Meditation offers time for relaxation and heightened awareness in a stressful world where our senses are often dulled. Research suggests that meditation has the potential for more than just temporary stress relief.
Educators, spiritual leaders, and mental health experts have developed dozens of forms of meditation. The variety suggests there is a form of meditation to suit most people, regardless of personality or lifestyle.
For someone who meditates, the practice offers a chance to improve physical well-being, as well as emotional health. However, there is no “right way” to meditate, meaning people can explore the different types until they find one that works for them.
Fast facts on types of meditation:
- Within each type of meditation, there are several sub types to discover and practice.
- Meditation teachers have different ideas about how frequently a person should meditate.
- It is fine to blend types or to test different approaches until the right one is found.
Types of meditation
The following seven examples are some of the best-known ways to meditate:
1. Loving-kindness meditation
With the many types of meditation to try, there should be one to suit most individuals.
Loving-kindness meditation is also known as Matte meditation. Its goal is to cultivate an attitude of love and kindness toward everything, even a person’s enemies and sources of stress.
While breathing deeply, practitioners open their minds to receiving loving kindness. They then send messages of loving kindness to the world, to specific people, or to their loved ones.
In most forms of this meditation, the key is to repeat the message many times, until the practitioner feels an attitude of loving kindness.
Loving-kindness meditation is designed to promote feelings of compassion and love, both for others and oneself.
It can help those affected by:
- interpersonal conflict
This type of meditation may increase positive emotions and has been linked to reduced depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress or PTSD.
2. Body scan or progressive relaxation
Progressive relaxation, sometimes called body scan meditation, is meditation that encourages people to scan their bodies for areas of tension. The goal is to notice tension and to allow it to release.
During a progressive relaxation session, practitioners start at one end of their body, usually their feet, and work through the whole.
Some forms of progressive relaxation require people to tense and then relax muscles. Others encourage a person to visualize a wave, drifting over their body to release tension.
Progressive relaxation can help to promote generalized feelings of calmness and relaxation. It may also help with chronic pain. Because it slowly and steadily relaxes the body, some people use this form of meditation to help them sleep.
3. Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that urges practitioners to remain aware and present in the moment.
Rather than dwelling on the past or dreading the future, mindfulness encourages awareness of a person’s existing surroundings. Crucial to this is a lack of judgment. So, rather than reflecting on the annoyance of a long wait, a practitioner will simply note the wait without judgment.
Mindfulness meditation is something people can do almost anywhere. While waiting in line at the grocery store, for example, a person might calmly notice their surroundings, including the sights, sounds, and smells they experience.
A form of mindfulness is involved in most kinds of meditation. Breath awareness encourages practitioners to be aware of their breathing, while progressive relaxation draws attention to areas of tension in the body.
Because mindfulness is a theme common to many forms of meditation, it has been extensively studied.
Research has found that mindfulness can:
- reduce fixation on negative emotions
- improve focus
- improve memory
- lessen impulsive, emotional reactions
- improve relationship satisfaction
Some evidence suggests mindfulness may improve health. For example, a study of African-American men with chronic kidney disease found that mindfulness meditation could lower blood pressure.
4. Breath awareness meditation
Breath awareness is a type of mindful meditation that encourages mindful breathing.
Practitioners breathe slowly and deeply, counting their breaths or otherwise focusing on their breaths. The goal is to focus only on breathing and to ignore other thoughts that enter the mind.
As a form of mindfulness meditation, breath awareness offers many of the same benefits as mindfulness. Those include reduced anxiety, improved concentration, and greater emotional flexibility.
5. Kundalini yoga
Kundalini yoga is a physically active form of meditation that blends movements with deep breathing and mantras. People usually learn from a teacher or do a class. However, someone can learn the poses and mantras at home.
Similarly to other forms of yoga, kundalini yoga can improve physical strength and reduce pain. It may also improve mental health by reducing anxiety and depression.
A 2008 study of veterans with chronic low-back pain, for instance, found that yoga reduced pain, increased energy, and improved overall mental health.
6. Zen meditation
Zen meditation, sometimes called Brazen is a form of meditation that can be part of Buddhist practice. Many Zen practitioners study under a teacher because this kind of meditation involves specific steps and postures.
The goal is to find a comfortable position, focus on breathing, and mindfully observe one’s thoughts without judgment.
Again, this form of meditation is similar to mindfulness meditation but requires more discipline and practice. People may prefer it if they are seeking both relaxation and a new spiritual path.
7. Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental Meditation is a spiritual form of meditation where practitioners remain seated and breathe slowly. The goal is to transcend or rise above the person’s current state of being.
During a meditation session, practitioners focus on a mantra or a repeated word or series of words. A teacher determines the mantra based on a complex set of factors, sometimes including the year the practitioner was born, and the year the teacher was trained.
An alternative allows people to choose their mantra. This more contemporary version is not technically Transcendental Meditation, though it may look substantially similar. A practitioner might decide to repeat “I am not afraid of public speaking” while meditating.
People who practice Transcendental Meditation report both spiritual experiences and heightened mindfulness.
The techniques in the Headspace app stem from both the Burmese and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, even though some of the names have been changed from the original translation to make them more accessible. Currently, there are eight core techniques, combining elements of both insight (vipassana) and calming (samatha) meditations in most of the 10- or 30-day courses.
There are many definitions of meditation, but at Headspace, it is defined as a formal exercise to cultivate compassion and awareness, with these qualities being seen as the foundation to a healthy and happy life. It is through the practice of the specific techniques listed below that we build stability of mind over time.
- Focused attention. This form of meditation is fairly straightforward because it uses the object of our breath to focus attention, to anchor the mind and maintain awareness. Notice your mind starting to wander? Simply return to the breath.
- Body scan. Often, our body is doing one thing while our mind is elsewhere. This technique is designed to sync body and mind by performing a mental scan, from the top of the head to the end of your toes. Imagine a photocopier light slowly moving over your body, bringing attention to any discomfort, sensations, tensions, or aches that exist.
- Noting. Whether you are focusing on the breath or simply sitting in quiet, this technique involves specifically “noting” what’s distracting the mind, to the extent that we are so caught up in a thought or emotion that we’ve lost our awareness of the breath (or whatever the object of focus is). We “note” the thought or feeling to restore awareness, create a bit of space, as a way of letting go, and to learn more about our thought patterns, tendencies, and conditioning.
- Visualization. This type of meditation invites you to picture something or someone in your mind — we are essentially replacing the breath with a mental image as the object of focus. It can feel challenging to some, but it’s really no different than vividly recalling the face of an old friend naturally, without effort. And so it is with meditation. By conjuring a specific visualization, we not only get to observe the mind, but we also get to focus on any physical sensations.
- Loving kindness. Focusing on the image of different people — it doesn’t matter if we know them or not, if we like them or not — is integral to this technique. We direct positive energy and goodwill first to ourselves, and then, as a ripple effect, to others, which helps us let go of unhappy feelings we may be experiencing. Below is a video with more instruction on how to use the loving kindness meditation technique.
- Skillful compassion. Similar to the loving kindness meditation technique, this one involves focusing on a person you know or love and paying attention to the sensations arising from the heart. By opening our hearts and minds for the benefit of other people, we have the opportunity to foster a feeling of happiness in our own mind.
- Resting awareness. Rather than focusing on the breath or a visualization, this technique involves letting the mind truly rest; thoughts may enter, but instead of distracting you and pulling you away from the present moment, they simply drift away.
- Reflection. This technique invites you to ask yourself a question: perhaps something such as, “What are you most grateful for?” (Note that asking yourself a question using the second person — you — will discourage the intellectual mind from trying to answer it rationally.) Be aware of the feelings, not the thoughts, that arise when you focus on the question.