Meditation is one of those things that many of us shy away from because we either don’t understand how it works or have tried it and didn’t find it helpful.
However, as a way of de-stressing, finding focus and improving your mental health, meditation can be an extremely useful part of your weekly routine.
What most people don’t know, is that there are lots of different types of meditation. If you have an image of someone sitting stock still, legs crossed and eyes closed (perhaps even humming to themselves) then, think again. This form of meditation is just one way of doing it. And it might not be the right way for you.
To find out which type of meditation might suit you best, keep reading!
One size doesn’t fit all
When it comes to meditation, it’s easy to assume that this means one kind of activity that is done using a specific technique. However, that’s not the case.
Think of the term meditation like the term sport. It’s an umbrella term that encompasses lots of different disciplines, each with its own techniques and benefits. There are hundreds of sports and hundreds of ways to meditate.
Meditation can be done sitting or standing. You can be still or incorporate movement. You can meditate to music or chanting, or be in silence. Meditation can be a long practice for an hour or more, or just a quick 10-minute timeout.
Ultimately, it’s about taking the time to explore different methods and find what works for you.
Different kinds of meditation can also have unique effects and your personality type and life experiences can determine how you respond to each. You might find that one type of meditation isn’t great for you, but another works really well. So, if you’ve had an unsuccessful attempt with meditation before, don’t write it off completely. Try a different kind to see how you get on with that instead.
Different types of meditation techniques
Broadly, there are two main types of meditation:
1) Open-monitoring techniques
These techniques involve being open to anything that enters your awareness, such as feelings, thoughts or sounds. The idea is that you simply observe or ‘monitor’ these thoughts or sensations without judgement or reaction. Open-monitoring techniques improve your ability to relax.
2) Focused attention techniques
These require you to focus on a specific object, sound or word. Typically, that might be something like your breath or the repetition of a particular mantra. Focused attention techniques increase your ability to concentrate.
Within each of these categories there are lots of specific meditation practices to try. Here are a few of the most popular types.
Learning to be mindful is a useful skill that can help in all sorts of everyday situations at work or home, or in specific circumstances such as during treatment or to help cope with stress and anxiety. Mindfulness meditation (sometimes also known as observing-thought meditation) involves relaxing, being quiet and just observing or ‘monitoring’ our thoughts and surroundings. Usually this might be done sitting or lying still, but actually the same practice can be done on the move, for example, while taking a shower, riding a bike or just walking down the street.
This involves focusing on a specific word or phrase, commonly something like a positive affirmation that has personal meaning at that point in time. As you meditate, you try to match the repetition of the mantra to the flow of your breath. For example, you may say out loud, or think, half of the mantra as you inhale, and do the other half as you exhale. The idea is to picture the words, giving them shape, colour and size. When your mind starts to wander, you bring your thoughts back to the breath and start over with the mantra.
This is a very specific type of meditation that is taught by licensed instructors from a non-profit organization. It involves engaging in a certain kind of mantra meditation for 15-20 minutes a day, twice a day and research suggests that it has numerous health benefits, including stress reduction and improved cardiovascular health. However, there are many people who criticize the commercialized nature of this method and you would have to pay a fee to learn it.
This technique involves focusing on feelings of compassion towards yourself, your loved ones and the universe in general. It’s literally about feeling and sending out good vibes. The practice typically starts by wishing well to yourself and then working round to those around you. It often includes mantras such like “May I be well, safe and happy”.
Some research has shown that this kind of meditation may be beneficial for helping sufferers of depression and PTSD because it helps to improve connectedness and encourage positive emotions.
The clue is in the title here, as this technique involves focusing on a sound, such as ambient music, gongs, white noise or bird song. Sound (music in particular) can a very powerful motivator and can make us cry, laugh, feel energized or relax. During a sound meditation, you allow the music or sound to just flow over you and focus on how the vibrations feel.
With movement meditation, as the title suggests, you focus on the movement of your body, often matching your movements to your breath, as in yoga. This matching of breath and movement helps you to focus on just what is happening in that moment.
This type of meditation isn’t limited to yoga, although that’s probably the most common type of practice. You can also do it while swimming, cycling, dancing or walking. It’s about being mindful with every step and focusing on how your body feels as you do so.
This practice is really good for improving your creative and imaginative skills and focusing on specific goals. To do this you need to paint a picture of positive goal in your mind. During the meditation you would then play out in your mind the series of events that might take place to get you there. You might imagine what you would look like at that point of success, where you might be and who might be around you. The idea is to paint a picture of accomplishment and let your mind sit and absorb that.
If all of the above sounds a bit overwhelming or you don’t know where to start, then guided meditation can be really helpful. This is basically where someone else (usually a trained practitioner) talks you through a meditation, prompting you on how to breath and what to focus on or picture in your mind. You can find all sorts of guided meditations online and there are now a handful of useful online apps for this, for example Headspace and Mindworks.
In many types of meditation, you might close your eyes to deepen the sense of relaxation or focus, but in gazing meditation it’s the opposite. By focusing your gaze on something like a candle flame, spot on the wall or pool of water you can reach a meditative state. This type of meditation is really good for helping to improve your social skills too, because it will improve your ability to concentrate on a conversation and maintain eye contact.
Choosing the right type of meditation
It is recommended that you try different types of meditation to find the one that works for you, but as a helping hand it can be useful to start with the types of meditation that are better suited to your personality.
If you’re goal-oriented and driven (a Type A personality) then you are likely to find focused attention techniques easier to stick to because they are also goal or object focused. Mantra meditations are a good example.
If you are a more relaxed and flexible person, who wants to improve your concentration then a focused-attention technique can help (although you might find it hard). However, you’re more likely to find that an open-monitoring technique works best for you because it will centre around relaxation.
The important thing is not to worry about perfecting any particular technique or sticking at it for hours. Instead, just try to meditate consistently. Ten minutes each day is better than one hour a week. Fortunately, every meditation counts, so even the ones that don’t feel quite right will still be helping to strengthen your thought processes and brain function. It’s all good stuff!
Share your experiences
Why not drop us a line to share your experience of meditation. Do you meditate every day or have you tried it once and found it difficult to do? Have you used, or even created, guided meditations that you’d be willing to share with other readers? Pop your comments into the box below to share your thoughts.