There are many different types of meditation that stem from various traditions around the world. A few popular methods include:
- Breathing or Pranayama Meditation
- Guided Meditation
- Mantras and Chanting
- Movement Meditation
- Transcendental and Zen Meditation
These types of meditation can range from simple to complicated, and free to expensive. Different types of meditation resonate with different people, but at the end of the day, the most important thing to understand is: there are many different ways to meditate.
These days, not only does it seem like everyone is meditating, but there are so many different types of meditation to choose from. From high-performing CEO’s to couples trying to conceive–– the meditation industry has exploded in the past decade and there is no shortage of apps, classes and gurus to help you join in on the movement.
However, it can be confusing to know the difference between the many types of meditation. Some meditations are shrouded in spiritual affiliations. Others have a high barrier to entry: wear all white, carve out 20 minutes a day, recite specific chants, and pay $1,000 for your personal meditation guidelines…
It’s important to note that well before there was a meditation industry, the practice of meditation was flourishing for centuries. Thanks to mass communication and cultural exchanges, the many different forms of meditation practice are seemingly endless. If you’re just starting to consider a meditation practice, deciding between the many different types of meditation can feel a little intimidating.
Below are a few of the most common types of meditation. By reading through this list, you might gain a better idea of which type of meditation is right for you to begin with. Regardless of which path you choose, keep in mind that you can evolve your practice at any time, and also know that there is no right or wrong way to meditate. After all, all of these different inroads to meditation all lead to the same place.
Most likely, you’ve probably already “meditated” at some point in your life. When you were younger (and technology was not so pervasive), just think of the hours you spent daydreaming in your bedroom, laying in the grass, and simply having time for nothingness. Stillness is a natural part of life, and a powerful form of meditation.
Slowing down and becoming aware of breathing—no special techniques required—just focusing on the act of breathing is one of the simplest and most immediately effective forms of meditation and the basis for the more complex practices. For those who don’t have an hour, or even 20 minutes to spare, try one minute—yes, ONE minute—of conscious breathing with your eyes closed, in a relatively quiet environment. Just consciously shutting off the chatter of life for 60 seconds can create profound changes in perception and attitude.
It is perfectly normal to feel restless when initiating a new practice, but, with practice, the body and mind relax into a new level of subtle awareness. If breathing meditation is for you, Pranayama, Hatha yoga, and Kundalini style yoga offer breathing techniques that can deepen and enhance this practice.
As the heading suggests, another relatively simple form of meditation uses some means of spoken guidance, either in person, by audio recording, or written text. Music may also accompany the words, but is not essential to this practice.
Some meditators find that descriptions of beautiful landscapes and other serene environments, or sounds of nature such as trickling water or songbirds, invite a deep sense of relaxation and mind rest.
Researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School found that playing “ natural sounds” affects the systems that control “ fight or flight “ responses and the “rest-digest” autonomic nervous systems (Again, showing the secular and spiritual overlap in the field of meditation).
Guided meditation can also utilize visualization techniques such as imagining oneself floating in water, or in space, to achieve a sense of detachment from the body, and the realization that we are not simply a “body”, but a mind, body, and soul.
Mantras & Chanting
The next meditation style we’ll discuss is less passive than the previous two, in that it requires you to learn some sort of technique–– or basic understanding of the traditions behind it–– in order to practice. Because mantras and chanting employ sound and vibration to enhance a meditation experience, the two terms are often discussed together.
A mantra is a word or phrase that is repeated for the purpose of relaxing the mind; this intentional repetition is called chanting. Many ancient religious traditions include mantras and chanting in their prescribed methods of prayer and meditation. In fact, the word “mantra” contains two Sanskrit words, “man”(man), and “tra”(vehicle or tool). So, a mantra is a vehicle or tool to help one enter a meditative state.
A mantra that is familiar in yoga circles and, frankly, pop culture at large is the sacred Hindu syllable “Aum”, or “Om, which is considered to be the sound of the creation of the universe, and to contain all of the vibrations that ever have been or will be.
While that may sound like a tall order for one little syllable, there is considerable scientific research into the effects of chanting and sonic vibration in the body and mind. The repetitive pronunciation of certain syllables—not just hearing them—causes beneficial changes in an area of the brain called the default mode network. The default mode network is responsible for having us repeat familiar, but not necessarily healthy or progressive behavior patterns. Researchers at Linkoping University in Sweden also found that the specific words were not necessarily important, rather it was the meaning attached to them by the individual that made the mantras effective.
When most Western cultured folks think of meditation, they often think of quiet, somber, prayerful scenes. True enough, many of the styles of meditation that we have mentioned so far suggest calm, serene, inwardly focused experiences.
Paradoxically, some of the most accessible forms of meditation involve movement of the body, with or without supporting music. Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Sufi Whirling, and even simple walking meditations involve precise, intentional physical movement, some with complementary breathing, to access the higher, unencumbered self. Some level of instruction is required for most of these forms whether in classes, or online, and can be explored with minimal financial investment.
Transcendental Meditation & More…
On a scale of simple to complex, Transcendental Meditation, or “TM “, falls into the complex category primarily because of its relative inaccessibility to the general public. It is a mantra-based form of meditation, and has enjoyed worldwide celebrity endorsements since Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced it to Western culture in 1963.
The inaccessibility part is due to the high fees that are required to learn one’s “personal mantra”, and the required secrecy of any instruction given by TM teachers. The quality and validity of the teachings are not usually called into question— just the fact that the cost is somewhat prohibitive to a lot of people.
Another somewhat sophisticated meditation practice is Zazen, or Zen Meditation, popularized in the West by many Japanese films, such as “Zen for Nothing “ and “ The Life of Zen Master Dogen”. It is a quiet, inwardly focused Buddhist tradition, which begins with mindful breathing exercises, often for months or years, until a state of “one-pointedness”, or “ non-distractedness” is reached, and progresses to either koan introspection, or to shikantaza–– which means “non-thinking.” Zen meditation requires many years of study and often becomes a lifestyle rather than just a meditation practice.
Which Type of Meditation Is Right For You?
Although this is by no means a complete list of meditation options available— it is a brief overview of some of the styles that have made their way into mainstream Western culture.
Any of these options, if practiced consistently, will unlock the scientifically-proven spiritual and physiological benefits that everyone is talking about. Try one, and see the difference that meditation can make in your experience of everyday life.
By carving out time in your morning for whatever type of meditation that works for you, you can hold space for answers to come from another source. Just like a sailor needs to look at the stars and not just the sea to know where they are going, the practice of meditation can, over time, give you a zoomed-out understanding of life itself.
This can help prevent you from getting lost in day-to-day stress and deepen your connection with the present moment. Being present can enhance your appreciation for life, and help you feel more joyful and connected to the world around you.
“Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
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