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Which kind of mindfulness meditation to choose? Comparing sitting meditation, body scan, and mindful yoga

zen meditationLet’s say you want to be more mindful—that is, cul­ti­vate inten­tion­al, non-judg­men­tal atten­tion to each moment. Med­i­ta­tion is the core of mind­ful­ness, but there are many dif­fer­ent forms of med­i­ta­tion. Which one is best for you?

That’s the ques­tion tack­led in a new study pub­lished in the jour­nal Mind­ful­ness. Over the span of three weeks, the researchers broke 141 under­grad­u­ates into three groups that each engaged in one of these forms of mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion:

  • The sit­ting med­i­ta­tion, which involves sit­ting in a relaxed but erect pos­ture and cul­ti­vat­ing aware­ness of each breath you take.
  • The body scan, which entails method­i­cal­ly pay­ing atten­tion to each part of your body, from top to bot­tom.
  • Mind­ful yoga, the prac­tice of delib­er­ate, inten­tion­al move­ment.

At the begin­ning and end of those three weeks, par­tic­i­pants answered ques­tions mea­sur­ing depres­sion, anx­i­ety, stress, emo­tion reg­u­la­tion, rumi­na­tion, mind­ful­ness (observ­ing, describ­ing, non-judg­ing, non-reac­tiv­i­ty, and act­ing with aware­ness), well-being, and self-com­pas­sion.

Researchers found some ben­e­fits across all three groups. In all three groups par­tic­i­pants report­ed reduced rumi­na­tion, as well as greater self-com­pas­sion and well-being. These results echo decades of research show­ing that mind­ful­ness prac­tices improve phys­i­cal and men­tal health.

Then the researchers looked at each group (sit­ting med­i­ta­tion, body scan, or yoga) indi­vid­u­al­ly and com­pared those results to the oth­er two groups. Dif­fer­ences emerged:

  • Yoga improved well-being more than sit­ting med­i­ta­tion and body scan, which the authors argue may be linked to “long­stand­ing evi­dence that phys­i­cal exer­cise pro­motes psy­cho­log­i­cal health” and well-being, rather than specif­i­cal­ly mind­ful­ness.
  • Yoga and sit­ting med­i­ta­tion improved emo­tion reg­u­la­tion more so than in the body scan group. Why this might be is still a mys­tery, but the authors note that sit­ting med­i­ta­tion involves explic­it instruc­tions to observe strong emo­tions with­out hold­ing on or try­ing to get rid of them, sim­ply allow­ing them to be as they are.
  • Mem­bers of the sit­ting med­i­ta­tion group were sig­nif­i­cant­ly less judg­men­tal towards their own feel­ings and expe­ri­ences than those who prac­ticed yoga and the body scan, which is like­ly due to the sit­ting meditation’s “more explic­it instruc­tions against judg­ing one’s expe­ri­ences.”

So which prac­tice is best for you? That depends on what chal­lenges you’re fac­ing in your life, sug­gests this study.

If you find your­self over­whelmed by anger against your­self or oth­ers, sit­ting med­i­ta­tion sounds like the one for you. If you fre­quent­ly feel tired or sick, yoga is worth a try. While the body scan did not seem to yield as many ben­e­fits as the oth­er two prac­tices, that’s an area that needs fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion. For exam­ple, it’s pos­si­ble that body scan paired with sit­ting med­i­ta­tion or yoga could be help­ful.

This pre­lim­i­nary study is an excit­ing begin­ning to exam­in­ing how these spe­cif­ic med­i­ta­tion prac­tices may affect dif­fer­ent parts of our lives.

bio_hooria– Pub­lished here by cour­tesy of Greater Good, an online mag­a­zine based at UC-Berke­ley that high­lights ground break­ing sci­en­tific research into the roots of com­pas­sion and altru­ism. Hoo­ria Jazaieri, MFT, is a researcher and cog­ni­tive-behav­ioral ther­a­pist cur­rent­ly in the psy­chol­o­gy grad­u­ate pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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