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Meditation’s variations can frustrate or enlighten
To the uninformed observer, meditation looks simple: Sit still, seek inner peace, repeat.
But meditation can be practiced in a variety of forms, each of which can invoke frustrating or enlightening experiences among different meditators, according to a study from San Francisco State University that appeared online last week in “EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing.”
Adam Burke, a health education professor and director of the college’s Institute of Holistic Health Studies, said peace-seekers should choose the techniques that are most comfortable for them – not the most popular ones.
In the study, 247 undergraduate students learned four meditation techniques in six weeks. The Soto Zen practice involves sitting with “generalized awareness” and in the traditional cross-legged posture. The Theravada Vipassana practice has meditators silently observe their breath and talk to themselves. Those methods are known as “open observing.”
Then there were the “focused attention” practices. In the Qigong Visualization method, people inhale as they envision a thin column of a light rising from the base of their spine to the top of their head and then exhale as the light descends down the front of their body. The Mantra method, meanwhile, asks meditators to imagine a sphere of light in their heart and say “hum” and “sah” as they breathed.
After trying out these practices, the students rated each, as well as the ease of practice, enjoyment, subjective calm and ability to maintain attention they experienced in each. Most liked the Vipassana and Mantra methods best; both used breathing as a central element.
The results show that simple, more accessible methods are best for beginning meditators – but also that no one technique is best for everyone, Burke said.