Different types of meditation explore consciousness in different ways. They have different procedures and distinctive brain wave patterns. Results in daily life are also significantly different. In this article we explore three main categories of meditation:
Meditations such as Zen, Compassion, Qigong, Kundalini Yoga and Vipassana involve concentration and control of the mind. The brain wave pattern characteristic of such “externally” focused practices is called gamma (20-50 Hz). Indeed, gamma waves are seen whenever we focus our attention, even outside of meditation.
Meditations such as Mindfulness and Kriya Yoga involve dispassionate observation of the breath, body states, thoughts or emotions. The brain wave pattern of internal focusing, theta (5-8 Hz), is seen during these meditations. Theta is observed in the brain any time we monitor or observe internal mental processes.
Meditations such as Transcendental Meditation® involve going beyond or transcending the thinking process, leading to a state of pure consciousness. During this state we see the brain wave pattern of maximum alertness or mental clarity, alpha1 (8-10 Hz).
This brainwave was also reported also in a longitudinal single study of a Qigong Master. When he first started his Qigong practice, gamma EEG was seen. After 45 years of practice, alpha1 EEG was seen as soon as he would start his meditation. The Qigong master apparently achieved automatic transcending after years of practice. Automatic transcending is seen in the first few days of learning Transcendental Meditation.
“Automatic Self-Transcending leads to a changed state that takes the mind to a new level and you begin to experience life from that new level.”
— Dr. Fred Travis
Each meditation is designed to explore consciousness from a different angle. Meditations in the Focused Attention and Open Monitoring categories develop specific mental tools to deal with life — developing a rich inner feeling of compassion, or being mindful of emotions. Meditations in the Automatic Self-Transcending category, such as Transcendental Meditation, change the nature of the mind — by exposing it to inner wakefulness. It is like giving the mind a bath. All of the stress and strain from the day are removed, and the mind comes out refreshed and so is better at doing everything it does.
“Transcending thinking is infinitely more valuable than thinking.”
— Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Transcending thinking and experiencing pure consciousness during the Transcendental Meditation(TM) practice has stronger and more extensive benefits than are seen due to meditations that develop specific mental tools to cope with individual aspects of life1.
A meta-analysis of over 100 studies measuring 22 psychological variables2 reported that TM practice led to larger improvements in psychological variables than Mindfulness meditation or other meditations.
The American Heart Association, after scrutinizing the findings of effects of meditation practice on heart disease concluded that only Transcendental Meditation practice significantly reduces heart disease and should be recommended by doctors.
Lastly, a review of six studies on effects of meditation practice on reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress3 reported that TM practice led to very large effect sizes in reduction of PTS symptoms (from 1.0 to 2.0) in comparison to Loving-Kindness and Mindfulness (from 0.5 to 0.77).
1 Travis, F and Shear, J (2010) Focused Attention, Open Monitoring and Automatic Self-Transcending: Categories to Organize Meditations from Vedic, Buddhist and Chinese Traditions, Consciousness and Cognition. 19:1110-1119.
2 The psychological effects of meditation: a meta-analysis.
Sedlmeier P, Eberth J, Schwarz M, Zimmermann D, Haarig F, Jaeger S, Kunze S. Psychol Bull. 2012 Nov;138(6):1139-71. doi: 10.1037/a0028168. Epub 2012
3 Rees, B., Travis, F., Shapiro, D., and Chant, R. (2013). Reduction in Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in Congolese Refugees Practicing Transcendental Meditation. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 2013, 26, 295–298.