What are the Different Types of Meditation?
Last week we talked about the first two elements of building a meditation practice: meeting yourself where you are at and building a structure that works for you. The last big piece of practice is, of course, the actual type(s) of meditation that you do. And there are more than one kind so you get to choose which work best for you! Remember, you are in control. There is no pressure to stick with a type of meditation or technique that doesn’t feel right to you.
Guided, Unguided or Mixture of Both
You can start by seeing whether you like to be guided in the meditation (someone is giving you instructions on what to do), unguided (you are doing the meditation on your own), or a mixture of both. Personally, I’ve found that it’s easiest to begin a practice using guided meditations since this gives my mind a chance to relax and follow, instead of leading myself. After a while, unguided meditations started to feel more approachable and don’t feel like additional “work” so now I tend to do a mixture of both.
Within guided and unguided meditations, there are lots of different options. Below are just a few to get you started.
I wanted to start the list with something that you might not expect. When we think of meditation, most of us have an image of a person sitting on the ground in a lotus position with hands on their knees. We might associate meditation with stillness but that is just one of the ways to practice. Another way is by using movement - you can mediate in walking, gardening, doing yoga and even cleaning. That’s right, cleaning. The idea of movement meditation is to be present with the activity that you are doing and letting your attention rest in your movement.
TRY IT OUT Here are instructions for a 10 minute walking meditation from the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley University. Give it a shot!
Focused Attention Meditation
This type of meditation is often referred to as a mindfulness meditation. The core idea is that you rest your attention on an anchor like the breath, sounds, colors, textures, or mantras. When your mind wanders or when you are distracted by a feeling, you can gently note what it was that distracted you by labelling it “thinking” or “feeling” and then returning your attention to the chosen anchor.
Open Awareness Meditation
I feel that this type of meditation can also be referred to as a mindfulness meditation but the idea is opposite to that of focused attention meditation. Instead of focusing your attention on a single anchor (i.e. breath, sound, etc.), the idea is to allow yourself to simply observe thoughts, sensations, and the world inside of you and around you.
TRY IT OUT See if you like any of these open awareness meditations by Tara Brach.
If you love mental imagery, you’ll probably love this technique! The main idea is that you allow yourself to experience an image that is healing, relaxing or soothing. Allowing the image to emerge itself without forcing it and not trying to make it crystal clear in your mind. It’s totally okay if the image is not “in focus” - it’s the relaxing sensation that the image gives us that matters.
TRY IT OUT Here is a relaxing 10 minute Ocean Escape visualization.
Breathing techniques mean that you will breathe in a specific way to engage relaxation response in your body and mind. There are lots of breathing techniques available, including the one that is at the very end of this blog post. Breathing techniques are great for when you don’t have a lot of time or energy.
TRY IT OUT Here’s a popular 9 minute guided deep breathing exercise called belly breathing.
While the list above and in the image below is not exhaustive, it can serve as a good start to growing your meditation practice. Which ones do you want to start with? Screenshot and circle the options below that you’ll use as a jumping off point.
Before we sign off, here are five key things to remember when starting a meditation practice:
You don’t have to pick one structure or one type of meditation - you can mix and match and adjust as much as you need.
No need to set a difficult goal of meditating for 30 minutes every day from the get-go. Set less time than you think you can do to increase the likelihood of reaching the goal (i.e. making it much more likely that you will return to the practice the next day).
It’s best to meditate at the same time every day but it’s okay if you don’t. Remember, better done than perfect.
You don’t have to “be” or feel a certain way, or sit or lay down in a certain position. Meet yourself where you are at.
Not every meditation will feel magical or even that helpful. That is completely and totally okay. You are building a skill, not going on a deep spiritual discovery journey every single time. If that happens once in a while for you, great. If not, great. Just don’t go looking for it (read about setting expectations in my previous blog, How Meditation Helps and What Meditation Cannot Do).
Now let’s breathe in for four counts.. 1..2..3..4… drop your shoulders, relax your jaw and exhale for six.. 1..2..3..4..5..6.. One more time. Wonderful, you are doing so good.
Till next time.
Wishing you joy, safety and ease.
Anna is a blog contributor, meditation leader and teacher, and photographer. You can follow her on Instagram @skillsforwellness and find her blogging away at reset brain + body. reset brain + body is a mental wellness practice where traditional talk therapy is elevated through the integration of meditation, nutrition, yoga and mindfulness. Connect with reset brain + body on Instagram & Facebook, check out the class schedule, or contact us to book an appointment.