By Sarah Berry for The Sydney Morning Herald
Meditation is many things, but it is not always relaxing.
It restores clarity, relieves stress, changes our brains for the better, encourages creativity and calms our nervous system.
But a new study has found that we experience elevated heart rates during certain types of meditation.
Participants in the study were asked to practice loving-kindness meditation, thought-observation meditation and a relaxing breathing meditation technique.
The neuroscience researchers found that heart rate and effort were higher during loving-kindness meditation and observing-thoughts meditations.
“In contrast to implicit beliefs that meditation is always relaxing and associated with low arousal, the current results show that core meditations aiming at improving compassion and meta-cognitive skills require effort and are associated with physiological arousal compared to breathing meditation,” the authors said.
The results support the idea of a ‘meditation paradox’, where, like the ‘sleep paradox’, restoration appears to activate and intensify biological processes.
In the case of meditation, certain techniques activate rather than calm cardiac rhythms.
The findings suggest using different practices for specific outcomes.
Despite the heart rate change, meditation appears to be good for the heart. Depending on the type you do, that is.
In one recent study, 201 people with coronary heart disease were asked to either participate in a health education classes or transcendental meditation (TM) classes. When researchers followed up with the participants five years later, they found the meditators had reduced their risk of heart attack, stroke or premature death by 48 per cent.