Increase Relaxation with Focused Meditation while Increasing Activation with Open Monitoring Meditation
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Mindfulness meditation consists of focused attention meditation (FAM) and open monitoring meditation (OMM), both of which reduce activation of the default mode network (DMN) and mind-wandering.” – Masahiro Fujino
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 affecting different psychological areas.
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, often the breath. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced including thoughts regardless of its origin. Whether these different meditation types produce different effects has not been extensively studied.
In today’s Research News article “Differential Effects of Focused Attention and Open Monitoring Meditation on Autonomic Cardiac Modulation and Cortisol Secretion.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8320390/ ) Ooishi and colleagues recruited healthy adult meditation novices and had them engage in 30 minutes of either focused attention meditation, focusing on the breath, or open monitoring meditation in randomized order separated by 2 hours. They were measured before and after each meditation for heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration rate, and salivary cortisol.
They found that focused attention meditation and open monitoring meditation both reduced respiration rates but produced different physiological responses. Analysis of the heart rate variability data revealed changes in the autonomic nervous system’s components of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These analyses suggested that focused attention meditation produced an increase in parasympathetic activation but not sympathetic activation while open monitoring meditation produced an increase in sympathetic activation but not parasympathetic activation and reduced salivary cortisol levels.
These findings suggest that focused attention meditation is associated with physiological relaxation while open monitoring meditation is associated with physiological activation. This fits with the findings that focused attention meditation produces greater reductions in anxiety compared to open monitoring meditation. But it needs to be kept in mind that the study employed brief, one-time meditations by meditation naïve participants. It is possible that focused attention meditation is simpler and produces less stress in naive participants while open monitoring meditation is more difficult to learn requiring greater effort and stress. It is clear that this work needs to be replicated with longer term meditation practice.
So, increase relaxation with focused meditation while increasing activation with open monitoring meditation.
“Focused attention meditation improves focus. . . an increased consciousness of bodily sensations. The open-monitoring meditation . . increases our ability to resolve conflicts. Open Monitoring meditation increases creativity by improving divergent and convergent thinking.” – Daily Meditation
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Ooishi, Y., Fujino, M., Inoue, V., Nomura, M., & Kitagawa, N. (2021). Differential Effects of Focused Attention and Open Monitoring Meditation on Autonomic Cardiac Modulation and Cortisol Secretion. Frontiers in Physiology, 12, 675899. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2021.675899
Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been used widely as a useful tool for the alleviation of various stress-related symptoms. However, the effects of MBIs on stress-related physiological activity have not yet been ascertained. MBIs primarily consist of focused-attention (FA) and open-monitoring (OM) meditation. Since differing effects of FA and OM meditation on brain activities and cognitive tasks have been mentioned, we hypothesized that FA and OM meditation have also differing effects on stress-related physiological activity. In this study, we examined the effects of FA and OM meditation on autonomic cardiac modulation and cortisol secretion. Forty-one healthy adults (aged 20–46 years) who were meditation novices experienced 30-min FA and OM meditation tasks by listening to instructions. During resting- and meditation-states, electrocardiogram transducers were attached to participants to measure the R-R interval, which were used to evaluate heart rate (HR) and perform heart rate variability (HRV) analyses. Saliva samples were obtained from participants pre- and post-meditation to measure salivary cortisol levels. Results showed that FA meditation induced a decrease in HR and an increase in the root mean square of successive differences (rMSDD). In contrast, OM meditation induced an increase in the standard deviation of the normal-to-normal interval (SDNN) to rMSSD ratio (SDNN/rMSSD) and a decrease in salivary cortisol levels. These results suggest that FA meditation elevates physiological relaxation, whereas OM meditation elevates physiological arousal and reduces stress.