Meditation is a psychological and spiritual exercise that helps a person attain a higher level of self-understanding and a heightened state of awareness and focus. It’s a consciousness-altering technique that has been used for millennia to improve a person’s overall psychological well-being and achieve a higher level of spiritual awareness. While some meditative practices are religious—indeed, most religions have some form of meditation included in their praxis—meditation can also be a secular activity that is practiced without adhering to a specific set of religious guidelines. All you need to meditate is a relatively quiet place where you are free from distractions and five minutes.
While different types of meditation can involve varied postures, chants, thought processes, or other complications, the basics are more or less the same across the board. To begin, sit in a quiet spot and find a comfortable posture. You don’t need to find a specific yogic pose or shoehorn yourself into the Lotus Position: sit comfortably. Ideally, your back will be straight, and you will pull your shoulder blades together to open your chest, which facilitates deep breathing. Set a timer if you like: this can help keep your sessions short and attainable at first to make it easier to get started. Now, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Take a deep breath, using your belly muscles to really open your lungs. Slowly exhale, paying attention to the sensation of your breath. As you do this, pay attention to your thoughts. Let them pass through your consciousness without judging them or reacting to them; simply observe them and let them go like ships sailing across the horizon. You’ll soon find yourself becoming more relaxed and aware of your thoughts. You’re meditating! It’s just that simple.
However, different types of meditation can be more specific and more involved. We’re going to talk about eight different types of meditation: mindfulness meditation, tantric meditation, transcendental meditation, guided meditation, vipassana meditation, metta meditation, chakra meditation, and yoga meditation. Let’s dive in.
Mindfulness is the act of being fully present and engaged in the moment. We’re aware of where we are, what we’re doing, and what’s happening around us without being reactive or anxious about it. We let our thoughts pass by us without being judgmental or critical; we learn to detach and let go. Mindfulness meditation can also integrate body scans.
Body scans are a mindfulness technique that’s used to help us reconnect with our bodies. Why do we need to reconnect with our bodies? Because we’re running on autopilot most of the time, we don’t really pay close attention to the slight sensations and inputs that our body is constantly sending us. To begin a body scan, lay down, get comfortable, and start by focusing on your breathing. Take deep breaths in and slowly let them out, allowing yourself to feel the sensation of the air entering and leaving your body. After several deep breaths, move your awareness to another part of your body. For some people, this means moving systematically through body systems: toes, feet, ankles, lower legs, and so on. For others, it means letting your body direct the experience. You may feel the pressure on your back or butt from lying down. You may feel a gnawing hunger or an awareness of fatigue. You might even just feel tiny muscle movements as your body does its thing. The main idea with body scanning is to be curious and engage with your physical body deliberately.
It’s not uncommon for our attention to wander during a mindfulness meditation or body scanning. That’s ok! It’s normal for the mind to wander. When you notice your thoughts have gotten off-track, simply redirect them. Be kind to yourself when this happens; it’s not a sign of failure or incompetence. It’s just a natural part of mindfulness meditation.
Tantric meditation is a form of meditation that’s often misunderstood in the western world. When we hear the word “tantra” or “tantric” in the United States, we often assume that there’s some kind of sexual connotation. While some aspects of tantra and tantric science may incorporate or relate to sexual activity, tantric meditation is a technique used to help us lift the veil and see how we are filled with the universe’s potential. Tantric philosophy has a concept that the universe contains many microcosms of itself: in other words, we mirror the universe, and it mirrors us.
Tantric meditation relies on breathing techniques, vibrational sounds, chanting, and visualization to help us unlock our potential and experience ourselves in a new way. Through a combination of these techniques, tantric meditation helps us attain an awakening, a realization of our inner potential in the outer world. The meditative action opens the chakras, allowing our dormant energy to travel up the spine to our minds. Freeing this dormant energy, known as kundalini, helps heal and access parts of ourselves that may have been locked or blocked by our conscious selves and experiences.
Transcendental meditation is a type of meditation that came to the United States in the 1960s when the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi traveled to America to share his knowledge of the ancient Vedic culture. Practitioners of transcendental meditation will sit in a comfortable position, close their eyes, and silently focus on their mantra. The mantra provides a focal point for the meditator, who will eventually achieve an altered state of consciousness that brings rest, stillness, and a sense of mental well-being.
Unlike many types of meditation, transcendental meditation must be taught. The bona fide techniques of transcendental meditation can only be learned by attending a class. During this class, your teacher will assign you a personal mantra. Of course, some people have found ways around paying for a class, but students of this type of meditation will tell you that the most significant benefit of the class is that it forces you to use the actual, real technique that has been passed down from the beginning of the transcendental meditation movement.
The idea that one should take a class to learn meditation has spawned some skepticism. People often wonder whether transcendental meditation is a scam or a weird religious movement. Not at all. Reliable reports from people who have been through transcendental meditation training show that it’s neither a scam nor a cult but instead a prescribed and specific method of meditating passed down through generations of teachers and students.
Guided meditation is a meditation session that a third-party facilitates. In other words, while many types of meditation rely on the inner voice to guide the experience by counting breaths or focusing on a mantra, guided meditation relies on another person’s verbal cues. Why is this beneficial? As anyone who has sat down to meditate can tell you, our mind tends to wander. You may find it easier to meditate when you have a meditation coach using their voice to guide your thoughts and give you a focal point. Guided meditation can be done in person with a group of meditators, but it can also be done privately through apps and podcasts.
Guided meditation is one of the most popular forms of meditation in the United States today, but it can be deceptively challenging in our chronically overstimulated world. Using guided meditation as a pathway to mindfulness meditation — e.g., having a meditation guide help you through the process of achieving a mindful state — can help meditators of any experience level improve their practice. Often, guided meditation is mixed with different types of meditation to help the meditator learn how to practice.
Much like tantric meditation, Vipassana meditation originated in what’s now India more than 2,500 years ago. Vipassana is often translated as “insight” and is best understood in the context of its conceptual partner “Samatha,” which translates to “concentration.” Most meditative practices focus on elements of Samatha, directing the consciousness of the meditator to a singular focus on an item like a prayer, mantra, or chant. Vipassana meditation focuses instead on developing insight into the core realities that define our existence, which eventually lead to an awakening moment called Liberation. Many types of meditation focus on the physical and mental benefits of meditation while ignoring or neglecting the spiritual dimension. Vipassana meditation is practiced with an end goal of gaining insight into reality. This is an essential distinction between these different types of meditation.
Metta meditation is a meditation practice that originates in the Buddhist religion. Also known as loving-kindness meditation, Metta meditation can be practiced by people of any faith or no faith at all. The idea of metta meditation is to cultivate a deep sense of kindness, not just toward other human beings but also specifically toward ourselves, our families, animals, and even our enemies or trolls. Metta meditation revolves around phrases of kindness that are the focal point of a meditation session. Sit in a comfortable meditative posture. Close your eyes and focus your breath. Now, focus your attention on a phrase of kindness such as “May they be happy and safe,” or “May I be healthful and happy.”
While metta meditation has the same benefits as other, different types of meditation, it also helps the meditator generate a sense of self-compassion. We’re all our own worst critics, and our inner narrative can sometimes be mean and loathsome. Metta meditation helps us reprogram our minds and till deep paths to happiness. Once we begin to love ourselves, we can start to truly love others.
A chakra is an energy center that connects our physical self to our spiritual self. There are seven chakras that descend from the crown of the head to the tip of the sacrum. Each chakra is associated with specific aspects of the self. The root chakra, for example, is associated with our connection to the world and our physical needs such as nutrition. The heart chakra is located approximately where the heart sits, and is associated with a person’s compassion, connectedness, and generosity.
Chakra meditation is a form of meditation that is designed to clear blocked chakras. One can also learn to use the power of their chakras to promote well-being, feel more relaxed, or even have a spiritual experience. If you want to clear your chakras, you should consider a guided chakra meditation.
Our final type of meditation is yoga meditation. The practice of yoga and the practice of meditation are intertwined: when a yogi is switching poses, or maintaining a body posture, they’re focusing on unifying their breath, body, and mind. Yoga isn’t just about being stretchy, it’s about calming your mind and learning to be in touch with your physical body. If that sounds familiar, it’s because meditation has the same goals as yoga, and vice versa. That doesn’t mean you have to do yoga to meditate: you can perform yogic meditation with no special equipment or training, as it largely focuses on the breath. By following a rhythm of breathing and focusing on a universal mantra, one can experience a deep meditation where the mind and the body are both relaxed and at ease.
If You’re Too Busy, Meditate for an Hour
Meditation is a practice that goes back thousands of years and transcends boundaries. No matter which of these different types of meditation you practice, you can expect to experience positive benefits like improved mental wellness and even an improvement in physical health. An apocryphal quote advises people to meditate for twenty minutes a day unless they’re too busy; in that case, meditate for an hour. You’ll find the experience rewarding once you begin meditating regularly.