Meditation has been recognised as an excellent way to diminish stress, manage pain, and focus attention. But is there one way to meditate that works better than another?
The answer is "It depends". It depends on what form of meditation you actually like doing. So, the better question might be "Is there one particular form of meditation that suits you as an individual more than another?"
Many years ago I started meditation as a form of stress management after going through a rather difficult time at work. This form of meditation used visualisation techniques as the main point of focus and I found it very helpful. I stayed with the practice for a little while after and then gradually dropped it.
My interest in brain fitness led me to rediscover meditation, this time as a tool to sharpen focus and awareness. This time I am practicing mindfulness meditation and I practice on a daily basis for between 20 and 30 minutes each morning. I really look forward to my meditation time (to cogitate as my husband puts it) as it clarifies my thoughts and I feel refreshed and invigorated for the day.
So what was the difference this time round? Well, partly having a bigger reason "why" to meditate certainly made a difference - doing it for my brain and ongoing well being and I also found that being more "mindful" throughout the day simply felt right. This form of meditation gels with my way of being.
Many people try meditation in it's various forms and many give up after a short period of time. But perhaps a bit like all the different types of yoga that are practised, it's more about choosing the form that you feel most affiliated with, which will determine your likelihood of persevering in the longer term.
The neuroscience certainly backs up the pluses to be gained from regular meditation, so it's worthwhile pursuing to find the one that suits you.
A study by Adam Burke recently published, compared four popular meditation methods; Mantra, Mindfulness, Zen and Qigong in a group of 247 people. The group were taught the four different methods and they were then asked to practice at home. At the end of one month they had to determine which method they preferred.
Mantra and Mindfulness proved the most popular at 31% each, with Zen at 22% and Qigong 18% of people's preferences. But popularity isn't the best way to choose what suits you, so if one way hasn't appealed, don't just abandon the idea entirely, it could be you just need to try a different methodology.
Meanwhile, I am trying out my own experiment for a month - practising Kirtan Kriya, a singing form of meditation. Fortunately (for those around me!) this singing is relatively short, only 12 minutes in total and includes singing out loud, whispering and singing silently along with finger movements. This particular form of meditation has been studied in regards to the effect on the brain, in terms of maintaining memory and cognitive function. Dr Dharma Khalsa from the AlzheimersPrevention.org in the U.S. teaches Kirtan Kriya and has been published in several studies looking at the use of this type of meditation in reducing stress and maintaining memory. The results seen on fMRI scans have indicated that this meditation practice increases the brain's natural plasticity as a visible physiological change in just eight short weeks.
Ref: Adam Burke. Comparing Individual Preferences for Four Meditation Techniques: Zen, Vipassana (Mindfulness), Qigong, and Mantra. EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing, 2012; 8 (4): 237 DOI: 10.1016/j.explore.2012.04.003