Meditation has been around since ancient times, but it’s only fairly recently that the western world has taken a keen interest in it. The ’60s experienced a renaissance of sorts when the Beatles and their fellow rockers brought eastern philosophies (including meditation) into the limelight with their music.
Nowadays meditation isn’t such an outlandish idea to westerners, and we know that it actually has a slew of benefits. Studies continually find correlations between meditation and potential health benefits, but we do know that it’s been shown to reduce stress, help people sleep and have a better appreciation for the present moment. There are a dizzying number of mediation styles and methods, and believe us, it’s not all black and white. There’s a good amount of crossover and offshoots, but we’ve cherry-picked five that will give you a good place to start exploring. And if you’re already a mediation master, maybe you’ll try a new style you’ve never thought about!
1. Guided Visualization
As a child, you were probably told about the “power of imagination” — well it’s true! In fact, that’s kind of the basis behind the guided visualization technique. In this form of meditation, you imagine a peaceful and positive experience, painting a lush world in the blank canvas of your mind. Perhaps you close your eyes and visualize yourself walking through a rainforest at dusk with a gentle stream babbling past your bare feet. Or maybe you’re a baseball player who imagines cracking off a home run right before the swing. For a more powerful or vibrant experience, a lot of people like to listen to designated audio recordings or even attend classes with an in-person guide.
Consider mindfulness a way of telling your thoughts, “I’m just here to observe.” The goal is to enter a state in which we’re able to maintain a non-judgemental awareness of the present. This may sound a little hard to grasp, but picture this: You’re in your pose (sitting with a straight back, head high and shoulders relaxed) and you’re focusing on breathing. Just breathing, that’s it. You’re feeling focused on your breath, but inevitably a thought from today’s important meeting pops in your head. Here’s the key to mindfulness: you observe the thought and let it pass by. Don’t dwell on it and don’t let it become you. Certainly don’t beat yourself up for having the thought in the first place. Simply notice it, label it and move on. It takes a lot of practice, but mindfulness is remembering that you are not your thoughts and you can seperate yourself from them.
3. Qi gong
With roots in Chinese culture, qi gong could be summarized as a moving meditation. It combines controlled breathing, coordinated body postures and movement to help you relax and lower stress levels. A lot of people wonder how tai chi and qi gong are different, and it basically boils down to this: Qi (prouncounced chee) gong is focused movement for specific situations, such as lung exercises, whereas tai chi is more of a holistic, whole-body practice. However, it’s important to note that qi gong is also centered around the concept of cultivating and balancing your life energy (or qi). So it’s really meant to coordinate your mind, body and breath.
Mettā meditation is a really wonderful way to practice and increase your empathy. It’s almost like an empathy weight-lifting class — stretching and building your muscles bit by bit until you work your way up to universal love. Essentially, you start by sitting in a meditative position, and focus on feelings of kindness and benevolence toward yourself. That’s right — it all starts with you. Once you get that down, you gradually move your positive thoughts outward. Next you direct your love toward a friend, someone you’re indifferent toward, a perceived enemy, and eventually the entire universe. If this sounds difficult, just remember that meditation is considered a “practice” for a reason.
You might know that repetition is the best way to perfect a skill, but did you also know it can be a great way to meditate? Stemming from Hindu and Buddhist traditions, the mantra style of meditation is centered around one specific word or phrase. Depending on who you ask, the phrase itself may not matter as much as the repetition, but you’re probably familiar with the most popular utterance “om.” Similar to mindfulness, mantras allow us to distance ourselves from invading thoughts and slip into a deeper state of awareness and peacefulness. Many people may initially see mantras as a glorified affirmation practice, but it’s quite different and more spiritually focused than that.
6. Bonus: Mobile Meditation!
Since we live here in the age of pocket technology, distractions are everywhere. But the positive side is that you can also use your phone for good! A few different, well-designed, science-backed apps can help you schedule in some much-needed time for your mantras and mindfulness. Headspace is a great place for beginners to start their journey into the world of meditation with guided exercises. Calm (as you may have guessed) focuses on the calming element of meditation, offering short and lengthy session, plus soothing sounds to help you fall asleep.
One final note: The reason there are so many types of meditation is because everyone is different and looking for their own unique practice. So do some exploring and see what works for you! You might fall in love with a style of meditation that isn’t even on this list — we won’t be offended. In fact, we’d like to hear what it is! So tell us in the comments below.