Meditation is practiced in cultures all over the world. Although the practice has ties to many different religious teachings, meditation is less about faith and more about freeing oneself from inner conflict, becoming aware and achieving peace. Meditation continues to increase in popularity. There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Styles of meditation include:
Each style or type of mediation practice requires different skills and mindsets. They might be thought of simply as differences in techniques or disciplines, each of which can be used for a variety of purposes, but which often have unexpected side benefits for each person. The best style of meditation for any individual is whatever works.
Mindfulness meditation is the most popular meditation technique in the West. It has its origin in Vipassana or Theravada Buddhism, which comes from Southeast Asia. In mindfulness meditation, the practitioner pays attention to their thoughts – without judgment or becoming involved with them, instead simply observing the thoughts (and feelings) and taking note of any patterns. This practice combines concentration with awareness. It is often helpful to focus on an object or the breath while observing these bodily sensations, thoughts, or feelings.
Transcendental meditation, often referred to simply as “TM,” is a technique for detaching from anxiety and the outside world and promoting harmony and self-realization. It involves repetition of a mantra and other yogic practices. TM is a meditation practice first promulgated by an international organization founded by the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1911–2008). Transcendental meditation was one of the first styles of meditation to come to the West and remains popular. This practice has been the subject of numerous studies. It is generally considered good for those who like structure. TM is learned from another experienced practitioner who has qualified to be a teacher.
Mantra meditation is common in many teachings, including Hindu and Buddhist traditions. A repetitive sound, such as “Om” or sometimes a simple phrase is used to clear the mind. In Catholicism, it might be praying the Rosary. It doesn’t matter if your mantra is spoken loudly or quietly. Some people prefer mantra meditation because they find it easier to focus on a word or phrase than on the breath.
Spiritual meditation strives for deep introspection. It is used in some Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Daoism, as well as in many Christian-based practices as a counterpoint to “prayer” in that the practitioner reflects on the silence all around and seeks a deeper connection with God or the Universe.
This practice is beneficial for those who thrive in silence and seek non-specific spiritual growth. It can be practiced at home or at a community place of worship. Essential oils and incense are often used to heighten the experience.
Focused, or concentration, meditation involves using the five senses, usually focusing on one. For example, the practitioner might focus on their breath. Alternatively, they might bring in external influences to help focus attention. This practice can be difficult for beginners. When learning, the mind will wander. Simply “come back” and refocus.
Most people think of yoga when they hear movement meditation. This is one type. Others include qigong, dance, walking, even gardening, as long as the movement is focused on and is intentional. Dancelike movement is central to Sufism. It is an active form of meditation where the movement can guide and inform the practitioner.
Body Scanning and Relaxation
Body scan meditation, also known as progressive relaxation, is a practice aimed at reducing tension in the body and promoting physical relaxation. This form of meditation usually begins with slowly tightening and then relaxing one muscle group at a time. Some practitioners of this meditation style imagine a gentle wave flowing through their body to help release tension. It is often a part of biofeedback, which is used to control pain.
Loving-kindness (often known as “metta”) meditation is used to develop and strengthen feelings of compassion, kindness, and acceptance toward oneself and others. It typically involves opening the mind to love from others and then sending love and well wishes to family, friends, acquaintances, and all living beings. It is often considered an antidote to anger and resentment.
Visualization meditation is a technique that focuses on enhancing feelings of relaxation, peace, and calmness by visualizing positive scenes or images. With this practice, the individual is encouraged to imagine a scene vividly, using all five senses to add as much detail as possible. Another form of visualization meditation involves imagining oneself succeeding at specific goals; to increase focus and motivation. In the West, this is, in a way, a type of “positive-thinking,” though not in the same way we often think of the term. More accurately, it might be called “manifestation”. Many people use visualization meditation to boost their mood and self-esteem, reduce stress levels, and promote inner peace.
Having a teacher or coach can be very helpful, particularly as the new practitioner begins to explores the types or styles of meditation that works best for them. Practitioners will often cycle through several different styles until the most suitable is found. Additionally, meditating in groups, particularly those led by a skillful teacher, can be rewarding.
The easiest way to begin meditation is to sit quietly and focus on breathing, starting with shorter periods of time, perhaps five to 10 minutes. If the mind wanders, simply recognize it and come back to the breath. Meditating on a regular and recurring basis is generally considered more important and valuable than less frequent and irregular periods of meditation, even if for longer periods of time.
There are many benefits of regular meditation. It can help reduce anxiety, manage and even decrease physical pain, ease symptoms of depression, and improve sleep. There are many studies on meditation and its benefits. Those who follow a regular meditation practice often quickly confirm the benefits in their own lives.