Many of us have dabbled in the art of a mindful breathing meditation: one breath in, one breath out, the mind wanders, you bring it back. Even though this practice is extremely effective for some people, for others, it can seem like a total meditation disaster. However, don’t fret! If you have fallen off the meditation bandwagon and decided it’s not right for you, a new study published in the journal Mindfulness is so encouraging: there are four different types of meditation, and they each have their own unique benefits. Mindful breathing isn’t the only place to start—and it’s certainly not the end of meditation, either. It’s time to reconsider the way you approach mindfulness so you can find the process that works best to suit your needs.
Researchers at Max Planck Institute recruited more than 200 adults in Germany who hadn’t meditated before to participate in a nine-month mindfulness training. It taught four types of meditation:
- Breathing Meditation: A practice where you focus your attention on the sensations of breathing.
- Body Scan Meditation: practice where you focus on each individual body part in turn, from head to toe.
- Loving-Kindness Meditation: A practice deigned to foster positive feelings of love and care, initially toward a close loved one and then extended to yourself, others, and eventually the whole world.
- Observing-Thought Meditation: A practice that teaches you to notice as thoughts arise, label them—for instance, as positive or negative, focused on yourself or others—but avoid getting absorbed in them.
How The Meditation Experiment Worked
The program was split into three three-month modules; with breathing meditation and body scan taught together. Each module included a three-day retreat and two-hour weekly group sessions, plus five days a week of practice at home. Before and after every meditation session, participants filled out online questionnaires about their thoughts and feelings in the half hour before the meditation and during it—providing a snapshot of how the practice impacted their minds.
During every type of meditation, participants reported feeling more positive emotions, more energetic, more focused on the present, and less distracted by thoughts than they did before beginning—perhaps thanks to the attention training that’s common to all meditation. But that’s where the similarities ended.
During body scan, participants saw the biggest increases in how aware they were of their bodies and the sharpest decline in the number of thoughts they were having, particularly negative thoughts and thoughts related to the past and future.
Loving-kindness meditation led to the greatest boost in their feelings of warmth and positive thoughts about others. Though they had slightly more negative thoughts during loving-kindness meditation than the other groups (who had already learned mindful breathing and body scan), they saw an even bigger rise in their warm and positive feelings.
Meanwhile, the observing-thought meditation seemed to increase participants’ awareness of their thoughts the most. Previous research also suggests that the observing-thought meditation has an advantage in reducing our judgmental attitude toward others.
What To Do Now
As the researchers point out, these findings offer insights to would-be meditators and mental health practitioners. Meditation can be altered to work around the individual’s specific problem area. For example, if you are struggling with body dysmorphia or low self-esteem, you may choose to try body scan meditation. If you feel plagued by the past or feel victim to obsessive, negative self-talk, you may want to try observing-thought meditation. If you feel anguished by hate for other people, loneliness, or envy, loving-kindness meditation may be right for you. The most impactful implication about this new research is that it opens the door for individuals to make a choice, to understand their own needs better, and to humble themselves to find the areas of their lives that need more nurturing.
Any of these types of meditation can facilitate personal growth, the cultivation of positive energy, uplifted moods, and increased focus. Feel free to make meditation your own—after all, you will be the one reaping the greatest benefit of your practice. Good luck, and happy meditating. ॐ