Based on the intention of the meditator, the way attention is directed and brain activation/deactivation patterns, we can identify 4 distinct styles of meditation practice: Focus, Mindfulness, Open Heart and Quiet Mind.
The Focus style represents a constellation of practices where the attention is directed toward a single object such as the breath, a mantra, or an image of a deity. The most common way to practice this style is to direct the attention toward some aspect of the breath. It might be the expansion of the belly with each inbreath and the contraction with each outbreath; or perhaps the attention is focused on the sensation of warm air flowing out of the nostrils with each exhalation and cool air flowing into the nostrils on each inhalation. In any case, the mind typically can only maintain attention on such a task for a few seconds and then it becomes bored or distracted. The mind starts looking for something a bit more interesting. The mind may begin remembering something that happened last night or this morning, or the mind may become engaged in planning or judging or story-telling or any number of automatic cognitive processes. This mind wandering is a natural part of the way the human mind works. During Focus forms of NeuroMeditation, when the mind wanders, the task is to become aware of this as soon as possible and gently, patiently and kindly usher the attention back to the original target.
While it may sound simple, this practice is very powerful and serves as an important foundation for other styles of NeuroMeditation. Focus practices help the mind develop a stability of attention necessary for other practices. The Focus style is also ideal for anyone wanting to train their mind to be more focused and less distracted-in essence to have more control over the mind and its activities.
The Brain on Focus NeuroMeditation
There are two primary brain regions involved in Focus NeuroMeditation, the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) and the Default Mode Network (DMN). The ACC sits in the frontal lobes and connects the cortex of the brain to the more primitive, emotion based centers of the limbic system. The ACC is involved in a variety of cognitive tasks including sustaining and directing attention as well as becoming aware of mind wandering. The DMN is a network of brain regions that are most active when a person is thinking about something in reference to themselves-this is our default mode. It is where your mind goes when it is not otherwise occupied. In this way, activation of the DMN is often associated with mind wandering. So, Focus styles of NeuroMeditation involve activation of the ACC (when you are focused), alternating with activation of the DMN (when your mind is wandering).
Through the use of EEG monitoring and neurofeedback, we can measure the brain patterns associated with Focus NeuroMediation in real time and provide auditory feedback signals to a meditator when their brain is on the right track. This neurofeedback-based approach to meditation (EEG NeuroMeditation) becomes a powerful tool for guiding and assisting the meditation process; essentially helping meditators learn what it feels like to meditate and how to get there more rapidly.
Providing EEG NeuroMeditation requires that the practitioner has a solid background in neurofeedback, but also the skills to coach someone in meditation practices. In the EEG NeuroMeditation workshops sponsored by Stress Therapy Solutions, we teach the theory, science, methods and protocols behind the 4 styles as well specific skills, tools and techniques to facilitate this process with clients. If you are interested in learning how to use neurofeedback with meditation, check our upcoming events for the next 2 day training. You can also check out Dr. Tarrant’s chapter, “Introduction to NeuroMeditation” in the, Handbook of Clinical Qeeg and Neurotherapy.
Because NeuroMeditation is essentially a brain-based approach to meditation, it can be practiced individually or in groups without the use of EEG or neurofeedback equipment.