Meditation is an ancient practice that trains the mind to observe and regulate its own activity. It has been used for centuries by Hindu and Buddhist practitioners to cultivate attention, insight, and spirituality (1,2).

More recently, meditation has been adopted and adapted by Western science and medicine as a way to enhance well-being, reduce stress, and improve health (1).

woman in brown knit sweater holding brown ceramic cupperson wearing knit cap facing mountainsilhouette photo of Buddha statueperson in white dress shirt holding brown wooden chopsticks

Why Meditate? Is it worth the hype?

There is a growing body of evidence that supports the benefits of meditation for various physical and mental conditions, including (3-6):

  • Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Anxiety.
  • Cardiovascular Disease.
  • Chronic Pain.
  • Depression.
  • Diabetes.
  • Hypertension.
  • Multiple Sclerosis.
  • PTSD.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • And more.

 

The benefits of meditation are thought to occur partly by inducing a state of relaxation and mindfulness that balances the autonomic nervous system and strengthens the parasympathetic tone (3,6-13).

This state, sometimes called the “relaxation response”(3-13), is associated with lowering:

  • Blood pressure.
  • Heart rate.
  • Breathing rate.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Inflammation (and inflammatory markers).
  • Stress hormones.
  • And more.

OK, I’m Sold! How do I start?

Meditation is a simple and effective way to enhance one’s health and quality of life. But how do you meditate? What are the different types of meditation? And how do you find the one that suits you best?

What is Meditation?

Meditation can be loosely defined as a set of diverse and specific practices that aim to improve one’s ability to self-regulate mental activity, attention, and emotion (14,15).

There are many types of meditation, but they generally share four common elements (8,16):

  1. A quiet environment with minimal distractions.
  2. A focus of attention (such as a word, an object, or the breath).
  3. A passive, nonjudgmental attitude (letting thoughts and feelings come and go without reacting to them).
  4. A comfortable position or posture (sitting, lying down, walking, etc.).

Some of the most popular and effective forms of meditation are (17):

  1. Mindfulness meditation: A technique that involves paying attention to the present moment, without judgment or attachment (7,14,15,18-24). This includes Vipassana meditation, Zen Buddhist meditation, and Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) used clinical with a variety of benefits in the context of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems (3-6).
  2. Mantra meditation: A technique that uses a word or a sound, such as “om” or “I am”, as a focus of attention (7,23-27). This includes Transcendental Meditation® (TM®), Relaxation Response (RR), and Clinically Standardized Meditation (CSM) and can help with relaxation, concentration, and spiritual growth.
  3. Spiritual meditation: A technique that often involves prayer or connecting to a higher power or self that can cultivate and enhance a sense of meaning, purpose, and compassion (23,24).
  4. Yoga: A practice that combines physical poses, movement, breathing, mindfulness, and meditation and can improve posture, flexibility, relaxation, and mind-body coordination, in addition to a variety of mental health and immunological benefits (7,15,23,28-30).
  5. Tai Chi: A practice that involves slow, gentle, continuous movements guided by mental concentration and present-moment awareness that can improve balance, strength, relaxation, and well-being (7,15,23).
  6. Qi Gong: A practice that focuses on energy healing, using body positioning, movement, deep breathing, and visualization (7,15,23). Qi Gong (also called Chi Gong) can help with health, vitality, and harmony.

How to Find the Right Meditation for You?

As a health and wellness coach (www.brennabray.com), I do a lot of work with clients around finding a meditation practice that works for/with them. We consider the client’s past exposure to meditation, existing biases, desired benefits, and current lifestyle/daily routine and use these considerations to identify a type of meditation that might work best to try first.

There are also many books, apps, videos, podcasts, courses, guides, and articles that offer concrete suggestions for starting a meditation practice. Ultimately the best way to find the right meditation practice for you is to work with a coach/guide (www.brennabray.com/book/) or just jump in and try!

Here are some of my personal favorites and recommendations:

  1. Guided Hypnotherapy Meditation: A technique that uses suggestions and affirmations to help you relax and change your mindset. I recommend Michael Sealey’s YouTube videos for this.
  2. Dr. Joe Dispenza’s Guided Meditations: Meditations that combine science, spirituality, and visualization to help you heal and create your reality. I love his 35-min morning meditation and his hour-long “You Are the Placebo” meditation for self-discovery.
  3. Sam Harris’ Waking Up App: An app that offers a daily progression of meditation lessons and exercises. It teaches you the basics of mindfulness, as well as other aspects of meditation, such as self-inquiry, metta, and non-duality. I suggest using the app along with his book/audiobook “Waking Up” (https://www.wakingup.com).
  4. David Ji’s Guided Meditations: David Ji makes meditation accessible to everyone! He has a great voice (like velvet!) and a friendly style with guided meditations on a variety of themes, including abundance, forgiveness, peace, and love. I personally love his 11 min “Metta” (loving kindness) meditation as well as his “transforming fear to trust” meditation, which helped me overcome some of my own fears.
  5. Mantra Meditation: A technique that uses a word or a phrase, such as “om” or “I am”, as a focus of attention. The mantra can be repeated aloud or silently, and it helps you calm your mind and connect with your inner essence. One source I use for introducing mantra meditation is Dr. Herbert Benson’s suggestions for achieving “The Relaxation Response” which is available are on YouTube.
  6.  Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Meditation: A technique that teaches you how to be aware of the present moment, without judgment or attachment. It can help you cope with stress, pain, and illness. John Kabat-Zinn developed a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which is widely used in Western medicine and society. He has written several books and created audio programs and a YouTube Master Class that offer guidance and exercises for mindfulness meditation.
  7. Thích Nhất Hạnh’s Mindfulness Meditation: A technique that is based on the teachings of Buddhism, but also universal and applicable to anyone. Thích Nhất Hạnh emphasizes the importance of cultivating compassion, kindness, and joy, as well as being mindful of the breath, the body, the feelings, and the thoughts. He has written over 100 books on mindfulness, meditation, and Buddhism, and he is the founder of Plum Village, a mindfulness practice center in France. Free meditations on YouTube here.

person doing meditation posesilhouette photography of person

Conclusion

Meditation is a wonderful practice with a variety of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health benefits. Getting started can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if you don’t know where to start or what to do. That’s why I wrote this column, to share with you some of the most popular and effective forms of meditation, and how you can find the one that works for you. I hope you found this column helpful and informative, and I encourage you to give meditation a try. You may be surprised by how much it can change your life for the better.

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, please feel free to leave them below. I would love to hear from you and learn about your meditation journey. And if you enjoyed this column, please share it with your friends and family who may also benefit from it.
Thank you for reading, and happy meditating!

Want More?

You can find more information on mediation at Dr. Bray’s website:

And book a consult for personalized help at: www.brennabray.com/book/.

 

About the Author: Brenna Bray, PhD

Brenna Bray, PhD. is a local health coach, stress researcher, Naropa University Associate Adjunct Professor, and ultra-marathon mountain runner, as well as a long-term practitioner of yoga, meditation, and naturopathic health practices.

Bray has a PhD in Biomedical Sciences, Neuroscience, and Complementary and Integrative Health. She uses a variety of health techniques – including cold plunging – to help clients achieve a variety of health and wellness goals. www.brennabray.com

Visit Dr. Bray's Website: www.brennabray.com Book a Consult with Dr. Bray: https://calendly.com/brennabray/60-minute-consultation?month=2024-02

Contact Form

* Required Field

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

References:

  1. Brandmeyer T, Delorme A, Wahbeh H. The neuroscience of meditation: classification, phenomenology, correlates, and mechanisms. In: Srinivasan N, ed. Meditation. Vol 244. Elsavier B.V.; 2019:1-29.
  2. Jamil A, Gutlapalli SD, Ali M, et al. Meditation and Its Mental and Physical Health Benefits in 2023. Cureus. 2023;15(6):e40650.
  3. Bhasin MK, Dusek JA, Chang B-H, et al. Relaxation response induces temporal transcriptome changes in energy metabolism, insulin secretion and inflammatory pathways. PloS one. 2013;8(5):e62817.
  4. Esch T, Stefano GB, Fricchione GL, Benson H. Stress in cardiovascular diseases. Med Sci Monit. 2002;8:101.
  5. Esch T, Stefano GB, Fricchione GL, Benson H. The role of stress in neurodegenerative diseases and mental disorders. Neuroendocrinology letters. 2002;23(3):199-208.
  6. Park ER, Traeger L, Vranceanu AM, et al. The development of a patient-centered program based on the relaxation response: the Relaxation Response Resiliency Program (3RP). Psychosomatics. 2013;54(2):165-174.
  7. Ospina MB, Bond K, Karkhaneh M, et al. Meditation practices for health: state of the research. Evidence report/technology assessment. 2007(155):1-263.
  8. Micozzi MS. Mind-Body Therapies Part 1: Stress Reduction, Relaxation, Mindfulness, and Meditation Practices. In: Micozzi MS, ed. Fundamentals of Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative Medicine, 6th Edition. 6th ed. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier; 2019:129 – 140.
  9. Benson H, Klipper MZ. The relaxation response. Morrow New York; 1975.
  10. Goleman D, Gurin J. Mind body medicine: How to use your mind for better health. Consumer Reports Books; 1998.
  11. Benson H, Kotch JB, Crassweller KD. The relaxation response: a bridge between psychiatry and medicine. Medical Clinics of North America. 1977;61(4):929-938.
  12. Dusek JA, Otu HH, Wohlhueter AL, et al. Genomic counter-stress changes induced by the relaxation response. PloS one. 2008;3(7):e2576.
  13. Benson H, Proctor W. Relaxation revolution: The science and genetics of mind body healing. Simon and Schuster; 2011.
  14. Cahn BR, Polich J. Meditation (Vipassana) and the P3a event-related brain potential. International journal of psychophysiology. 2009;72(1):51-60.
  15. Tang YY, Hölzel BK, Posner MI. The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature reviews Neuroscience. 2015;16(4):213-225.
  16. NCCIH NCfCaIH. Meditation. NCCIH, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Published 2007. Updated April, 2016. Accessed 5 October, 2023, 2023.
  17. Brandmeyer T, Delorme A, Wahbeh H. The neuroscience of meditation: classification, phenomenology, correlates, and mechanisms. Progress in brain research. 2019;244:1-29.
  18. Kabat-Zinn J. An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: Theoretical considerations and preliminary results. General hospital psychiatry. 1982;4(1):33-47.
  19. Kabat-Zinn J. Full catastrophe living: The program of the stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. 1990.
  20. Kabat-Zinn J, Hanh TN. Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Delta; 2009.
  21. Ivanovski B, Malhi GS. The psychological and neurophysiological concomitants of mindfulness forms of meditation. Acta neuropsychiatrica. 2007;19(2):76-91.
  22. Chiesa A, Malinowski P. Mindfulness‐based approaches: Are they all the same? Journal of clinical psychology. 2011;67(4):404-424.
  23. Tseng AA. Scientific Evidence of Health Benefits by Practicing Mantra Meditation: Narrative Review. Int J Yoga. 2022;15(2):89-95.
  24. Burke A, Lam CN, Stussman B, Yang H. Prevalence and patterns of use of mantra, mindfulness and spiritual meditation among adults in the United States. BMC complementary and alternative medicine. 2017;17(1):316.
  25. Gonda J. The Indian Mantra. Oriens. 1963;16(1):244-297.
  26. Feuerstein G. The deeper dimension of Yoga: theory and practice. Shambhala; 2003.
  27. Wikipedia_contributors. Mantra. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia Web site. Published 2023. Accessed 21:34, October 4, 2023, 2023.
  28. Cook-Cottone CP. Mindfulness and yoga for self-regulation: A primer for mental health professionals. Springer Publishing Company; 2015.
  29. Iyengar BKS. Light on Yoga-Yoga Dipika. 1966.
  30. Kraftsow G. Yoga for transformation: Ancient teachings and practices for healing the body, mind, and heart. Penguin; 2002.

man sitting on cliff

Dr. Brenna Bray, a local health and wellness coach, stress researcher, associate professor, and avid ultra-marathon mountain runner, holds PhDs in Biomedical Science, Neuroscience, and Complementary and Integrative Health. Her journey through an eating disorder fuels her dedication to coaching, merging personal experiences with scientific expertise. Through her practice, Bray empowers clients to access and harness their innate healing abilities and achieve remarkable health and wellness transformations. Committed to community engagement and holistic well-being, Dr. Bray shapes a brighter, healthier future for all. Learn more about Dr. Bray at www.brennabray.com.