Choosing a meditation technique is a highly personal choice. Whether you’re new to meditation or you’ve been practicing for years, learning about the different types of meditation can help you choose the right practice for you.
Different types of meditation are beneficial for some but don’t work for others. Some people enjoy sitting still, while others prefer to move around. Some people like structured sessions, while others prefer to practice freely. The only way to discover which type of meditation is right for you is to understand what each technique offers and try a few of them out.
This guide to the different types of meditation compares the various practices so you can decide which one suits you best.
Meditations can be either guided or unguided. In guided meditation, a trained instructor leads you through a meditation exercise. While guided meditations are typically geared toward beginners, everyone can benefit from learning from an experienced teacher.
Some benefits of guided meditations include:
In unguided meditations, you practice alone, following a particular technique. Self-guided sessions have the advantage of helping you deepen your self-awareness or find personal insights from meditation. Since you don’t have another voice guiding you, you’re free to take your meditation experience where you want.
There are two broad types of meditation approaches—calming or insight. As the name suggests, calming meditation is intended to provide you with a peaceful experience. The main reason for practicing calming meditation is cultivating greater mental focus and alleviating stressful thoughts.
With insight meditation, the goal is to better develop certain qualities, like compassion or wisdom. With insight meditation, also called Vipassana, the intention is to gain an inner understanding of your thoughts and feelings.
Whether you prefer a guided or unguided meditation or you want to foster calmness or insightfulness, there are dozens of different meditation techniques. Though they share many similarities, each type of meditation is its own variation with its own set of goals.
Here are some of the popular types of meditation techniques, how to practice them and who they’re best suited for.
Mindfulness meditation is a type of calming meditation that can be either guided or unguided. With mindfulness meditation, you sit silently and observe your thoughts, paying attention to them without judgment.
When practiced long-term, studies show that mindfulness meditation may help you to:
Researchers say that the reason for these mindfulness benefits is that this type of meditation helps to reduce the body’s stress response and activate its relaxation response.
During mindfulness meditation, most people find it difficult to concentrate without getting distracted. To help you pay attention, meditation teachers suggest using a point of focus to return to whenever you get lost in your thoughts. The most popular way to stay focused is to count your breaths or repeat a word silently to yourself. This is especially helpful if you practice self-guided mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation can be practiced anywhere and anytime, whether it’s at your desk or while parked in your car.
The more you practice mindfulness meditation, the more you may find that you’re better able to manage stressful situations with greater patience and calmness. You may also find yourself being more present with your friends and loved ones.
Transcendental Meditation®, also known as TM®, is an insight meditation technique. It was made popular globally in the 1960s, though it’s been practiced for thousands of years in Eastern cultures.
Unlike mindfulness meditation, which helps practitioners become actively aware of their thoughts, TM aims to help people transcend them. Designed to be an effortless practice, TM claims to help people relax and find inner calmness.
The purpose of TM is to achieve enough mental relaxation that your mind eventually experiences pure consciousness.
While anyone can practice the general TM technique on their own, the correct method is taught by certified instructors over a four-day course. During the course, TM teachers help practitioners develop a personalized practice.
To practice TM, sit quietly with your eyes closed. During the session, you repeat a mantra or phrase to yourself. Traditionally, the mantra is a Sanskrit word—an ancient language from India, where the practice originated. However, during training, each practitioner chooses their own mantra. TM is practiced for 20 minutes twice daily.
People who struggle to pay attention to their thoughts during mindfulness meditation may prefer the simplicity of TM.
Since TM is a highly structured technique, it might not be right for people who want a more casual or flexible meditation practice.
Normally, when people think of meditation, they imagine sitting alone cross-legged on a cushion for an extended period. However, there are other ways to practice meditation, such as incorporating your physical body.
Yoga is the most popular type of movement meditation. However, there are other kinds, like qigong, tai chi and walking meditations.
During a moving meditation, you apply mindfulness to your body’s movements, slowly and rhythmically transitioning from posture to posture. The point of movement meditation is to connect the mind with the body, linking your focus with the postures themselves.
During movement meditation, you might pay attention to or notice things like:
Unlike stationary forms of meditation, movement meditation allows you to get in touch with your mind and your body, either through guided or unguided sessions. As you practice it regularly, you may find that you become more mindful of your daily routines, such as brushing your teeth, washing the dishes or making dinner.
Movement meditation may be the right option for anyone who has a hard time sitting still or wants to deeply connect with their body.
Similar to movement meditation, progressive relaxation meditation is a calming practice that incorporates the physical body rather than just the mind. Also known as a body scan, progressive relaxation meditation is meant to help you release physical tension and achieve mind-body relaxation.
To practice progressive relaxation meditation, gradually work through your body, tensing and releasing one muscle group at a time. You can also link your breathing to your practice by inhaling as you tense your muscles and exhaling as you release. You can practice this technique either guided or unguided.
As you target each muscle, pay attention to how it feels to release tension and experience the resulting relaxation.
When you practice progressive relaxation meditation, move through each muscle group in a specific order, such as starting with your feet and working your way up to your face muscles.
With regular practice, progressive muscle meditation is intended to help you relieve stress in the moment by turning your attention to your body. Experts also recommend this method if you have trouble falling asleep.
As with all forms of meditation, the progressive relaxation technique allows you to build a lifelong stress-management skill.
Progressive relaxation meditation is a good option for anyone who doesn’t enjoy traditional meditation but wants to develop healthy stress-relief habits.
As a type of mindfulness meditation, visualization meditation is the practice of focusing your thoughts on a specific image or event in your mind. The scene you choose should be associated with calmness, inspiration or any positive emotion you wish to cultivate.
As you sit quietly with your eyes closed, imagine the scene in as much detail as possible, incorporating the five senses.
For some people, holding a vivid image in their minds is difficult. Instead, try visualizing:
You can also use guided imagery to practice visualization meditation, with many apps and YouTube videos walking you through a peaceful scene.
Visualization meditation is popular among athletes, entrepreneurs and anyone seeking to improve their mood or reduce negative emotions.
It’s a good technique for anyone who wants to cultivate mindfulness but has difficulty staying focused. Because you choose the scene, visualization meditation is also a more personalized practice, which can help you stay motivated to stick with it.
As you continue discovering your meditation style, it’s important to create a warm and inviting space in your home where you can practice. Having a meditation room will help you enjoy your meditation time and motivate you to stick to your practice.
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