Last updated October 3, 2022
It’s no secret that meditation has taken the world by storm. It has been recognized as the fastest growing wellness trend globally by the Global Wellness Institute. In fact, the number of people practicing meditation has more than tripled since 2012.
As individuals adopt a more holistic and preventative approach to optimal health, meditation has become increasingly popular. This not only includes meditation studios and meditation practices combined with other activities; It also includes mobile apps, which were identified as the top app trend in 2018.
By all accounts, meditation is a major aspect of health and wellness pursuits today and will continue to be so for years to come.
From this perspective, you might assume that an explosion of meditation practices has already taken place. To an extent, they have. But when it comes to a current understanding of meditation, most people perceive meditation practices as being all the same.Likewise, terms like meditation, mindfulness, and mindful are often used interchangeably.
Thus meditation — from both a perceptual and practice perspective — is on the brink of a major evolution. And in order to appreciate this shift, it’s essential to have a better appreciation for meditation as a whole.
“I think any meditation, properly understood and practiced, it should be as normal as everything else.”Bob Roth, Author and Teacher of American Transcendental Meditation [efn_note]Feloni, R. (2018). Everyone from Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to Tom Hanks has adopted the meditation technique sweeping Wall Street. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/transcendental-meditation-2018-2 [/efn_note]
Meditation Practices are Not All the Same
When it comes to meditation practices, hundreds of different methods exist that can be included within the spectrum. However, each type can be assessed based on the effect the practice has on our well-being.
In essence, there are three main outcomes of a meditation practice. These include focused attention, open monitoring, and self-transcendence. Some of the practices may promote only one of these effects, but others enhance more than one. Understanding the key effects of these meditation practices is essential in determining which is best for you.
- Focused Attention: Typically, these exercises seek to clear the mind through concentration exercises. One is asked to focus on an object or body sensations in an effort to focus the mind. Vipassana, which has been practiced in Tibet/China for millennia, is one type dedicated to this style of meditation wellness.
- Open Monitoring: Meditation within this category seeks to enhance awareness of the content of one’s thoughts. By increasing awareness of breath, body sensations, thoughts, sounds and feelings, negative energies are identified. Then, these are simply observed in a nonjudgmental and dispassionate way. This is one of the more common meditation exercises performed in Western cultures today.
- Self-Transcendent: This form of meditation differs greatly from the other groups. Classically, a mantra is used with or without vibrations and sound to access the depths of one’s mind. Below the surface of conscious thought, greater stillness and quietness can be reached. And unlike other forms of meditation practices, a certified professional guides a single individual in the practice. This style is ideal for solo travel.
“Meditation is mainstreaming now, and it’s just in time to counteract the epidemic of stress that threatens our society.”
Gerry Bodeker, PhD, Professor at University of Oxford, Columbia University[efn_note]
Global Wellness Summit. (2019). Meditation goes plural. Retrieved from https://www.globalwellnesssummit.com/2019-global-wellness-trends/meditation-goes-plural/[/efn_note]
Effects of Meditation on Health
One of the biggest problems in determining the health effects of meditation practices today involves the confusion over meditation terminologies.
Since terminologies are not properly defined in many studies, comparisons of different meditation practices become nearly impossible. Likewise, few studies use the three outcome categories to assess the health effects of meditation.
However, despite this, some research data is available that shows the potential impact this evolving wellness trend could have. And the volume of future research on meditation is expected to soon boom.
From a broad perspective, meditation practices offer an array of potential health benefits. For example, meditation has been shown to reduce stress levels, stress hormones, and anxiety.
Some meditation practices have also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve heart health. And others are demonstrating positive effects on attention, cognition, and sleep. Since one in every 6 people worldwide suffer from a mental health condition, meditation offers a potential low-cost solution.
And with our constant exposure to technology stimulation, meditation provides a targeted answer to those suffering from burnout. These are just some of the health advantages meditation offers.
“Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. We let our own natural capacity of healing do the work.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, Founder of the Plum Village Tradition[efn_note]
Brainy Quotes. (2019). Meditation quotes. Retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/thich_nhat_hanh_531577?src=t_meditation[/efn_note]
Different Meditation Practices, Different Brain Effects
As noted, different types of meditation practices result in different outcomes. However, the reason these various meditation activities do this is not yet understood.
While research is limited in explaining these associations, some studies do offer some early insights. At the current time, some early statements about meditation can be made.
- Meditation practices that encourage focused attention have shown an increased amount of gray matter in the prefrontal brain. This brain area is responsible for enhanced attention and an ability to ignore distractions.
- Open monitoring meditation practices also increase the prefrontal brain regions. However, these practices also reduce the size of the brain’s amygdala, which is responsible for emotional reactions. Thus, open monitoring meditation seems to improve emotional control.
- Self-transcendent meditation practices increase the size of both the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. These changes are believed to boost creativity and imagination. And at the same time, these changes may also positively influence mood control and anxiety reactions.
Though these findings are intriguing, research is just beginning to define how different meditation practices affect specific wellness aspects. These insights will only gain momentum in coming years as meditation is explored more scientifically.
“Modern medicine, for all its advances, knows less than 10 percent of what your body knows instinctively.”
Brainy Quotes. (2019). Meditation quotes. Retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/deepak_chopra_453955[/efn_note]
Meditation in the Future
Presently, meditation is tied with yoga as the most popular alternative health practice in the United States.
Thus, it only makes sense to examine how yoga practices evolved over the last few decades in predicting meditation’s future. When yoga first began in Western cultures, it was also rather generic in practice.
But today, all different types of yoga practices exist allowing individuals to choose one that works best for them. By all accounts, the evolution of meditation will follow a similar path. Before long, one will choose a specific type of meditation practice that helps achieve a specific outcome. And research will help lead the way.
Once terminologies are better defined and used consistently, scientists will be better able to conduct quality research. In addition, those who are considering meditation will begin to see clear evidence of its specific health benefits.
And naturally, meditation practices will expand and become more specialized. Like all industries that experience growth, meditation will undergo a diversification of its offerings. If you thought a meditation wellness explosion was already here, you will be pleasantly surprised with what’s to come.