Questions have recently come from readers regarding how to choose a path of meditation? “How do I know which kind is good for me?”
Well dear readers, choosing a meditation (a.k.a. brain fitness practice) is like picking shoes or a favorite climate: It’s a question of fit. And if you’re like moi, the process is going to be a choosy one! By this I mean it takes a careful “buyer’s” attitude to shopping for a method that appeals to your cultural upbringing and sensibility and especially to your neuro-cognitive, emotional, and physical type. Indophiles and Asianists aside, meditation often comes as a package these days, branded with cultural associations that range from ancient jargon to colorful visual motifs!
Still in today’s on and offline markets of meditation clinics, therapies and retreat centers, it’s not so easy for the novice to delineate between Mindfulness, T.M. or Zen, Yoga and Qi Gong. Turning to neuroscience offers some help: Neuroscientists studying human brains before and after specific meditation practices, discover that different methods actually call on different networks and regions within the human brain and… produce different results accordingly!
For example, Richard Davidson and John Kabat Zinn, key researchers in the neuroscience of Mindfulness meditation, published fascinating evidence in 2003, noting measurable and interdependent results in changing both brain waves as well as immune antibodies! (See cited reference below). Theirs is one of many studies that point to the interconnectivity between how we spend our time and where we take our minds!
Translation?: Lower your stress with meditation you accomplish three things: 1) you jumpstart the signaling of positive affect in your brain; 2. You raise your levels of resistance to flu as well! (Think of the money you could save on expensive pharma and drug store cold medicine!) And by the consistent practice, you activate the neuroplastic capacity of the brain to grow itself.
In my life long research and personal study of meditative practices, I find it helpful to ask 3 questions and notice 3 structural types of meditation to order to determine a relevant meditation brand type.
1. Am I a mover? Do I learn better when I’m moving than when I’m sitting?
2. Does my “mind” wander a lot? Do I find it difficult to pay attention for any given length of time?
3. Do I enjoy sitting and being quiet, when given the chance?
Next, the 3 structural types, drawn from ancient Asian traditions:
Breath: Many meditations like Zen or Mindfulness place breathing at the center of the practice. The advantage: Breathing is always going on. It is always there, whether we are sitting, standing or lying down… even when we’re not paying attention to it.
Attention: As one quickly learns, “attention” is at the heart of all meditation practice. Some methods like T.M. direct attention to the repetition of a mantra (repeated seed syllable); others like Mindfulness and Zen, emphasize the art of bringing attention into relations with the experience of breathing. All three meditation types emphasize a sitting posture.
Movement: Hatha or Kundalini Yoga or Qi Gong are great examples of movement meditations. These active types are marvelous for those who find sitting still and paying attention to breathing, completely out of bounds with one’s own “gotta dance, gotta move” nervous system habits. In the grand historic tradition of Patanjali Yoga, movement is an important prelim. preparation for sitting meditation. It warms and tones the whole body — joints, muscles, organs, etc. — and demands that attention steady itself in order to support and realize neuromuscular feats like the linguini like poses we see on the cover of Yoga Journal.
Some things to keep in mind: In your search, you will find that many brands and schools bring breath, attention and movement together in the practice. I would take notice of how the practice is taught, which structural aspect is emphasized: For example: Is the teacher using breathing to harness attention? Is he or she asking you to pay attention to the natural cycle of breathing, to emphasize qualities of breathing? Has movement been glorified as royal road to peace and calm? Is movement ever paired with awareness of breathing or special training of attention? Finally, a tip for yoga tourists: If you’re looking for moving yogas rather than ones that emphasize how to get into a still pose, ask the instructor if he or she teaches a “flow” or vinyasa sequence.
Dear readers, please meditate on these suggestions and write back with questions or comments
And remember, I am available for whole brain/whole body meditation consulting and training.
Feel free to contact or refer me through my institute email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
May Breath Be With You!
Founding Director, The George Greenstein Institute, creating a sustainable future by coaching bodies, brains and minds!
“Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation,” study conducted by
Richard J. Davidson, PhD, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, Jessica Schumacher, MS, Melissa Rosenkranz, BA, Daniel Muller, MD, PhD, Saki F. Santorelli, EdD, Ferris Urbanowski, MA, Anne Harrington, PhD, Katherine Bonus, MA and John F. Sheridan, PhD. Psychosomatic Medicine 65:564-570 (2003); © 2003 American Psychosomatic Society.
Tags: Advances in Neuroscience, Attention Training and Meditation, Breath Meditation, Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Meditation, Mindfulness and Immunity, Mindfulness Meditation and the Brain, Moving Meditation, Neuroplasticity, Qi Gong and health improvement, Self Improvement, T.M. Meditation, Yoga and the Brain, Yoga Journal, Zen Meditation