5 Meditations And the Brain
I’ve practiced these kinds of meditation so far.
Mindfulness kind: Anapana
Insight and Integration Meditation: Vipassana
Open Monitoring: Zazen
Mantra Meditation: Transcendental
Loving Kindness: Metta Bhavana
It seems every kind of meditation affects the brain differently. So we’ll go one by one.
I didn’t think meditation was all THAT to be honest.
I didn’t feel like becoming one of those hippies and stuff. But this book (Buddha’s Brain (1 Volume Set): The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom) changed all of that.
Seeing meditation outside of that whole mystical perspective made me take it a little bit more seriously.
What followed after reading this book? Years of study and practice, trying to find a type of meditation that I could get the most out of. Here’s what I’ve found out till now.
Anapana being the kind where you focus on your breath, without controlling it, just observing how the tip of your nose and the entry of the nostrils feels at each breath. It is used as a beginner meditation to pave way to Vipassana. It helps you develop more focus of mind.
Vipassana is the meditation to bring understanding of the law of change. That is, everything changes. anicca. It is the meditation of constantly scanning your body in an specific order for an hour. Every time a pain arrives, you’re supposed to look at it and understand what that pain is, is it a heat? Is it Pressure?
Vipassana is normally taught properly in 10 day retreats all over the world, just check out their website. No upfront money required, you only give what is in your means after the retreat is over. I couldn’t give enough money on my first retreat, so I plan on making a generous donation the second time around. I feel it taught me so much that I have to give something back.
Vipassana is 2500 years old, going back to the most famous Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama from India.
Open Monitoring Meditation
Zazen is similar to Vipassana in the way that it focus on observing reality as it is. Zazen literally means “To sit in Zen”. Differently than other meditations I already listed here, during zazen, practitioners keep their eyes half open, looking at a 45 degrees towards the ground and keeping their focus on their breaths and also anything that is in the present moment. The goal of Zen meditation is to regulate attention and let go of all negative thoughts.
Do not think of either good or evil. Do not be concerned with right or wrong. Put aside the operation of your intellect, volition and consciousness. Stop considering things with your memory, imagination or reflection.Dogen Zenji
Zazen comes from Japan, when Buddhism had influences from Taoism and Confucianism back in China, becoming what is today Zen Buddhism.
Transcendental Meditation is one of the most researched type.
Disclaimer: I haven’t paid for the course, so I might not be completely right about the technique of Transcendental Meditation. I do know Mantra meditation however.
It’s constantly bringing the mind to a common mantra or “word without any association”. You keep repeating it mentally, in silence.
The goal is to stop paying attention to the constant chatter inside our heads, and instead transcend to a higher level of consciousness. Mantra’s help you achieve this level of subtlety by engaging your focus on something without intellectual meaning.
There are several common mantras, the most common one being “Om“.
Mantra meditation has been found on many of the world’s religions, such as Abrahamic (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and in Karmic religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism).
Loving Kindness, or Metta Bhavana is a type of meditation where you focus on engaging your compassion towards all beings, specially those you personally dislike. It is a way to strengthen the love muscle, and make you feel as a part of a bigger whole.
What does the Research Say?
There have been several studies around meditation, but this one is specially interesting because it compares how different types of meditation affect the brain in different ways.
Participants were between 20 and 55 years of age and engaged in three different types of training for three months each, totaling a nine-month study period. These were the three types of meditation studied:
- Presence: Focused awareness, where someone would continuously bring back attention to their breath and internal body sensations, similar to Anapana and Vipassana.
- Affect: Enhancing Empathy and compassion, just like Metta Bhavana/Loving Kindness.
- Perspective: Mindfulness and Open monitoring meditation: Observing one’s own thoughts without judgment, enhancing understanding of others’ perspectives. Similar to Zazen.
Now to the fun part. The results!
The researchers speculated that each method would lead to volume changes in corresponding brain areas. The results showed it was definitely the case!
They compared the participant’s brain scans at the end of each three month period with the other groups.
Training in Presence was linked to enhanced thickness in the anterior prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which are known to be strongly involved in attention.
Affect training was linked to increased thickness in regions known to be involved in socially driven emotions like empathy.
Perspective training associated with changes in areas involved in understanding the mental states of others, and, interestingly, inhibiting the perspective of oneself.
What about Transcendental Meditation?
Well, I’m sure you can find amazing results from Harvard Medical School fascinating at this link.
But just to give you a taste:
- Lower Blood pressure: “The regular practice of Transcendental Meditation may have the potential to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure by approximately 4.7 and 3.2 mm Hg, respectively. These are clinically meaningful changes.” link to paper
- Higher fluid intelligence: “… found increased fluid intelligence as measured by Raven Progressive Matrices (Raven et al., 1984) in a 14-week randomized study of Canadian secondary students who learned Transcendental Meditation in contrast to a self-development course.” link to paper
- Burnout: “The Transcendental Meditation program was effective in reducing psychological distress in teachers and support staff working in a therapeutic school for students with behavioral problems. These findings have important implications for employees’ job performance as well as their mental and physical health.” link to paper
If you are interested in learning more about the scientific research regarding meditation, I would highly recommend the book (Buddha’s Brain (1 Volume Set): The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom)
Do you have any questions? Feel free to ask!!!
Be happy everyone, and take care 🙂