Meditation is a powerful practice that benefits people in all areas of life. However, beginning a meditation practice can seem complicated or overwhelming. Fortunately, with so many techniques for approaching meditation, finding a method compatible with any need or lifestyle is easy. In this article, we’ll explain some common meditation techniques to help you discover an approach that feels right for you.
Types of meditation
Essentially, meditation is a process that familiarizes ourselves with our minds. Accordingly, most techniques are intended to calm the mind, observe the mind, or change mental patterns. This can help us to find inner peace, give us a break from physical or mental stress, or provide insight into parts of life that we don’t always take the time to question or examine.
Most basic meditation practices fall into the following categories: breath-based, observation/relaxation of the body, visualization, mantra, movement, or contemplative/analytical meditation.
The most common type of meditation, breath-based meditation, is just as it sounds – watching your breath as you inhale and exhale. There are various ways to do this, including:
- Labeling inhalations and exhalations
- Counting breaths
- Observing the movement or depth of breath as it flows through the abdomen or nostrils
Breathing meditation practices are simple and approachable for people of all ages, backgrounds, and belief systems.
Consider breath-based meditation if you are:
- Looking for a straight-forward, non-guided meditation technique
- Feeling stressed, anxious, or nervous
- Short on time (or, in general, feeling rushed in life)
Observation/relaxation of the body
Another concept common to many meditation practices is using the body as an object of meditation. Meditation techniques that fall into this category can be performed either sitting or lying down. These practices include:
- Body scan: mentally scanning up and down the body and making a note of any discomfort, pain, or other sensations
- Body relaxation: methodologically identifying points in the body and intentionally relaxing them
- Observing energy: feeling or moving energy or energetic sensations as they flow through the body
Consider body-based meditation techniques if you are:
- Using meditation as a form of relaxation
- Often distracted or fixated on pain or other issues with the body
- Sensitive to energy
Visualization meditation utilizes the mind’s eye to envision a desired image or scene. This can be simple as focusing the mind on a color, symbol, or feeling. However, visualization is also used in yogic traditions and some sects of Buddhism. In these cases, visualizations often include complex geometric patterns or images of deities.
Furthermore, the visualization category encompasses the variety of concentration exercises that are largely accessible today via videos, podcasts, applications, and in-person classes. These sessions are typically designed to help followers move through certain habits, patterns, or intentions in life.
Consider visualization meditation if you are:
- Inclined to think in images
- Connected to certain symbols, patterns, animals, colors, etc.
- Using meditation to achieve a specific outcome/result
A mantra is a syllable, word, or phrase repeated as a meditative process. It’s common for mantras to be recited in ancient languages that emphasize the power of sound vibration in the body (Sanskrit, Pali, etc.). However, it’s also possible to make up a unique mantra in your language; any word, phrase, or intention in English can also be a mantra.
Mantra meditation can be a helpful tool to soothe the mind, change its patterns, or affirm or reinforce a value or quality you want to embody. To practice mantra meditation, you can either recite or chant a mantra aloud or repeat it silently in your mind.
Consider mantra meditation if you:
- Feel a connection to music, chanting, or sound vibration
- Have a certain mantra, phrase, or affirmation that resonates with you (or a desire for one)
- Tend to feel “stuck” in webs of thought
Although we generally think of meditation as a seated practice, it’s possible (and, actually, ideal) to maintain a meditative state of mind throughout everything we do. Movement meditation can help with this and comes in many shapes and forms. A few examples of these approaches throughout history include:
- Walking meditation (used in many traditions of Buddhism)
- The “whirling” of the dervishes in Sufism
- Chi Gong
Consider movement-based meditation if you:
- Have a strong connection between the mind and body
- Find it challenging to sit still
- Desire to take steps towards mindfulness/presence in daily activity
Some traditions also use the term “meditation” to describe the process of the mind questioning the mind. These techniques are best approached through a qualified teacher. However, examples in this category include:
- Self-inquiry (asking yourself, “Who am I?)
- Analytical meditation used in some Buddhist traditions
- Guided concentration exercises that involve “meditating” on a topic
Consider contemplative or analytical meditation if you are:
- Curious about spiritual philosophy and the larger questions in life
- Facing specific or recurring challenges
- Seeking guided meditation
If you are new to meditation, it can be helpful to try various types, both guided and self-guided, to see what works for you. However, when establishing a consistent meditation routine, choose one technique – and stick to it!
Rest assured, all meditation is beneficial (even if it doesn’t feel that way), and there is no “bad” meditation. Meditation techniques can be compared to different paths up a mountain; they might take different forms along the way. Ultimately, any meditation technique you commit to will allow for personal growth and holistic well-being.
Ancient and modern-day meditation techniques are numerous but tend to fall into a few basic categories: breath-based, body-based, mantra, movement, and contemplative.
It’s helpful to approach meditation techniques with an open mind – and to choose one based on your unique inclinations and feelings of receptivity.
When starting a basic meditation practice, experiment. Remember that any meditation technique you can stick with is the one that’s best for you!