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Which kind of mindfulness meditation to choose? Comparing sitting meditation, body scan, and mindful yoga

Posted May 05 2014 11:55am

zen meditationLet’s say you want to be more mindful—that is, cultivate intentional, non-judgmental attention to each moment. Meditation is the core of mindfulness, but there are many different forms of meditation. Which one is best for you?

That’s the question tackled in a new study  published  in the journal Mindfulness. Over the span of three weeks, the researchers broke 141 undergraduates into three groups that each engaged in one of these forms of mindfulness meditation:
  • The sitting meditation, which involves sitting in a relaxed but erect posture and cultivating awareness of each breath you take.
  • The body scan, which entails methodically paying attention to each part of your body, from top to bottom.
  • Mindful yoga, the practice of deliberate, intentional movement.

At the beginning and end of those three weeks, participants answered questions measuring depression, anxiety, stress, emotion regulation, rumination, mindfulness (observing, describing, non-judging, non-reactivity, and acting with awareness), well-being, and self-compassion.

Researchers found some benefits across all three groups. In all three groups participants reported reduced rumination, as well as greater self-compassion and well-being. These results echo  decades of research  showing that mindfulness practices improve physical and mental health.

Then the researchers looked at each group (sitting meditation, body scan, or yoga) individually and compared those results to the other two groups. Differences emerged:

  • Yoga improved well-being more than sitting meditation and body scan, which the authors argue may be linked to “longstanding evidence that physical exercise promotes psychological health” and well-being, rather than specifically mindfulness.
  • Yoga and sitting meditation improved emotion regulation more so than in the body scan group. Why this might be is still a mystery, but the authors note that sitting meditation involves explicit instructions to observe strong emotions without holding on or trying to get rid of them, simply allowing them to be as they are.
  • Members of the sitting meditation group were significantly less judgmental towards their own feelings and experiences than those who practiced yoga and the body scan, which is likely due to the sitting meditation’s “more explicit instructions against judging one’s experiences.”

So which practice is best for you? That depends on what challenges you’re facing in your life, suggests this study.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by anger against yourself or others, sitting meditation sounds like the one for you. If you frequently feel tired or sick, yoga is worth a try. While the body scan did not seem to yield as many benefits as the other two practices, that’s an area that needs further investigation. For example, it’s possible that body scan paired with sitting meditation or yoga could be helpful.

This preliminary study is an exciting beginning to examining how these specific meditation practices may affect different parts of our lives.

bio_hooria– Pub­lished here by cour­tesy of  Greater Good , an online mag­a­zine based at UC-Berkeley that high­lights ground break­ing sci­en­tific research into the roots of com­pas­sion and altru­ism. Hooria Jazaieri, MFT, is a researcher and cognitive-behavioral therapist currently in the psychology graduate program at the University of California, Berkeley.

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