Based on a conversation with Dr. Michael Chen, Medical Director at Ezra
Meditation—a form of mental training that aims to improve individuals’ core psychological capabilities, such as emotional and attentional self-regulation—encompasses a number of practices. At the most basic level, meditation can be divided into four basic practices: 1) concentrative meditation, such as mantras or prayer; 2) awareness meditation, such as mindfulness practice; 3) appreciation meditation, such as a daily gratitude practice or journaling, and 4) expressive meditation, such as yoga or breathing exercises.
The benefits of meditation
Most literature on the benefits of meditation focuses on mindfulness meditation. Some peer-reviewed articles document meditation’s benefits for brain blood flow and the ability to stimulate structural changes. There are also immunological benefits, including decreased inflammation and increased immunity. Meditation’s benefits can also be measured in terms of individuals’ subjective wellness, such as their ability to handle stress.
Most recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, studies in healthcare professionals and members of the general public diagnosed with COVID-19 have found clear measured improvements in anxiety and depression with meditation among both groups.
Who can benefit from meditation?
Regardless of one’s personality or preferences, it is possible to find a meditation practice that works for them. If you’re new to meditation and unsure what practice may work for you, it may help to consider what draws your attention inwards.
Beginning a meditation practice
If you’re ready to start a meditation practice, guided meditation is an excellent starting point. In the early stages of meditative practice, one’s focus should be on getting to the point of being comfortable observing their thoughts.
When starting a new meditation practice, meditation apps such as Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer may be a good starting point. Waking Up With Sam Harris, author of Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, is another potential avenue to explore. For those who prefer a class-based approach, Vipassana may be suitable.
Importantly, there is no right or wrong length of time or right or wrong method to meditate. For his part, Dr. Chen encourages meditation as a practice for people who are working on their mental health. In particular, meditation may be beneficial for those with depression and anxiety due to shared philosophies between therapy and meditation.
Dr. Chen also encourages individuals to seek community through their meditative practices. “After you establish a meditation routine that works for you, finding a community and mentor to help deepen your practice may help advance your practice. But it’s also fine if there’s no change or progression in your practice.”
Ultimately, advancing your meditative practice is less important than being consistent with the practice you choose. As long as it works for you, any type, form, or length of meditation practice can be beneficial, helping to improve the quality of your years by helping to build a foundation of health.