The practice of what we now call meditation is thousands of years old, likely originating in ancient India and spreading to China and other parts of Asia. Even in today’s technologically advanced society, we’re still practicing, exploring, and evolving meditation practices, attempting to take advantage of its many benefits, from mere relaxation and increased focus, to mental health benefits for those who suffer from depression, to physical health benefits such as reduced blood pressure and improved fitness.
For many people, the question is not whether to get involved in meditation–the evidence for positive effects is both anecdotal and based on scientific evidence. And so it may be more of a question of what kind of meditation to take up. While almost all forms of meditation bear some similarities to each other, there are many “flavors” of meditation–everything from simply sitting quietly for a few minutes each day, to intense professional training sessions, to difficult exercise and stretching routines like those practiced in yoga.
In this article we’ll break down and describe a few different various types of meditation.
Mindfulness meditationThis basic type of meditation is meant to calm the mind, let go of negative feelings and thoughts, and be aware of the present moment. It can be as formal or informal as you like, but typically involves assuming a relaxed posture (sitting or lying down), deep and deliberate breathing, and concentrating on your breath, body, or some other object. Once a level of mindfulness has been reached, you then acknowledge and become aware of your own thoughts and feelings without engaging, judging, or dwelling upon them. Individual mindfulness meditation can be effectively practiced with very little research or training, though those seeking a more disciplined experience or more dramatic results have other options to turn to (see below).
Movement meditationMindfulness meditation may also be practiced during certain kinds of movement. Walking in a peaceful setting, washing dishes, gardening, and other activities that center around gentle, repetitive motions and tasks can be used to achieve a mindful, meditative state. Activities that require more movement (such as hiking, tennis, fly-fishing, or painting) can likewise be utilized to induce a mindful, meditative state. Indeed, during activities that require some level of skill, the meditative state can help improve your skill while the activity improves your meditation (this is sometimes known as “flow” or “getting into the zone”). And if such activities fail to provide the desired meditative rigor, practices such as tai chi, qi gong, and yoga are more-disciplined forms of movement meditation. These involve set movement routines ranging in difficulty from very gentle to quite strenuous. With practice and training, these types of movement meditation can bring about profound mindfulness as well as physical exercise and flexibility stretching.
Guided meditationGuided meditation is similar to mindfulness meditation and has much the same objective–to achieve mindfulness, dwell in the present moment, calm the mind and body, and let go of negativity. As the name suggests, however, guided meditation is practiced with the aid of a guide or instructor. Guided meditation is a great option for those who find themselves distracted, unfocussed, drowsy, or otherwise unable to practice meditation alone. In this form of meditation, the guide’s voice will walk you through each meditative step, issuing reminders about how to breathe, how to acknowledge thoughts and feelings without engaging or dwelling upon them, and how to remain in a meditative state for the desired time period. Tai chi, qi gong, and yoga are typically practiced with the aid of instructors, especially for beginners. Guided meditation need not involve a guide who is present–videos and recordings may also be used. Some who practice guided meditation will eventually memorize and internalize the steps and procedures of meditation and become able to meditate on their own.
Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR)Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a rigorous, evidence-based mindfulness-training program designed to non-pharmacologically treat the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and certain types of pain. It is considered “evidence based” because it has been shown through clinical study and review to ease some mental disorders. MBSR was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who in 1979 founded the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The program has undergone many updates and refinements over the years, and its practice has only grown more widespread. The training is lengthy and extensive, administered only by certified trainers and stretching over an 8-week period, which includes a one-day, 7.5-hour retreat. MBSR is not only said to treat and ease the symptoms of mental disorders, it is also said to impart to users more clarity, self-awareness, and serenity in everyday life.
Transcendental meditationTranscendental meditation is similar to other forms of meditation, but it utilizes a mantra (a repeated word, chant, or sound) to “transcend” ordinary awareness and achieve the desired meditative state. In this form of meditation, the mantra itself is the object of focus for the person who is meditating, as opposed to one’s own breathing, body parts, or an external object. The most common mantra is the word “om” (rhymes with “Rome”), which is the sound professed in Hindu scripture to be the primordial sound or vibrational frequency of the universe. Any repeated word or sound can be used in transcendental meditation, however, and many practitioners choose an affirming phrase of positive self-talk, such as “I am enough,” or “I am strong.”