There are dozens of meditation techniques—more than sixty in MeditationWise’s library alone!—so if you’re just starting out on your journey, the choices can be daunting. It helps to be realistic about your time commitment, lifestyle, and learning preferences to find a technique that turns into a long term practice.
What are the Basic Meditation Styles?
- Open Awareness: Vipassana and mindfulness meditation are two classic examples of open awareness, along with other Buddhist-originated techniques. The purpose of these meditations is not to do anything, but to observe—the breath, bodily sensations, feelings. This form of meditation emphasizes detachment from the mind’s stronghold so there may be space to witness things as they actually are.
Focused Attention: These meditations focus the attention on an internal or external object, thought, sound, or visualization. Trataka, or candle gazing, is a good example of this. The candle serves as a single point of reference to occupy the mind. Visualization techniques create an internal landscape to concentrate on, and meditations that invoke loving-kindness or compassion act similarly. Japa, or mantra meditation, use sacred sound that is either spoke aloud or repeated silently. These mantras can be as simple as a single syllable—such as ram—or involve complex invocations. Prayer can also be a form of focused attention.
Transcendental Meditation: While Transcendental Meditation, or TM, is also a form of mantra meditation, its mechanism emphasizes effortlessness and it works in the background to soothe the nervous system. TM has its own specific benefits as well.
Self-inquiry: The purpose of self-inquiry is to ask deep questions of yourself until the true essence of your being comes to light. Advaita Vedanta is one of the classic paths to self-realization, and Ramana Maharshi is one of self-inquiry's most prominent teachers.
Contemplation: Contemplation involves immersion in and careful study of sacred texts. Verses are slowly absorbed, mulled over, repeated, and mined for deeper meanings. It is a key element in many Christian, Jewish, and Islamic meditations.
Active Meditations: Meditation can take many forms. Mindful walking and labyrinth meditations are popular. So are whirling, dancing, forest bathing, and Kundalini meditations that involve arm movements. Osho popularized many forms of cathartic active meditations, arguing that in mind-dominated modern times, one must drive out the excess energy before being ready to sit still.
Which Techniques Best Fit My Lifestyle?
The first piece of advice when choosing a meditation technique is to be honest about your lifestyle. How much time do you have to practice? If your schedule is jam-packed, choose something that adds only a few minutes on to your morning routine—remember that consistency is the key to success when it comes to meditation. If, on the other hand, you have the time to deep dive, consider an immersion, such as a weekend Vipassana class. Similarly, adopt a technique that will bring balance to your life. Maybe your day job is high-pressure and stressful. A meditation technique that fosters deep relaxation and letting go would be a good complement—a simple mantra meditation can soothe the psyche, and yoga nidra, a body scan meditation done while lying down, is the equivalent of several hours of sleep. Less active lifestyles could benefit from techniques that sharpen the attention, such as a visualization practice that taps into the five elements of the body.
Which Techniques Best Fit My Learning Style?
Everyone has a different way of relating to the world through a specific way of learning. Visual learners will resonate with techniques that unleash the power of the inner eye—they excel at visualization and might find a technique like Central Channel meditation appealing. Auditory learners often gravitate toward mantra or singing techniques. Kirtan kriya is an especially powerful meditation that utilizes both. Kinesthetic learners engage by doing, so an active meditation or a japa practice that uses a rosary or mala would be a good fit. If you’re not sure which camp you’re part of, think of how you process memories. Do you tend to remember visuals, sounds, and conversations, or whole-body feelings?
Which Techniques Would be Most Pleasurable?
The habits that stick are the ones we enjoy. So think about what you would do at the end of a long day. Read? Then contemplative meditation would be a good fit. Listen to music? Try singing the Hare Krishna mantra in bhakti meditation. Work on a puzzle? A good koan—a Zen puzzle without an answer—will get your mind churning. Meditation can take the form of coloring a mandala, tapping into the feeling of forgiveness, or taking a walk in the park. Explore the options until you find a technique that speaks to you.