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Regular meditation more beneficial than vacation (2016) (health.harvard.edu)
61 points by evo_9 26 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 28 comments



The title seems very misleading to me, because much more than "regular meditation" was involved.

Here is how they describe the study in the article:

> The study was conducted at a resort in Southern California... The mindfulness intervention was an established meditation and yoga retreat consisting of 12 hours of meditation, nine hours of yoga, and self-reflective exercises over a week. The participants were divided into three groups of about 30 each: experienced meditators, women who had never meditated, and a group who simply “went on vacation.” The 30 “vacation participants” listened to health lectures and then did fun outdoor things for a week.

> At the end, all three groups (vacation, novice, and regular meditators) showed statistically significant improvements in scores of stress and depression, which were measured using well-established and commonly used questionnaires. If we stop there, it seems that vacation is just as good as mindfulness exercises for stress reduction and mood lifting.

> But what’s really striking are the result from 10 months later: the regular meditators still showed significant improvements on these scores, the novice meditators even more so. However, the vacationers were back to baseline. The researchers had ensured that all three groups were equal in average age, education level, employment status, and body mass index. This finding is in keeping with prior research showing that vacation has beneficial but very temporary effects, and that mindfulness therapies have sustained beneficial effects.


It was regular as in practiced on a regular basis. It's a key term since as you might guess, one-off meditation is much less potent.


Now, there are as many meditation practices as there are teachers and practitioners. So approaches and answers may vary wildly.

To really investigate, I'd recommed to stay off the self-help books, tapes and apps, and seek out a well-established group doing regular practice. There is more to it and the support can be much more helpful, than just following words and sounds. An experienced meditator could easily slip into meditation anytime just by closing her eyes. Though there is nowhere to go and nothing to attain, practice can be used throughout life. Letting go of expectations is key. A robust group can help through many misconceptions, provide clear path and reassurances, beyond that of meditation alone. If everything is not applicable forever, at least it broadens perspective of life immensely, and provides reference points along more dimensions of possibilities.


Articles like this pop up on my news feed from time to time and I am always interested to read them to see if there is any kind of concrete action item I can take in order to reap the benefits these types of articles espouse. I'm usually disappointed.

I've tried meditation off and on for around a decade and still don't quite "get it." I know my experience is entirely anecdotal but articles like this always feel very pseudo-sciency full of quotes like "Regular meditators showed both the same types of improvements’ at the molecular level" which really turns me off to their conclusions.

With that said, I would love to take another look at meditation with an open mind so if anyone has any resources or websites to recommend that helped them, I am all ears!


Mastering the Core Teaching of the Buddha might be up your alley. I won't strictly "recommend" it, as the path it espouses is intense and engineered for enlightenment, which is (perhaps ironically) "no fun", in contrast to modern western mindfulness meditation with phone apps which is pleasant and relaxing but won't get you anywhere. But if you want results and are willing to put in the work (which is 1000x the effort of just reading the book), you could give MCTB a shot. Either that or join a Zen monastery for a couple years :)


Thank you for suggesting this book. I'm not 100% sure what to make of it but it's all available for free online and the introduction is really intriguing. If nothing else, I now know something exists that I didn't before.

https://www.mctb.org/


Wow. The author of this book calls himself an arhat. That is, shall I say, presumptuous? Not what I think I would look for in a Buddhist teacher (though, full disclosure, I practice Buddhism with a school I am very happy with so already have some opinions on the subject).


His whole schtick is "plain talk about enlightenment". I agree that it "sounds" egotistical, but if someone really had attained arhatship, and thought that the best way to promote spiritual training was to talk about it in a plain way, I don't think he's being unreasonable. And his lineage confirms his attainment.


Can't tell what his lineage is from what I have read.

The temple that I belong to was founded in Japan. The honorifics we use to describe our High Priest and other priests are never used by then to describe themselves. That posture is consistent in Japanese society in general, not just the sect of Buddhism I belong to. So this does seem very strange to me.


America is very different from Japan, and Americans respond to different social signals when choosing who to follow. This obviously a terrible idea for society in general, but you gotta promote to the market you're in :/


I was the same way. The problem with meditation is that it is like dieting/fitness/going to the gym. You will not see the results right away. It takes a while of consistent effort before you notice any results.

I took a 10 day meditation retreat (Vipassana) to get the hang of it. They make you meditate 6 to 8 hours a day for 10 days. This is one way to "get it."


I have been meditating daily for the last year and the improvements it has offered my mental health is immeasurable. I am a huge fan of the Calm app (I've also tried Headspace to less success). Calm has a lot of meditations directly dealing with situations personally applicable to me as a tech worker, so I definitely suggest giving it a try. I also enjoy the background noise; it helps cue me back into meditation when my mind inevitably drifts off. I also use their other features around sleep. The other day I was unfortunate enough to have a panic attack while tripping acid; my husband immediately pulled out an emergency SOS meditation session and it helped me thru it. My pavlovian response is to the point now where just opening the app calms me!

It's not at all a hyperbole to say that Calm has saved my life, my marriage, and my relationships. Come Christmas I will be purchasing a lifetime subscription.


What technique of meditation did you try?

There are probably dozens if not hundreds of different ways of meditating, and many mistakes one can make in implementing those techniques.

If the one particular way you tried did not work for you, I would not necessarily jump to the conclusion that no kind of meditation would work for you, or that there was no room for improvement in your technique.

Sometimes going to a teacher or experienced meditator with the particular difficulties you're running in to can help. Also, sometimes meditating in a group can work, as you're then all in it together rather than having to motivate yourself all on your own.

Something else to keep in mind is that meditation can take some time to yield results, especially if your practice is brief or sporadic. The more regular and extended your practice is, the more likely you are to notice some results.


The closest I've ever come to really using a "technique" to meditate was in college when one of my roommates went to a transcendental meditation retreat and tried to teach us how to meditate like he did at his retreat.

The last time I tried meditating though was on the headspace app though I'm not sure what technique you would call that.

The vibe I'm getting is that the best way to get started with meditating is probably to go to a teacher or a retreat neither of which I have tried so maybe there is hope yet!


Yes, teachers and meditation retreats could be helpful. But just bear in mind that there are lot of different ones, and they're not interchangeable. I'd suggest you do a lot of research and talk to some people you respect and trust who've been to the retreat/teacher you're contemplating.

Also, I can recommend a couple of books: The Heart of Buddhist Meditation and Mindfulness in Plain English.


I had also tried meditation for years and never "groked" it. What ultimately helped me was using "One giant mind" app. It has 15 minute session for everyday. Doing it everyday for a week I didn't feel anything different but one weekend on a whim I decided to meditate using the app for 3 hrs straight and that's when I felt I finally got it.

Like others have said you can take help of teachers or try meditating in a group. Although I do feel because there so many choices available discovering what works for you may require a little bit luck too.


Meditation isn’t easy. I never saw it’s power until 6 days into a Vipassana retreat where you do nothing but mediate, eat and sleep, including no talking or reading.


Just do it the high tech way by using Cardiac Coherence apps like Inner Balance. Scientists studying Heart Rate Variablity (HRV) looked at all the highly skilled groups of mediators in the world and found basically the same thing - they all breathe at their resonance frequency and that puts their HRV in synch with their breathing and spectral analysis shows a pattern of electrical activity in the heart with a very narrow band around 0.1 hertz.

Cardiac Coherence apps basically hook you up to a sensor capable of detecting this and then allow you to pace your breathing at your resonance frequency to enter a state of cardiac coherence. Apparently it works wonders.

I'm going to take it up very soon.


Do you notice any difference in how you feel between scrolling through HN/Facebook and reading a novel? I'm not a regular or disciplined meditator, it hasn't been life-changing, but it can definitely take me out of a state like the former and put me into one more like the latter.

My understanding is that regular and sustained practice can make this state your day-to-day baseline.


Totally get where you're coming from. I really recommend the Sam Harris "waking up" app. Really helped me and I think it appeals to the more skeptical and rational people you find on HN.


Is "waking up" significantly different from apps like headspace? What about "waking up" helped you so much?


Basically the principles behind meditation are explained at a much deeper level, and in a way that allowed me to transfer it more into my every day life. Headspace seems to just revolve around following the breath, whereas this is just a small chunk of what the waking up app teaches you. I recommend giving the free trial a go and see what you think.


I tried to learn how to meditate a few times. It did not work so far.

A few friends told me that they have a similar problem, but after Vipassana they were able to get the idea and started meditating regularly.

Sadly the pandemic made all the Vipassana places to close.

I hope that in 6 months they will start to reopen.


Which one improves reading comprehension? Because I had read this headline about three times before I realized it didn’t say ‘Regular medication more beneficial than vaccination’!

More on topic: I did some mindful meditation a few years ago when I had some issues to work through. It really seemed to help. I should probably get in the habit of doing it again.

That said, I won’t be giving up vacations anytime soon. I don’t even go anywhere. I just take a week off from work and get my mind off of that stress.


> I just take a week off from work

A week...

Maybe this is article is only comparing daily meditation to the US version of a vacation? A week shouldn't even be called vacation.

I find it hard to believe that something as ineffective as meditation could be more beneficial than the 4 weeks to a month of vacation that you have in civilized countries.


Same here, I think 80% of my vacations are staycations.


Actually if you do proper yoga and meditation you'll get a better handling of your thoughts. Provided that things are so volatile today in day to day life ,it might not guarantee the same effect as it did hundreds of years back.





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