I was recently listening to a podcast from the awesome, Huberman Lab podcast, where Dr. Andrew Huberman delves into the science behind meditation, including its benefits and different meditation practices. If you haven’t listened to that podcast, then I highly recommend it. What stuck with me most from this podcast, was a practice called exteroceptive meditation. This is opposite of the traditional way that I think many of us initially learn to meditate. By doing exteroceptive meditation, instead of focusing on our breath or a “third eye”, we focus on an external stimuli. Allow me to explain a little more about what I learned about exteroceptive meditation and how we can reap the benefits of the practice.
What is Exteroceptive Meditation?
I think most of us have tried meditation these days. Especially, with apps that make it easy, like Head Space or Waking Up. Meditation is absolutely available to the masses. Also, the way we are usually introduced to meditation is by a traditional mindfulness practice, which often involve us focusing on our breath or “third-eye” repeatedly for an extended period.
Well, exteroceptive is a different type of meditation. Instead of sitting down with our eyes closed, exteroceptive meditation will include your eyes open, and in some cases you can even do it while walking. The idea here is to train our brain to focus on a task at hand. At the end of the day, any form of meditation is just training our brain to focus. This form of meditation trains us to focus on external circumstances, and in my opinion is great for those who tend to be “in their head” or easily lose track of their thoughts in stressful situations, myself included.
Who Can Benefit From Exteroceptive Meditation?
People that would benefit most from exteroceptive meditation are those who are by default more focused on their internal-self. If you typically feel “in your head” or self-conscious, then it is likely that you are more interoceptively focused. If you are externally focused by default, then you can benefit more from interoceptive (traditional) meditation. Note that our current state can change. Sometimes you can be more focused externally, even if you are predominately interoceptively focused. In these cases, you could benefit from the more traditional interoceptive meditation.
Huberman says that if you are unsure if you are more of an internal or an external focused person, then you should sit down and see where your focus goes. Do you naturally think about your internal self, like your breathing, pain, etc, or do things in the outside world grab your attention? Whatever your default is will determine which meditation you can benefit from most.
I am absolutely interoceptive more than anything. When my mind wonders, I typically will think about my breath. I can feel like I am breathing wrong, or be worried about how I will act in a certain situation. That is why exteroceptive meditation really stood out to me. By the way, in his podcast, Andrew Huberman observes that he believes most people are interoceptive-focused by default.
After I started doing some exteroceptive meditation, I actually noticed a rather immediate change in my day-to-day life. In one example, I was minutes away from a meeting I had to host at work. My heart began racing fast, and adrenaline kicked up (this isn’t unusual for me). However, my mind went ahead and grounded itself, and refocused on the task at hand and the information that I had to share. I then noticed those uncomfortable feelings actually lessened and never rose again to those levels. This was eye-opening to me as it showed me that focus on the task at hand is most important to perform in just about any situation.
How to Do Exteroceptive Meditation?
To practice exteroceptive meditation, pick a point or thing outside of your body and try to focus solely on it. It can be a point in the horizon, an object in your near area, even a person in the distance (that could be creepy). Anything at all. Try to focus on this 100%. You will find that your mind will wonder. When it does just try to refocus on your chosen object. Huberman recommends doing this for at least 3 minutes whenever you choose to do it. I like to try and do it everyday in the morning, so I make it part of my routine and create consistency.
This seems to be a new topic of discussion and is just starting to gain popularity. When I try to research it, the content I see around exteroceptive meditation is very scarce. There were some forums, reddit threads, and videos, however that can help get you started if you are looking for more resources. Let me know how exteroceptive meditation has gone for you and if you have had any benefits!