There is more than one way to meditate. In this post, you’re going to learn precisely how to discover your personal style of meditation. This guide also includes helpful advice on how to try different types of meditation.
For many people, mindfulness and meditation are two sides of a coin. But while mindfulness comes in many forms, almost all forms of meditation are mindful.
Meditation works as a mindful practice because it helps quiet the hyper “monkey mind” that so many of us experience today, thanks to an endless cycle of work, family, and social obligations. By consciously tuning out all of the whirlwinds of activity and external noise, you can slow down your thoughts, increase awareness of yourself and your surroundings, reduce stress, and simply feel better.
“Research shows that meditation has a therapeutic effect,” explains Light Watkins, a meditation teacher based in Los Angeles and the author of Bliss More: How to Succeed in Meditation Without Really Trying. People who meditate regularly tend to be happier, he adds, mainly because it helps to reduce levels of stress hormones and curb our tendencies to worry. “People who meditate regularly get rid of the stuff that keeps them up at night; it’s like restoring your factory settings,” he says.
And while meditation may seem a little “out there” for many of us, you don’t have to be kneeling on a mat or sitting in a candlelit room to reap its benefits, says Watkins. “You shouldn’t have to work hard or be uncomfortable to meditate,” he adds. “The simplest applications are often the most effective.” In fact, most types of meditation can be done almost anywhere, in your home, at your desk, in a studio or classroom, and even while sitting in your car (just not while you’re driving!)
What do you imagine when you think of meditation? Chances are, it’s someone sitting in an uncomfortable position, eyes closed, trying to block out all thoughts. But that’s not the whole picture or even an entirely accurate one.
In reality, meditation can be done in any number of ways. “All meditations can substitute for your chattering mind, they give you a different object for your attention,” explains meditation teacher Susan Piver, author of Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation. Meditation, in short, is all about directing your attention to one thing so you can simply focus on the present and keep distractions in the background.
How to Discover Your Personal Style
In fact, meditation can be as diverse as the people who practice it. Depending on the style, you may use a mantra, focus on the breath or an image, follow a script, or even walk around. The intention is to direct your attention, not to turn off thoughts. “There are 10 billion forms of meditation in the world, although, in the West, most of the practices stem from Buddhism or the Vedic tradition,” says Lodro Rinzler, co-founder, and chief spiritual officer of MNDFL, a New York City meditation studio.
Four Reasons to Meditate
Here’s what science has shown about the benefits of regular meditation practice.
Reduces back pain. A 2016 study from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found adults with chronic low back pain who practised mindful-based stress reduction (MBSR, a form of meditation) had less pain and better function up to one year after the formal training ended.
Boosts heart health. The American Heart Association found in a literature review that Transcendental Meditation (TM) can help lower blood pressure.
Helps curb smoking. A 2013 review found meditation-based therapies were an effective way to help people reduce nicotine cravings, quit smoking, and minimise the risk of relapse.
Improves sleep. A small study found adults with chronic insomnia who practised MBSR slept better and had fewer instances of restless nights.
18 million adults in the US have practised meditation in the past year. (Source: National Health Interview Survey)
Meditation Made Easy
Regular meditation can increase mindfulness and give you a sense of peace and calm amid the day’s tumult. And it’s not as hard, or strange, as you may think. Curious about meditation but not sure what to try? Check out the following styles and see what resonates with you.
Just keep in mind that meditation may not take every time, so be patient. “Sometimes, people think they should try meditation once and feel forever peaceful. That’s a bit like going to the gym once, and feeling let down because you didn’t walk out 10 pounds skinnier,” Rinzler says. “It takes time to see the benefits of meditation. Give yourself space to let the practice do its magic.”
How Do I Find My Style?
If you still don’t see any benefits after a few weeks, try a different style; you just might need to mix things up a bit. No matter what you do, Piver recommends learning from a trained meditation teacher, who can help guide you through practice and answer any questions that you may have. And don’t feel like you have to devote half your morning to the procedure; if you are new to meditation, taking one even just one minute to meditate is a good start; you can always add time on from there. You can meditate almost anywhere and anytime you feel like it.
Take It Easy
What it is – a straightforward approach to meditation.
This “EASY.” method stands for Embrace, Accept, Surrender, Yield.
Perfect for – beginners who are looking to give the practice a try but may be intimidated by what’s actually involved.
Avoid thought-shaming or criticising yourself at any point.
Try it – let yourself get lost in your thoughts.
Sit comfortably on a chair or couch with a timing device (ideally not an alarm) in sight. Calculate your finish time (aim for 10 to 20 minutes). Passively think the sound “ah-hum” and close your eyes. Once you’re done, wait a minute or two before opening your eyes. Come out slowly, bringing your attention once again to the world around you.
What it is – paying attention to your breath.
“I often recommend people start with mindfulness meditation because it is simple to remember and has been proven incredibly effective by many research institutions. And we always have the breath available to us so we can always come back to it as a form of meditation,” says Rinzler. “Through mindfulness meditation, we can discover peace for ourselves.”
Perfect for – relieving anxiety.
Research continues to show that mindfulness meditation helps reduce stress, so if you tend to worry a lot, this may help.
Try it – sit comfortably, whatever “comfortably” means for you.
You can close your eyes or leave them open. Simply observe your breath. Feel the expansion as you inhale or feel the air coming in your nostrils. Then feel the dissolve as you exhale and the air moving out of your nostrils. If your mind wanders (and it will; that’s part of meditation), let go of the thought and guide your attention back to your breath.
Transcendental Meditation (TM)
What it is – using a mantra to focus attention.
“The Vedic tradition employs mantra-based meditation to bring about deep relaxation in the body,” Rinzler explains. Practitioners sit comfortably with their eyes closed and repeat a mantra – the term translates to “mind vehicle” – to themselves. This mantra can be one word or sound or a phrase. As you focus on your mantra, it’s thought to “de-excite the body and bring it into a profound resting state.
This simple state of being, which goes beyond thought, is referred to as transcendence,” adds Rinzler.
Perfect for – anyone struggling with stress and insomnia may find this practice to be a good fit.
Studies continue to show that TM helps reduce stress and anxiety, lowers levels of cortisol and blood pressure, and can help reduce insomnia, along with other benefits.
Try it – traditional TM practitioners stipulate you should take a four-day course with a teacher who will give you a mantra and help you learn the practice.
But if you want a taste of mantra meditation, choose a word or phrase that resonates with you, such as “I am calm” or “I trust the process of life” or simply “Om.” Sit comfortably, eyes open or closed, and after settling in for a few moments, begin to repeat the mantra to yourself at whatever speed feels right. You can also choose to match your mantra with your breath if that works. Continue for a few minutes and finish with a few moments of silence.
What it is – using your mind to picture a positive outcome or to promote relaxation.
Whether you call it visualisation, guided imagery or guided meditation, in this practice a qualified instructor (or recording) directs you to imagine something in great detail. It could be relaxing on a favourite holiday beach, nailing a work presentation or seeing immune cells fight off disease. No matter what the visualisation is, you’ll call upon all of your senses in the practice. In addition to helping promote focus and relaxation, this practice is used by athletes and public speakers to improve performance.
Perfect for – anyone who is visually oriented.
It’s also useful for helping you relax in a stressful situation or preparing for a big event like an important game or presentation.Guided imagery calls upon all of your senses to promote relaxation. Click To Tweet
Try it – check out healthjourneys.com.
Or an app such as Guided Mind for guided imagery meditations you can follow along with.
What it is – offering positivity to yourself and others to help develop compassion.
Meant to open the heart, loving kindness meditation takes you through a series of steps where you offer loving kindness to different people. “The Buddha gave this practice to a group of monks living in the forest. Inhabitants there were not pleased and had tried to drive the monks out,” Piver says. “Through this practice, the inhabitants stopped attacking them and started protecting them. It has the power to turn enemies into friends.”
Perfect for – anyone who may struggle with self-love.
Or loving others.Common side effects of daily meditation are increased energy and feelings of contentedness and inner happiness. Click To Tweet
Try it – sitting or lying down, become still and close your eyes or softly focus them on a space in front of you.
After settling in with a few minutes of mindfulness meditation, offer loving kindness to yourself. You may use phrases such as “may I be happy and content, may I be healthy and strong, may I be peaceful and at ease.” After a few minutes, offer loving kindness to someone you love, using the same phrases. Then offer loving kindness to someone difficult to love.
If you wish, you can then expand this offering to those in your immediate surroundings, your community or all beings.
What it is – meditation with movement.
Not all meditation is practised in stillness. “There is a traditional walking meditation practice used to break up sitting meditation retreats,” Piver explains. But it’s not the same thing as going out for your regular three-mile jog or walk around the neighbourhood. “You can be mindful while running or doing yoga.
But those aren’t meditation. Meditation is a formal, traditional practice,” she says. Anything that synchronises mind and body is meditative. But meditation is purposeful synchronisation.”
Perfect for – anyone who has a hard time sitting still.
If you don’t like to sit and close your eyes to meditate, then walking meditation could be your for you.
Try it – pick a spot about six to nine metres away from you.
Set the intention that you will be fully present as you walk to that point. Walk to that point, being mindful of the movement of your body, legs and breath. When you get distracted, come back to being aware of the action. When you meet your set point, raise your gaze.
Pause. Turn around and repeat, walking back to where you started. Continue for 10 minutes.
Practice Being Present
What it is – focusing entirely on one thing.
The way to be present with whatever you’re doing is to learn to focus entirely on doing that one thing. As you become aware of your thoughts, you’ll notice them jump to other things. Use your awareness to gently bring yourself back to your present task. Keep gently returning your attention back to the present moment, time and again.
Perfect for – using your senses.
Consciously collect information about your experience through your senses; touch, sight, hearing, smell and perhaps through taste. How does this experience feel? What does it look like? How does it smell?
Sound? Taste? What emotions come up as you do it? What is going on in your body as you undertake this experience?
Become aware of what thoughts enter your mind.
Try it – choose something today you would like to be wholly and utterly present while doing.
It could be absolutely anything in your day, from drinking your morning cup of coffee to folding laundry. As you begin to do this activity, pay attention to every aspect of it.
It’s Not All in Your Head: Mental vs Physical
After meditating for some time, you may feel like something is different. You’re not imagining it; research continues to confirm the benefits of having a meditation practice. Depending on the style of meditation you choose, you may notice changes such as the following:
- Mental focus. Improved self-control, so you stick to your goals, such as not hitting the snooze button or eating more vegetables.
- Physical health. Reduced blood pressure, stress and anxiety.
- Social skills. Improved social and communication skills.
- Better mood. Increased positive emotion and decreased negative emotion.
- Mental edge. Better brain health, slower ageing.
- Pain management. Fewer aches.
- Athletic performance. Improved movement, both in everyday actions and any physical activity you do.
Take a Minute to be Mindful
For a simple daily check-in, download the Breathe 11:11 app. When the clock strikes 11:11 (am, pm or both) a gentle chime will sound on your phone. That’s your cue to slow down, close your eyes if you can, and take a deep breath. Then make a wish – perhaps for a kinder, gentler, more peaceful world.
Take another breath and remember that all around you, thousands of people are doing the same thing at the same time. Take as many more breaths as you like. If your eyes are closed, open them and go back to what you were doing, feeling a little lighter and more hopeful. (Free on iOS and Google Play)
I hope you enjoyed my guide on how to discover your personal style of meditation. As always, please consult your doctor before making any changes to your lifestyle. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please leave them below, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.