While the scientific research on the health and wellness benefits of meditation is still in its infancy, an increasing number of people are looking to this ancient practice as a way to achieve calmness and relaxation, better manage stress, improve their mood, or just increase their quality of life.1,2
For people looking to explore and incorporate meditation into their regular health and wellness routine, the greatest challenge can be identifying the right type of meditation to meet their individual needs and preferences. Fortunately, there are dozens of types of meditative practices – many with different emphases, different postures, and different underlying philosophies – which means plenty of options for you to find the practice that works best for you.
Mindfulness meditation has swelled in popularity in the past two decades, and is increasingly the subject of empirical studies focusing on its potential psychological and physiological benefits.3 Though generally considered non-religious, this type of meditation stems from the Buddhist tradition and emphasizes an awareness of breath, a focus on the present moment, and letting thoughts come and go without judging them.
Mindfulness meditation may also involve focusing on specific parts of the body. This type of meditation is generally practiced while sitting cross-legged on the floor with a straight spine or in a stable chair.
Heart Rhythm Meditation
Heart rhythm meditation (HRM), much like mindfulness meditation, emphasizes the breath, but also incorporates the heart, and involves coordinating the breath and heartbeat in order to direct and circulate energy. Different types of breathing techniques, which include inhaling, holding, and releasing the breath in various rhythmic patterns, are common to this practice. Though the benefits of HRM have not been thoroughly studied, many of its practitioners believe that it can be a powerful tool for emotional healing.
Qi gong, based on the Taoist tradition, is a type of meditation that uses the breath to circulate life energy, or qi or chi, through the body. The practice focuses on aligning breath, mind, and body so that you may realize your full potential as a human being. Along with a focus on breathing and relaxation techniques, qi gong frequently involves movement and is a key component of some martial arts practices.
Transcendental meditation (TM), rooted in the Hindu tradition, is a meditative technique that involves a mantra (a sacred word or phrase). Practitioners sit with their eyes closed twice a day for fifteen to twenty minutes while repeating their mantra. TM was popularized in the mid to late twentieth century by a guru named Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as a way to relieve stress, increase relaxation, and encourage self-development.
Kundalini meditation is another type of meditation that finds its roots in the Hindu tradition. In Kundalini meditation, practitioners are seated and use a combination of breathing techniques and mantras to release psychic energy through a series of chakras (energy centers or points of spiritual power in the body), with the ultimate goal of attaining enlightenment – also known as Kundalini awakening.
Though the scientific research on Kundalini meditation is scant, practitioners and non-practitioners both caution people to be aware of Kundalini Syndrome – the psychological and sometimes physiological problems that can arise when the practitioner is unprepared for the awakening.
Guided meditation is a popular technique that isn’t specific to any one meditative tradition, and instead may be done for a number ofdifferent types of meditative practices (including those mentioned in this article). The key element of guided meditation is that an instructor is verbally leading the participant or participants through the practice.
This is generally intended to teach the participants the practice, so they are able to do it on their own when necessary. Guided meditation can be a great option for someone who is new to meditation and prefers the option of working with a teacher as he or she learns more about the ins and outs of the practice.
As its name suggests, walking meditation involves being upright and moving while meditating. Like most types of meditation, there are a variety of ways to do walking meditation, but the majority of these practices involve being outdoors, clearing the mind, and focusing on foot movement and/or sensations in the body. For practitioners who have a difficult time sitting for too long or find themselves restless during seated meditations, walking meditation can be a good alternative.
Zazen meditation (literally: “seated meditation”), from the Zen Buddhist tradition, is a type of meditation that is done to calm the body and mind, improve concentration, and ultimately attain enlightenment. It is considered one of the more basic types of meditation. It emphasizes concentration; meditating on a particular question, word, or problem; or a total focus on the present moment while observing, but not engaging with, any passing thoughts.
Which Meditation Is Right for You?
In addition to the more widely known meditative practices outlined in this article, there are countless other variations and options available if you’re aiming to incorporate regular meditation into your lifestyle.
In identifying a type that’s right for you, it’s useful to think about what you want out of your practice – whether it’s improved concentration (as in Zen meditation), incorporation of movement (as with walking meditation), or someone to walk you through it (as with any form of guided meditation). It’s also important to remember that not all practices are ideal for all people. You should feel free to experiment and try different practices until you find the one that works best for you.
1. Ramesh Manocha, “Meditation, mindfulness and mind-emptiness.” Acta Neuropsychiatrica 23, no. 1 (2011): 46-47.
2. “Meditation: An Introduction.” NCCAM. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm (accessed July 17, 2014).
3. Scott Bishop, et al., “Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Defition.” Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 11, no. 3 (2004): 230-241.
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