18 May 2023

In the lead up to World Meditation Day, we thought we’d gather and share the most recent findings into meditation and how it works, as well as some of the benefits that you can expect to see with sustained practice. 

What is meditation? 

During meditation, a person typically sits or lies down in a comfortable position and focuses their attention on a specific object or thought, such as their breath or a visualisation. As thoughts arise, the meditator acknowledges them but does not engage with them, instead returning their focus to the chosen object of meditation

Meditation helps us to develop the skill of neutral observation so we can see ourselves, our situation and our thoughts more clearly. Meditation does not aim to transform people into a different, new, or improved version of themselves. Instead, it focuses on cultivating awareness and gaining a healthy perspective. The goal is not to suppress our thoughts or emotions but to observe them objectively, without judgement. With practice, we may develop a deeper understanding of our thoughts and feelings.

The origins of meditation

The practice of meditation has been around for thousands of years and has roots in various cultures and religions particularly in East Asia. Buddhism has a strong tradition of meditation, with the Buddha himself practising and teaching various meditation techniques over 2,500 years ago. Today, meditation is practised in many different forms and has spread around the world, with various secular and spiritual traditions incorporating it into their teachings

Different ways to meditate

Some ways to meditate include:

Seated Meditation

Seated meditation is a mindfulness practice that involves sitting in a comfortable, upright position.

Meditation can be easily practised by sitting in a chair, making it ideal for midday relaxation while at work. This practice can also be done while travelling or at your workplace.

Walking Meditation

Walking meditation cultivates mindfulness and awareness by intentionally focusing on the experience of walking. It involves slow, deliberate walking while paying attention to bodily sensations and using breath to anchor attention. It can be an helpful alternative for those who struggle with seated meditation or prefer a more active practice, and can also help integrate mindfulness into daily life.

Mindful Movemen

Mindful movement is a practice that combines physical activity and mindfulness meditation to promote relaxation and well-being. It involves paying attention to body sensations and movements during motion, and can take various forms like yoga, tai chi, and stretching exercises. The common focus of these practices is intentional and present movement

Breathworks have an established tradition of teaching mindful movement and you can get a comprehensive introduction to the Mindful Movements used on our highly successful Breathworks courses on this in person event here and this online event here. 

Different types of meditation

There are many different styles and forms of meditation. some popular types include:

Loving-kindness or Metta meditation

Loving-kindness or Metta meditation is where we radiate feelings of love, kindness, and compassion towards ourselves and others, often expanding our awareness from the local to the universal. "May I be happy, may you be happy, may all beings be happy” is a phrase that would be typical of someone practising loving-kindness meditation. Check out our Kindness meditation here which draws from a loving-kindess meditation.

Body-scan meditation

This type of meditation involves bringing our attention to different parts of our body, one by one, and observing any sensations we feel. The goal is to cultivate a sense of awareness and relaxation in the body.

Check out one of our Body Scan meditations.

Meditation for pain relief

These are practices which relieve chronic pain and help us manage discomfort more easily. Clinical trials show that mindfulness meditation can be as effective as prescription painkillers and can enhance the body’s natural healing systems.

Breathworks Mindfulness for Health Course  contains the best meditation for pain relief techniques from 30 years of managing severe chronic pain, and its effectiveness has been demonstrated in a number of scientific trials. We have an array of meditations for pain management and relief to listen for free on our Community of Practice, you can listen to them here.

Check out this Meditation for Pain Relief taken from our Mindfulness for Health Meditations

Guided sleep meditation

Guided sleep meditation is designed to help us fall asleep and improve the quality of our sleep. It often involves guided imagery and relaxation techniques to help calm our minds and bodies.  Although it is possible to practise sleep meditation independently, a guided session typically involves listening to an audio recording that provides instructions for the various steps of the meditation.

Check out our Meditation for Sleep by Breathworks Co-Founder Sona Fricker

Transcendental meditation

Transcendental Meditation® involves repeating a word or phrase in your mind until you attain a state of inner calmness. 

Vipassana meditation

Vipassana is an age-old meditation technique in Buddhism that emphasises perceiving reality as it is. Referred to as insight meditation, it diverges from other forms of meditation by focusing on self-examination and awareness. Practising Vipassana involves observing one's thoughts and emotions without criticism to purify the mind, leading to happiness and liberation. 

Benefits of meditation

Meditation offers numerous benefits for overall well-being. It can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, enhance focus and concentration, improve emotional resilience, promote relaxation, and increase self-awareness. Regular practice may also lead to improved sleep, heightened creativity, and a sense of inner peace. Scientific studies have shown that meditation positively affects brain structure and function, including increased gray matter density and enhanced connectivity in regions associated with attention and emotional regulation. [1]

Our internal research has also found reliable evidence for the utility of our 8-week courses. Check out our impact summarise for Mindfulness for Health & Mindfulness for Stress Courses.

How meditation changes the brain

Meditation can change the brain by promoting neuroplasticity, increasing gray matter in certain regions, and strengthening connectivity between brain networks. It has been found to enhance cognitive functions, emotional regulation, attention, and self-awareness. A study by Tang et al. (2015) showed that long-term meditation practitioners had thicker prefrontal cortex and insula, regions associated with attention and self-awareness. Meditation also affects the default mode network, involved in mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts. [2]

How to learn meditation

Learning meditation can be as simple as finding a quiet place to sit, focusing on your breath, and observing your thoughts without judgement. There are many resources available, such as guided meditations, taster sessions and courses that can provide structure and guidance for beginners. Start with short sessions and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable with the practice. Consistency is key, so aim to practise meditation daily or several times a week to experience its benefits.

[1] Goyal, M., et al. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357-368.

[2] Tang, Y.-Y., et al. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(4), 213-225.