What Types of Meditation are Supported by Science?

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If you only have a few minutes a day to dedicate to formal meditation, what type should you engage in?

This article addresses this very issue. Highlighted are three types of meditation (including one extra with some compelling evidence) that have shown real benefits from rigorous scientific studies are outlined.

Checkout the Losing Stress podcast episode below if you’d rather listen than read 🌞

The Losing Stress Podcast Ep 15 – Types of Meditation Practice

A Meditation for Focus and Logical Thinking

Fixed Awareness Meditation

Fixed Awareness Meditation (FAM) is pretty much as described. It is a type of meditation where you aim to fix your awareness on a single thing. If your awareness strays you bring it back.

The most commonly well-known example of FAM is one that follows the breath. The breath with its movement, simplicity and intrinsic link to relaxation lends itself well for the focus for formal practice.

What does science say about Fixed Awareness Meditation?

  • MBSR and Vipassana meditation improve selective attention (the capacity to focus on one element and ignore others) 1
  • Intensive breath-focused meditation improves sustained focus 2
  • FAM has been shown to improve performance in a convergent thinking task (where you think of the one answer to multiple pieces of information). Although the results were not incredibly significant 3

As such, currently, science does not provide exact conclusive evidence for the benefits of practicing a short breath-focused meditation. MBSR and Vipassana thought do have elements not only restricted to breath-focused meditation.

(Participants in the intensive breath-focused meditation study meditated for 5 hours a day).

They do however point towards the potential benefits of FAM.

A Meditation for Creativity, Backed by Science & Aligned to Real Life

Open Awareness Meditation

Open Awareness Meditation is a type of meditation that requires alertness to whatever is occurring from moment to moment. Unlike FAM, there is no fixed point of reference to keep your awareness on and bring back to. Instead, the present moment is the reference itself with all its sounds, sights, feelings and thoughts.  

The scientific evidence supporting Open Awareness Meditation is more conclusive:

  • Open Awareness Meditation induces a control state that promotes divergent thinking, a style of thinking that allows many new ideas of being generated.3
  • Training of just 17 minutes reduces Attentional Blink 4
  • Open-monitoring meditation helps to not become fully absorbed when presented with an attention-grabbing stimuli. As illustrated in the attention blink test (participants note whether one or two numbers appear in a string of letters) 5

Something to note is that both types of meditation have been shown to elevate mood 3

Meditation for Happiness

Gratitude

Gratitude is simply the feeling of being thankful. It’s been discussed before on Losing Stress; including the scientific studies supporting gratitude practice. Take a read here.    

Loving Kindness

Loving-kindness meditation is a type of mindfulness practice adapted from Metta or Maitri, an ancient Buddhist practice.

It involves cultivating warm and positive feelings for yourself and for others.

What does science have to say about loving-kindness meditation?

  • Brain’s circuitry for happiness increases with compassion 6
  • Loving-kindness boosts the connections between the brain’s circuits for joy and happiness and the prefrontal cortex, a zone critical for guiding behaviour 7
  • Just seven minutes of loving-kindness practice boosts a person’s good feelings and sense of social connection 8

There’s a great benefit of loving-kindness meditation: the positive effects can be felt with no prior experience.

It’s a meditation that requires no skill per se.

There you have it

Three meditations that have pretty conclusive evidence that support them. And another type of meditation that is more than likely beneficial for those of us who work logically.  

Where to find these meditations? Insight Timer, the free meditation app, is a great resource for guided varieties of these meditations. In particular, for loving-kindness.

1 Catherine E. Kerr et al., “Effects of Mindfulness
Meditation Training on Anticipatory Alpha Modulation in Primary Somatosensory
Cortex,” Brain Research Bulletin 85 (2011): 98-103
2 Katherine A. MacLean et al., “Intensive Meditation
Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention,”
Psychological Science 21:6 (2010) 829-39.
3 Colzato et al., “Meditate to Create: The Impact of Focused-Attention and Open-Monitoring Training on Convergent and Divergent Thinking” (2012)
4 Lorenzo S. Colzato et al., “Meditation-Induced States Predict Attentional Control Over Time,” Consciousness and Cognition 37 (2015), 57-62
5 Sara van Leeuwen et al., “Age Effects on Attentional Blink
Performance in Meditation,” Consciousness and Cognition, 18 (2009): 593-99
6 Tania Singer and Olga Klimecki, “Empathy and Compassion”,
Current Biology 24:15 (2014): R875-R878
7 Weng et al., “Compassion training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering” 2013 
8 Cendri A. Hutcherson et al., “Loving-Kindness Meditation Increases Social Connectedness” Emotion 8:5 (2008): 720-24