I alway wanted the benefits of meditation, I just didn’t want to sit alone in a room doing it. Meditation is powerful medicine, and one of the reasons for that is feedback.
This post provides an overview of the benefits of meditation, main types of meditation, and how to get the most bang for your meditative buck.
If you want to learn more about all the research and science supporting meditation, great news: check back here for each part of the science behind meditation series as they get published week by week. The series includes an overview of the benefits of:
1) Meditation on Your Brain & Focus: Focus, Calm, Performance
2) Meditation on Stress & Well-being: Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Substance Abuse
3) Meditation on Your Body: Heart, Blood Pressure, Other Physical Benefits
TLDR: This post lays out all the top meditation hacks to get the most out of your practice, for those who don’t feel like reading all the science behind it.
How To Meditate With Feedback
From silent meditation retreats in Nepal to the Art of Living to yoga and South American forms of meditation, I’ve studied meditation in many forms. In all that study, what I found is that all of these different types of meditation require learning. The most effective that I found were the kinds that came with neurofeedback.
The type of meditation I teach my clients is guided by feedback. We use Buddhist heart opening meditation, which is easily taught using heart rate variability feedback.
This teaches you how to open your heart (which won’t really mean anything to you until you’ve done it) – but you can learn in several weeks what a regular practice might take years to accomplish. This type of meditation is so profound that in the first study of the Ornish low-fat diet, they used this (which has all of the effects that were claimed for the low-fat diet!) in conjunction with the low-fat diet.
In other words, meditation can overcome the harmful effects of a low-fat diet….at least for awhile. 🙂
With feedback, you can learn much more quickly. That said, start meditating by yourself to get a feel for it. If you can meditate with another person or a group even once a week, the results are pretty amazing. I once gathered with entrepreneurs to meditate together every Saturday morning at 7am; even though it was an inconvenient time of week, it was like taking a mental shower – worth it to feel nicer all week long, and you simply didn’t get the same effect if you did it alone!
You don’t have to become an expert meditator or a Buddhist monk to see the payoff when it comes to meditation—it’s just a matter of finding a routine that works for you and sticking to it, day-to-day, and learning when possible from masters or feedback. Or even your talented local yoga teacher!
Read the rest of the science of meditation series to find out what’s actually happening in the body when we meditate, and why it makes everything so much better – or check out the overview below.
The Many Benefits Of Meditation In A Nutshell
Meditation is a calming practice that, over time, thwarts emotional reactivity, reduces unhelpful stress, and steadies your mind under pressure, so it’s no surprise that meditation can even improve your interpersonal relationships and make it easier to achieve your life goals.
Evidence comes from thousands of years of human practice in cultural and religious contexts, and more recently from scientific research in the fields of psychology, neurobiology, and countless others investigating the processes underlying human functioning, resilience, and overall well-being.
There’s a ton of research that says meditation can have an impact on almost anything you’re looking to change in your body and mind – and some would even say soul [1-25].
- The practice can lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation associated with chronic disease.
- It can enhance immune function and lessen fatigue, especially in people with immune-ravaging disorders like cancer and HIV.
- Meditation can ease anxiety and depression, down-regulate stress hormones, improve mood, resolve sleep difficulties, and boost self-esteem.
- It can strengthen memory and problem-solving skills, sharpen concentration, improve decision-making, and slow the deterioration of cognitive abilities that comes with age.
- If we all started meditating ten minutes a day, we’d collectively nip a lot of modern troubles in the bud!
Overview: Types of Meditation
There are various forms of meditation, and most have in common the following elements: a quiet space, a comfortable posture, a focus of attention, and an open, non-judgmental attitude. They all provide similar benefits – the most important factor in your practice, should you choose to embark on one, is consistency and developing a routine.
- In mindfulness meditation the practitioner deliberately heightens his or her awareness of what’s happening in the moment, giving full notice to thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, and allowing them to exist without judgment. In this way the practitioner deepens his or her ability to observe life—including difficult or painful situations—calmly and with acceptance.
- Transcendental meditation is a type of “mantra” meditation in which you repeat a calming word, sound, or phrase (the yogic “om” is an example) to displace distracting thoughts. In transcendental meditation the mind becomes so fixed on the mantra that it relents all effort at concentration, and deep relaxation follows.
- Some forms of meditation use imagery and/or movement to achieve the relaxation effects.
- The Chinese practice of qigong provides visual cues, such as imagining light traveling to a part of the body, and it may couple these images with matching movement.
- Most lineages of yoga emphasize the meditative aspects of the practice by instructing the yogi to focus on the breath and link physical postures together with the flow of inhalation and exhalation. Based on the Yoga Sutras, the eventual goal of the physical practice is to be ‘still the mind’ to meditate without distraction, linking mind and body for maximum benefit.
Although certain types of meditation are used more often in research or clinical settings to treat specific conditions (i.e., mindfulness meditation is used frequently in substance abuse recovery), the numerous benefits of meditation appear to be available to the average practitioner regardless of type.
How To Hack Your Meditation: More Results in Less Time
Of course, it takes a lot of time and effort to sit in silence and calm your mind on a daily basis, as you are literally building new “muscles”’ in your brain and, just like weight lifting, you probably aren’t doing it with proper form. Plus, you might want faster results like I did.
I highly recommend meditation with some form of feedback built in because it helps to “correct your form.” I also recommend meditating in groups or with a partner. And if you want even more results in even less time, I highly recommend these resources depending upon the amount of time or money available for this investment:
- Art of Living courses or pranayama from a good yoga teacher: these are very cheap or free, as well as more effective than meditating without a guide.
- Heart Rate Variability training: the EmWave2 (or InnerBalance for iphone): learn to control your heart rate variability to consciously manage your nervous system, or use Stress Detective with a heart strap to track your stress all day.
- Sound entrainment: Holosync Audio Technology: guided meditations with sound technology (check out Bulletproof Radio #186 with Bill Harris, Holosync to learn more).
- Neurofeedback (entry level): Muse Headband: New wearable tech that allows you to quantify your brain’s ability to calm and focus itself as you go, so you get real-time feedback on how well that day’s meditation is going.
- Neurofeedback (advanced level): For more power and clinical grade strength, go with something like the Neuroptimal Advanced Brain Training System. At around $18 a session, this is the most affordable clinical grade home neurofeedback system you can get!
- Neurofeedback (super duper advanced level): See below.
The Next Level: 40 Years of Zen
If you’ve ever heard a talk about the best biohacks discovered over the 15+ years I’ve been biohacking, you’d know that the 40 Years of Zen neurofeedback training intensive holds the number one spot. It’s been so impactful that I’ve spent 45 days of my life doing it for my own growth and with clients. I wouldn’t be doing Bulletproof today if not for what this training has taught me.
40 Years of Zen allows you to reap the performance benefits of a meditative practice in a much shorter timeframe; you learn to put your brain in the same state as an advanced Zen meditator, often a 20-40 year process, in only seven days. To learn more about the program or to sign up, click here.
It’s the most intense brain boot camp imaginable and one of the most worthwhile investments you can make right now. I apologize that it’s expensive; I don’t profit from this, it just costs a lot to have a team of techs wiring your head with custom technology for a week. One of my goals is to make this kind of technology much more accessible.
Consistency Is Key
As the above information hopefully convinced you, at the very least a consistent daily meditation practice can go a long way toward upgrading your performance and managing your stress.
What other meditation hacks have you found?
Click to read the complete list of references.
(Each of these studies is broken down into more detail in part 1, part 2, and part 3 of the science of meditation series.)[i] Luders E, Kurth F, Mayer EA, et al. The unique brain anatomy of meditation practitioners: alterations in cortical gyrification. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2012;6:1–9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22393318 [ii] Stanford University Vista Lab Teaching Wiki: Brain Gyrification and its Significance http://white.stanford.edu/teach/index.php/Brain_Gyrification_and_its_Significance [iii] US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Meditation: What You Need to Know https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm [iv] US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Meditation: What You Need to Know https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm [v] Lazar, S., et al. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness.
Neuroreport. 2005 Nov 28; 16(17): 1893–1897. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361002/[vi] Taren, A., A., et al. Dispositional Mindfulness Co-Varies with Smaller Amygdala and Caudate Volumes in Community Adults. PLoS ONE 8(5): e64574, 22 May 2013. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0064574 [vii] LeDoux, Joseph. The Emotional Brain, Fear, and the Amygdala. Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, Vol. 23, Nos. 4/5, October 2003 http://www.ekmaninternational.com/media/4634/fearbrain%20amygdala%20joe%20ledoux.pdf [viii] LeDoux, Joseph. The Emotional Brain, Fear, and the Amygdala. Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, Vol. 23, Nos. 4/5, October 2003 http://www.ekmaninternational.com/media/4634/fearbrain%20amygdala%20joe%20ledoux.pdf [ix] Desbordes G, Negi LT, Pace TW, et al. Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2012;6:1–15. http://www.tibet.emory.edu/documents/Desbordes_Provisional_amygdala.pdf [x] Chen, K. W., Berger, C. C., Manheimer, E., Forde, D., Magidson, J., Dachman, L. and Lejuez, C. W. (2012), Meditative Therapies for Reducing Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Depress. Anxiety, 29: 545–562. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/da.21964/full [xi] Marcus, M. T., and Zgierska, A. Mindfulness-Based Therapies for Substance Use Disorders: Part 1 (Editorial). Subst Abus. 2009 Oct–Dec; 30(4): 263. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2818765/ [xii] Grecucci A, et al. Baseline and Strategic Effects behind Mindful Emotion Regulation: Behavioral and Physiological Investigation. PLoS One. 2015 Jan 15;10(1):e0116541. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0116541 [xiii] Goyal, M., et al. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being
A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357-368. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1809754#Abstract[xiv] Tang, Y., et al. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. PNAS, 104(43), 17152-17156. http://www.pnas.org/content/104/43/17152.long [xv] Carly M. Goldstein, Richard Josephson, Susan Xie, and Joel W. Hughes, “Current Perspectives on the Use of Meditation to Reduce Blood Pressure,” International Journal of Hypertension, vol. 2012, Article ID 578397, 11 pages, 2012. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijhy/2012/578397/cta/ [xvi] Anderson JW, Liu C, Kryscio RJ. Blood pressure response to transcendental meditation: a meta-analysis. Am J Hypertens. 2008 Mar;21(3):310-6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18311126 [xvii] Wright, L., B., et al. Impact of Stress Reduction Interventions on Hostility and Ambulatory Systolic Blood Pressure in African American Adolescents. Journal of Black Psychology May 2011 vol. 37 no. 2 210-233. http://jbp.sagepub.com/content/37/2/210.full.pdf+html [xviii] Prakhinkit, S., et al. Effects of Buddhism walking meditation on depression, functional fitness, and endothelium-dependent vasodilation in depressed elderly. J Altern Complement Med. 2014 May;20(5):411-6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24372522 [xix] Ray, I., B., et al. Meditation and coronary heart disease: a review of the current clinical evidence. Ochsner J. 2014 Winter;14(4):696-703. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4295748/ [xx] Ray, I., B., et al. Meditation and coronary heart disease: a review of the current clinical evidence. Ochsner J. 2014 Winter;14(4):696-703. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4295748/ [xxi] Maglione-Garves, C., et al. Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight. University of New Mexico, Exercise Science Department. http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/stresscortisol.html [xxii] Rosenkranz, M., A., et al. A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation. Brain Behav Immun. 2013 Jan;27(1):174-84. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23092711 [xxiii] Morgan N, Irwin MR, Chung M, Wang C (2014) The Effects of Mind-Body Therapies on the Immune System: Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE 9(7): e100903. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0100903 [xxiv] Davidson, R., J., Kabat-Zinn, J., et al. Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation Psychosomatic Medicine. 65(4), July 2003, p 564–570 http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2003-07002-015 [xxv] Davidson, R., J., Kabat-Zinn, J., et al. Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation Psychosomatic Medicine. 65(4), July 2003, p 564–570 http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2003-07002-015