What meditation is all about
Meditation is a technique used for thousands of years to develop awareness of the present moment.
It can involve practices to sharpen focus and attention, connect to the body and breath, develop acceptance of difficult emotions, and even alter consciousness. It’s been shown to offer a number of physical and psychological benefits like stress reduction and improved immunity.
While many spiritual traditions include meditation as a part of their teachings and practices, the technique itself doesn’t belong to any particular religion or faith. Though ancient in origin, it’s still practiced today in cultures all over the world to create a sense of peace, calm, and inner harmony.
Meditation may offer a solution to the growing need to reduce stress in the midst of busy schedules and demanding lives.
Although there isn’t a right or wrong way to meditate, it’s important to find a practice that meets your needs.
There are nine popular types of meditation practice:
- mindfulness meditation
- spiritual meditation
- focused meditation
- movement meditation
- mantra meditation
- transcendental meditation
- progressive relaxation
- loving-kindness meditation
- visualization meditation
1. Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation originates from Buddhist teachings and is the most popular and researched form of meditation in the West.
In mindfulness meditation, you pay attention to your thoughts as they pass through your mind. You don’t judge the thoughts or become involved with them. You simply observe and take note of any patterns.
This practice combines concentration with awareness. You may find it helpful to focus on an object or your breath while you observe any bodily sensations, thoughts, or feelings.
This type of meditation is good for people who don’t have a teacher to guide them, as it can be easily practiced alone.
2. Spiritual meditation
Spiritual meditation is used in nearly all religions and spiritual traditions.
The types of spiritual meditation are as diverse as the world’s spiritual traditions themselves. Many of the meditation techniques listed in this article could be considered spiritual meditation.
According to a 2017 study, spiritual meditation focuses on developing a deeper understanding of spiritual/religious meaning and connection with a higher power. Examples include:
- Christian contemplative prayer
- Sufi dhikr (remembrance of God)
- Jewish kabbalistic practices
Spiritual meditation can be practiced at home or in a place of worship. This practice is beneficial for those who seek spiritual growth and a deeper connection to a higher power or spiritual force.
3. Focused meditation
Focused meditation involves concentration using any of the five senses.
For example, you can focus on something internal, like your breath, or you can bring in external influences to help focus your attention.
- counting mala beads
- listening to a gong
- staring at a candle flame
- counting your breaths
- moon gazing
This practice may be simple in theory, but it can be difficult for beginners to hold their focus for longer than a few minutes at first.
If your mind does wander, simply come back to the practice and refocus.
As the name suggests, this practice is ideal for anyone who wants to sharpen their focus and attention.
4. Movement meditation
Although most people think of yoga when they hear movement meditation, this practice may include:
- qi gong
- tai chi
- other gentle forms of movement
This is an active form of meditation where the movement guides you into a deeper connection with your body and the present moment.
Movement meditation is good for people who find peace in action and want to develop body awareness.
5. Mantra meditation
Mantra meditation is prominent in many teachings, including Hindu and Buddhist traditions. This type of meditation uses a repetitive sound to clear the mind. It can be a word, phrase, or sound, one of the most common being “om.”
Your mantra can be spoken loudly or quietly. After chanting the mantra for some time, you’ll be more alert and in tune with your environment. This allows you to experience deeper levels of awareness.
Some people enjoy mantra meditation because they find it easier to focus on a word than on their breath. Others enjoy feeling the vibration of the sound in their body.
This is also a good practice for people who don’t like silence and enjoy repetition.
6. Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a type of meditation that’s been the subject of numerous studies in the scientific community.
TM was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and refers to a specific practice designed to quiet the mind and induce a state of calm and peace. It involves the use of mantra and is best taught by a certified TM practitioner.
This practice is for those who want an accessible approach to the depth that meditation offers.
7. Progressive relaxation
Also known as body scan meditation, progressive relaxation is a practice aimed at reducing tension in the body and promoting relaxation.
Oftentimes, this form of meditation involves slowly tightening and relaxing one muscle group at a time throughout the body.
In some cases, it may also encourage you to imagine a gentle wave flowing through your body to help release any tension.
This form of meditation is often used to relieve stress and unwind before bedtime.
8. Loving-kindness meditation
Loving-kindness meditation is used to strengthen feelings of compassion, kindness, and acceptance toward oneself and others.
It typically involves opening the mind to receive love from others and then sending well wishes to loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and all living beings.
Because this type of meditation is intended to promote compassion and kindness, it may be ideal for those holding feelings of anger or resentment.
9. Visualization meditation
Visualization meditation is a technique focused on enhancing feelings of relaxation, peace, and calmness by visualizing positive scenes, images, or figures.
This practice involves imagining a scene vividly and using all five senses to add as much detail as possible. It can also involve holding a beloved or honored figure in mind with the intention of embodying their qualities.
Another form of visualization meditation involves imagining yourself succeeding at specific goals, which is intended to increase focus and motivation.
Many people use visualization meditation to boost their mood, reduce stress levels, and promote inner peace.
How to get started
The easiest way to begin is to sit quietly and focus on your breath. An old Zen saying suggests, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
All kidding aside, it’s best to start in small increments of time, even 5 or 10 minutes, and grow from there.
Why meditation is beneficial
There’s plenty of evidence supporting the numerous benefits of meditation.
Meditation can offer general health and mental/emotional benefits, including:
- lower blood pressure
- reduced stress
- better sleep
- improved emotional regulation
- increased focus
- enhanced mood
- reduced aggression
- greater adaptability
- healthier aging process
- a greater sense of empathy and connection with others
A 2017 review noted that non-transcendental meditation may be a “promising alternative approach” for lowering systolic and diastolic blood pressure, while a 2019 review found that mindfulness-based interventions reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol in employees participating in workplace mindfulness programs.
It’s also been shown to encourage prosocial emotions and behaviors, enhance focus and mood, and reduce aggression while also encouraging positive coping strategies in times of stress.
A 2018 review suggests that meditation may contribute to healthy aging.
Meditation may also help with symptoms of specific conditions, including:
- depression and anxiety disorders
- cardiovascular disease, such as arterial hypertension
- dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- chronic pain
When it comes to depression, a 2019 review noted that mindfulness-based meditation has positive effects that may last up to 6 months or more. The same review notes that the lack of negative effects of mindfulness-based interventions makes them a promising supplemental therapy for depression and anxiety disorders.
A 2018 review found that meditation resulted in reductions in cognitive decline and perceived stress as well as increased quality of life, connectivity, and blood flow to the brain.
A 2017 study found low-quality evidence that mindfulness meditation is associated with a small decrease in chronic pain compared with controls. More research is needed to solidify this connection.
The bottom line
Whether you’re looking to reduce stress or find spiritual enlightenment, there’s a meditation practice for you.
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try different types. It often takes a little trial and error until you find the one that fits.
“Meditation isn’t meant to be a forced thing,” Dessy says. “If we’re forcing it, then it becomes a chore. Gentle, regular practice eventually becomes sustaining, supportive, and enjoyable.
“Open yourself up to the possibilities, ” she adds. “There are so many forms of meditation that if one isn’t working or isn’t comfortable, just try a new one.”
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