In an excellent recent article, Wendy Hasenkamp (@NeuroWendy) considers whether different ways of learning impact the outcome of meditation practice. Drawing on recent studies by Amishi Jha (@AmishiJha) and Yoona Kang, she discusses the influence of two distinct types of learning in meditation groups:
- Didactic learning, where the group focuses on learning and discussing concepts; and
- Experiential learning, where the group focuses on meditation practice
In the studies discussed, the researchers looked at the impact of didactic vs experiential learning in two different types of practice - mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation. The findings are fascinating: groups who focused on experiential learning showed significant improvements in attention (in the mindfulness group) and social bias (in the loving-kindness group), whilst groups who focused on didactic learning showed no significant improvement - in fact, their results were similar to groups who didn't meditate at all.
The conclusion? "Didactic and discussion-based methods don't seem to have the same impact as engaging in the mind-body habits of contemplation when it comes to altering deeply-held mental practices".
This has important implications for meditation students and teachers alike. While conceptual information can be really helpful in engaging us in the practice and giving us some context, it is practice itself that is the core of the teaching - and the greatest predictor of the benefits associated with meditation. Class time is a precious space for sharing practice together: it creates a container for experience that is difficult to replicate on your own, which allows us to sink deep into the felt sense of meditation. It's also vital for working through obstacles to practice, so that you are better supported to practice outside of class as well.
You can read Haskenkamp's full article here.