Different Types of Meditation Techniques Affect Neural Activity Differently

Different Types of Meditation Techniques Affect Neural Activity Differently

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The picture we have is that mindfulness practice increases one’s ability to recruit higher order, pre-frontal cortex regions in order to down-regulate lower-order brain activity.” – Adrienne Taren

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Many can be characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. Transcendental meditation is a silent mantra-based focused meditation in which a word or phrase is repeated over and over again with the meditator focusing attention on the mantra. This is designed to evoke the experience of pure awareness. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these thoughts and lets them arise and fall away without paying them any further attention. Loving Kindness Meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being.

 

These techniques have common properties of restful attention on the present moment, but there are large differences. These differences are likely to produce different effects on the practitioner. One way to distinguish between the effects of these different meditation techniques is to observe the effects of each technique on the brain’s activity. This can be measured by recording the electroencephalogram (EEG). The brain produces rhythmic electrical activity that can be recorded from the scalp. It is usually separated into frequency bands. Delta activity consists of oscillations in the 0.5-3 cycles per second band. Theta activity in the EEG consists of oscillations in the 4-7.5 cycles per second band. Alpha activity consists of oscillations in the 8-12 cycles per second band. Beta activity consists of oscillations in the 13-30 cycles per second band while Gamma activity occurs in the 30-100 cycles per second band.

 

 

In today’s Research News article “.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5890111/ ), and colleagues review and summarize the published research literature on the effects of various meditation techniques on neural activity as measured with the electroencephalogram (EEG). They report that meditation practice, in general, is associated with increased brain oscillations and the greater the amount of practice the greater the increase in oscillations. This suggests that meditation practice, regardless of type, effects neural activity.

 

Activity in the Theta band of the EEG (4-7.5 hz.) differs with the type of meditation practiced. Both, focused and open monitoring meditation increase Theta oscillations in the anterior portions of the cerebral cortex. But, focused meditation also increases Theta activity in the posterior cortex. Theta activity is associated with positive emotional states and memory.

 

Activity in the Alpha band of the EEG (6-12 hz.) differs with the type of meditation practiced. Both, focused and open monitoring meditation increase Alpha oscillations in the posterior portions of the cerebral cortex. But, focused meditation also increases Alpha activity in the anterior cortex while open monitoring meditation decreases Alpha on the left side of the frontal cortex. Alpha activity is associated with relaxation and drowsiness.

 

Activity in the Gamma band of the EEG (6-12 hz.) increases in the frontal regions with all forms of meditation. This is sometimes known as fast wave activity and is associated with sensory and cognitive processing. There is conflicting evidence regarding the effects of meditation practice on the other oscillatory bands.

 

This research makes it clear that meditation practice increases the brains electrical activity and there appears to be differences in the oscillatory patterns produced by different meditation techniques. This may help in identifying the underlying processes responsible for the differing effects of these practices. But, the research is at a very early stage of development and much more work will be required to come to any firm conclusions.

 

So, it is clear that different types of meditation techniques affect neural activity differently.

 

“It was already known that during meditation brain wave activity increases in areas like alpha waves. These MRIs showed something more permanent: denser gray matter in specific regions like the hippocampus, which is crucial for learning and memory, as well as in other areas associated with self-awareness, compassion, and reflection.” – Deepak Chopra

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Lee, D. J., Kulubya, E., Goldin, P., Goodarzi, A., & Girgis, F. (2018). Review of the Neural Oscillations Underlying Meditation. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12, 178. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00178

 

Abstract

Objective: Meditation is one type of mental training that has been shown to produce many cognitive benefits. Meditation practice is associated with improvement in concentration and reduction of stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, different forms of meditation training are now being used as interventions for a variety of psychological and somatic illnesses. These benefits are thought to occur as a result of neurophysiologic changes. The most commonly studied specific meditation practices are focused attention (FA), open-monitoring (OM), as well as transcendental meditation (TM), and loving-kindness (LK) meditation. In this review, we compare the neural oscillatory patterns during these forms of meditation.

Method: We performed a systematic review of neural oscillations during FA, OM, TM, and LK meditation practices, comparing meditators to meditation-naïve adults.

Results: FA, OM, TM, and LK meditation are associated with global increases in oscillatory activity in meditators compared to meditation-naïve adults, with larger changes occurring as the length of meditation training increases. While FA and OM are related to increases in anterior theta activity, only FA is associated with changes in posterior theta oscillations. Alpha activity increases in posterior brain regions during both FA and OM. In anterior regions, FA shows a bilateral increase in alpha power, while OM shows a decrease only in left-sided power. Gamma activity in these meditation practices is similar in frontal regions, but increases are variable in parietal and occipital regions.

Conclusions: The current literature suggests distinct differences in neural oscillatory activity among FA, OM, TM, and LK meditation practices. Further characterizing these oscillatory changes may better elucidate the cognitive and therapeutic effects of specific meditation practices, and potentially lead to the development of novel neuromodulation targets to take advantage of their benefits.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5890111/

 

Different Mindfulness Practices Have Differing Effects on Mindfulness and Compassion

Different Mindfulness Practices Have Differing Effects on Mindfulness and Compassion

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Last year it was mindfulness but this year, attending without judgment is out and compassion for you as an antidote to your perceived low self-worth, failure, or any other form of suffering is definitely in.“ – Patricia Rockman

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Many can be characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In “Presence” meditation, also known as focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. “Perspective” meditation is another different method of cultivating mindfulness. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these thoughts and lets them arise, and fall away without paying them any further attention. A third “Affect” meditation technique, e.g. Loving Kindness Meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being. Although Loving Kindness Meditation has been practiced for centuries, it has received very little scientific research attention

 

In today’s Research News article “Differential Effects of Attention-, Compassion-, and Socio-Cognitively Based Mental Practices on Self-Reports of Mindfulness and Compassion.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693975/ ), the effects of the various meditation techniques on mindfulness and compassion were compared. Hildebrandt and colleagues recruited healthy adults without meditation experience and randomly assigned them to one of two conditions; the first practiced “Presence”, “Affect”, and “Perspective” conditions in counterbalanced order, while the second constituted a retest control. The conditions were practiced daily at home for 13 weeks and involved a weekly 2-hour training session. In the “Presence” condition the participants practiced as focused attention meditation and body scan meditation In the “Affect” condition the participants practiced Loving Kindness Meditation and engaged in affect dyads, where they were paired with another participant to discuss for 5 minutes each day something that they were grateful for, In the “Perspective” condition the participants practiced observing thoughts meditation and engaged in perspective dyads, where they were paired with another participant to discuss for 5 minutes each day “a situation from the perspective of one of one’s own inner parts.”  The retest control participants were matched on mindfulness with the practice participants. All participants were measured before and after each condition for mindfulness, compassion, fear of compassion, and self-compassion.

 

They found that, compared to the retest control condition all three meditation conditions led to increased mindfulness presence, observing, and non-reacting, but only the “Affect” and “Perspective” conditions produced significant increases in the mindfulness non-judging, accepting, and compassion scales. The “Affect” condition produced additional significant increases in the compassion scales. Hence, different mindfulness practices produced different patterns of change in mindfulness and compassion.

 

Practicing focused meditation appears to improve present moment awareness and the ability to not react to its contents. Practicing observing thoughts appeared to not only improve these mindfulness components but also improved the ability to accept and not judge what is occurring. On the other hand, practicing Loving Kindness Meditation appears to improve all of these mindfulness components and in addition improve compassion. Hence, it appears that “Affect” meditation may be a superior technique for promoting both mindfulness and compassion.

 

These results are surprising as focused attention meditation has long been the most commonly taught practice, yet it was the least effective. It should be mentioned, however, that the present study was unusual in including dyadic discussions in only the “Affect” and “Perspective” conditions and not the “Presence” condition. These dyadic discussions may have been crucial in producing the enhanced effectiveness’ of these practices. It remains for future research to investigate this possibility.

 

This study is an important beginning in documenting the different effects of different meditation techniques. This may lead to better application of meditation tailored for the specific needs of the individual, leading to improved health and well-being.

 

Mindfulness is more than just moment-to-moment awareness. It is a kind, curious awareness that helps us relate to ourselves and others with compassion.”Shauna Shapiro

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Hildebrandt, L. K., McCall, C., & Singer, T. (2017). Differential Effects of Attention-, Compassion-, and Socio-Cognitively Based Mental Practices on Self-Reports of Mindfulness and Compassion. Mindfulness, 8(6), 1488–1512. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0716-z

 

Abstract

Research on the effects of mindfulness- and compassion-based interventions is flourishing along with self-report scales to assess facets of these broad concepts. However, debates remain as to which mental practices are most appropriate to develop the attentional, cognitive, and socio-affective facets of mindfulness and compassion. One crucial question is whether present-moment, attention-focused mindfulness practices are sufficient to induce a cascade of changes across the different proposed facets of mindfulness, including nonjudgmental acceptance, as well as compassion or whether explicit socio-affective training is required. Here, we address these questions in the context of a 9-month longitudinal study (the ReSource Project) by examining the differential effects of three different 3-month mental training modules on subscales of mindfulness and compassion questionnaires. The “Presence” module, which aimed at cultivating present-moment-focused attention and body awareness, led to increases in the observing, nonreacting, and presence subscales, but not to increases in acceptance or nonjudging. These latter facets benefitted from specific cultivation through the socio-cognitive “Perspective” module and socio-affective, compassion-based “Affect” module, respectively. These modules also led to further increases in scores on the subscales affected by the Presence module. Moreover, scores on the compassion scales were uniquely influenced by the Affect module. Thus, whereas a present-moment attention-focused training, as implemented in many mindfulness-based programs, was indeed able to increase attentional facets of mindfulness, only socio-cognitive and compassion-based practices led to broad changes in ethical-motivational qualities like a nonjudgmental attitude, compassion, and self-compassion.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693975/

Improve Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms with Mindfulness Meditation

Improve Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms with Mindfulness Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Regular mindfulness practice can lead to a greater present-centered awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of potentially distressing cognitive and emotional states as well as trauma-related internal and external triggers. Awareness and acceptance of trauma-related thoughts and feelings may . . . be especially useful for individuals with PTSD, as it may help decrease experiential avoidance, reduce arousal, and foster emotion regulation.” – National Center for PTSD

 

Experiencing trauma is quite common. It has been estimated that 60% of men and 50% of women will experience a significant traumatic event during their lifetime. But, only a fraction will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But this still results in a frightening number of people with 7%-8% of the population developing PTSD at some point in their life. For military personnel, it’s much more likely for PTSD to develop with about 11%-20% of those who have served in a war zone developing PTSD.

 

PTSD involves a number of troubling symptoms including reliving the event with the same fear and horror in nightmares or with a flashback. PTSD sufferers avoid situations that remind them of the event this may include crowds, driving, movies, etc. and may avoid seeking help because it keeps them from having to think or talk about the event. They often experience negative changes in beliefs and feelings including difficulty experiencing positive or loving feelings toward other people, avoiding relationships, memory difficulties, or see the world as dangerous and no one can be trusted. Sufferers may feel hyperarousal, feeling keyed up and jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. They may experience sudden anger or irritability, may have a hard time sleeping or concentrating, may be startled by a loud noise or surprise.

 

Obviously, these are troubling symptoms that need to be addressed. There are a number of therapies that have been developed to treat PTSD. One of which, mindfulness meditation training has been found to be particularly effective. But meditation is actually a complex practice involving many different components. One such simple non-meditative component is relaxation and slowed breathing. In addition, there are many different meditation techniques. As a result, it is difficult to know what types of meditation are most effective. It is also difficult to specify if meditation per se or the relaxation and slow breathing that occurs with meditation may be responsible for meditation effects.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mechanistic pathways of mindfulness meditation in combat veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4803530/, Wahbeh and colleagues investigate different components of meditation and the route of their effectiveness, psychological or physical. They recruited combat veterans who had an established diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and randomly allocated each to one of four conditions; body scan mindfulness meditation, slow breathing with a biofeedback device, mindful awareness of the breath with an intention to slow the breath, or 4) sitting quietly. They were trained once a week for 6 weeks and were assigned to practice 20 minutes per day between sessions. The participants were measured before and after training for mindfulness, PTSD symptoms, lifetime trauma, combat experience, perceived symptom improvement, intrusive thoughts, perceived stress, depression, positive and negative emotions, self-efficacy, sleep quality, and attentional ability. They also received physical measures with electroencephalogram (EEG), salivary cortisol, heart and respiration rates.

 

They found after training that the 2 mindfulness meditation conditions produced significantly greater mindfulness, perceived symptom improvement, the greatest improvements in PTSD symptoms, and greater reductions in respiration rates. Hence, the inclusion of meditation was critical for symptomatic improvement. But, the improvements were all psychological. In general, there were no differences in physiological measures, except for slowed breathing in meditation.

 

The study’s strength was that it separated components of meditation practice and identified the effective components. Mindfulness meditation appears to improve the psychological symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It appeared to do so, independent of relaxation and physiological changes. So, physical relaxation or physiological changes are not sufficient. The study suggests that the inclusion of meditation practice is mandatory in order to treat PTSD. Since meditation is known to improve emotion regulation and attention, reduce stress responding, and reduce worry and rumination, the study suggests that these psychological effects of meditation are crucial to symptom relief for PTSD sufferers.

 

So, improve posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms with mindfulness meditation.

 

“But new research has now demonstrated that mindfulness—a non-judgmental awareness of our thoughts and feelings—might be a useful tool for veterans battling PTSD. Rather than being stuck in disturbing memories and negative thoughts, they can use mindfulness to actively shift their attention out of ruminations and produce lasting changes in the brain.” – Adam Hoffman

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Wahbeh, H., Goodrich, E., Goy, E., & Oken, B. S. (2016). Mechanistic pathways of mindfulness meditation in combat veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 72(4), 365–383. http://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22255

 

Abstract

Objective

This study’s objective was to evaluate the effect of two common components of meditation (mindfulness and slow breathing) on potential mechanistic pathways.

Methods

102 combat veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were randomized to: 1) the body scan mindfulness meditation (MM), 2) slow breathing (SB) with a biofeedback device, 3) mindful awareness of the breath with an intention to slow the breath (MM+SB), or 4) sitting quietly (SQ). Participants had six weekly one-on-one sessions with 20 minutes of daily home practice. The mechanistic pathways and measures were: 1) Autonomic Nervous System: hyperarousal symptoms, heart-rate (HR), heart-rate variability (HRV); 2) Frontal Cortex Activity: Attentional Network Task (ANT) conflict effect and event-related negativity, and intrusive thoughts; and 3) Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis: awakening cortisol. PTSD measures were also evaluated.

Results

Meditation participants had significant but modest within-group improvement in PTSD and related symptoms although there were no between-group effects. Perceived impression of PTSD symptom improvement was greater in the meditation arms compared to controls. Resting respiration decreased in the meditation arms compared to SQ. For the mechanistic pathways 1) Subjective hyperarousal symptoms improved within-group (but not between-group) for MM, MM+SB, and SQ while HR and HRV did not; 2) Intrusive thoughts decreased in MM compared to MM+SB and SB while the ANT measures did not change; and 3) MM had lower awakening cortisol within-group but not between-group.

Conclusion

Treatment effects were mostly specific to self-report rather than physiological measures. Continued research is needed to further evaluate mindfulness meditation’s mechanism in people with PTSD.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4803530/

Women Benefit More than Men from Mindfulness

Women Benefit More than Men from Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

For people that tend to be willing to confront or expose themselves or turn toward the difficult, mindfulness is made for helping that process. For people who have been largely turning their attention away from the difficult, to suddenly bring all their attention to their difficulties can be somewhat counterproductive. While facing one’s difficulties and feeling one’s emotions may seem to be universally beneficial, it does not take into account that there may be different cultural expectations for men and women around emotionality.” – Willoughby Britton

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to be beneficial for a variety of mental health problems, including anxietydepressionAntisocial Personality DisorderBorderline personality disorderimpulsivityobsessive compulsive disorderphobiaspost-traumatic stress disorder, sexual dysfunction, suicidality and even with psychosis. It also improves the psychological well-being of healthy people. Interestingly, there appears to be differences between men and women in the occurrence of various mental illnesses. Women have a much higher incidence of emotional issues than men such as anxiety and depression. On the other hand, men are more likely to have conduct disorders and substance abuse.

 

One of the ways that mindfulness appears to work to improve mental health is by improving emotion regulation. This increases the individual’s ability to fully experience emotions but react to and cope with them adaptively, in other words, not to be carried away by them. Since women are more likely to have emotional issues than men, and mindfulness is particularly effective in improving emotion regulation, it would seem reasonable to hypothesize that mindfulness would have greater psychological benefits for women than for men.

 

In today’s Research News article “Women Benefit More Than Men in Response to College-based Meditation Training.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5397480/, Rojiana and colleagues recruited male and female university students and trained them for 12 weeks, 3 times per week for 1 hour, in focused and open monitoring meditation. They completed measurements before and after training of mindfulness, positive and negative emotions, and self-compassion. They then compared the effectiveness of the meditation training for men and women.

 

They found that after training both men and women improved in mindfulness and self -compassion, but women had greater improvements than men in mindfulness and the mindfulness facets of observing, describing, non-judging, and non-reacting. Women also showed greater decreases in negative emotions. For women, it was found that the greater the increase in mindfulness, the greater the decrease in negative emotions. Hence, they found that women tended to benefit more from the meditation training that the men.

 

These are interesting results that suggest that women respond to meditation training with greater improvements in emotions and mindfulness than men. This may well have occurred due to the facts that mindfulness is known to improve emotion regulation and women have greater problems with emotion regulation and thereby benefit more. The greater improvements in mindfulness in women are interesting and may be due to the fact that the women were lower in mindfulness, particularly non-reactivity, to begin with. The meditation simply increased their levels of mindfulness to those of the men. This suggests that women have a greater tendency to react emotionally and that mindfulness training by decreasing this reactivity has greater benefits for women.

 

The results might have been different had the study measured behavioral conduct and externalizing behaviors rather than emotions. In a sense, the study played right to the issues than most trouble women and didn’t measure those that are more characteristic of males. Had they measured these factors perhaps they would have seen greater improvement in men rather than women. Regardless, women appear to benefit more emotionally from mindfulness training than men.

 

“When thrown by their feelings, men tend to “externalize” their emotions by doing things like working out, playing video games or otherwise interacting with their outer worlds. Women tend to “internalize” by analyzing and ruminating over their emotional states, psychologists say. While many men go outward — and one might argue, distract themselves from their internal world — women go inward.” – Drake Baer

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

Rojiani, R., Santoyo, J. F., Rahrig, H., Roth, H. D., & Britton, W. B. (2017). Women Benefit More Than Men in Response to College-based Meditation Training. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 551. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00551

 

Abstract

Objectives: While recent literature has shown that mindfulness training has positive effects on treating anxiety and depression, there has been virtually no research investigating whether effects differ across genders—despite the fact that men and women differ in clinically significant ways. The current study investigated whether college-based meditation training had different effects on negative affect for men and women.

Methods: Seventy-seven university students (36 women, age = 20.7 ± 3.0 years) participated in 12-week courses with meditation training components. They completed self-report questionnaires of affect, mindfulness, and self-compassion before and after the course.

Results: Compared to men, women showed greater decreases in negative affect and greater increases on scales measuring mindfulness and self-compassion. Women’s improvements in negative affect were correlated to improvements in measures of both mindfulness skills and self-compassion. In contrast, men showed non-significant increases in negative affect, and changes in affect were only correlated with ability to describe emotions, not any measures of experiential or self-acceptance.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that women may have more favorable responses than men to school-based mindfulness training, and that the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions may be maximized by gender-specific modifications.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5397480/

Focus in Meditation for Cognitive Effects but Open Monitor in Meditation for Physical Effects

Focus in Meditation for Cognitive Effects but Open Monitor in Meditation for Physical Effects

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

In focused attention meditation, the focus of the mind is placed only on one thing. This implies that you have to stop everything you are doing and designate time for this type of meditation. On the other hand, in open monitoring meditation, your focus is neutral and receptive to anything that becomes present to you in the moment.” – Mind Body Vortex

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

Two types of meditation are the most commonly used practices for research purposes In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, frequently the breath or a mantra, and learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. On the other hand, in open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these stimuli and lets them arise, and fall away without paying them any further attention.

 

These techniques have common properties of restful attention on the present moment, but there are large differences. These differences are likely to produce different effects on the practitioner. In today’s Research News article “A selective review of dharana and dhyana in healthy participants.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5192286/

Telles and colleagues review the published literature (eight studies) on the differences in the effects of focused attention meditation and open monitoring meditation.

 

They found quite interesting differences. Focused attention meditation tended to produce greater improvements in attentional ability while open monitoring meditation tended to produce larger changes in the physiology, specifically decreased activity in the sympathetic division and increased activity in the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic division tends to produce greater physiological arousal, including heart rate and blood pressure increases while the parasympathetic division tends to produce greater physiological relaxation, including heart rate and blood pressure reductions.

 

The published research, then, reflects considerable difference in the effects of these two meditation types. It should not be surprising that practicing focusing attention results in improved attentional ability. But, the difficulty in actually focusing attention may be somewhat stressful. Simply allowing whatever arises to come into consciousness, on the other hand may be much more relaxing. The differences in the effects of these meditation techniques suggest that focused attention meditation may be more appropriate for enhancing attention and thought for perhaps the treatment of attention deficit disorder or aging produced reductions in cognition. On the other hand open monitoring meditation may be more appropriate for the treatment of stress related disorders.

 

So, focus in meditation for cognitive effects but open monitor in meditation for physical effects.

 

“Focused attention and open monitoring — these are the two flavors meditation comes in. Mix and match as you like; add whatever extra toppings you desire; you’ll still be left with focused attention and open monitoring. Sure, people claim that it is best — maybe even essential — to concentrate on this or that in order to benefit the most from meditation. Others would have us believe that open awareness/monitoring needs to be done in a certain fashion, which obviously seems to belie the point of being open to whatever.“ – Brian Hines

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

Telles, S., Singh, N., Gupta, R. K., & Balkrishna, A. (2016). A selective review of dharana and dhyana in healthy participants. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 7(4), 255–260. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaim.2016.09.004

 

Abstract

Attention is an important part of the process of meditation. Traditional Yoga texts describe two stages of meditation which follow each other in sequence. These are meditative focusing (dharana in Sanskrit) and effortless meditation (dhyana in Sanskrit). This review evaluated eight experimental studies conducted on participants in normal health, who practiced dharana and dhyana. The studies included evaluation of autonomic and respiratory variables, eLORETA and sLORETA assessments of the EEG, evoked potentials, functional magnetic resonance imaging, cancellation task performance and emotional intelligence. The studies differed in their sample size, design and the method of practicing dharana and dhyana. These factors have been detailed. The results revealed differences between dharana and dhyana, which would have been missed if the two stages of meditation had not been studied separately.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5192286/