There are many types of meditation one can use. Let’s talk about the different styles and techniques and their uses. I’ll also share my thoughts and experience regarding each. Some of these meditations I offer online and most of these, if not all, I offer at my studio in Madison, Wisconsin.
The takeaway from this is to realize that not every meditation is suited for every person. There is a style for everyone, take time to experiment and find what works for you. You may also find that one style will work for a time, and you move to another style. Certainly, I have found that to be true in my own meditation practice over almost 40 years.
More importantly, be open to other types of meditations. Sometimes we stay with one meditation and get bored and so we quit altogether. Other times we feel safe in one type and refuse to look at other styles that may be beneficial to us out of fear of the unknown. Openness and kindness are our keys to success regardless.
Guided Visualization Meditation – Guided Visualization Meditations are what I consider an entry-level to meditation. If one is new to meditation, these can be of assistance in helping you to relax and get accustomed to the idea of becoming quiet. These meditations usually are journeys into another realm, say a forest or mountain setting, or even an abstract, luminous world. These meditations require a voice (recorded or live) guiding you to imagine each aspect. Yoga Nidra or “yogic sleep” is a type of meditation that is a full and deep relaxation of the body and the mind that can leave the individual just as rested as a few hours of sleep. A Body Scan meditation is both a guided meditation and a mindfulness practice.
However, in all of this, guided meditation is not true meditation. But it is a meditation that most people have familiarity and is perfect from those who experience stress and anxiety in their lives.
My thoughts: Guided meditation was not my entry level to meditation. On rare occasions do I use a guided meditation myself. Typically, if I do, it would be a body scan or Yoga Nidra. I do enjoy assisting others to find relaxation through the many guided meditations I have led and recorded over the years. I find that is one area in which I have a “voice” for and I feel I do an excellent job in leading people to that inner sanctuary of peace.
In the online shop, you will find guided meditations available to you for purchase. About once a week, I post a guided meditation that I have done live at my studio to the Meditation Stepping Stones Facebook Group. Also see the podcast I produce called “Meditation Pebbles: 5 Minutes to Inner Peace.” At the Madison studio, I lead guided visualization meditations as well as Yoga Nidra at different intervals throughout the week. See the schedule for details.
Focused Attention Meditation – Focused Attention Meditations are as the name implies, methods used to focus our attention and concentration. These various methods are great for those with very active minds. The meditation object chosen helps to distract and anchor the busy mind from wandering off into thoughts about the day or other activities. Each time the mind wanders, one gently brings back to the object of focus. Through this practice, we build our capacity to overcome distraction and to sustain mental focus. The focus used depends on the intention of the practice. These concentrations can be directed on one of the following:
- Breath as Focus – This entails the complete focus on the breath, the inhale and the exhale. While focused on the breath, one may count 1 through 4 and repeat, imagine colors, entry point – nostrils, chest, or diaphragm, or other similar manipulations to stay with the in-breath and out-breath again and again.
- Mantra as Focus – A mantra is a word or phrase that is repeated continually throughout the practice time. The words could be everyday words such as “Peace” or “I am Love” to Sanskrit chants, “Om” or “Om Mani Padme Hum.”
- Other Options for Focus – Gazing at a candle flame, prayer, mandala, spiritual or another image, Transcendental meditation, sound, and the relaxation response.
My thoughts: Focused Attention Meditation was my entry point into meditation. I started with mantras, gazing at a candle flame, and later with breath focus. I found this type of meditation, also called one-pointedness, effectively enhances and deepens insight into my practice. It keeps me away from the scattered and fragmented flow of attention. Although, like anyone, my mind can wander in meditation as that is a normal occurrence for any meditator.
In the meditation instruction classes that I teach, I teach a variety of these methods as the concentration is vital for all meditators, and especially for beginner students. During class, I present a breath focus meditation as our first meditation in class and the second varies as it could be another focus meditation or one of the other techniques. Sometimes, I will assist students by using cues during the meditation session to assist students to regain their focus. Sometimes we stay in silence and students are on their own in gently bringing themselves back to focus.
Some may wonder why the cues, but I will say that I have one particular student who has practiced as long as I have who expressed appreciation for the cue and mentioned it in a recent class session. Even those of us who have been meditating for decades need reminders! In the fall, I will provide an online class for these techniques for those who might be interested. Let me add to the short reference that I indicated above on “sound.” Sound can be a focused meditation as well. For example, I offer twice a month a Singing Bowls performance as a meditation. By becoming entranced and centered on the sound, one can gravitate to different states of consciousness.
Mindfulness Meditation – Mindfulness is a 2500-year-old Buddhist tradition. It is the nonjudgmental awareness of senses, feelings, and thoughts. You could also call this Focused Awareness. It is also intuitive and a retraining of the mind. This is an Open Monitoring technique, which is for those who want a more expansive quality in their meditations. It is also used to help cultivate non-reactivity in our lives. Mindfulness brings about self-acceptance and self-understanding. We cannot make changes in our lives until we come into awareness and acceptance, then changes can occur. The following are Mindfulness variances:
- Vipassana or Insight Meditation which is focused on the breath at nostrils yet observation of all sensations you are feeling. No judgment of what is experienced.
- LovingKindness is to embrace the present moment, accept the reality of both positive and negative responses, take control of external situations or internal reactions, and help you to care for yourself and respond compassionately to others. It provides you with phrases to encourage the experience of self-compassion and compassion for others.
- Body Scan is done lying down typically. This is the awareness of bodily sensations, step by step.
- Expanding Awareness can be on breath, body, sounds, thoughts, feelings, and openness.
- Visualizations – Mountain Meditation to help you cultivate stability and groundedness and feel more centered. Lake Meditation to explore the beauty of accepting and allowing experiences to be just as they are.
My thoughts: I have practiced Mindfulness Meditation off and on for many years with a high concentration of it in the last several years. Mindfulness, particularly Vipassana, is my go-to meditation at this point in my life. I also have spent a concentrated and lengthy time working with a former Buddhist monk as a mentor in the practice of LovingKindness. Both practices have allowed me to enter into a deeper level of awareness, acceptance, non-judgment, self-love, and self-compassion. My mind was disciplined, as my mentor would say, but the practice of the heart was the opening that I needed to cultivate my inner life to a higher level. Thus, my current status.
I offer specific classes in both Mindfulness in all its forms as well as a particular class in LovingKindness at the studio. I have in my mind to do an 8-week Mindfulness specific class, and I may do so in Madison and online in the fall or winter. Mindfulness meditations are also incorporated into the Meditation Instruction Classes on Saturdays and Wednesdays.
- Movement Meditation – Yoga, T’ai chi, and Walking Meditation are just a few of the movement meditations that involve focusing on your bodily sensations, breathing, and mindfully watching your thoughts and emotions. These physical mind-body exercises can be influential to your well-being.
- Reflective or Contemplative Meditation – This type of meditation is when a choice is made for a topic for reflection or contemplation. It is to gain deeper insights into, say, a reading in a spiritual text, philosophy, or a question you may have in your life. These can be an effective tool for focusing our attention to discover a creative solution or a breakthrough insight.
- Energy Meditation – This meditation is a combination of specific breathing patterns and specific visualizations practiced simultaneously. This increases physical energy quickly along with the subtle energy bodies to increase one’s life-force vibration.
- Kundalini Meditation – This is a powerful form of meditation combining Mantra and Mudra (hand position) and sometimes movement. It revitalizes and purifies the nervous system while rejuvenating the brain and body, therefore, enhancing consciousness and releasing self-destructive behaviors and addiction.
- Many others – Of course there are many others but most likely they would fall into the other categories. Explore these for yourself!
My thoughts: I have not honestly practiced all of these options. However, I have practiced yoga for 20 years, as well as now currently taking Yoga Teacher Training with a specialty in Chair Yoga. I know yoga at various points in my life has helped bring not only calm and peace into my life, but also a gentle workout. You don’t have to be flexible to try yoga. There are many modifications that can be made no matter your body type. My studio has a yoga instructor, Sarah Kangas, who offers two classes a week.
I also have experienced Walking Meditation, and particularly within the framework of a Labyrinth. A labyrinth is similar but not like a maze. A maze has dead ends where a labyrinth path leads to the center and out again. It is a spiritual exercise to quiet, center, and allow contemplation. I also offer a Labyrinth Walk at my studio once a month.
Contemplative Reflection Meditation is a meditation too I have done for many years because of my spiritual path and life as a spiritual teacher. It brings the profundity of what I study to a deeper level.
Group Meditation – No matter the style you choose personally, as it is of course about self-exploration, I invite you to engage in group meditation from time to time. Meditating with others makes it personally and socially more powerful. You may be skeptical in this regard. However, there have been numerous studies that have shown that a group of people meditating together has a measurable and beneficial ripple effect on the greater population. Think of here of movements for global peace with the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
In group meditation, you can feel more connected to the whole as the knowledge that all together we are in the silence with the intention of sharing as one. Just like a group fitness class, meditating as a group helps to develop the habit of meditation so it brings you that full benefit. Meditating in a group, particularly with a seasoned instructor or practitioner, you can receive feedback on your format, find answers addressing difficulties with your practice, learn more about appropriate meditation posture, and receive feedback regarding experiences that arise during the process.
My thoughts: Even though I have meditated solo since I was 16 years of age, I find delight in meditating together with a group. I find the undeniable feeling of connectedness and oneness immensely enlightening and satisfying. As a long time, practitioner and instructor, I am honored to support other practitioners with my experience so that they too may reap the fruits of their “labor.”
At the studio, I offer two different session times for Open Meditation and certainly, other sessions are group gatherings for joining together whether you need to learn a technique or not. It’s always important to be open to learning something new. There is always something you may not know. I, myself, always look for training and other classes to enhance my own personal and spiritual growth in the practice of meditation.
Now that you know about the different techniques and how they can assist you, give them a test drive and see what works for you. You may be surprised. Remember I am always available for assistance by email, or if you need a more dedicated support, we can join together for personal instruction and coaching.
Peace to You in Your Practice,