Some form of meditation is practiced in virtually every community throughout the world. An ancient tradition, meditation is as relevant in today’s busy world as it ever was. It can lead us to discover a sense of calmness and inner harmony and can help us cope with the pressures of everyday life. Meditation cuts across different religions and cultures. It’s less about the faith we subscribe to and more about becoming more mindful, focused, and peaceful; more aware of our thoughts, speech, and actions; and more attuned to how our choices affect others.
Today’s busy schedules seem tailor-made for a buildup of stress. Meditation is a very grounded and effective way to relieve stress while also promoting self-awareness. Just as there are many different reasons why people meditate, there are many different kinds of meditation. Knowing something about them can help us choose which ones are right for us.
Six different meditation techniques:
1. Spiritual Meditation
Meditation is an essential part of Eastern spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism, but did you know that it is practiced in many Judeo-Christian traditions and other spiritual paths as well? Depending on the tradition, spiritual meditation may also include elements of silent, spoken, or chanted prayer. When practiced within a religious context, meditation supports a deeper connection with the Divine. In non-theistic traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism, meditation is more focused on self-awareness and self-actualization. In that sense, non-theistic spiritual meditation supports practitioners in becoming the best human beings that they can be. Whether secular or non-secular, the insights that are brought to light through spiritual meditation can help us develop qualities of benevolence and connection.
Good venues for your spiritual meditation practice might be at home, at your preferred place of worship, or in nature. It is well-suited for individuals seeking spiritual growth as well as those who appreciate setting time aside for self-reflection. True spiritual meditation always includes elements of lovingkindness and compassion, and if we are looking to be of service to others, the insights that we can gain from our practice are invaluable.
2. Mindfulness Meditation
This meditation technique, which has become extremely popular in the West, is based on the teachings of the Buddha. Mindfulness meditation can be instrumental in helping us understand how our minds work. This self-knowledge serves as a foundation for overcoming dissatisfaction, impatience, intolerance and many of the other habits that keep us from living fuller, happier lives.
There are several steps to follow if you want to become skilled at this technique. These include:
- Acknowledging your reality, beginning with being mindful of your body and thoughts;
- Observing your mind and recognizing each thought that arises without judging or manipulating it;
- Coming back to the object of meditation, such as the breath; and
- Learning to rest in and appreciate the present moment.
Mindfulness combines concentration with awareness. All that’s required is a disciplined meditation posture, a straight back, and a willingness to be honest with yourself. The best-known focus of mindfulness meditation is the breath; impartial observation of physical sensations is another common technique. Whenever you find your thoughts wandering, simply notice them without judgment, and bring your attention back to your breath. Mindfulness practice has been shown to reduce depression, stress, and anxiety. In addition, it fosters resilience, a timely quality that helps you cope with difficult situations without losing your peace of mind.
3. Movement Meditation
Many forms of meditation encourage you to remain in one position, but movement meditation focuses on the body in motion. Walking meditation is one form of mindful movement; this technique can also be associated with yoga or tai chi and other martial arts. Having a commitment to some form of physical discipline is very beneficial. Once you are able to be present in your body during movement meditation, you can expand your awareness to include just about anything that keeps you moving: gardening, walking the dog, washing up, playing golf, etc. In each case, the movement of your body is the object of meditation.
This technique can be combined with mindful sitting meditation. It can be a good choice for people who have trouble sitting still for long periods, as well as for those who naturally find it easier to concentrate while they’re moving.
4. Focused Meditation
In this technique, we concentrate exclusively on whatever it is that we are doing: it is the exact opposite of multi-tasking. We witness and admire the exceptional power of concentration of athletes, musicians, chess-players and the like, and we may forget that to succeed in life, we too have to be able to focus on the task at hand. We’ve led ourselves to believe multi-tasking is necessary to get everything done on our to-do lists, but we’re only really doing one thing at a time anyway. This jumping around between many thoughts and activities leads to a scattered mind and a lot of dissatisfaction.
One traditional kind of focused meditation involves drinking a cup of tea. Here, you train in stopping all other forms of activity – no checking your cell phone, no jumping up to let the cat out, no adding to the shopping list – and focus your attention exclusively to drinking your cup of tea. You might notice the sensation of warmth, the aroma, the heft of the cup in your hands. Whenever the mind wanders, you come back to drinking tea.
Whatever the object of your meditation, you should focus your entire attention on it. When you’re eating, you’re aware of the sensations connected with eating; when you’re exercising, you’re aware of the sensations connected with exercising. If you notice that your mind is wandering, you simply acknowledge that and bring your focus back to what you’re doing. With commitment to the practice, your ability to concentrate will improve and you may rediscover the joy of being present.
5. Visualization Meditation
In this meditation technique, an image that creates a particular feeling or quality is brought to mind. In a simple way, we can close our eyes and imagine a beautiful mountain lake, an open sky, a familiar landscape, or any other visualization that speaks to us. In one well-known mindfulness exercise, we imagine our thoughts and emotions as being leaves on a stream that the current gently sweeps downstream. This is said to give meditators distance from unwelcome mental activity and bring a sense of peace.
On a more formal level, visualization meditations belonging to the Tibetan tradition are generally specific religious practices. During these practices, visualizing a mandala or meditation deity gives practitioners a basis for cultivating innate qualities such as compassion and wisdom. Because of the complexity of this kind of spiritual practice, it is essential that instructions be received from a skilled teacher beforehand with a serious commitment from the student to practice.
Some people think visualization meditation is a kind of escape from the world, since we imagine something that isn’t really there. But if we stop to think about it, we realize that much of what goes on in our minds throughout the day involves reviving memories of the past or focusing on hopes and fears for the future – and these aren’t really there either! Visualization is a technique that uses this powerfully creative aspect of mind for positive personal transformation.
6. Chanting Meditation
Many spiritual paths, from Western religions to Buddhist and Hindu traditions, recommend chanting and mantra meditation. While chanting, the mind should be focused on the sound of the words and melody. Western traditions also encourage contemplation of meaning. In mantra meditation and other Eastern traditions, a repetitive sound, word, or phrase is used to clear the mind and allow our spiritual strengths to reveal themselves. Mantras are sometimes accompanied by a melody, but not always. “Om” is one common sound used in mantra meditation.
Those who enjoy chanting meditation often discover that their practice cultivates a peaceful, yet alert, state of mind. As a spiritual practice it fosters deeper awareness and a stronger connection to positive human qualities such as compassion and confidence. As with any true spiritual practice, it is important to find a qualified teacher.
There you have it, six tried-and-true types of meditation. There is scientific proof linking meditation to improved sleep, reduced anxiety, lower blood pressure, decreased pain and a myriad of other health benefits. Add to these increased self-awareness, tolerance, resilience, and understanding, and you’ve got a win-win. Whatever form of meditation you choose, you will discover that committing to a regular meditation practice gives rise to an abundance of holistic benefits.
Mindworks: Guided Meditation App is a great resource to learn to meditate, or to deepen your practice. While many meditation apps present a popularized notion of meditation, the Mindworks App draws from the combined experience of an international team of meditation experts. Download the free app today. Also check out another popular blog post, “How Does Meditation Reduce Stress?“