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Monday, July 16, 2012

Qigong in the News: find the right kind of meditation

The right kind of meditation for you; Mantra, mindfulness, zen, and qigong visualization are different ways to relax

New research suggests you could be missing out on all the health benefits of meditation by simply starting out with a technique not well matched to your personal tastes.

NY Daily News : Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 11:32 AM

Did you give meditation a chance and decide it's not your cup of tea? New research suggests you could be missing out on all the health benefits of meditation by simply starting out with a technique not well matched to your personal tastes.

Adam Burke, director of San Francisco State University's Institute for Holistic Health Studies, suggests trying another method to see which one is best suited to you.

"If someone is exposed to a particular technique through the media or a health care provider, they might assume because it's popular, it's the best for everyone," he said. "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."

Burke and colleagues recently conducted a study of college students new to meditation and their preferences among four meditation techniques -- mantra, mindfulness, zen, and qigong visualization.
The participants learned all four different techniques, with 31 percent rating mantra as their preferred choice and another 31 percent choosing mindfulness. However, 22 percent said zen was their favorite, and 15 percent voted for qigong. Participants who opted for mantra and mindfulness said they thought the techniques were easier to practice, more calming, and less complex.

Partly accounting for the differences in tastes, the researchers note, is age, with older participants opting for zen, while younger participants preferred mindfulness. The results of the study appear in the July 7 issue of the journal Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing.

Another type of mindfulness meditation known as integrative body-mind training (which focuses on breathing and posture awareness) has recently been a hot topic in the media with a new study that found that the technique can have a positive physical effect on the brain, boosting connectivity and efficiency. The study appears in the June issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Meditation shopping? While it may seem strange, it is perhaps the best approach to finding a technique that works for you, at least according to a new study from San Francisco State University's Institute for Holistic Health Studies.

Published on July 7 in the journal Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, the findings reveal that by finding a form of meditation that works for you, you are less likely to quit. The result of sticking with it? Research-backed benefits of reduced stress, lower blood pressure, and help with addiction problems.

While meditation styles vary, you'll want a comfortable, quiet room, perhaps a cushion to sit on, and anywhere from five to 20 minutes for beginners.

Here are a few traditional seated meditation techniques used in the study that you may want to try:
Vipassana (or mindfulness) - This meditation dates back to the times of Gautama Buddha and translates to "seeing deeply." You can start out by breath awareness and then advance to stages of being mindful of your perceptions and thoughts at any time, regardless of what you are doing. Some people attend 10-day Vipassana retreats, or "bootcamps," to delve deeper into the practice.

Mantra - This style involves the repetition of a word, phrase, or sound, or repeatedly envisioning a specific image. In the San Francisco State University study, participants imagined a ball of light in the area of their heart. For sounds or words, basically every sound-vibration you can think of is a potential mantra, but one of the most popular ones is Om.

Zen - Zen is similar to mindfulness in its focus on presence of mind, but it involves a more general awareness, rather than a focus on something specific. The practice typically asks you to silently focus on breathing and posture with eyes open in a quiet place and to dismiss any thoughts that pop into your head, essentially "thinking nothing."

Qigong visualization - This Taoist practice utilizes several techniques to help restore health and balance to the body, including the Inner Smile, visualizing "smile-energy" penetrating your internal organs; Moon on Lake, visualizing the moon's reflection on a lake; and Holding Heaven in the Palm of Your Hand, imagining the energy of the galaxy in the palm of your hand. Other simpler techniques, such as those used in the study, involve imagining a beam of light running along the spine.

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