If you look online for meditation guides, you’ll come across many articles with vague guidelines without any research backing. Most patients seeking to begin a meditation practice are doing so for the health and wellness benefits, and therefore should be conducting a practice that’s similar to that shown in medical research to be effective.
In this article we’ll review published medical studies on meditation that should give guidance on how to meditate. We’ll discuss the practices used by subjects in those studies and how patients can use these practices to form a daily routine.
Medical Trial Review
There’s a surprising amount of medical research proving the benefits of meditation for a wide range of conditions like reduced cardiovascular risk and improved mental health.
A recent clinical trial published in the Behavioural Brain Research journal found that a 13-minute daily guided meditation session was more effective than a 13-minute podcast listening session for stress and emotional regulation. The meditation group also had enhanced cognitive function relative to the control group after 8 weeks.
The study describes the guided meditation session as focusing mostly on breathwork and full body scans. Breathwork means a conscious focus on the pattern of breath which helps reduce negative external thoughts. A “full body scan” is a conscious focus on different parts of the body, with the instructor often asking patients to release any tension in that specific body part.
An extensive medical review found that mindfulness meditation specifically was associated with improved psychological health. Study participants who practiced mindfulness meditation experienced an improved sense of well-being and decreased negative emotions.
Mindfulness meditation is a practice which involves consciously training the brain to be focused on the “present”. Participants may focus on their senses such as smell and hearing, while consciously releasing any thoughts that enter their mind.
Another review published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences journal found that mindfulness meditation may directly enhance immune system function. The practice was found to reduce inflammatory biological processes such as NF-kB transcription activity.
One revealing medical trial compared the benefits and brain activity of focused, mindfulness meditation with simple relaxation, and found that only the mindfulness practice changed brain wave activity and influenced parasympathetic (relaxed) nervous system function.
How to Meditate
The above review of medical research, while not extensive, suggests that mindfulness meditation is one of the more effective practices of meditation.
While there are many different ways to meditate, such as breathwork and meditation music, the research suggests that the active focus involved in mindfulness meditation has benefits to the brain and body.
Mindfulness meditation involves sitting in a peaceful environment and consciously releasing or “observing” passing thoughts. The goal is to remain indifferent to the thoughts that enter your head, and to recognize that they’re involuntary.
This type of meditation practice can alter brain wave activity and even increase grey matter in the brain.
It makes sense logically that mindfulness meditation would have greater health and mental benefits than a simple relaxation practice. Lying down with your eyes closed may be a great way for an individual to destress, but it’s not really “meditation” in any valid sense of the term. Meditation is about training the mind to minimize the effect of the ego and involuntary thought.