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Lions Roar : January 2018
that many of them experienced fear, anx- iety, panic, numbness, or extreme sensi- tivity to light and sound that they attrib- uted to meditation. Crucially, they found that these experiences weren’t restricted to people with “pre-existing” conditions, like trauma or mental illness; they could happen to anyone at any time. In this new domain of research, there is still a lot we do not understand. Future research needs to explore the relationship between case histories and meditation experiences, how the type of practice relates to challenging experiences, and the influence of other factors like social support. What kind of meditation is right for you? That depends. “Mindfulness” is a big umbrella that cov- ers many different kinds of practice. A 2016 study compared four different types of meditation, and found that they each have their own unique benefits. During body scan, for example, par- ticipants saw the biggest increases in how aware they were of their bodies (unsurprisingly) and the sharpest decline in the number of thoughts they were having, particularly negative thoughts and thoughts related to the past and future. Loving-kindness meditation led to the greatest boost in their feelings of warmth and positive thoughts about others. Meanwhile, observing-thought meditation seemed to increase partici- pants’ awareness of their thoughts the most. Previous research also suggests that observing-thought meditation has an advantage in reducing our judgmental attitude toward others. Taken together, these and other studies suggest that if you’re tackling a specific issue—say, feeling disconnected from your body—then you can choose a practice aimed at helping that issue, like the body scan. Loving-kindness might help in con- flict with others, while observing-thought meditation can help break rumination. “The type of meditation matters,” explain postdoctoral researcher Bethany Kok and professor Tania Singer. “Each practice appears to create a distinct men- tal environment, the long-term conse- quences of which are only beginning to be explored.” How much meditation is enough? That also depends. This isn’t the answer most people want to hear. Many of us are looking for a med- ically prescriptive response (e.g., three times a week for 45-60 minutes), but the best guide might be this old Zen saying: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day—unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” To date, empirical research has yet to arrive at a consensus about how much is “enough.” Aside from the raw number of minutes, other factors may interact to influence the benefits of mindfulness practice: the type (e.g ., formal sitting meditation practice vs. informal medita- tion practices, mindfulness vs. compas- sion), the frequency (multiple times a day vs. multiple times a week), and the quality (sitting and actually doing the practice vs. doing the practice “on the go”). While it’s possible that in the next 10-15 years we will see a CDC-style recommen- dation regarding meditation practice, to date, the empirical data on the topic are still inconclusive. Our recommendation? Try out different durations, types, and fre- quencies of meditation and jot down how you feel before and after the practice—and see what seems to work for you. ♦ PHOTOCOURTESYOFIMS/EVANHENRITZE LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2018 67