In our always-on world, meditation is frequently touted as the solution to nearly all that ails us, from a lack of focus to a sense of being overwhelmed. And better yet, experts claim getting started is neither time consuming nor difficult. All you need is a set of lungs and a few minutes a day to breathe and observe your thoughts.
And yet, despite this reassurance, many of us struggle to begin meditating. If personal experience with feeling confused and uninspired by your nascent meditation practice isn't enough to convince you of this fact, than a quick internet search will prove it. The Web is chock full of posts on why many people find it difficult to start.
Common problems include misunderstanding exactly what meditation is and physical discomfort, but according to a new study out of the Max Planck Institute and highlighted by the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center, if you're meditation practice seems to be going exactly nowhere, another, easily fixable problem might be the cause -- you could simply be using the wrong type of practice.
It doesn't have to be all about the breath.
Most beginners are given the same basic advice on getting started with meditation -- sit quietly and focus on your breath. When your mind wanders, observe your thoughts without judgment and return your attention to your breathing. It sounds dead simple, but according to Greater Good, this isn't the only way to go. What are the alternatives? The post outlines three others:
- Body scan: You focus on each individual body part from head to toe, one by one.
- Loving-kindness meditation: This practice is meant to help you develop warm and loving feelings, first towards those closest to you and then gradually extending out to a widening circle of others.
- Observing-thought meditation: In this variation, you observe your thoughts as they arise and label them without getting caught up in them.
Which type of meditation is right for you?
The new research tested these four different methods (the traditional approach and the three alternatives) on 200 beginning meditators in Germany. The findings indicate that while all meditation provides some degree of mental health benefit, some methods work better for particular types of people than others, depending on the issues an individual is hoping to resolve.
For example, if the problem you'd like to relieve with your meditation practice is rumination, i.e. repetitive and troublesome thoughts that you can't seem to silence, then observing-thought meditation may be most effective. If you're wrestling with feelings of aggression, no surprise, loving kindness meditation is probably best, and if you're disconnected from your body, then body scan is the ideal choice.
"The type of meditation matters. Each practice appears to create a distinct mental environment," researchers Bethany Kok and Tania Singer concluded.
So if you've given meditation a shot but struggled to sustain a practice, it's worth reconsidering if it was the right type of meditation you tried and whether another approach might be a better fit for your goals and personality.
Have you struggled to begin a meditation practice?