With so many types of meditation out there it is really easy to be overwhelmed or confused by your options. If you have tried meditation and felt that it was a major fail, there may be a reason for that other than meditation stinks.
After practicing meditation for 20 years and teaching it for 12, I can attest to the fact that “one size does not fit all.”
There are some forms of meditation that work better for some more than others. It would be great to have ample free time and limitless resources to try out every meditation retreat in your area but most of us just don’t have time for that.
So here is a quick and dirty breakdown of the most popular meditations out there with a smattering of advice on which ones probably won’t work for you and which ones might work better.
I had a yoga student who hated savasana – the final relaxation pose. HATED IT! It made her want to scream and run out of the studio. If you’re like her and the very idea of being still and relaxing drives you bonkers then ‘Body Scan and Progressive Relaxation’ may not be for you.
What it is: as it sounds you sit or lie down and using your awareness and attention, scan your body from head to toe, progressively tensing then relaxing each muscle group. Many people find this super calming and a great thing to do before bed. Others, not so much. If that kind of inner focused attention isn’t your thing maybe focusing your awareness outward would fit you better.
Like the Loving-kindness meditation.
What it is. This meditation focuses on sending compassion to one’s self and then to other people, to the world and the universe. It is about expanding our experience of compassion even to people we consider our enemies (or our frenemies. Especially our frenemies). The basic gist is you say, “I love myself. May I be happy. May I be well. May I peaceful. May I be free.” The exact words can differ but the intention remains the same.
Then you can think of people in your life to focus on and say those words to them, “I love you. May you be happy. May you be well. May you be peaceful. May you be free.”
People who like to feel that they are doing something useful with their time will probably resonate with this meditation. Because not only are you giving yourself a generous dose of compassion (and who doesn’t need that?) but you are also sending peaceful and loving thoughts to your circle and the world at large. It feels pretty good … knowing that you are part of the solution.
Many new to meditation may try Vipassana silent meditation. It’s popular because it is one of the most basic types of meditation, in which you simply sit comfortably, with a straight spine and focus entirely on your breathing.
What it is: Attention is placed on the sensation of the breath passing in and out of your nostrils. When thoughts arise, as they always do, you simply notice it and label it and let it go. For instance, you are breathing deeply and the thought pops up, ‘My car insurance payment is due tomorrow.’ You would label that something like, ‘a thought about the future’ and let it go, all the while returning to your breath.
If silence make you batty and you know that your mind bounces around like a squirrel on Redbull, then Vipassana meditation might not work for you.
But Kundalini meditation might.
What it is: Kundalini meditation addresses countless health and wellness issues, from relieving your nervous system, to increasing your confidence, to recovering from grief, to opening to your highest self. The meditations are generally done with mantras – words or sounds said in repetition in the language of the Sikhs, Gurmukhi. The hands are placed in mudras – specific hand gestures, such as your thumb and forefinger touching. Or you may be moving your hands and arms while repeating the mantra. As my teacher said, ‘it’s good for your body, your heart, and your mind.’
Another meditation that is good for your head, heart, and body is Heart Rhythm Meditation (HRM).
What it is: The focus here is concentrating on your heart by placing your hands over your heart and breathing deeply, while imagining that you are breathing directly into your heart. By paying attention to the heart, you are better able to quiet the mind – so the reasoning goes.
Meditation is supposed to be good at alleviating anxiety but for some, focusing on the heart can bring up anxious feelings. In that case, HRM probably would not be the best thing for you to start with.
You might consider Deepak Chopra’s, ‘Primordial Sound Meditation.’ Don’t be freaked by the esoteric sounding name. (Or if the name alone makes you go, “What the…?” then you’ll find another meditation below that doesn’t sound so …. [you fill in the adjective here]).
What it is: This is a mantra-based meditation and it shares with Transcendental meditation (see below) that you are given a mantra based on your birth. The thinking is that at the time you were born there was a vibrational tone in the universe that corresponds just to you. (Yes, seriously.) So you are given this very unique mantra to repeat silently to yourself as you sit quietly, with eyes closed. Chopra sees meditation as the road to expanded awareness. With your personalized mantra, you are one step closer to your Cosmic Consciousness.
The most well-known meditation, by far, is Transcendental Meditation. All the cool kids do it; from the Beatles to Oprah.
What it is: You can see from the name, the goal is to “transcend” your mundane reality and rise to experience your highest self. To do this, you are given a mantra based on your birth and sometimes, based on the year your teacher was trained. This meditation can help you learn to slow down, be less antsy and anxious, and open you up to a more authentic you. (Spoiler alert – they actually all do that.)
But maybe sitting still only makes you more anxious. Perhaps you are one of those people who, when seated, can always be spotted with one jittery leg. If this sounds like you, then movement meditations may be more your thing.
What they are: Both are standing, silent meditations in which a series of movements are strung together into one graceful flow. You focus on synchronizing your breathing with the movements and slowing the movements down as much as you can. Slow movements, plus slowed breathing, equals a calmer person. Bye-bye jittery leg!
Are you a person who likes discipline and learning directly from a teacher? Or have you already been meditating and want to go deeper into your practice?
Then Zen meditation might be for you.
What it is: This form comes from Buddhism and is about focusing on the breath while allowing thoughts to arise and pass by without judgment. The benefit of meditating with a teacher is that they will generally dispense a short teaching meant to activate contemplation. Plus, they are there to answer your questions when your practice goes off the rails.
If you like to keep things more loose and free, then Mindfulness meditation might do the trick.
What it is: The key in Mindfulness practices is being present, not focused on the past or the future, but right now. You want to bring your full attention to what is happening to you, around you, within you at this current moment. That is what mindfulness is all about. What that means for you, and what makes mindfulness meditation so accessible is that you can do it anytime and anywhere.
Standing in line at the grocery store, you can become present to the sounds around you, the people you are seeing, your own eagerness to get home and have dinner, or driving in your car, or being with your loved ones. Each and every moment you are awake is a moment for you to be present and practice mindfulness meditation.
Now that you have a handle on what’s out there, go on and try out as many as you like. Find the one that works best for you. And don’t be scared to mix and match. You just might create a meditation practice perfectly and uniquely suited to you.
© 2018 Tamara Jefferies