Meditation is a practice that involves focusing attention inwards. The focus of inward attention could be on a mantra, the breathing process (inhalation and exhalation), a vision, an emotion, an area of the body, or even someone else. Some people use meditation to relax and help with anxiety, others use it to build concentration, and yet others pursue the practice as a means of following a particular religion.
Types of Meditation :
To decide what type of meditation you like best, I recommend doing some experimentation. You may want to try one particular type for 10 days, and if you don’t really like it, try another type. The only way to find the type that you enjoy the most is by testing the waters with some different techniques and observing how you respond.
Focused Attention (Concentration)
Example - Vipassana
All types of meditation that involve enhancing concentration can be classified as “focused attention” technique. These practices involve focusing attention on one specific thing for the entire time with the goal of cultivating laser-like focus. Any concentration meditation will involve consistent mental effort to build up the ability to focus without succumbing to distraction.
Certain practices may involve focusing on an external object (e.g. a pen), while others will involve focusing on the breath. In any regard, the goal is to direct 100% focus on one thing for the entire session. When the mind wanders, the focus is calmly brought back to the object. Over time, the mind wanders less and the ability to focus your attention improves for longer durations.
Mindfulness (Open Monitoring)
Example - Mindfulness
With this type of meditation, you aren’t focusing your attention on one specific object. In this case, you are letting your attention flow freely without judgment or attachment. In other words, you are simply observing all perceptions, thoughts, memories, and senses that you experience during your practice. Developing the quality of “open monitoring” is synonymous with mindfulness – you are “mindful” of your experience.
Example - Transcendental Meditation (TM)
This type of meditation is classified as “effortless” because it requires no mental effort or concentration. Some have called this subtype of meditation “pure being” or “transcendental” because it involves emptiness, introversion, and calmness. The goal with this specific type is to essentially help the meditator recognize their pure essence (e.g. “Pure Self”) or the true nature of the self by eliminating all thought.
The mind becomes a blank slate with consistent practice. Some have compared effortless transcending to giving the brain a massage or bath. The transcendental process helps the individual silence their mind and become aware of deep (arguably “purer”) states of consciousness. A person who has been practicing this specific type may experience a state of emptiness or nothingness and find that it feels great.
Types of Meditation Techniques: Comprehensive List
Guided Meditations (Non-Religious)
There are various forms of guided meditation that have nothing to do with religion. For this reason, many people practice guided meditation simply because they don’t want any sort of religious dogma associated with their practice. Meditation can be practiced with the goal of attaining performance benefits such as: increased concentration, deeper relaxation, and to create specific neurological adaptations.
This type of meditation uses affirmations to embed a particular way of thinking and/or feeling within your mind. You’ll get into a relaxed state and the idea is that you’re more suggestive when relaxed, so the message sinks in better to your brain. During this relaxation, positive affirmations relating to a particular focus such as: health, focus, relaxation, mood, confidence, magnetism, etc. will be stated.
This is a type of guided meditation in which an audio recording will instruct you to focus on a specific part of your body and become aware of any tension. Body scanning involves increasing awareness of any stress and/or pain in certain parts of the body. It can be performed while seated or while lying down in a comfortable position. A full body scan can take an extensive amount of time (e.g. 45 minutes), but condensed, shorter versions are still highly effective.
Many types of meditation incorporate the usage of brainwave entrainment as a form of guidance. These meditations may start out with an instructive voice, but are often just some relaxing music and sounds. The goal is to maintain focus on the specific tone or “beats” that are played through headphones or speakers. A popularized example would be that of Holosync.
This is a type of meditation that involves focusing attention on an image or series of images suggested by an audio recording. A guided imagery session can also be conducted by a professional in-person and/or hypnotherapist. It is highly effective in reducing stress and increasing overall relaxation.
This is a technique that is closely related to meditation, but some actually consider it meditation. It involves monitoring of tension in a particular muscle / area of the body, and intentionally increasing tension in that region. The tension is then released and the person notices a significant contrast in the sensation between tension and relaxation. This can be done in a scanning format throughout the body.
Many consider self-hypnosis a form of guided meditation because it involves listening to an audio recording and enter a deep state of relaxation. Once you become as relaxed as possible, you are more open to suggestion as your brain waves slow. Then the hypnotherapist will target the session to improve a particular aspect of your thinking or beliefs.
There are a variety of standard guided meditations available, many of which have different goals. Not all guided meditations are the same, so know what kind you’re using. As I already mentioned, the most convenient guided-meditation for me is on the app Headspace (which is a Mindfulness meditation). A voice will tell you what to focus on and where to direct your attention, which can be very helpful.
Mantra Meditation (OM)
In the Hindu tradition, mantra meditation is popular and involves repeating sound, syllable, or word with the intention of focusing the mind. It is very difficult for the mind to focus on anything but the particular repeated sound, which is why it works well. The sound repeated can be anything, but some traditions assign meditators a specific syllable or word.
Mantra meditation is a practice that is primarily associated with Hinduism, but can also be used in Buddhism, Jainism, and Taoism. In the mainstream, it is common for people to reference mantra meditation as “om” (or “aum”) meditation. The important thing to remember is that a sound is repeated to focus the person’s attention.
The idea is that the mantra will enhance both relaxation and focus. It is also a way to become aware of deeper states of consciousness or awareness between “thoughts.”
Metta Meditation (Loving-Kindness)
This is a specific type of meditation that involves cultivating unconditional love and kindness towards other human beings. The practice of “metta” meditation is derived from Theravada Buddhism and is sometimes referred to as “compassion” meditation. There is scientific evidence in support of practicing metta for increased happiness, brain waves, and neural activity.
Metta is considered “love” without any sort of attachment and the goal is to increase “good will” towards others. If you were to practice this type of meditation, you’d start by directing feelings of unconditional love towards yourself. Once you were able to love yourself, you’d then expand those feelings and direct them towards others.
When consistently practiced, feelings of pure “joy” will arise. Those who suffer from depression, negative thinking, and anger outbursts will significantly benefit from this type of meditation if practiced correctly. It is impossible to feel authentic loving-kindness (compassion) and anger at the same time. The more you practice this type, the more your “happiness” center within the brain is stimulated.
Although Vipassana is synonymous with “Mindfulness” meditation, some people consider them to be slightly different. Many consider the practice of Mindfulness to be an adaptation of Vipassana, keeping certain aspects without a religious influence. This type of practice is also sometimes referred to as MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) due to the fact that westerners are using it solely to reduce anxiety and stress.
Many consider mindfulness meditation (MBSR) to be among the most effective non-drug therapies for improving stress levels.
Breathing meditation (Zhuanqi)
The goal with this subtype of meditation is to focus on the breath, which results in unification of the “mind” and “qi” (energy). Meditators practicing Zhuanqi will concentrate on their breath until it becomes “soft.”
This is a type of meditation practiced to clear the mind of all thoughts and recognize the “emptiness” or the real nature of the self. The philosophy behind this meditative practice is that we experience worldly problems because we don’t understand the truth. When practicing “emptiness” meditation you clear your mind of everything in order to achieve a sense of inner peace and solitude.
Nei Guan (Internal Viewing)
This is a type of meditation involving visualization or focus of the imagination. Many people practice this type of meditation standing, with slightly bent knees and hands at their sides – but it can also be performed in a seated position.
Transcendental Meditation (TM)
You’ve probably heard of the popularized form of mantra meditation called “Transcendental Meditation” (TM). This specific subtype of mantra meditation is associated with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1955 and was introduced to pop-icons like The Beatles and The Beach Boys in the 1970s. Due to celebrity appeal and early introduction to the West, it has become one of the most popular types of meditation practiced throughout the world.
To perform transcendental meditation, you get assigned a “mantra” that fits you individually based on when you were born and your sex. Your “guru” will then explain how you should repeat this mantra as well as for how long you should practice. I can’t get into too many details simply because TM is licensed technique that is not freely available.
This is a practice known as “tantric Buddhism” and incorporates the Lama and Guru yoga. It is considered a complex form of meditation that has continued to evolve in Buddhist tradition. The neurological adaptations that occur with consistent practice of Vajrayana include: increased stimulation and mental focus.
The word Vipassana literally translates to “insight into reality” which is why many people refer to it as “insight meditation.” This meditative practice dates back to the 6th century BC and is derived from the Theravada Buddhist movement. Vipassana is recognized as being taught by Satya Narayan (S.N.) Goenka. The Vipassana meditation involves gaining “mindfulness” of breathing and is sometimes referred to in the United States as “Mindfulness.”
This meditation practice involves observation of breathing and contemplation. Many consider the goal to gain “insight” into the true nature of reality. The SuttaPitaka describes “mindfulness” as entering the forest and sitting beneath a tree to watch the breath. If the breath is “long,” notice that it is long and if the breath is “short,” notice that it is short. By observing your breathing, perceptual changes take place in the brain, creating new insights.
Many people practice yogic forms of meditation as a way to achieve mental freedom, self-knowledge, and self-realization (moksha). Yoga is considered an integrated form of physical, mental, and spiritual practices and is used in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Yoga dates back to pre-Vedic Indian tradition, but is hypothesized to have emerged between the 6th century B.C. and the 5th century B.C.
Practicing yoga typically consists of the following: conduct (yamas and niyamas), postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation. The last four limbs of yoga include: pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. It is these four limbs that embody the meditative practice in yoga. The specific type of meditation that you use to enhance yoga practice depends on what you’re comfortable with and/or what you’d like to experience.
This type of meditation is based on the 7 main energy centers throughout the body called “chakras.” To perform chakra meditation, you would specifically focus on one of these centers (e.g. the heart chakra) and use a specific mantra (e.g. “yam”) to open up or expand energy flow in this area. Each chakra has a specific mantra correlate.
Crown = Mmm
Third-eye = Ooo
Throat = Ham
Heart = Yam
Solar Plexus = Ram
Sacral = Vam
Root = Lam
Gazing meditation (Trataka):
This type of yogic meditation involves gazing on an external object or symbol. Most commonly a candle will be utilized as the object of focus, and a person starts by focusing on it with eyes open. After the person has boosted their concentration ability with eyes open, they then move on to focusing on the object (e.g. candle) with eyes closed to boost their visualization ability.
Originally known as “laya yoga,” kundalini translates to “serpent” or snake. This form of meditation is practiced with the intention of unleashing “kundalini energy” that lies dormant at the base of the spine. Those practicing Kundalini Meditation generally experience drastic changes in the functioning of their body, nervous system, and physiology as the “kundalini” energy rises from the spine.
This energy rises from “lower” energy centers to “higher” energy centers in the body. It typically involves a specific breathing technique that involves “alternate nostril” inhalation. In other words, you’d close your right nostril on the first inhale, and your left nostril on the second. The thought behind the technique is to “cleanse” certain energy channels to help awaken the Kundalini or “serpent” energy.
This is an ancient type of yoga that gained popularity with MahavatarBabaji. It also was popularized in the West through the book “Autobiography of a Yogi.” This type of yoga consists of different levels of Pranayama and is geared towards someone intending to enhance their spiritual development. It consists of not only meditation, but energy work and breathing exercises to increase tranquility and spiritual connection. Some have described “kriya” yoga as mentally directing energy vertically; up and down the 6 spinal centers.
This is considered a metaphysical type of yoga that is based on the idea that the entire universe consists of sound vibrations a.k.a. “nada.” The idea is that sound energy in motion rather than particles are responsible for creating the entire universe. The meditations in nada yoga involve utilizing sound in multiple ways including: internal music (called “anahata”) and external music (called “ahata”). As a person continues, the sound will eventually open their “chakras” (energy centers) with their internal sound. This type of yogic meditation may seem a bit “New Age” for most, but incorporates sounds (which people like).
This practice is derived from the Sanskrit word translating to “extension of the breath” or “life force.” Pranayama is considered the 4th “limb” of the 8 limbs of ashtanga yoga. To complicate things, you should know that there are over 50 different forms of Pranayama practice, meaning each has a different technique.
The goal with this meditation practice is to constantly pay attention to the inner awareness of “I” or the “Self.” It was founded by RamanaMaharshi who declared it as the single most effective way to discover the nature of the “I”-thinking. He suggested that the “I”-thought will eventually disappear and then the individual is left with true self-realization or liberation. The goal is for those practicing self-inquiry meditation to discover their authentic “Self.”
This is a type of meditative practice or ritual that has been around since 5th century AD in India. The word tantra consists of “tan” which means “expands” and “tra” which means “liberates.” There are a multitude of tantra practices as well as interpretations.
This involves directing attention to the “third eye” or “anja chakra,” an area located on your forehead between your eyebrows. When the attention shifts away from the “third eye” chakra, you simply refocus and maintain attention. Eventually your mental chatter quiets and your focus on this area improves. The fast-paced, stressful thoughts subside and you feel a sense of inner peace. This type of yogic meditation is among the most common. It is sometimes practiced by closing the eyelids, but still “gazing” with your physical eyes on your third eye.
Which meditation should you practice?
It totally depends on why you want to meditate in the first place. If your goal is to become more relaxed, you have plenty of great options. If your goal is to become more focused, you’d want to use a concentrative type of meditation. Various other types like Vajrayana actually increase arousal rather than decrease it, so be careful with the type you choose.
Whether you believe in the spiritual aspect of each (e.g. kundalini) is a personal thing and highly subjective. Assuming you want to meditate, pick a practice that appeals to you and give it a shot. However, keep in mind that the science behind meditation is relatively new in terms of long-term neural and physiological changes. We do know that different types of meditation produce specific neural and physiological adaptations.
Therefore choosing one type may literally transform your brain in an entirely different way than another. Many people assume that the benefits of every type of meditation can be lumped into a collective pile, but clearly they cannot. Assuming you practice meditation for a long-term, be sure to choose a practice that you enjoy and that helps you achieve your particular goal.
Personal thoughts on meditation…
Science clearly supports the idea that certain types of meditation can be beneficial for mental performance and physical health. That said, there are some dangers to be aware of such as: extensive meditation leading to social isolation, meditation worsening depression or anxiety, too much inward focus (not balanced with the external), and falsely thinking that all the answers are found by looking inwards.
Humans didn’t evolve to meditate, they evolved to seek out external things in their environment. While meditation has its place to help with spiritual endeavours, relaxation, and mental performance, too much meditation may lead to adverse experiences – especially for a novice. Also avoid trapping yourself in any new age “cult” thinking that meditation and the idea of enlightenment will solve all your problems, newsflash, it won’t.