How the Brain Works during Different Types of Meditation
Different types of meditation strengthen and tone your mind in the same way workout strengthen your body. By practicing regularly, you can change the way your brain operates, create new pathways for thinking that can help you in many aspects of your life.
Meditation is an excellent way to improve your focus and concentration, as well as become more in tune with your own thoughts and feelings.
Contrary to how many people think about meditation, it is not actually just one activity. There are many different types of activities that are meditative. Each meditation practice requires different mental skills. Becoming good at these requires practice and patience, just like when learning other skills.
The Different Types Of Meditation
There are many different types, or purposes, for meditation. As an ancient practice, meditation has been a foundation for many of the world’s great religions and schools of thought, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. It has been practiced, in some form or another, since around 1500 BC.
While ancient practices were mainly focused on religious worship, modern meditation practices center on:
- spiritual growth
- stress reduction.
Today, the practices of meditation have become intertwined with those of yoga, especially the many varieties of Hatha yoga practiced today.
There are many reasons people choose to meditate. Depending on your purpose, you may opt for a specific meditation technique to help you. The most common forms of meditation practice today include:
- concentration meditation
- mindfulness meditation,
- spiritual meditation
Focused-Attention or Concentration Meditation
Focused-attention meditation is practiced to help you develop your ability to concentrate. During this practice, you focus on a single point, sometimes referred to as an anchor. Your anchor could be a mantra, a candle flame, an object, listening to a repetitive sound, or counting beads, such as on a mala. (Source)
Every time you notice your mind wandering during this type of meditation, you should refocus your awareness on the anchor. This allows you to let go of the random thoughts that can seep into your consciousness. By focusing fully on one thing for a sustained period, you develop your powers of concentration and focus.
Focused meditation is the antithesis of modern multi-tasking, and a skill many of our brains are seriously lacking. By focusing your entire attention on one single thing, you can learn to become aware of the distractions that vie for your attention and learn to push them away on command. By committing to this type of practice, you are:
- developing your ability to concentrate,
- having better relationships,
- ability to silence your inner critic
- a more focused approach to anything in your life.
Mindfulness or Open Monitoring Meditation
Building upon the skills you learn in focused meditation, mindfulness meditation takes your practice a step farther. Mindfulness practice teaches you the skill of observation over judgment. When engaging in mindfulness meditation practice, you observe your thoughts as they wander, but you do not follow them, nor do you place judgment on them. (Source)
Open monitoring, another name for mindfulness meditation, helps you develop the ability to achieve a more Zen state of mind. Allow the thoughts that preoccupy your mind to drift in and out without giving them any credence or ability to control. (Source)
This practice can help you:
- recognize how your thoughts and feelings affect you,
- how your mind works in patterns,
- and how to break unhealthy cycles that lead to unhappiness.
Mindfulness meditation helps you achieve an inner balance that requires practice to obtain. The method is based on Buddhist teachings and can teach you how your mind works, which can serve as a foundation for self-actualization. This practice provides you with habits of mind that promote better satisfaction, patience, tolerance, and other habits of mind that lead to a more balanced, happier, life.
Mindfulness meditation combines the practice of concentration with that of awareness. To achieve success with this practice, you must be honest with yourself. This practice can be effective in reducing depression, anxiety, and stress. Mindfulness helps you build resilience, which can help you deal with difficult situations while still maintaining peace of mind.
Meditation has been used as a part of spiritual practice in many religions for centuries. In modern society, many religious and spiritual traditions are including meditation as a part of prayer and worship. Those who use meditation as a part of their religious practice do so to support their connection with the higher power that guides their beliefs.
In the case of non-theistic beliefs, meditation becomes a path to self-actualization and awareness. So, regardless of your beliefs, meditation can help you achieve your spiritual and personal goals, allowing you to become the person you want to be. (Source)
When using spiritual meditation, you can connect with and develop the qualities you seek to improve within yourself. Spiritual meditation can be looked at as a form of self-reflection, allowing you to worship in your preferred location as you seek spiritual growth.
Other Forms of Meditation
There are many other forms and purposes for meditation, practiced around the world. These also may go by different names, but the goals are somewhat universal. Other styles of meditation include visualization, movement, chanting, effortless presence, and loving kindness or Metta meditation. Each is selected for a purpose and many involve specific techniques.
The Benefits of Meditation
Meditation has been practiced for so long because of its many clear benefits. Even when the aim of meditative practice is not relaxation, most who engage in meditation feel more relaxed afterward.
By learning to focus and let go of intruding thoughts, as well as how to be more aware of your emotions and responses, meditation can involuntarily cause a reduction in how your body responds to everyday input.
Other short-term physical benefits that have been noted by researchers include:
- a reduction in blood pressure,
- lowered heart rates,
- slowing of respiration,
- improved circulation.
- lowered anxiety,
- decreased levels of cortisol,
- a better sense of well-being, r
- educed stress,
- improvements in memory and cognition,
- and better relaxation (Source).
The longer and more consistently you practice, the more long-term your results will be. After a while, you will soon realize that the goal of meditation is not to achieve any of the results but merely to be present.
While not the aim, the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of meditation are causing more people to turn to it as an alternative therapy for many disorders: mental health problems, stress-related illnesses, and chronic pain or insomnia. Practitioners are beginning to recommend meditation as a therapeutic tool for patients. The broader understanding and embrace of meditation has grown significantly over the past four decades.
The Effects of Meditation on Neural Development and Cognition
In addition to the many health and wellness benefits meditation has on your body, regular meditation also fundamentally changes your brain, including having a positive improvement in concentration and focus. Because mindfulness meditation is all about focus, these daily exercises can lead to improvements in three specific areas related to attention.
1. Executive control
The functions included in executive control skills include the ability to inhibit distracting information consciously. By learning to ignore these distracting thoughts, you are better able to focus and maintain concentration on the task or moment at hand (Source).
2. Sustained attention
The skills related to sustained attention encompass your ability to remain vigilant while completing a task. This includes the ability to handle unexpected events, the ability to complete tasks faster, and ease at which you can maintain focus (Source).
This aspect of concentration and attention include selecting the relevant input or information to which to pay attention. This aspect of focus is crucial in modern society, as we are consistently provided with new stimulus all the time.
Because meditation can improve all three of these essential aspects of focus and concentration, it represents an excellent tool for cultivating your ability to focus.
Understanding Why Meditation Works
Meditation’s power lies in its ability to engage many different types of brain waves, helping us to reach different centers of our brains that could use some practice and work to strengthen them. Meditation can teach you to consciously work your way from higher frequencies of brain waves to purposefully activate lower wavelengths. (Source)
The benefit of slower wavelengths is you have more time for each thought. It gives you more of a chance to determine if the thought is worth investing yourself in as well as how to respond. A team of Australian and Norwegian researchers has identified the brain waves most affected by meditation and how meditation impacts our ability to engage various brain waves. (Source)
What kind of brain waves are produced during meditation?
- The gamma state, which is when your brain waves are between 30 and 100 Hz, is a state of hyperactivity which enables active learning. This state is excellent for helping retain information, but in a sustained state can lead to anxiety in some.
- The next time of brain wave is the beta state, which is from 13 to 30 Hz. You usually operate for most of your day in this alert state. This state allows for thinking and working when you are analyzing, categorizing, and assessing.
- Alpha state, between nine and thirteen Hz, is a more grounded, balanced state when your mind can relax. This state is often achieved after pleasurable or relaxing activities and could be described as lucid and reflective.
- Not until you reach the theta state, which ranges between four and eight Hz, are you able to begin meditation. In this state, you can transition from verbal thinking to a more visual mind. Your awareness increases, your intuition becomes stronger, and you have more capacity for problem-solving. You can visualize in this state.
- Delta state, between one and three Hz, is rarely reached by those who are awake, except perhaps for Tibetan monks with years of meditative experience. This state is usually reserved for dreamless sleep.
One way to consider how mediation supports focus is because of the increase in your ability to concentrate on using both hemispheres of your brain, allowing for better overall performance. (Source)
As you practice meditation regularly and consistently, you learn the ability to slow your brain waves and enter a more meditative state when needed.
Different Types of Meditation – Conclusion
In recent years, meditation has gained mainstream popularity and recognition. If you have been wanting to try meditation but have been hesitant, perhaps this guide will give you the understanding and confidence you need to engage in this ancient and powerful practice.
As you practice and gain confidence, your reasons for meditating may shift over time. The wonderful thing about meditation is it is easily customizable to each person, and over time, your practice will grow and change with you, as you and your needs evolve.
Meditation practice began as a path to transformation and enlightenment, and this goal should not be overlooked, despite the impressive list of positive side effects this practice boasts.
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