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Health Benefits of Meditation - Part II

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Now previously we have discussed some benefits of meditation, in this blog post, we want to discuss some underlying concepts of meditation.

Interoceptive vs Exteroceptive (and then dissociation is the opposite of interception)

Now before we dive deep down, let’s make a quick distinction between the 2 different kinds of meditation which relates to ‘perception’ that people often talk about. This is the so-called interoception vs the exteroception concepts.

Interoceptive meditation is an inward focus that involves being aware of the body's physical sensations, such as breathing and the sensations of tension, relaxation and the movement of energy through the body. This type of meditation is a form of mindfulness that encourages individual to become aware of their physical sensations. It is very much an inward-looking meditation and is often performed with your eyes closed.

Exteroceptive meditation, on the other hand, is an outward-focus type of meditation that involves being aware of external things outside of the body, such as external visual stimuli, sounds, sights and smells. This type of meditation encourages the individual to observe and become aware of the external environment. A common way that people practice this is to focus on an object at a distance either a plant on your desk, a spot on your wall, or a point in a distant horizon.

Now the types of meditation that you should focus on depend on 1) the type of person you are and 2) the goal that you are trying to achieve. So think of this interoception-exteroception thing as a continuum from one side to the other. Now everyone is different and will tend to gravitate towards one side or another. This also depends on your state or even certain situations you find yourself in. Your mind can also move along this spectrum dynamically, but in general we all have a so-called ‘default’ state where we may gravitate or bias towards interoception or exteroception.

Now a simple way to find out if you are more bias towards interoception or exteroception, is to ask yourself, in general, are you someone who is more aware of your body’s sensations or internal workings. For example, are you pretty aware of your heart beating, or you are more sensitive to say that itch on the side of your toes. Would you describe yourself as always ‘being inside your head’? If something happens to you, and you are very aware of the impact on your heart rate or your breathing, if any of these things resonate with you, then you are probably interoception bias as a default state. And for some people, this can be pretty debilitating and can cause anxiety in being too aware of your body’s sensation. Some people complain that they feel every experience deeply and it can feel like even little things that happen, your body and your emotions get yanked around like a roller coaster. Certainly, that is not a nice place to be. If this is the case, as we know our brain can be trained (—>more about this neuroplasticity concept later on), an exteroception type meditation could help you because this can move you back towards more exteroception end of the spectrum.

On the other hand, if you are someone who is very aware of outside or external things like visual things or sounds, then you might be more biased towards the exteroception state and therefore a practice of more inward-looking interoceptive meditation might be more useful to you.

Another concept that I like to bring forward is something called ‘dissociation’. This is basically a disconnect between thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations, and your behaviors. Increasingly, people think that this is also on the opposite (but a continuum) between interoception. Whereas interoception is very much being aware of your body internal workings, dissociation is the opposite and is actually a lack of body awareness or removal of one’s conscious experience from one’s bodily’s experience and awareness. Again, if you find yourself more biased towards dissociation end of the spectrum, you can practice more interoceptive meditation to bring yourself back towards the middle.

The midpoint between all these continuums, interoception, exteroception, or dissociation is probably where you want to be.

Shifting Focus or “Refocusing”

The central concept of meditation in my mind, surrounds the concept of shifting your focus. Now when you start to do this, initially you may feel like, wow my mind is wandering off all the time, and I keep having to bring back my focus to what it is that I am trying to focus on whether that is my breathing or that is my third eye, etc. Actually, if that happens to you, you should say to yourself this is GOOD. This means that you are forcing your brain to learn and adapt. Because studies have shown that it is actually that process of ‘refocusing’ is actually forcing your brain to alter and change, a process known as ‘neuroplasticity’. In fact, the more you shift your focus back, the more work your brain needs to do, and the more your brain is working at this neuroplasticity thing to alter neural circuits and re-wiring the brain. So when you start doing this and find that you are wandering off a lot, do not get discouraged, because every time you are bringing your focus back, you are actually forcing your brain to do this re-wiring, and you are doing work to help your brain. We now know that it is actually this process of neuroplasticity that is giving you the benefits of meditation.

How to do meditation?

Now we have talked lengthly about the benefits of meditation and the different concepts of meditation. So if you are interested in giving it a go, how do you go about it?

There are several ways to do this. My suggestion is that you give it a try. There are several Apps like Calm (link) that people can download and have a go with their smartphones. Or you can try following some instructions in some of these articles.

Headspace: link

NYT: link

How long?

Another common question that I get asked is, how long you should meditate for? The amount of time that one should meditate for to get health benefits will vary from person to person. Generally speaking, it is recommended to meditate for 15-20 minutes each day. However, if you are a beginner, you may want to start with just 5-10 minutes at a time. In fact, I have read studies that have shown benefits from doing just 5 minutes a day, but consistently over time. But in general, don’t get too hung up on the time, as there is no set amount of time that is necessary for one to experience health benefits from meditation. The important thing here is consistency. It’s a bit like exercise. The benefits you get are from the consistency in which you do these things. So I would ask yourself. How much time ‘realistically’ can you set aside to do this? Whether that is 5 minutes per day, 10 minutes every other day, or 30 minutes per week, make sure that you stick to it. And keep doing it on a long-term timeframe to derive the benefits.

That’s it folks! Till next time.

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