Meditation has been around for thousands of years. Although no one knows exactly when it began, variations of the practice were recorded in India, China, and Japan around 1500 BCE. Today, there are dozens of different styles of meditation - so many that it can be hard to choose. Here are a few broad categories.
Attributed in great part to the Buddhist tradition, the goal in mindfulness meditation is to increase our ability to become aware of the individual moments of our lives. During meditation, we practice being aware in the present moment. Having a focal point assists with this. The focus can be the breath, sounds in the environment, or sensations in the body, among other things. Practitioners accept and acknowledge thoughts as they arise, without judgment, and allow them to pass. Mindfulness helps us realize that thoughts, even negative ones, are transient in nature and, as such, not harmful to us if we acknowledge them and let them go. Guided meditations are popular for this method, including mindful walking practice and loving-kindness meditation.
Instead of the breath, a mantra is used to focus the mind. In some traditions, a person is given their own individual mantra. In others, a mantra such as “Om,” or “Peace within, peace without,” are repeated. Some people find repeating a mantra easier than focusing on the breath because it gives the “thinking” mind a job, so to speak. The repetition of the mantra may eventually cause it to lose its form, not sounding like its separate words any longer. This abstraction can open the mind to deeper awareness and insight.
While yoga is sometimes called “meditation in motion” there are a number of sitting meditation practices that come from yoga. In the “third-eye” meditation, the focus is on the imagined third-eye (slightly above the spot between the two eyebrows) which is considered a center of intuition and insight. The third-eye serves as the focal point and when the mind wanders, it is returned to the “eye.” Chakra meditation focuses on one or more of the seven chakras, or energy centers, in the body. Often the color associated with the charka is visualized to be spinning as a means of unblocking the energy. In Trataka, the person gazes at an object, such as a candle. Gazing at the candle helps focus the mind. Then, the eyes are closed as you visualize the candle. The thinking here is that if you can control your gaze, you can gain control of your mind.
There is a lot of overlap between meditation styles. Most of styles have a focal point of some sort and encourage stillness as part of the practice. Quieting the mind and gaining some insight into how the mind works is at the heart of most traditions. Almost any type of meditation can decrease stress, promote a sense calm, provide health benefits and improve sleep. So, which is the right one for you? The answer is that any of them might be. Try one style and see how you like it. Then, keep doing that or try another. Over the course of time, you may try many different styles. After a while, you will come to find that some styles resonate with you and others don’t. You may even begin to create your own blend of meditation styles. All of it is good. The only bad meditation is the one you don’t do.
Dienstmann, Giovanni, “Types of Meditation-An Overview of 23 Meditation Techniques,” liveanddare.com, January 28, 2015.
Foreman, Chad. “Why Repeating a Mantra is So Powerful and How to Do It,” thewayofmeditation.com, May 2016