Types Of Meditation
Meditation has experienced a boom in popularity in recent years. A plethora of vibrant Buddhist and Hindu schools proposing a ton of various techniques might surely be confusing. What should you choose out of all those different types of meditation? Read this article to explore 6 most popular types of meditation techniques and dive into the multiplicity of benefits from different types of meditation to find the most suited one for you. Healing you from all the stress modern life brings. Experience the most meaningful insights about yourself and the world you live in by following the meditation type suitable for your goals and demands.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a mental exercise involving relaxation, focus, and awareness. It is similar to what exercising is to your body. It isn’t about becoming a different person or a new person. Rather it’s about training your sense of awareness and improving the sense of perspective without judgment. It is not to turn off your feelings, rather learning how to observe and accept them.
Meditation is usually practiced in one of the three modes (16):
- Concentration, which involves focusing the attention on a single object, internal or external. This is often called focused attention meditation.
- Observation, which involves paying attention to whatever is present in your experience right now, without allowing yourself to get stuck on any particular thing.
- Awareness, which implies allowing awareness to remain present, undistracted, and neither engaged with focusing or observing anything.
Other characteristics of meditation include:
- Meditation is an individual practice, even if sometimes it’s practiced in groups.
- It is often done with eyes closed, but not in every case.
- Meditation usually involves bodily stillness. However, there are kinds of meditation allowing movements, such as walking meditation, which is covered in the other article.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation has been extensively studied and provides a huge number of important health benefits.
Some of the benefits include:
A study published in January 2014 found meditation helpful for relieving anxiety, pain, and depression. Another eight-week study showed that following the meditation style called “mindfulness meditation” reduced the inflammatory response caused by stress (6). Meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, which include irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fibromyalgia (2, 12). So, despite being a very ancient practice, it has been scientifically proven to positively impact your stress levels.
The 2016 comprehensive review of 20 studies exploring the effects of meditation on immunity suggests possible effects of mindfulness meditation on specific markers of inflammation, cell-mediated immunity, and biological aging (9). Another study detected similar positive effects (3).
A study found that a 20-minute session of mindfulness meditation daily by the participants over four days reduced the pain intensity by 27%, and emotional pain by 44%. Meditation yielded a greater reduction in pain even more than morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25% (10).
That means meditation is helpful not only with calming you down and relieving your emotional pain, but it also works flawlessly to reduce episodes of sudden physical pain.
Improving cardiovascular health
A comprehensive review of dozens of studies published over the past two decades found that meditation may improve a host of factors linked with heart disease (7).
Furthermore, meditation can positively affect a measure of heart health known as heart rate variability (HRV). HRV reflects how quickly your heart makes small changes in the time interval between each heartbeat. A high HRV is a mark of a healthier heart. One study found that low HRV is associated with a 32% to 45% increased risk of heart attack or stroke among people without cardiovascular disease.
Increasing life longevity
A long-term study (4) where participants practiced meditation revealed that after an average of 7.6 years (up to a maximum of almost 19 years), the subjects practicing meditation were 23% less likely to die of any cause during that period and 30% less likely to die of cardiovascular diseases during the same period. Subjects were also 49% less likely to die of cancer during the follow-up period. So, meditation can not only fulfill your life with meaning, calm, and bright experiences but also physically increase the length of your existence on planet Earth.
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Types of meditation
Types of meditation: body scan
Sometimes, our body is doing its business while our mind is elsewhere. This technique is made for synchronization of your body and mind through the performance of a mental scan, from the top of your head to the end of your toes. It is a meditation that encourages people to scan their bodies for areas of tension or aches. The goal is to notice tension and to let go of it. It’s as if a photocopier is scanning through your body.
When practicing the session, you start at one end of your body, in most cases your feet, and work through the whole body. Sometimes you’re supposed to squeeze and then release your muscles during body scan sessions. Often, people are encouraged to imagine a wave flowing throughout their bodies. It enhances your abilities to be attentive to the present-moment experiences and the hurry of life, while not allowing you to collapse into wild anxiety caused by stress. It is a training of understanding what’s going on with your body, while you’re experiencing delightful and distressing situations in the course of a lifetime.
Body scan, sometimes also called progressive relaxation, might help generate feelings of relaxation and calmness. It is also connected to relieving chronic pain (17) and gradually releases the tension of your body after a difficult day. Many people use it before getting to sleep.
Types of meditation: loving-kindness meditation
Loving-kindness meditation is also known as Metta meditation. Its core is the cultivation of an attitude of love and kindness towards everything, including stressors and your enemies. Metta is a Pali word that refers to kindness, benevolence, and goodwill. This type comes from Buddhist traditions, particularly the Theravada and Tibetan lineages (13).
While practicing this meditation, you focus on the images of different people, regardless of your attitude towards them. You direct positivity towards other people, and then to yourself, which helps to focus on positive emotions.
While practicing loving-kindness, you deeply breathe and open your mind to receiving the flows of loving-kindness. Then you send the loving-kindness to the other people around you and the world.
In the majority of forms of this meditation, it is crucial to repeat the message continuously until you experience loving-kindness by yourself.
Some benefits (1) of loving-kindness meditation include:
- Increasing positive emotions and decreasing negative ones.
- Decreasing migraine, chronic pain, and PTSD.
- Activating empathy and emotional processing in the brain.
- Increasing the volume of grey matter.
- Decreasing telomere length, which is a biological marker of aging.
- Decreasing the bias towards other people, and curbing self-criticism.
Types of meditation: zen meditation
Zen meditation, also known as Zazen, is a form of meditation that can be part of Buddhist practice and is rooted in Buddhist psychology. It comes from the Chinese Zen Buddhism (Ch’an) tradition, tracing back to Indian monk Bodhidharma (6th century CE) (13). Many Zen practitioners study with a teacher because this kind of meditation involves specific steps and postures.
Zen meditation involves sitting upright and following your breath, specifically the way it moves in and out of your body, and letting the mind float freely. It aims to foster a sense of presence and alertness through finding a comfortable position, focusing on breathing, and mindfully observing your thoughts without judgment. Some practitioners say you can accomplish this by counting, while others say counting should not be involved.
Zen meditation requires significant discipline and systemic practice. People may prefer it if they are seeking both relaxation and a new spiritual path for themselves.
Zen meditation is considered an “open-monitoring meditation,” where you use your monitoring skills. They are transformed into a state of reflexive awareness, though without focusing on a specific object. Unlike loving-kindness, which aims at developing compassion, or mantra meditation, which involves the repetition of a mantra, Zen meditation involves increased awareness of the ongoing physical and self-referential processes.
People who practice Zen meditation do it to expand their attentional scope to incorporate the flow of perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and subjective awareness.
Types of meditation: vipassana meditation
Vipassana is a traditional Buddhist practice, dating back to 6th century BC and one of the oldest existing meditations. Vipassana-meditation, as taught in the last few decades, comes from the Theravada Buddhist tradition. It aims at direct and gradual cultivation of mindfulness or awareness. It proceeds piece by piece over years of practice. The practitioner’s attention is carefully directed to an intense examination of certain aspects of his/her existence. The meditator is trained to notice more and more of his own flowing life experiences.
The distinction between Vipassana meditation and other styles of meditation is essential and needs to be fully clarified. Buddhism addresses two major types of meditation. They involve the activation of distinct mental skills, modes of functioning, and awareness. In Pali, the original language of Theravada literature, they are referred to as Vipassana and Samatha.
What is vipassana?
Vipassana can be translated as “insight,” which is an awareness of what’s happening right now and at the place. Samatha can be translated as “concentration” or “tranquility”, which is the state when your mind is calm, focused on one object, and is restricted to wander freely. When this is done, a deep calm flows through your body and mind, and the goal is to understand and maintain this feeling of tranquility.
Most systems of meditation emphasize the Samatha side. The practitioner focuses his mind upon some items, such as prayer, a certain type of box, a chant, a candle flame, a religious image, or anything else, and tries to vanish all other thoughts and perceptions from his consciousness. The result is a certain rapture state which lasts until the meditator brings the sitting session to a halt. Vipassana meditation addresses another component– insight, which is equally important and more constant throughout your daily life, contrasting the time-bounded character of Samatha meditations.
What is vipassana focused on?
Vipassana is focused on using the ability to investigate the qualities of self, consciousness, and perception of things. It’s a more active and inquisitive form of meditation than Samatha. It helps you view your mind with clarity and leads to a better knowledge of yourself. The intent here is not to control the mind but to gradually experience the depths of a mind without barriers.
Vipassana meditation practitioners refer to its many benefits, citing not only a sense of freedom and awakening but also a sense of security.
Vipassana has been practiced in prisons and recovery settings to help inmates and patients reduce recidivism and relapse. For instance, after a 4-year Vipassana trial in one North American prison, the inmates were 20% less likely to return to prison after release (18). Besides, researchers at the University of Washington concluded that inmates who took part in Vipassana programmes reported lower use of alcohol, marijuana, and crack cocaine, as well as enhanced social and psychological skills, and higher levels of optimism (8). Furthermore, those with severe psychiatric disorders also experienced an improvement in their condition.
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Types of meditation: mantra meditation
The word mantra is derived from two Sanskrit words, manas (mind) and tra (tool or instrument). Mantra means “a tool for the mind,” which was developed to help practitioners access higher power and their real nature (5).
Some mantras have a literal meaning and can be translated, but the majority, according to tradition, derive their value mostly from their sound quality. Some are short, one-syllable mantras; others are long, composed of many words. One of the most universally known mantras is the sacred Hindu syllable “Aum,” considered to be the sound of the creation of the universe. Aum (usually spelled Om) is believed to contain every single vibration that has ever existed or will exist in the future.
In mantra meditation, the mantra can be recited or listened to at a fast or slow pace. You can repeat the mantra by itself, sometimes thinking about the connection to your breathing, chakras, or some feelings.
How does mantra meditation work?
To begin with, the mantra works as an object of focus. It is a toy to keep the monkey-mind busy and allow it to become calmer and more centered. In this sense, it works just like focusing on your breath or any other meditation object. Many people think that mantra meditation is simpler to master when they are beginners, as it provides a focal point you can rely on. That is because many people consider keeping the focus on the present moment quite strenuous while concentrating on the mantra is less demanding.
Secondly, the mantra is an instrument to fundamentally transform your consciousness. The teaching claims that each sound and each vibration have their specific intrinsic qualities and can produce completely different states of consciousness if recited for long periods.
Mantra meditation, in particular transcendental meditation, has also been connected with a decrease in intrusive thoughts, and an increase in meaning and quality of life in HIV patients (14). It has been linked to the reduction of stress, anxiety, anger, and improvement in the quality of life among nurses. Another study on veterans found that mantra meditation decreases the frequency of occurrence of intrusive thoughts and minimizes stress as well (11).
Types of meditation: mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness is a type of meditation that helps you recognize and cope with emotions and physical sensations you’re overwhelmed by throughout your everyday life. Fundamentally, it is a basic human ability to be fully present in the time and space you’re in. It is about being fully aware of where you are, what’s happening, and what is your role while decreasing the intensity of your stress reactions.
Rather than dwelling on the past or dreading the future, mindfulness encourages awareness of your current surroundings. Crucial to this is the lack of judgment towards what’s happening around you.
Mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that teaches you to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and immerse your mind and body in calmness. Mindfulness techniques can be different, but generally, mindfulness meditation involves a breathing practice and awareness of body and mind. Practicing mindfulness meditation doesn’t require props or preparation, and people can do it almost anywhere. For example, while waiting in line at the grocery store. A person might pay attention to their surroundings, including the sights, sounds, and smells they experience at the moment.
Because mindfulness is common to many forms of meditation, it has been thoroughly studied. Research has found that mindfulness might reduce fixation on negative emotions, improve your focus and memory, lessen impulsiveness, emotional reactions, improve relationship satisfaction, and even lower blood pressure (15).
To sum up, there is a huge variety of meditational techniques aiming to enhance your awareness, produce insights, develop peaceful connections with the environment, and improve your overall well-being.
When choosing which type of meditation to try, follow your heart as well as your mind, and trust only reliable sources. You might try meditating alone or find courses to let a master guide you to the road of mind and body reconciliation.
Click play and let go of the emotional baggage, take charge of your anxious thoughts instead of buckling under them.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 18 Science-Based Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation (2014, huffpost.com)
- A Review on How Meditation Could Be Used to Comfort the Terminally Ill (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation (2003, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Long-term Effects of Stress Reduction on Mortality in Persons ≥55 Years of Age with Systemic Hypertension (2005, ajconline.org)
- Mantra Meditation – The Benefits and the Methods (n.d., liveanddare.com)
- Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Mindfulness Can Improve Heart Health (2018, health.harvard.edu)
- Mindfulness meditation and substance use in an incarcerated population (2006, psycnet.apa.org)
- Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Mindfulness Meditation-Based Pain Relief Employs Different Neural Mechanisms Than Placebo and Sham Mindfulness Meditation-Induced Analgesia (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Non-trauma-focused meditation versus exposure therapy in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder: a randomised controlled trial (2018, thelancet.com)
- The Theoretical and Empirical Basis for Meditation as an Intervention for PTSD (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Types of Meditation – An Overview of 23 Meditation Techniques (n.d., liveanddare.com)
- Use Mantra Meditation for Stress Relief (2020, verywellmind.com)
- What are the benefits of mindfulness (2012, apa.org)
- What Is Meditation (n.d., liveanddare.com)
- What is the best type of meditation? (2017, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What Is Vipassana Meditation (n.d., headspace.com)