In the process of examining the research about meditation and starting your own practice, you may have noticed different kinds of meditation being described. Just as there are different forms of physical exercise, different forms of meditation seek to cultivate different aspects of awareness. These meditation approaches may vary in terms of their goals, their forms of practice, or both. Similarly, some forms may share particular forms of practice, but do so in the pursuit of separate goals.
Find the Best Meditation for You
1. Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a form of mantra meditation that was popularized in the 60’s and 70’s when international celebrities like the Beatles studied TM. It involves the use of a mantra, and the official TM training program encourages regular practice of sitting with eyes closed for 15-20 minutes for 2 times per day. Current advocates of TM include David Lynch, Dr. Norman Rosenthal, and Dr. Mehmet Oz. Celebrities who practice TM include Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood, and Jerry Seinfield. Consensus among researchers is that TM may have beneficial health effects, but that those benefits have not been sufficiently defined or thoroughly measured.
2. Vipassana (Insight) Meditation originated as part of the Buddhist tradition, but the more modern vipassana movement may also be non-religious in its teachings. Insight meditation’s fundamental practice involves mindful attention on the breath. Awareness of thought, movement, and sensation during breathing cultivate insight into the nature of change on both internal/external areas and micro/macro levels. Practitioners are taught to recognize thoughts as objects of the mind that arise and pass away. Prominent teachers of insight meditation include: Tara Brach, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and Sharon Salzburg. Proponents don’t necessarily insist on a specific routine, but encourage a pattern that can be continued over time.
3. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MBSR bears many similarities to the primary concepts of insight meditation. Both emphasize mindfulness, or awareness of physical, emotional, and mental states. Jon Kabat-Zinn is credited with developing and popularizing the program. His work started with patients in the hospital setting. Research has linked MBSR to stress reduction, relaxation and quality of life improvements. The system incorporates meditation, body scan, simple yoga practices, and awareness exercises for the goal of reducing stress.
4. Christian meditation/prayer. Christians have been practicing forms of meditation and contemplation for thousands of years. The traditions of the Desert Fathers and Hesychasm seek to cultivate an increased consciousness of the presence of God. The practices include centering prayer and lectio divina, which are often described as being times of “stillness,” “resting in God,” and “descending with the mind into the heart.” In many cases, the intellect and imagination are active in seeking to understand a relationship with God. Major works include the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the writings of Thomas Merton. Current contemplative teachers include Father Thomas Keating.
5. Yogic meditation(s). There are several traditions that may incorporate forms of yoga and meditation, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Many of these incorporate meditation to free the practitioner from pain and pleasure, cultivate energy flow (chakra), or to elevate consciousness. Yogic meditations often involve a seated yoga posture and breathing or visualization exercises.
6. Loving-kindness (Metta) meditation. Loving-kindness meditation sprung mainly from Buddhist teachings, though some of its roots run deeper and broader to related Hindu teachings. Metta meditation seeks to cultivate goodwill and/or benevolence. Usually the practice involves cultivation of positive thoughts and feelings incrementally progressing outward from self towards all living beings. Metta meditation can be used alone or in combination with other meditation techniques.
7. Body-scan meditation. Body scan meditation is a technique rather than a full tradition of practice. It can be used in MBSR or other approaches. It most often involves sitting or lying in a relaxed state, and moving your awareness (scanning) across the body in a gradual, detailed, and successive sweep. The purpose is to simply notice whatever is there- be it pleasant, or unpleasant.
8. Walking meditation. Walking meditation is a technique employed by various traditions. The Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has written several books on walking meditation. At its core, walking meditation calls you to be increasingly aware of the thoughts and sensations that arise in each step. Walking meditation reveals a microcosm of nuanced experiences in a simple activity.
9. Tai ji & qi gong. These Chinese forms developed from martial arts practices and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) beliefs in the flow of energy (qi) in the body. These are not full-fledged systems of meditation, but are practices that can be used in ways similar to walking meditation or body scanning.
10. Guided meditation. A boggling array of guided meditations exist. Most are audio or video recordings that combine verbal instruction with periods of silence. The content and structure of guided meditations can vary greatly based on the teacher providing them. Tara Brach is an example of a well-known and experienced meditation teacher who offers a collection of guided meditations to try.
Which one is right for you?
It may be tempting to move around among meditation techniques and styles to try them out. This can be done, but avoid jumping around until you’ve gotten a solid “feel” for what each style/form is about. Keeping in mind also that your aim should be to cultivate a regular, consistent practice, begin by choosing approaches that will better fit with your lifestyle, goals, and beliefs.