Research has proved that the effects of meditation can be to reduce pain, lower blood pressure and increase our overall sense of well-being and self-compassion. However, while there is a host of positive claims for the benefits of meditation, there is still much that is not fully understood by science.
Mindfulness meditation is sometimes presented by mainstream media as a cure-all. Recent studies indicate that for anxiety and depression, meditation did not seem to be any more effective (yet still effective) than other forms of treatment, such as medication or exercise. Bearing this research in mind, how do you decide on what personal meditation style is best for your needs and achieve the effects you desire?
Choose a meditation style that is best for you
Commitment to meditation is necessary in order to reap the full benefits. Indeed, it's essential to find a personal meditation style that you're comfortable with. Finding the best form of meditation means you're more likely to persevere with your practice. In fact, there's no right or wrong way to meditate; it's completely subjective. You should choose a type that you feel that speaks to you spiritually.
Below, we will describe six of the more common meditation types. Before reading on, ask yourself a few questions that will help you discover your best personal style of meditation:
When assessing the effects of a particular style, you may find it helpful to keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings during and after a sitting.
Suited for beginners and those who need assistance in focusing.
Science has shown that practising meditation over years can cause the grey matter in the brain to increase in area, so it's well worth finding a form of meditation that will help you persevere. The focused meditation style concentrates on the senses. Visualisation is when you focus on a mental image of an object, such as a light or a flower. This is a commonly used technique. Occasionally you may be asked to focus on other senses, like sound or touch. Other focus points include breathing and the flow of energy through your body.
“Commitment to meditation is necessary in order to reap the full benefits. Indeed, it's essential to find a personal meditation style that you're comfortable with.”
One of the best meditation styles for those who find silence distracting and find relaxation and peace in repetition.
Mantra meditation has been practised for thousands of years. You simply chant or recite a mantra such as the mystical Sanskrit word 'Om' – claimed to be the origin of all sound. Whether you whisper it mentally or chant aloud, repetition allows your mind to relax. Alternatively, you could choose an inspirational phrase that's personal to you. Mantra meditation can be practised in a group or individually.
Mantra meditation works well for those who don't enjoy silence
May suit you if your mind becomes distracted when you're still. Or if you sit at a desk all day and prefer to find tranquillity through action.
Movement meditation is a broad category of active meditation styles. Gentle, repetitive movements such as yoga, a walk through the woods, gardening, or even housework help to clear your mind and keep it in the moment. Research by scientists at Oregon University found a significant decrease in pain experienced by fibromyalgia patients who practised this meditation type.
Movement meditation suits active types
One of the meditation styles that may suit a person looking for a more structured form. Or committed beginners who are ready for a regular practice.
Founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and with more than five million practitioners worldwide, transcendental meditation is the style which has received the most attention from science. For example, research by the AHA has shown that TM can reduce hypertension. Instead of just following the breath, transcendental meditation uses a series of Sanskrit words and mantras to help you focus. Every student is given an individual mantra, based on factors like gender or birth year. The recommendation for transcendental meditation is to practise in a comfortable seated position, for 20 minutes twice a day.
“Science has shown that practising meditation over years can cause the grey matter in the brain to actually increase in area.”
If you thrive in silence, spiritual meditation may be your best personal meditation style.
Science shows that spiritual meditation can be very helpful in lowering high blood pressure and preventing heart disease. Similar to prayer, spiritual meditation allows the practitioner to reach a more reflective and contemplative state through various elements. Whether at home or in a place of worship, you embrace the silence and gradually allow your mind to wander over a personal question or prayer. Some people find that the answer to their deepest questions comes from within. While others feel that they answer comes from outside – from God or the universe.
May suit someone who has no regular access to a group or teacher.
Buddhist teachings base themselves on mindfulness meditation. It's an umbrella term for meditation techniques that teach us to accept everything that arises without judgement. To address things that occur and release stress as it arises while nurturing a surrender to things that cannot change. Studies show that mindfulness meditation can be an effective treatment for episodes of depression. It's possible to practice this style of meditation alone. Making it suitable for those who do not have access to a class or teacher.
Mindful meditation is perfect for solitary meditation
For many people, meditation induces calmness, relaxation and a sense of well-being. However, this is not true for everyone. Individuals suffering from mental health problems or who have undergone trauma in the past may find that meditation causes unpleasant or painful memories to arise, which they are not ready to confront. Long-term studies at Brown University are still ongoing. Once complete, science should have a clearer picture of the potential adverse effects of meditation for certain individuals.
Some meditation styles are more difficult than others. For example, if you should visualise a small child and you experienced an abusive childhood, then you should assess whether another form of meditation might benefit you more.
“For many people, meditation induces calmness, relaxation and a sense of well-being. However, this is not true for everyone.”
If you experience difficulties with your personal meditation style, it may be appropriate to seek help from a support group or psychotherapist. Meditation should not be a self-optimisation goal in-and-of itself but rather a means of developing self-compassion and peace. Be wary of pushing on with a meditation practice if it feels counter-productive. ●
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