At this busy time of year it’s time to look at the benefits of stepping back and benefitting from meditation. Karen Northshield looks at different approaches, so hopefully you can find one that works for you.
I believe we are all spiritual beings by nature and that we are all little buddhas in soul. Meditation has been around for centuries, more precisely since humans became conscious of their breath. First off, there is no good or bad way to meditate. It really depends on what works for you. Meditation practitioners from all walks of life would agree with the countless benefits on physical and mental health, such as stress reduction, happiness, improved focus, mental clarity and much more. These benefits are also backed by science. With repetition, meditation can build into a good habit and a healthy lifestyle. Who wouldn’t want a happier and healthier life?
Here is a list of ten different forms of meditation practices, their benefits and degree of difficulty, in no specific order.
1 : Guided meditation
A narrator guides the practitioner through the meditation process. You simply follow the narrator’s guidelines. The meditation sessions can vary greatly depending on the theme. This form of meditation is recognized as being one of the easiest due to the fact that you don’t have to deal with complete silence which can create anxiety and worry to the beginner and the doubts that come when practicing meditation by yourself. For the beginner, this is the best way to start. However, with practice it is good to move on to different types of meditation for the other benefits.
2 : Mindfulness breathing meditation
The idea is to focus on the sensation of breathing – not just imaging but actually feeling the air going in and out of your nose. Should a thought appear, simply notice it and let it go; and then bring your attention back to your breathing.
“Should a thought appear, simply notice it and let it go”
The key here is to follow the breath and become aware and simply notice what happens with the mind and feelings which by nature tend to fluctuate. Other than calm breathing, mindfulness breathing meditation cultivates the ability to observe our thoughts without judgment. In any meditation, focusing on and staying with the breath is essential and central. This type of meditation is in theory simple, in practice it can be challenging.
3: Metta meditation also known as ‘Loving Kindness Meditation’
When practicing Metta Meditation, the goal is to send out love without restraint. There are several steps to metta meditation:
Step 1 is to send love, warmth and light to oneself unconditionally.
Step 2 is to do the same thing to a friend or a loved one;
Step 3 is to repeat with a stranger;
Step 4 is to repeat with someone we may feel adversity;
Step 5 is to repeat the process with the universe as a whole.
Loving Kindness meditation is known for increasing empathy towards other people and happiness for yourself. What you give is what you get in return. By sending out love and good vibes, the universe sends these back to you in one way or another. In theory, this kind of meditation, practiced with sincerity, could improve one’s social skills. When practicing metta meditation, you are essentially training yourself to be more loving. This type of meditation can be amusing and different than the ‘typical’ kind of meditation practice.
“Loving Kindness meditation is known for increasing empathy towards other people and happiness for yourself”
4: Focused attention meditation
Focused attention meditation involves any sort of meditation where you focus on a stimulus. It can be an object, a part of your body, or a mental image. Focused attention meditation activates and strengthens a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. This is the part of our brain used for detecting errors, overcoming impulses, and solving problems.This is a great form of meditation to enhance your focus, to channel your thoughts and for impulse control. Focused attention meditation is known to be an advanced form of meditation as it requires attention and concentration.
5: Candle meditation
Is a type of focused attention meditation and personally one of my favorites. The idea is to focus on the flame of a candle – real or LED – and watch the candle flame do its dance. This type of meditation is very appeasing and calming to the mind.
“With candle meditation, we are reminded of our gentleness by nature”
The candle flame is thought to mirror our thoughts which by staring into the flame come to a halt. When our eyes divert away, the idea is to recenter our gaze into the flame. Just like our thoughts which are passing and our mind which is wandering, we are reminded to re-center ourselves time and time again. With candle meditation, we are reminded of our gentleness by nature, just like the candle flame.
6 : Body scan meditation
Is a type of focused attention meditation with movement going up or down the body. The idea is to remain present within one part of the body usually starting from the head to toe, or inversely from toe to head. Each time we center our attention to a body part, that part of the body becomes present and appeased. By the end of this meditation practice, the whole body should be at rest. This type of meditation best works with a guided narrator and is recommended before sleep.
“The whole body should be at rest”
7: Mantra Meditation
Mantra meditation requires one to repeat a phrase or a series of words over and over again. Choose a positively phrased mantra and repeat with positive emotions. When repeating a phrase to yourself and focus on it with such intensity you reinforce the neurons associated with the thought until it manifests. This can be a positive or a negative pattern or mental reinforcement. In life, we often repeat negative mantras or beliefs that we currently have about ourselves and life in general which become our reality. Mantra meditation can reprogramme the way you think and view yourself.
For example if you use a mantra like “My life is full of joy” you will actually start to
become more grateful for the little things throughout the day. If you use a mantra like
“I can achieve anything I put my mind to” you will start feeling more confident in your
abilities which can cause you to take more action. This is a great type of meditation if you are seeking to change your thought habits and beliefs.
Just like mindfulness breathing meditation, mantra meditation is in theory simple, in practice can be a challenge but very beneficial to reinforce a positive thought pattern.
8 : Pranayama Meditation. Also known as breath control meditation.
This technique is very similar to breathing meditation with adding a timer to your breathing. Often the form of the 4-4-4-4 box method is utilized. The idea is to breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds. Hold the breath for 4 seconds. Exhale slowly for 4 seconds. And then hold for 4 seconds and then repeat the process over again. This form of meditation is most widely known for its calming benefits. Studies have shown that it lowers your blood pressure, reduces stress, and even helps you fall asleep. It is also acknowledged as one of the easier forms of meditation to practice. There are great apps out there for box breathing. When using a guided app, this practice is easy and comforting to follow.
“Studies have shown that it lowers your blood pressure, reduces stress, and even helps you fall asleep”
9 : Moving Meditation
Whether it’s walking, doing the dishes, yoga, tai chi, chi gong or even dancing, the idea is to incorporate mindfulness into the movement of your body. While you move you focus on the physical changes and sensations that occur. For example if you chose to practice moving meditation while walking your focus should be on feeling the ground beneath your feet. This form of meditation teaches you how to enter the flow state. For people who find it hard to sit still, this type of meditation is recommended. However this meditation can become a double edged sword because moving often makes it easier to forget that your goal is to meditate. This form of meditation is close to mindfulness meditation which requires one to become aware of what we are doing at each passing and present moment.
By far my favorite meditation type. With this meditation, you create a mental image or a film of yourself, of the best version of yourself or of how you would like to be. In all cases, you visualize a positive and healthy image of yourself. This can be a past, present or future version of yourself. First you visualize the mental image of yourself then feel the sensations related to that image. The idea is to manifest your thoughts and to live them in the moment and duration of the meditation practice. This can be for example winning a race, winning a medal, feeling free and healthy, dancing and letting your hair loose, or whatever else suits your desire.
“Visualize a positive and healthy image of yourself”
Some of the meditation types may carry different names depending on the custom or culture. More meditation techniques exist out there. Some can be combined such as the candle meditation with the focused attention meditation or body scan meditation and guided meditation and all can be set to a gentle background music. Try out each one and experiment for yourself which one(s) work the best for you. To give you a quickstart try out youtube channels and apps on the meditation type and start reaping the benefits today!