have researched and explored many meditation techniques, and touched on some other things. It has been a really interesting exercise. I find that I have practised most of them at some point without necessarily realizing all these details about them, and have found them all beneficial in their own unique ways. I would definitely encourage people to try and use a mixture of types as it has been shown that different types have different benefits – so why focus on one area when you could experience benefits from the full spectrum! However, please don’t let the exciting variety overwhelm you! We all have to start somewhere, so please do choose one type that resonates with you, and seems manageable, and/or attend a group that will safely and gradually introduce you to several.
PART 2 :
For this assignment, I have had to choose one type of meditation and explain the possible positive benefits of using it for someone suffering from: a) Depression, b) Stress, and c) Anxiety.
I have chosen Mindfulness Meditation because it seems to be relatively easy to access, practical to use, and has been proven to have wide ranging benefits in many circumstances, including for the conditions in question. It has been shown to be a straightforward way to introduce the benefits of meditation to children in schools, patients in healthcare, and even adults in prison.
I also think that Mindfulness gives you a logical way of thinking about and coping with life, a way of questioning and possibly changing your perspective. This is very empowering – so you benefit hugely from feeling more in control, as well as from the actual meditative practice.
The Chopra site says – “Research shows that Mindful Meditation of any type combats anxiety, stress, and depression, while also heightening optimism, creativity, and vitality.
From my research, it does seem that Mindfulness is the most accessible and generally useful way to go, at least to start with, then you can always add other bits later. But please do choose a Mindfulness practice that includes all type of mindfulness, including mindfulness of self, others, your surroundings, nature, eating, breathing, movement, etc.
I think that Loving Kindness Meditation is absolutely great for a bit of a fresh perspective too, especially to add more of a social awareness / empathy element – but, as it could be a bit more challenging to take on, it may be best to introduce this once you have got the hang of Mindfulness. If you are suffering from any of these conditions I definitely suggest starting with Mindfulness.
TO RECAP ON WHAT MINDFULNESS IS :
In Mindfulness, you let your attention flow freely, without judgement or attachment. You simply observe perceptions, thoughts, memories, and sensations that you experience, openly monitoring (or being mindful of them) but not becoming involved in them (remaining detached from them). You observe them almost from a third-person perspective. You notice but do not react positively or negatively.
You can do it while going about daily tasks, taking a walk, etc. When practised, you can even do it to a degree when in conversation (so that you don’t over-react to anything). Your view can easily become more objective than subjective, especially if you pause to allow for the switch. So it is great to use during everyday interactions and observations of the world, where you notice what you might otherwise have called beauty or ugliness, but you do not judge or attach to anything. It can be very helpful to detach your own thinking from events, then you can see that you could change your perspective, even train your own mind to help you manage life situations. You can become non-judgemental of others, and even of yourself, which helps you let go of all sorts of negatives and move forward into a positive flow of feeling able to cope. You can become non-judgemental of life itself – see how everything has to be included in some overall state of balance to allow life to even exist at all. Nothing is black & white after all, there are many details you may not know behind why a situation has become the way it seems. We can actually release a lot of pain & suffering by gaining a more objective perspective.
HOW MINDFULNESS MIGHT HELP FOR EACH CONDITION :
So now let’s look at each condition as separately as possible, and see how each could benefit from it:
Mindfulness has been shown to be very effective in reducing the symptoms and recurrence of depression (as well as helping to deal with stress and anxiety). I think this may be largely to do with the empowerment mindfulness can engender, making you feel more able to manage your life and be more self-aware (of your responses and needs, and of understanding why some things work and others don’t).
Mindworks has a very good way of explaining Mindfulness – “It helps us understand how our minds work to overcome dissatisfaction”. They say you acknowledge your reality, body, thoughts, and observe your mind and thoughts, breathe, appreciate the present, and be non-judgemental. They say it reduces depression and anxiety and gives a new perspective on things that distress us.
Lifeadvancer.com also has a great description of Mindfulness – “To overcome suffering and understand natural wisdom”. They say it overcomes anxiety, depression, and perceived distress.
Liveanddare.com recommends Mindfulness for beginners and says an adaption of it (minus the Eastern elements) is used in Hospitals, Health Clinics, and Schools – for good physical and mental health and general well-being.
Liveanddare.com do also recommend Loving Kindness / Compassion Meditation, particularly for overcoming anger. As unresolved anger with society or aspects of it, or with particular persons, such as one’s parents, or maybe even with yourself, can cause depression. This is another reason why I do also recommend incorporating this type of meditation once you have got well into Mindfulness.
An infographic on Liveanddare.com also showed a study of meditation in general, including a control group, a sports group, and a meditation group. Some benefits of the meditation group which were way better than the control or even the sports group were : 50% less disease and 75% less depression, 30% less anxiety, and 65% more well-being. It went on to show details of health & well-being benefits, but also show that there were lots of mental benefits, including in memory, mental performance, and cognitive ability. The article also goes on to say that many studies, including a UCLA one, show that Mindfulness decreases depression as effectively as antidepressants. Also anxiety and stress, ruminative thinking, and dysfunctional beliefs. Guided Meditations and Mindfulness were even shown, via MRI Scans, to increase the concentration of grey matter and folded surface areas in brains (more info in the body of the article). It was even thought, due to these studies, that meditation might offset loss of cognitive ability often associated with ageing. The physical health benefits are huge too!
A study from Carnegie Mellon University shows that Mindfulness decreases feelings of loneliness, and thus morbidity, mortality, and the expression of pro-inflammatory genes.
As a piece in New Scientist pointed out, there was a study that showed that although Mindfulness practitioners became calmer, their cortisol levels did not drop, so it would be beneficial to practice more than just Mindfulness. Loving Kindness or Compassion Meditation would add this much needed element as studies using this method showed a 51% drop in cortisol levels.
As much stress comes from social situations it was also thought that it would be best for Mindfulness to be practised in groups rather than alone, so that interactive elements would be brought into play. It does seem however as if these studies may have been based on a mindfulness practice incorporating only self and natural surroundings, as no social aspect was mentioned. The non-judgement of self and others is a very important aspect to include, so if you do not have this side of things in your Mindfulness practice then you either need to find a Mindfulness practice that does, or add in the social benefits of Loving Kindness or Compassion Meditation to enable you to benefit fully. Mindfulness should definitely include being mindful of how we interact with others, a focus of intention on getting on well with those around us through paying attention to other’s feelings, plus an understanding of needing to make allowance for the fact that we all have different perspectives (depending on what we have learned and experienced). I’m not suggesting that we need to go into all these details, or try to please people too much, but that we simply need to be non-judgemental, allowing for differences. That includes of course your own perspective, we should allow ourselves a right to that, and we should understand what is important to us, because that way we can learn to manage our lives better by aiming to ensure we can reasonably cover these. If regular patterns of work, relaxation, eating, sleeping, etc, are vital to us for example, then we should know that shift work is unlikely to suit us, whereas another may thrive on the variation.
For stress there is even a specific type of Mindfulness available called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. You focus on the situation, paying attention to your emotions, sensations, and thoughts, without judgement. It’s supposed to help you become increasingly aware and non-reactive. You can also focus on the positives to help you not get stuck in negative attitudes.
I still think, even after all this, that Loving Kindness looks as if it will add another positive element. What better way to learn to cope with society more easily, seeing others in a non-judgemental perspective yes, but also in a loving light. And of course seeing yourself in a loving light too will mean that you are not so fearful of how you interact. We all know really that none of us are perfect, so why should any of us be judged, and why should all of us not simply be loved?
Again, non-judgement of self and others as learned through Mindfulness, should help us be more able to cope with situations, be less afraid to give things a go. Non-attachment to results helps as well. You could say “Oh well, I tried it, even if it didn’t work out”, but you never know, you might find that you actually enjoy something once you try it. A lot of stress or anxiety is social based – fear of failing or of being judged. The non-judgemental, non attachment aspect of Mindfulness helps with this. You will eventually understand that even if others judge, it does not matter, as long as you don’t do it to yourself. You can learn from mistakes sure, but that is not judgement on yourself, it is just realising you could adjust your perspective a little, or find a slightly different way of doing something.
An article in Forbes said that even just an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program can shift brain function, improving well-being and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. The article says that the findings of these studies suggest “a potential biological basis for how mindfulness and different aspects of social intelligence could be nurtured”.
Simple breathing exercises have also been shown to help reduce anxiety and stress If you can focus on breathing steadily, it not only helps to keep your oxygen flow going, but it helps keep you more poised and able to cope emotionally. My course materials say that good breathing, which is fundamental to mindfulness exercises, helps a lot to keep stress at bay. I know that applies to anxiety as well.
OVERALL SUMMARY :
As I said at the start of my study, one of the biggest challenges for people suffering from Depression, Stress, or Anxiety, might be to find and actually attend a group, so it would be very important to enlist help from health services or from a member of family or a friend. Of course you can do meditation via the internet etc, but it would be great if you can do this along with a friend or two rather than entirely on your own, at least some of the time. It is great to discuss what to try and feed back your experiences of how it went for each of you, then you begin to see how it can best build up successfully for all of you.
On the Chopra Centre website it said that to be successful, meditation needs to be simple, comfortable, and give results that make you want to keep going with it. But it also says – “Use whatever types work best for you”.
I say again that whatever types of meditation you choose to use, you will find more of a sense of hope, confidence, and self worth, as you are basically learning to help yourself. You are giving yourself a precious gift of time and attention for holistic renewal of mind, body, and spirit. And I add that, even if you are already a self aware and well balanced person, meditation can only add to your sense of peace, joy, and completeness.
Healthline.com says “Don’t force it. Gentle, regular practice becomes sustaining and joyful. Open to possibility.”
Liveanddare.com says that “Effortless Presence is the true purpose behind all kinds of meditation. All techniques recognise that objects of focus and the process of monitoring, are just a meant to train the mind so that effortless inner silence and deeper states of consciousness can be discovered.”
Some sages say that the goal of all meditation (or spiritual practice) is to overcome or let go of – suffering. But there is a very obvious element of finding a deeper sense of self that can be more at home with itself, the world, the universe, and everything in it. Personal suffering thus fades away, but you are still filled with compassion for the suffering of others.
The functional medicine doctors whose videos I have been recently watching say that meditation in general reduces stress, and symptoms of disease, including pain, and inflammation. They also say that it makes you more relaxed, sociable, and aware of the need to take care of yourself. They go on to explain about good nutrition, which also works so well to combat the roots of disease and mental health, and even to restore health from seemingly hopeless situations. So consider how well the 2 could work hand in hand!
My studies in epigenetics do show that even just our attitude affects how our genes express themselves. Here is a quote from my website : “Environmental signals select, modify, and regulate your gene activity. These signals come from what you eat and drink, breathe, touch, do, and how you live. They also come from how you feel, what you think & believe, and what you perceive (whether real or imagined)”.
Even so, who would have thought meditation could actually physically grow your brain, as it has been shown in many studies to do. How exciting!