Choose the meditation that’s right for you.
The word is out: Meditation is good for you. A regular meditation practice helps reduce stress, boosts emotional resilience and improves mental fortitude, along with offering a number of physical benefits such as boosting immunity—the list goes on and on. For some of us, however, just the idea of meditating can be intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be—if you can breathe, you can meditate. You’ve just got to find the techniques that work for you and your lifestyle.
There are endless meditation techniques, hundreds from many spiritual traditions around the world, most notably Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. Plus, many more western methods exist, including a number of mindfulness practices. You really can’t go wrong, but the number of choices can be overwhelming. In the spirit of keeping things light, here’s a fun guide to eight types of meditations to get you started.
What’s your intention ( or why do you want to meditate)?
While meditating in general will help you feel more relaxed, there are different meditations designed for various purposes and to cultivate various qualities of being. Knowing why you want to meditate is the first step in choosing the practice that works for you.
- If you’re continually stressed out … try samatha (calm abiding) meditation.
- If you have an overactive mind and need to focus … try mantra meditation.
- If you’re having difficulty making a decision … try reflective meditation.
- If you need help falling asleep at night … try yoga nidra.
- If you’re on the quest for spiritual transformation … try transcendental meditation.
- If you’re going through a difficult time … try maitri (loving-kindness) meditation.
- If you have something you want to achieve … try guided imagery meditation.
- If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed … try walking meditation.
What’s stopping you from meditating?
Choose a technique that works for your lifestyle and that you’ll stick to; it doesn’t have to be a big deal. When all else fails, you’ve always got your breath. Anywhere, anytime you need it, use the breath to meditate. Simply take a deeper inhale, noticing that you’re breathing in, and exhale, noticing that you’re breathing out, for a few rounds of breath.
- You seriously can’t sit still … try walking meditation.
- You’re way too busy … try a short samatha (calm abiding) meditation.
- You can’t turn off your thoughts … try mantra meditation.
- You can’t make it to a yoga class … try guided imagery meditation or a yoga nidra soundtrack.
Keep it fun!
Try a meditation technique for your personality type.
- Scientist … try transcendental meditation.
- Nurturer … try maitri (loving-kindness) meditation.
- Athlete … try walking meditation.
- Creative … try guided imagery.
- Thinker … try reflective meditation.
- Dreamer … try yoga nidra.
Calm Abiding Meditation
Samatha, or calm abiding, is a basic Buddhist meditation technique known to effectively reduce stress levels that’s been adopted in the West as a popular mindfulness technique. Rather than trying to clear your mind, you simply observe your thoughts as they arise without reacting to them (not judging or attaching to any one thought) as you calmly abide. Using the breath as an anchor, whenever a thought occurs or you notice that you’re thinking, say to yourself “thought” or “thinking” and return your awareness to your breath.
Mantra meditation involves silently repeating a word, syllable or phrase—training the mind to sustain focus. While there are hundreds of mantras in the various spiritual traditions, the most widely known being “om,” it can really be anything you want; however, what you choose as your mantra will have profound effects (so choose wisely). A popular mantra technique in the West is repeating “let” on an inhale and “go” on an exhale.
Yoga nidra means “yogic sleep,” which is a very deep yet conscious state of relaxation. A form of guided meditation, the practice of yoga nidra involves lying comfortably on the floor and following verbal cues that systematically bring your awareness to different parts of the body. Eventually you become aware of your whole body. It’s a powerful meditation for rebalancing the nervous system, reducing symptoms of anxiety. The overall effect is extremely relaxing.
Maitri, or loving kindness, is a beautiful meditation for cultivating compassion and unconditional love for others—as well as yourself. The simple technique involves repeating affirmations—such as “May I (or they) be happy,” “May I be free of pain and suffering,” and “May I (or they) live with ease”—and really feeling the impact of those words. Try placing your hands over your heart, feeling the warmth under your palms as you repeat your well wishes.
Reflective meditation, sometimes referred to as disciplined thinking, is particularly helpful when it comes to being able to make, and trust, your own decisions. Begin by choosing a question or topic of contemplation (I like to write it down) and setting aside time to focus and reflect upon it. At first, your mind will wander off, but eventually you’ll be able to sift through your thoughts and gain more clarity (and confidence!) in your decision-making.
Just as useful as seated meditation, walking meditation is a simple, universal technique that can be done anywhere outdoors. The practice involves a slightly slower, steady and even walking pace that looks more like a moving meditation than a stroll in the park. You begin standing and feeling your feet on the ground, anchoring your awareness in your body. Then, as you walk, pay strict attention to bodily sensations—meditating on the physical experience of walking.
Guided Imagery Meditation
Guided imagery (sometimes called creative visualization) is a powerful tool for consciously cultivating certain qualities of being as well as for making positive changes in your life. Inducing a relaxed yet focused mental state, guided imagery usually involves using an audio recording to focus and direct the imagination; however, it is more than just a visual experience. When done properly, the technique also evokes emotions and senses as the body responds to what you’re visualizing.
Transcendental Meditation (TM)
Associated with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and made popular by pop icons like the Beatles in the 1970s, transcendental meditation is a specific mantra meditation with the goal of reaching deeper, transcendent states of consciousness. TM, which is not taught freely, must be learned from a licensed instructor, who will give you your individual mantra based on your sex and when you were born. However, unlike mantra meditation, TM is billed as an effortless technique that can bring the mind to a state of pure consciousness with consistent practice.
When it comes to developing a regular meditation practice, it’s important to set yourself up for success. Be realistic with your goals and resources (for example, space, time and money). And keep it simple; meditation can take place in a moment with deeper, conscious breath. You don’t have to be seated on a cushion at an altar to meditate. Here are some more tips to help you succeed on your meditation journey:
Keep it short. Start with five minutes or less. You’re better off practicing a few minutes of mindfulness every day than attempting to sit down and meditate for 20 minutes once a week. It’s like building a muscle slowly over time.
Use a timer. When you first start meditating, two minutes can seem like a lifetime. Having a timer totally helps relax the mind. Once your timer is set though, even if you have to come out of your meditation early, try staying seated for the remainder of time. It’s good practice.
Be comfortable. While meditation is traditionally done seated upright on the floor, being comfortable will make or break your practice. So if sitting on the floor doesn’t work for you, try sitting in a chair with both feet flat on the floor, or lie down. Just try not to fall asleep.
Photo credit: 123RF, loganban