New Study: Gender Boosts Benefits of Meditation

young woman meditating outside

Kundalini. Zen. Vipassana. Mindfulness. Transcendental. Mantra. These are all different styles of meditation, and research indicates that they benefit practitioners’ mental health. But according to a recent study, women could benefit more than men from mindfulness meditation techniques. The study is described as one of the first of its kind, questioning and testing whether gender could influence a person’s response to meditation. Its results indicate that meditation techniques can be modified and maximized by gender. Perhaps certain styles of meditation are beneficial for men, and different types of meditation are more valuable for women.

The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, surveyed 77 students at Brown University before and after a 12-week meditation training. The initial survey established baseline data on emotional affect, mindfulness, and self-compassion. Pre-meditation intervention survey results revealed no significant difference by gender.

The mindfulness meditation used in the Brown University study was a fairly straightforward technique. The meditation practices focused on “intentionally and non-judgmentally directing one’s attention to the present moment, often by focusing on a particular salient sensation, such as one’s breath.”

On average, participants reported meditating 2,495 minutes over 12 weeks. In the post-meditation survey, women reported a decrease in negative emotions, and additionally, an increase in mindfulness and self-compassion. Men, on the other hand, reported no or little change in negative emotions, mindfulness, and self-compassion.

The study’s authors suggest that women may have an advantage over men due to “gender-based mechanistic differences in emotion regulation techniques.” Although men reported little to no change in negative emotions over the course of the study, on average they meditated 434 minutes longer than women over the 12-week period.

Another study, published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2015, questioned whether differences in the brain between males and females could be responsible for varying responses to mindfulness meditation techniques. This study investigated hippocampal dimensions of the brain and found variation in the area’s activation between men and women while participants were meditating.

Does this mean men shouldn’t bother meditating? Not at all.

Iain Grysak, founder of Spacious Yoga, an Ashtanga-based yoga shala in Bali, and a longtime practitioner and teacher, pointed out that there are many different types of meditation techniques. Some styles of meditation, he said, are more masculine by nature, while other styles of meditation are more feminine. The Brown study may have utilized a more feminine mindfulness meditation technique, whereas Grysak has a background in Vipassana meditation, which he describes as quite rational, analytical, and masculine.

Yet Grysak believes that Vipassana meditation might not be beneficial for all men. He believes every individual is unique and thinks that both men and women can behold masculine or feminine qualities. A meditation practice that works best for an individual might be more about balancing one’s unique personality type, and less about gender itself, Grysak said.

To boost your mindfulness, practice a body scan meditation. To increase your self-compassion, try a Buddhist Karuna (compassion) meditation, and to improve equanimity, try Vipassana or Zen meditation styles.  To cultivate positive emotions, try practicing a metta (loving-kindness) meditation or a gratitude meditation. Experiment with other types of meditations to see how they influence your levels of mindfulness, compassion and positive emotions.

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