Meditation use is on rise in many clinical settings, with dozens of studies linking the practice to significant physical and mental health benefits. But new research out of San Francisco State University State finds not all methods of meditation are equal, and some patients may find certain types more useful, beneficial and easier to practice.
The new study, published in Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, recommends patients new to meditation who have a hard time sticking with a particular method simply try others until they find a practice that is most comfortable for them.
"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," said lead researcher says Adam Burke, a professor of health education at San Francisco State University State and director of the Institute for Holistic Health Studies. "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. In truth, different people like different things. One size does not fit all."
Although meditation is growing in popularity in the U.S., Burke said, there have been few studies comparing the various methods to examine patient preferences or specific clinical benefits.
For the new study, Burke compared four popular meditation methods – known as Mantra, Mindfulness, Zen and Qigong Visualization – to see if people new to meditation favored one over the others and, as a result, were more likely to stick with it.
The study's 247 participants were taught each method and asked to practice at home and, at the end of the study, evaluate which they preferred. The two simpler methods, Mantra and Mindfulness, were preferred by 31 percent of study participants. Zen and Qigong were preferred by 22 percent and 14.8 percent of participants, respectively.
Mantra meditation typically involves repeating or chanting a single word (“ohm”) or phrase to induce a prayerful state. Mindfulness practitioners use it to focus on individual thoughts and feelings to gain insight and awareness. Zen meditation is based on the Buddhist practice of blocking out the distractions of daily life and being in a generalized state of “relaxed attention.” Qigong involves rhythmic breathing, while practitioners visualize or imagine a calming image – such as moonlight on a lake or a beam of light moving through the body.
Burke said the findings underscore value of introducing new practitioners to a simpler, more accessible method of meditation. But they also indicate no one technique is best for everyone.
Burke said future studies should be done to determine if particular methods are better at addressing specific health issues.