Does your favourite meditation reveal who you really are? (plain language summary)

Do you ever feel that one type of meditation or yoga practice really resonates and another just simply leaves you cold? It might simply be down to your personality type, according to a recent study

The researchers looked at four common types of mindfulness-based practice:

  • Loving kindness meditation, which involves cultivating positive emotions towards yourself and others (including, usually, someone you really don’t like)
  • Focused meditation, likely the one most of us practice, where you focus your attention to something like the breath
  • Open awareness, where you allow the mind to openly observe anything that comes up without judgement and without reacting
  • Body scan (my personal favourite and a key component of yoga nidra), where you move your attention from one body part to the next
Kitty demonstrates open awareness – definitely no judgement!

Personality traits can predict preference – sort of

For each practice, the researchers picked a selection of personality traits that they hypothesised are likely to be seen in those who prefer it, based on what you might expect each practice to require (eg someone who is quite good at maintaining focus and self–control naturally gravitating towards focused meditation).

For loving kindness, they were spot on: Those who preferred were more likely to generally be empathetic and generally more agreeable. Women were also more likely to prefer this kind of practice than men.

Likewise for open awareness: Those who preferred this meditation practice were likely to be non-judgmental and non-reactive to what’s going on in their minds. It was also, weirdly, the preferred practice for those who felt stressed.

For the other two, not so much. Although this doesn’t mean that there aren’t personality traits that are specifically associated with those who prefer this type of meditation. It just means that the ones the the researchers picked are unlikely to be them. Back to the drawing board then.

Preference is related to perceived ‘success’

Across the board, participants picked as their most preferred meditation practice the one that made them feel they were in a mindfulness state.

This makes absolute sense if you think about it. You have certain personality traits that a particular type of meditation is geared towards. You try that meditation and you feel mindful more easily than when you practice a different one that requires different traits to yours. Chances are, the meditation that you are ‘naturally good at’ (and I use the quotes deliberately because there is no such thing, but hopefully you get the idea), is the one you prefer and the one you practice the most. Like with everything else we do in life, we gravitate towards what’s easiest.

So what?

I get very frustrated when people tell me they don’t like meditation, they find it hard or even are not good at it (whatever that means, I’m not good at it either). In today’s digital world everything is personalised, and you know why that is, right? To increase engagement (some loosely related research here, from my other life). Meditation (and yoga) is no exception – chances are, most people just haven’t found the right type of practice for them.

What do you think? Do you see your own personality traits connected to your preferred meditation practice?

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