Meditation Comes in Seven Different Varieties

Meditation Comes in Seven Different Varieties


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


Experienced meditators agree: a daily meditation practice can have significant benefits for mental and physical health. But one thing they probably won’t agree on? The most effective types of meditation. That’s simply because it’s different for everyone. After all, there are literally hundreds of meditation techniques encompassing practices from different traditions, cultures, spiritual disciplines, and religions.” Headspace


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. Classically they’ve been 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. Transcendental meditation is a silent mantra-based focused meditation in which a word or phrase is repeated over and over again. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. In Loving Kindness Meditation 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.


But there are a number of techniques that do not fall into these categories and even within these categories there are a number of large variations. In today’s Research News article “What Is Meditation? Proposing an Empirically Derived Classification System.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Matko and colleagues attempt to develop a more comprehensive system of classification. They found 309 different techniques but reduced them down to the 20 most popular ones. They recruited 100 meditators with at least 2 years of experience and asked them to rate how similar each technique was to every other technique.


They applied multidimensional scaling to the data which uncovered two dimensions that adequately described all of the 20 techniques. The analysis revealed a dimension of the amount of activation involved and a dimension of the amount of body orientation involved. All 20 techniques were classified within these two dimensions. Visual inspection of where the various techniques fell on the two dimensions produces 7 different clusters labelled as “(1) Body-centered meditation, (2) mindful observation, (3) contemplation, (4) mantra meditation, (5) visual concentration, (6) affect-centered meditation, and (7) meditation with movement.”


Within the high activation and low body orientation quadrant there was one cluster identified, labelled “Mantra Meditation” including singing sutras/mantras/invocations, repeating syllables and meditation with sounds. Within the low activation and low body orientation quadrant there were three clusters identified, labelled “affect-centered meditation” including cultivating compassion and opening up to blessings; “visual orientations” including visualizations and concentrating on an object; and “contemplation” including contemplating on a question and contradictions or paradoxes.


Within the high activation and high body orientation quadrant there was one cluster identified, labelled “meditation with movement” including “meditation with movement, manipulating the breath, and walking and observing senses. Within the low activation and high body orientation quadrant there was one cluster identified, labelled “mindful observation” including observing thoughts, lying meditation, and sitting in silence. Finally, they identified a cluster with high body but straddling the activation dimension, labelled “body centered meditation” including concentrating on a energy centers or channeling, body scan, abdominal breath, nostril breath, and observing the body.


This 7-category classification system is interesting and based upon the ratings of experienced meditators. So, there is reason to believe that there is a degree of validity. In addition, the system is able to encompass 20 different popular meditation techniques. It remains for future research to investigate whether this classification system is useful in better understanding the effects of meditation or the underlying brain systems.


Not all meditation styles are right for everyone. These practices require different skills and mindsets. How do you know which practice is right for you? “It’s what feels comfortable and what you feel encouraged to practice,” – Mira Dessy


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Matko, K., & Sedlmeier, P. (2019). What Is Meditation? Proposing an Empirically Derived Classification System. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2276. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02276



Meditation is an umbrella term, which subsumes a huge number of diverse practices. It is still unclear how these practices can be classified in a reasonable way. Earlier proposals have struggled to do justice to the diversity of meditation techniques. To help in solving this issue, we used a novel bottom-up procedure to develop a comprehensive classification system for meditation techniques. In previous studies, we reduced 309 initially identified techniques to the 20 most popular ones. In the present study, 100 experienced meditators were asked to rate the similarity of the selected 20 techniques. Using multidimensional scaling, we found two orthogonal dimensions along which meditation techniques could be classified: activation and amount of body orientation. These dimensions emphasize the role of embodied cognition in meditation. Within these two dimensions, seven main clusters emerged: mindful observation, body-centered meditation, visual concentration, contemplation, affect-centered meditation, mantra meditation, and meditation with movement. We conclude there is no “meditation” as such, but there are rather different groups of techniques that might exert diverse effects. These groups call into question the common division into “focused attention” and “open-monitoring” practices. We propose a new embodied classification system and encourage researchers to evaluate this classification system through comparative studies.


Writing About Trauma or Daily Activities does not Improve Mindfulness

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“The very act of putting [words] down—getting them out of the beehive of the head and onto the objective reality of paper—is a form of clarification.” — Pico Iyer


People have used writing as therapy for psychological issues spontaneously throughout history. They’ve used logs, journals, diaries, essays, etc. to help cope with stresses and traumas. Research has verified the benefits of expressive writing, demonstrating that writing has beneficial psychological and even physical effects from improving mood, to relieving stress, to strengthening the immune system, to decreasing depression. It appears that the nature of the writing makes a difference, with writing about problems and traumatic events having greater benefits than simply writing about everyday events.


It is not known exactly how writing has such beneficial effects. It has been pointed out that writing about one’s problems or traumatic events is very similar to the process of psychotherapy. In addition, it’s been noted that expressive writing is a focused attention task much like mindfulness training. Indeed, mindfulness training has similar beneficial effects as expressive writing; improving emotion regulation, lowering depression, strengthening the immune system, and relieving stress. Hence, the beneficial effects of expressive writing may occur, in part, by improving mindfulness.


Although there have been a number of studies of the effects of mindfulness on writing, there have been none on the effects of writing on mindfulness. In today’s Research News article “Linguistic Predictors of Mindfulness in Written Self-Disclosure Narratives.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Moore and Brody examine the effects of writing on mindfulness. They recruited college students and randomly assigned them to write essays on either traumatic events in their lives or about how they spent their day and planned to spend the rest of the day. The students wrote for 20 minutes on three consecutive days. The students’ writings were analyzed for linguistic characteristics including positive emotions, negative emotions, cognitive processing words, self-references, and temporal categories of past present and future. Before writing and 4 and 8 weeks later, the students’ mindfulness was measured.


They found that mindfulness overall was not increased in either the traumatic events or daily activities writing conditions. They found that the linguistic content made a small difference, with high levels of use of cognitive processing words or present tense words associated with high levels of overall mindfulness and mindfulness subcomponents of nonjudgmental awareness and describing. They also found that high use of self-reference words was associated with low levels of the mindfulness component of observing internal and external stimuli.


These results indicate that writing in general regardless of whether it was about traumatic events or everyday occurrences did not affect overall mindfulness. This suggests that mindfulness is not the intermediary between writing and improved psychological and physical health. The results further suggest that writing thoughtfully especially about the present may slightly improve mindfulness. This makes sense as mindfulness is present moment awareness. Finally, the results suggest that writing a lot about the self tends to slightly interfere with being observant of the contents of the present moment. This again makes sense as thinking about the self involves past and future and not present experiences.


The results to some extent are disappointing as they did not clarify the mechanism by which writing improves mental and physical health. But, they do help to clarify how focusing thinking on the present and not the self affects components of mindfulness. Given that writing and mindfulness both have positive psychological and physical effects and appear to do so independently, it is possible that combining mindfulness training with expressive writing may have greater benefits than either alone.


“Poet Robert Bly once said, “If we want to create art we have to stitch together the inner world and the outer world.” Mindfulness, which is defined as paying attention to our moment-to-moment experience with nonjudgmental awareness, can do just that.” – Omega Institute


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Moore, S. D., & Brody, L. R. (2009). Linguistic Predictors of Mindfulness in Written Self-Disclosure Narratives. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 28(3), 281–296.



This study investigated whether relative changes in cognitive, emotion, temporal, and self-reference word frequencies in repeated narratives predicted improvements in mindfulness skills (i.e., nonjudgmental acceptance of present-moment experiences, observing and describing present stimuli, and acting with awareness) subsequent to narrative self-disclosure. Participants wrote repeated narratives of traumatic or daily events over 3 days. Mindfulness was assessed at baseline and 4 to 8 weeks posttask. Results indicated that relative increases in cognitive processing words (among traumatic events participants and women in both conditions) and present tense words (among all participants) significantly predicted increases in nonjudgmental acceptance, describing, or overall mindfulness. Increases in present tense words appeared to partially mediate the higher mindfulness outcomes of participants writing about daily events when compared with those writing about trauma. The findings suggest that linguistic changes in self-disclosure narratives are associated with improvements in specific mindfulness skills.