We talk about meditation as if it’s just one simple thing. It’s not. There are a number of ways to meditate. Each has benefits, and most people find that some kinds work better than others.
This primer will introduce you to six styles of meditation. We’ll go over a brief description of the benefits, how to practice, and who might benefit most from each particular style. You can then do some deeper research into the one(s) that you feel drawn to.
It’s important to note that within each style, there are often subtypes that you can explore as well.
Most important is to remember that there is no one right way to meditate, so you should feel free to explore and experiment and see what works best for you.
Mindfulness encourages awareness and presence in the current moment. It’s also fairly common across all the meditation styles. But it can be a practice all its own as well.
Mindfulness can be practiced as a true meditation when you sit down and take notice of your surroundings for your practice. But it can also be done other times and places, such as waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in a doctor’s office waiting to be seen.
Mindfulness is about noting what’s going on around you — the sights, sounds, smells, textures, etc. It can be done as you eat a meal, read a book, stand in line, and literally just about anything else you can do in life.
Mindfulness takes your attention away from the past and the future and focuses it solely on the present moment. If you tend to dwell on past events or worry about the future, mindfulness can be a good way to stop yourself from doing that.
Mindfulness benefits include reduced stress, improved sleep, decreased chronic pain, and lower blood pressure. It’s great for overthinkers, those who struggle to focus and are easily distracted, and anyone who deals with a lot of stress.
Breath awareness meditation
Breath awareness is another form of mindful meditation, except it focuses on the breath rather than your surroundings.
Breath awareness has a number of benefits, including reducing anxiety, increasing concentration, and regulating your emotions.
It also has the benefit of being able to be done any time, anywhere, since the only thing you need is your breath.
Breath awareness can be done in a number of ways, including simply paying attention to your breathing, breathing to counts of 4 or 6, or focusing on the breath in a specific part of the body, such as when it enters your nose or when it causes your belly to rise. It can also be becoming aware of how it feels throughout your body, moving from one part to another to note the different sensations and responses.
Breath awareness meditations can be great for anyone dealing with anxiety, ADHD or going through an emotionally trying time.
Loving-kindness meditations are all about opening your heart and sending love to others, including people you dislike, those who have wronged you, and even sources of stress. Loving-kindness meditations can even be used to increase self-love.
Usually, you start by opening up to receiving loving-kindness. Then you’ll begin sending it to others, typically by starting with someone you deeply love, then moving to someone you like, and so on, until you are sending loving-kindness to the world at large.
This can be a great meditation to cultivate compassion and generosity and is often helpful to those who struggle with anger, resentment, frustration, conflict with others and complicated relationships. Benefits include improved health and wellbeing, better relationships, and increasing positive emotions while decreasing negative ones.
Transcendental meditation focuses on a mantra. It’s a more spiritual form of meditation. Often, your mantra is given to you by your teacher, and the teacher is specifically trained in transcendental meditation.
The purpose is to rise above, or transcend, your current situation. It can be a different and very unique meditation experience, but it can also overwhelm you if you’re not prepared for it.
Benefits include a greater sense of clarity and increased productivity, increased calm throughout the day, a lower risk of heart attack or stroke, improved brain function and concentration.
Body scan meditation
Body scan, and progressive relaxation, meditations are focused on easing stress and tension in the physical body rather than focusing on the mind. These are great for those who hold stress and tension in their bodies and often struggle to release it.
A body scan is done by simply scanning your body and noting areas of tension and tightness. Once you identify an area that is tense or tight, you then focus on releasing it. You start at one end of the body, either the head or the feet, and work your way to the other end. You might then work your way back, or start over in the same direction, to see if you can notice a difference in how you feel. This can often be a great meditation before bed.
A progressive relaxation meditation is similar. Many progressive relaxation meditations have the individual focus first on tensing an area of the body, then relaxing it, in order to relax the body, rather than simply looking for areas that are already tense. A progressive relaxation meditation can be useful if you struggle to identify tense and tight areas of the body with a scan. However, it’s also possible to cause muscle cramps by tensing your muscles too tightly or too long, so it’s important to be careful.
Body scan meditation benefits include relaxation, tension relief, and in the longer term, greater awareness of your body. This awareness can lead to a number of other positive changes, such as being more alert to changes in how your physical body feels and feeling more in tune with your body which can lead to better health, sex, and more.
Guided meditation can actually be a little misguided as a style. Any of the meditations listed above can be guided simply by listening to someone else guide you through it.
Guided meditation also exists as a style on its own. When most people think of guided meditation, they think of guided imagery or visualization meditations — the ones that encourage you to envision a beautiful beach, a peaceful forest, or floating in outer space.
Guided meditations, whether they are imagery or another form of meditation that you’re being guided through, serve several purposes. They can provide direction, which is very helpful to a beginner or someone who is finding themselves easily distracted.
They can also give your mind a break. When your mind is constantly going while trying other forms of meditation, guided meditations provide your mind with something specific to focus on and provide an outside source (the guide) to keep you on track.
Guided meditations are often the first that beginners try when coming to meditation. They are also often some of the easiest.
Some of the benefits can include increased imagination and creativity, more patience and tolerance, increased self-awareness, better stress management, and relaxation.
Try one or try them all
This list isn’t a complete list. There are many other styles of meditation, including Zen and Kundalini. It’s important for anyone interested in meditation to do their research and experiment with what feels right to them.
Finding the right teacher can also be important. Ask plenty of questions, and don’t let anyone pressure you into practicing a style of meditation that doesn’t feel good to you. You know what’s right for you. The right teacher should not only understand that, but facilitate it.
Don’t hesitate to blend more than one style into something that works for you, too. Meditation is a personal experience, even when done with a teacher or in a group, so make sure it’s what you enjoy. That will create a sustainable, consistent practice that will change your life.