There is growing interest in the use of meditation and other contemplative practices to promote mental and physical health.
Until recently, the practice of meditation has been traditionally relegated to the private study of those willing to be specially trained in a particular style or technique.
However, in the past 10 years, things have changed as meditation’s universal appeal and access has begun to broaden, and the real-world applications and neuroscience research has followed.
Even more interesting is exploring the valuable effects of combining frameworks and techniques from different contemplative traditions to improve emotional experiences and regulation.
A recent study published in the Journal of Emotions (2012) examined the emotional changes that can result from meditation practice and emotional intelligence training, by delivering a program to 82 female participants over 8 weeks.
The program covered 42 hours of meditation and emotion regulation training and included educational presentations, discussions related to emotions and life philosophies, and different secular meditations and contemplative skills. The participants were randomly assigned to either a training group or wait-list control group.
The study aimed to see how contemplative practice could reduce “destructive enactment of emotions,” and enhance pro-social responses through the development of emotional states such as compassion.
The study revealed that combining different meditation traditions was effective on many of the measures. The content of the program combined techniques from concentration mediation, mindfulness meditation, as well mettā meditation.
The training group reported reduced negative affect, rumination, depression, anxiety, and increased positive affect and mindfulness compared to the control group.
The training revealed a reduction in destructive emotions and coinciding behaviors such as hostility and other reactive behavioral responses.
As well, the meditation group demonstrated greater reduction in physiological arousal and had quicker recovery of their sympathetic nervous system when presented with tasks to induce stress.
Participants of the training group also showed increases in positive affect, such as compassion, when responding to images of suffering individuals, and showed greater ability to recognize facial expressions of emotions in others.
This study offers intriguing finding in support of the efficacy of different meditative techniques when it comes to emotional awareness and regulation. There isn’t necessarily any one type of meditation better than another. If you are of a more mystical bent, try Transcendental Meditation or take a class in Yoga. Herbert Bensen has a classic book, “The Relaxation Response,” which teaches a simple type of meditation. Mindfulness Meditation is also great.
Implementing meditation as a supplement to other mental health techniques can be a helpful and applicable practice, and there may be no better time to begin recognizing how meditation can be a perfect intervention to help people cope with the fast paced, technologically advanced society we live in today.
Kemeny, M. E., Foltz, C., Cullen, M., Jennings, P., Gillath, O., et al. (2012). Contemplative/Emotion Training Reduces Negative Emotional Behavior and Promotes Prosocial Responses. Emotion, 12 (2), 338-350.