Which Type of Meditation is Best?
The Best Types of Meditation for Beginners — Mindfulness & Awareness
Once people understand there’s more than one type of meditation their next question is usually, which type is best? Meditation isn’t ranked on a worst, better, best scale – each type is different and helps us work with the mind in varying ways. The meditation practice that resonates with you most is a very good place to start. Our rundown of different meditation techniques starts with two of the most common forms of meditation: mindfulness and awareness.
Mindfulness Meditation (Shamatha)
Mindfulness is a commonly used term that refers to present-moment awareness. During mindfulness meditation, which is a rough translation of the Sanskrit term shamatha meditation, we connect to the present moment by anchoring the mind to a single point of focus. Common focal points include the breath or physical sensation in the body.
During practice, we kindly and curiously rest the mind on the focal point. When we notice the mind has wandered elsewhere, which it tends to do, we simply return to the focal point. Over time, we notice sooner when the mind has wandered, we return to the object of focus more quickly, and the mind wanders less. Mindfulness meditation hones our concentration skills and also, quiets the incessantly chattering mind. This reduces stress, leads to greater ease, and promotes clarity.
Mindfulness meditation is among the best types of meditation for beginners because it provides us with a strong foundation in focus and stability.
Awareness Meditation (Vipashyana)
The focus and evenness of mind that’s established with mindfulness meditation can then be applied to awareness meditation. Awareness meditation is a practice that invites insight via first a contemplative investigation of the mind and how it works, which leads to a more direct experiential knowing.
In mindfulness meditation we may observe thoughts or emotions, feelings and sensations, but the intent is to allow them to dissipate by continually returning to our original point of focus, such as the breath. In awareness meditation, thoughts and emotions themselves, in fact all the contents of mind, can become the focal point of our meditation.
We might ask, from where did this thought arise? Is this thought part of me, or separate from me? What exactly is this “me”? Where does this thought go when it passes, and what exists in the space between thoughts?
On the surface, initially awareness meditation seems very intellectual, but this practiced contemplation actually shifts us away from the thinking mind toward a direct experience of the mind’s true nature. In later stages, awareness is entirely experiential, resting in the confidence of a non-distracted experience of being. In Buddhist meditation, both shamatha and vipashyana are practiced in an interrelated way to foster development on the spiritual path.
Different Meditation Techniques
Mindfulness and awareness are the foundation of most meditative practices, but there’s more to discover. Meditation types can be differentiated based on the origin of the practice, the intent or goal of the practice, or the method of practice, such as mantra, visualization or moving meditation.
- Differing Origins
Most forms of meditation today have Buddhist origins, but that doesn’t mean they come from a single, unchanging source. Buddhist meditation includes Tibetan, Zen, Theravada and Mahayana practices among many others. Some improve concentration, others deepen insight with contemplation, expand our capacity for compassion, and bring us closer to something greater than ourselves.
- Differing Intent
Even a single type of meditation such as mindfulness can vary depending on the intent of the practice. Mindfulness meditation for pain might look like lovingly observing sensation in the body, while mindfulness meditation for stress might focus on calm, patient breath. Walking meditation, for example, could be practiced as a mindfulness or awareness meditation.
- Differing Methods
Sometimes the goals of meditation are universal, such as greater peace and clarity of mind, but it’s the technique used that changes. Some find chanting or repeating a mantra protects the mind from wandering and develops greater focus, while for others, it’s the repeated return to the anchor of breath. Getting to know the mind takes many forms, and no one method is best.
The Best Type of Meditation for You
One thing all forms of meditation have in common is the need for consistent practice. Sticking to one method allows us to experience deeper insight and greater benefits. So the best meditation for you may be the one you feel most called to practice. For starters, you could check out an online course that focuses on mindfulness of the breath. As you acquaint yourself with the method, you’ll find meditation is indeed as unique and varied as we are, and there’s no one type that’s better than the rest.