Not All Meditation Types Are One-Size-Fits-All, Study Suggests

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If you aren't enjoying your meditation practice, a small new study suggests a possible reason why: You aren't doing the method that's right for you.

Researchers from the San Francisco State University Institute for Holistic Health Studies found that not all people prefer the same kind of meditation practices. The study suggests that the best way for someone to actually stick with a meditation practice might be to pick the kind that he or she feels most comfortable with, compared with the trendiest type of the moment.

"If someone is exposed to a particular technique through the media or a healthcare provider, they might assume because it's popular it's the best for everyone," study researcher Adam Burke, professor of health education at SF State and the director of the Institute for Holistic Health Studies, said in a statement.

"But that's like saying because a pink dress or a blue sport coat is popular this year, it's going to look good on everybody," he added. "In truth, different people like different things. One size does not fit all."

The study, published in EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing, included 247 people between ages 20 and 56 who were taught four kinds of meditations: Qigong Visualization, Mantra, Zen or Mindfulness. The study participants were taught the meditations over a six-week class, and were asked to try them out on their own and then report back which ones they liked best. Most of the participants didn't really have any real experience meditating, and those who did reported that mindfulness was their main way of meditating.

By the end of the study period, the top two preferred meditation methods were Mantra and Mindfulness, with 31 percent of study participants reporting preference for each one. Twenty-two percent of people preferred Zen meditation and 14.8 percent of people preferred Qigong meditation.

Researchers also found that preferred meditation types differed by age. For example, the youngest people in the study were more likely to prefer mindfulness meditation, whereas the older people in the study were more likely to pick Zen meditation.

The results of the study illustrate that no single meditation technique is preferred by everyone, the researchers said, and if someone doesn't prefer a particular technique, then the chances of sticking with it drop.

"Perhaps the evolution of diverse meditation forms reflects the fact that individuals differ in cognitive styles, such as a preference for analytical or intuitive thinking," the authors wrote in the study.

Recent research has shown that meditation may not just make us feel better, but could also physically change our brains. A small University of Oregon study found that a kind of Chinese mindfulness meditation practice -- called integrative body-mind training -- is linked with physical changes in the brain that could even have protective effects against mental illness.

And a recent study in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science of mindfulness meditation, in particular, highlights four acting components: regulation of attention, body awareness, self-awareness and regulation of emotion.

Each of these elements helps us in different aspects of our lives, according to the study. For example, regulation of attention may help us be extra-aware of our bodily state. And by being aware of our bodies, we are able to recognize the emotions we are currently experiencing, the researchers said.

For more on picking the right meditation practice for you, read HuffPost blogger and transcendental meditation teacher Jeanne Ball's blog post on the subject here.

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