By now you’ve heard of meditation’s many health benefits, and you’ve probably even tried a few minutes of quiet sitting to see what all the hype is about.
You may have gone so far as to put in hours researching meditation, especially after you landed on 28,000,000 different Google results in your hunt for information.
Eventually you uncovered the ultimate purpose of meditation: to declutter the mind.
Meditation, whatever the label, is designed to “bring attention to,” or “become aware of.” We become aware of thought, the inner workings of our minds. We grow in insight about what we think and our reactions to the thinking.
The very technique of meditation invites in a spaciousness around those thoughts because we’re able to monitor, observe, and slow the reactions. The more distance between thought and reaction, the more we come to experience the profound benefits of patience, love and compassion.
The techniques vary, but not the results. No one version is better than the other.
Still, you’re on this blog, curious about what type of meditation is perfect for you.
As straight-forward and unbiased as possible, here are 15 types of meditation and their how-to:
1. Binaural Beats
Sometimes known by their coined monikers, Paraliminals or Holosync, a binaural beat is an auditory illusion perceived when two different sound waves are listened to (one through each ear) simultaneously. A kind of music, the varying pitch allows for deep concentration as the mind reconciles the different sounds.
This modality uses the sense of sound to pull the mind from external awareness to internal awareness. The ability to generate alpha waves (levels of meditation) through these sounds are supported by science.
2. Gazing Meditation (Trataka)
Powerful and impactful, this technique fixes the gaze on an object for a few minutes, then with eyes closed, that same object is visualized as an inner image at the eyebrow center. The gazing practice and its muscular and mental strengthening effects help the meditator disconnect from reactions and clinging more easily in daily life.
This modality relies on focusing on a single object or idea during the session, often a candle flame.
3. Guided Meditation
Guided by a teacher, usually with eyes closed, a person explores their imagination and inner workings through visualizing different scenes and scenarios to effect an emotional or intellectual result. This result is assessed to offer insight and clarity around a situation or state of being.
This modality uses sound, imagery, chakras, light and other means to conjure a meditative state. Hypnosis and NLP fall under this category.
A mantra is a word or a sound repeated to aid in concentration. The mantra or phrase affirms a desired belief and, through repetition, envelopes the person in a new perspective. The outcome can be mental transformation and altered thought patterns. This is a fundamental basis of other, more complex types of meditation.
This modality uses various languages or tongues to form the phrasings that are repeated by the practitioner.
5. Metta Meditation
Also called “Loving Kindness” meditation, Metta is intended to spread love and kindness to the world through conscious directioning. Studies show this work increases the experience of positive emotions after consistent practice.
This modality is done seated with eyes closed. Imagine what you wish for your life and those around you, and compose those desires into 3-4 phrases, e.g. “May I be loved.” Then extend that out to others, “May all beings everywhere be loved.”
6. Moving Meditation
Walking, dancing, painting, each can be used as a means of meditation. Whatever fosters a mental state of sensory observance, away from thought, is a moving meditation. It allows you to distract mind away from its usual musings and fall into center, one with the body.
This modality uses rhythmic physical movements to focus and center the mind. Physical movement can be rote and routine, yet laboring, but something that allows the mind to look upon itself for insight.
7. Prayer (Christian)
A conversation with a higher power, or deity (in this case, God). The person who prays is expressing gratitude, making a request, or confessing sins (forgivable acts). This can be done repeating a supportive phrase, or casually conversing and listening for guidance.
In this modality, fears and requests are passed on or given to this higher power in exchange for relief, peace and hope in the mind of the person. It’s the exchange of fear through faith.
Hardly sexual in origin, the majority practice this method using advanced techniques of mind and body stillness. Ritualized sex is practiced by a few lineages, but isn’t the dominant methodology.
This modality uses the bodily sensations to manage the mind. Osho says, “In your body, there exists a subtle current of electricity, very subtle. But the subtler it is, the deeper it goes. It is not very visible.” Intense concentration and self-control with this energy is key. Partner practice helps enliven and bring attention to this energy.
9. Taoist (Daoist)
Taoist meditation underlies the Chinese religious or philosophical tradition of living in harmony with the Tao (the Way). It is founded on tenets of effortless action, naturalness, simplicity, spontaneity, compassion, frugality, and humility.
This modality incorporates concentrative, insight and visualization meditation along with fasting and vegetarianism.
American nun, Pema Chödrön, teaches Tonglen as a path for cultivating love and compassion. It’s a process of opening the heart to all experiences, painful or pleasurable, and embracing each rather than rejecting.
This modality is intended to spread wellness to the world by working through our own fear or resistance. For example, a practitioner will breathe in another’s pain so that person can get well, and while breathing out sends that person relaxation or whatever else feels relieving and joyful.
11. Transcendental Meditation (TM)
Backed by probably the largest library of scientific evidence and celebrity endorsement, Transcendental Meditation is built upon conditioning the mind to respond to thought in new, self-reflective ways.
This modality is done sitting comfortably, with closed eyes, repeating a designated mantra (in Sanskrit) without moving lips or making a sound for 20 minutes, twice a day.
Founded in China as a type of martial arts training, Qigong is done to cultivate and balance chi (qi), or “life energy.” It is believed to develop human potential by awakening one to his true nature.
This modality is done by coordinating slow, intentional movement of the legs, arms and torso, together with the flow of breath. It is used for self-healing, alternative medicine, exercise and meditation.
Vipassana means “insight” or “clear seeing” in Pali, and it’s meant to bring attention to the impermanence of your thoughts by focusing on the breath and fluttering sensation throughout the body. This modality is done seated and benefits greatly from complete stillness.
Theravada Buddhist in origin, Vipassana was made popular in the west by S.N. Goenka. I went on a 10-day silent retreat through his center to learn this method and it’s become my favorite. More here.
Yoga is bigger than the poses (asanas) you do on your mat. With origin in India, yoga is based on the larger work, Yoga Sutras, by Patanjali. The practice, in all its forms, has much to do with concentration.
Be it sitting or moving, through extreme concentration, the mind and body reach exhaustion during yogic practice, and allow for calming and centering beyond thought. This modality includes Kundalini, Chakra, Third Eye meditation, Pranayama (breathing meditation) and others.
15. Zazen (Zen)
Of Japanese origin, this modality is based on seated meditation, as Zazen means “seated Zen.” Founded as a means of insight into the nature of existence, it is based on the study of koans—or stories. Using koans as the means, the practitioner processes a direct experience with a reality beyond thought.
This modality is done seated, with folded legs and hands, and an erect but settled spine.
The list above is by no means exhaustive. But why should it be? Why try to explain and dissect something to death when it doesn’t even matter?
At the end of the day, all the “categories” of meditation don’t matter.
What matters is that there are options. Whatever your temperament, whatever your inclination, whatever your goal, there is a meditation method perfect for your lifestyle and belief system.
The list above is meant to give an overview of the more popular types of meditation practices out there today—not to overwhelm you, but to encourage you.
Explore, experiment. Choose one that resonates and practice it for a period of time to gauge the effects. Like it? Keep going.
After bouncing your way through too soft and too small, I’m sure you’ll find just right.