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t’s no secret that meditation provides a wide variety of science-backed benefits. Doctors and therapists prescribe it for coping with stress, reducing anxiety, improving memory, and even boosting IQ -- and there are plenty of people out there who claim meditation has provided them other benefits as well, including weight loss, pain management, and more.

But if you’ve ever sat down with the intention of meditating, you may have found that it can be remarkably difficult, especially at first. There’s something to be said for putting time and practice in, but if plain old seated meditation just isn’t your thing, you may still be able to reap the benefits by trying out other types of meditation as well.

There are hundreds of types of meditation out there -- meditation techniques that come to us from ancient Eastern sources, from Judeo-Christian religions, and more modern psychotherapeutic sources as well. It’s just a matter of finding one that works for you.

In this article, we’ll be talking about 17 types of meditation that you can try today -- like moving meditations, mantra meditations, and guided meditations -- plus:

  • What meditation is
  • Focused attention vs. open monitoring meditation
  • Seated meditations (and why they’re challenging)
  • Different types of meditation you can try
  • Additional meditation resources
woman meditating on a tree stump in the forest
When you think of meditation, does it look something like this? While this is one type of meditation, it certainly isn’t the only one. Meditation can actually include a wide variety of techniques and practices.

First off, what is meditation, anyway?

Pop culture has given us a pretty standard image of what meditation looks like -- someone seated, legs folded, eyes closed, perhaps going ohhhhm... right? Or perhaps you’ve heard that meditation is all about clearing your thoughts and focusing on your breath.

While these are both types of meditation -- check out mantra meditation and Zazen meditation below -- they are far from the only types of meditation out there.

Meditation can be defined as any technique intended to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention.

An in depth-study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health also notes that most types of meditation have these four things in common:

  • Quiet, distraction-free environment
  • Specific, comfortable posture
  • Focused attention
  • Open attitude

As we go through our list of meditation techniques, we’ll discuss types of meditation that both fit and break from these general rules.

It’s also important to note that there are many types of meditation out there, and not all of them have been studied specifically. That being said, we can still make generalizations about the broader benefits of meditation -- of any practice technique that promotes awareness and focus -- based on the results of specific meditation techniques that have been studied.

For more on the research-backed benefits of meditation, be sure to check out the latest info from the National Institutes of Health.

Types of Meditation: Focused Attention vs. Open Monitoring

Meditation can be broken down into two major categories -- focused attention meditation and open monitoring meditation. Both of these types of meditation can be beneficial in a number of ways, but they take slightly different approaches to achieving a meditative state.

Focused Attention Meditation

Many types of meditation ask the practitioner to focus on one specific object during meditation. Achieving complete focus will likely be difficult at first, but as the person meditating advances in their practice, the depth and steadiness of their attention is strengthened, and distractions become fewer and shorter-lived.

Examples of focused attention meditation include mantra, visualization, chakra, sound, and breath meditation, which are all discussed below, but there are many more.

Open Monitoring Meditation

Whereas focused attention meditation’s goal is to zero in on one specific element, open monitoring meditation’s goal is the opposite: to broaden our perception and notice as many things about our experience as possible in a non-reactive and non-judgemental way. The goal here is to monitor the elements of a moment or experience without actually diving into them.

Examples of open monitoring meditation include a number of mindfulness meditation practices as well as some Buddhist and Taoist meditations.

Common Seated Meditations and Why They’re Challenging

Before we get to some of the more creative types of meditation you can try, let’s get on the same page about some of your standard, seated meditation techniques. There are a number of seated meditation techniques out there from different disciplines and different parts of the world, but we’re going to focus on two common seated meditation techniques that exemplify the focused attention and open monitoring styles of meditation.

Zazen Meditation

Traditional, Buddhist Focused Attention Meditation

Zazen is an ancient form of meditation and the heart of the Buddhist Zen practice. In Buddhism, Zazen is the study of the self, and practicing it is a key part in achieving the Buddhist goal of Enlightenment.

There is a strong community aspect to Zen Buddhism. If you’re interested in advancing your practice of Zazen, try looking for a Zen Temple near you -- many of them offer community classes for little or no cost.

How to do it: Zazen involves sitting in an awake but relaxed posture (there are several suggested postures, which can be found here), keeping the back straight and the breathing relaxed and through the nose. Lower your eyes, and rather than focusing on your field of vision, focus on your breath. As distractions arise -- other thoughts and observations -- let them go, and bring your attention back to your breath.

Mindfulness Meditation

Adaptation of Traditional Meditation Techniques for Stress Reduction

Adapted from traditional Buddhist meditation practices, Mindfulness is an increasingly popular type of meditation in the West that has two main components: attention and acceptance. The goal of mindfulness is to break the practitioner out of their immersion in daily life -- rather than being immersed in thoughts and sensations, the goal is simply to be aware of them.

Mindfulness as we think of it today was heavily influenced by John Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction therapy (MBSR), which he developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979.

How to do it: At its core, Mindfulness is about focusing on and accepting the present moment without judgement. To practice mindfulness, one might meditate by sitting or laying in a relaxed posture, breathing deeply, and taking note (and letting go) of any thoughts or sensations that arise as they meditate, from the way the breath feels in their lungs to the birds outside their window the chair under them. Mindfulness can also be practiced by focusing on daily activities -- like walking, eating, or speaking -- and doing them with intention, rather than automatically.

Why These Types of Meditation Can Be Challenging

Meditation can seem like a daunting task, particularly for beginners. It’s generally recommended that first time meditators start with relatively straightforward meditation techniques like Zazen and Mindfulness. Pushing through any difficulty you might have with focus as you start your meditation practice helps you become more advanced -- it allows you to teach yourself discipline, get in touch with your body and mind, and learn to meditate more deeply.

That being said, these types of mediation are also very open-ended, which can be a challenge especially if you don’t have a lot of meditation experience. It can be hard to focus on meditating when you have no touchstones to tell you if you’re “doing it right.”

Many of the types of meditation below include other elements -- noise, visuals, movement -- to help guide your practice. There are plenty of types of meditation out there, so if Zazen and Mindfulness aren’t quite your cup of tea, there’s sure to be something out there that is.

17 Different Types of Meditation to Try

1. Mantra Meditation

A mantra is a word or syllable that is repeated during meditation to help focus the mind. Mantras are not the same as affirmations -- they are not fully developed sentences or intentions being spoken into the world. Mantras are typically selected due to the vibration associated with sound and meaning, and they are repeated a certain number of times (108 and 1008 are common choices).

Some common mantras you may want to try include:

  • Om. This sound represents the creation of the universe and everything in it. Om is associated with the third eye and crown chakras.
  • Sohum. This translates to “I am he/she/that,” in Sanskrit, and the intention of the mantra is identifying oneself with the universe or higher reality.
  • Ram. This Sanskrit word has had many meanings over the centuries, but it is typically believed to represent daily life as an act of worship or bringing one closer to their deity.
  • Yam. This is the mantra of the heart chakra. It is associated with overcoming adversity or pain and connecting with boundless love and compassion.

Notice that a few of these mantras are associated with chakras. There are actually mantras called bija mantras associated with each of the seven chakras, but we’ll dive deeper into this when we talk about chakra meditation below.

2. Tai Chi

When you think of tai chi, you might picture a group of older folks gathered in a city park early in the  morning. While it’s true that tai chi has a variety of mental and physical benefits for older adults, this type of moving meditation can be helpful for anyone of any age and provides structured movement at a relaxed pace. Tai chi is often described as “meditation in motion,” or as an article in Harvard’s online medical publication describes it “medication in motion.”

Tai chi involves moving through a variety of postures and movements with an emphasis on breath and mental focus. Learning tai chi on your own can be a bit tricky because there is typically a flow to the postures, but luckily there are plenty of resources out there to help beginners get started.

  • Find a teacher. Taoist Tai Chi is an organization dedicated to helping communities around the world reap the benefits of tai chi. Click here to find a location near you.
  • Take advantage of video lessons. There are lots of step-by-step tai chi videos out there. It might be difficult to find ones that walk through traditional forms (like the classic 108 form), but there are plenty of videos that adapt tai chi movements and teaching for beginner-friendly everyday practice.
  • Dig deeper into Taoist philosophy. If you’re interested in digging deeper into tai chi, check out additional videos on the philosophy behind it. George Thompson -- a student learning from tai chi masters in China’s Wudang Mountains -- has a variety of videos on Taoism and Tai Chi, and he recently launched an academy to help tai chi and taoist teachings reach a broader audience. Click here to check it out.

3. Reiki Self Healing

Originating in Japan, Reiki is a form of energy healing that emerged in Japan in the 1800s. Reiki involves a practitioner placing their hands on an individual’s head, limbs, and torso in particular hand postures to transfer healing energy, promote energy flow, and eliminate energy blockages. Traditionally, reiki would be performed by a reiki master, but self-reiki or reiki self healing is growing in popularity because it can be practiced individually at home.

Despite some scientific skepticism, Reiki is becoming more and more popular in the US and is currently offered as a therapy at several leading medical centers around the country.

Regardless of what role you believe reiki plays in physical wellness, reiki can be used as a tool to focus and meditate on different areas of the body, and following the hand postures and principles of reiki may provide a little extra structure for those struggling to get started with other, more open-ended types of meditation.

4. Binaural Meditation

Binaural meditation, also known as binaural beats, is an emerging sound-based therapy being studied for its effectiveness against anxiety, stress, and related disorders. The jury is currently out on whether it is an effective intervention for anxiety and depression, but the broader wellness community has embraced binaural beat therapy as a tool for meditation, improved sleep, lucid dreaming, and other areas of personal wellbeing.

Binaural beats are engineered to deliver tones that are slightly different frequencies to the left and right ear. The brain is able to detect the difference between the two tones, which is the “binaural beat” that a person hears.

A 2018 study explained that there are 5 types of frequency patterns that might be perceived by the listener:

  • Delta pattern. Beats that operate at a frequency of 0.5-4 Hz with links to deeper, dreamless sleep.
  • Theta pattern. Beats that operate at a frequency of 4-7 Hz with links to REM sleep, increased creativity, and improved meditation.
  • Alpha pattern. Beats that operate at a frequency of 7-13 Hz with links to relaxation and feelings of calm.
  • Beta pattern. Beats that operate at a frequency of 13-30 Hz with links to concentration and alertness (but may also cause anxiety).
  • Gamma pattern. Beats that operate at a frequency of 30-50 Hz with links to increased memory or maintenance of attention.

5. Yoga

Yoga and yogic meditation are some of the oldest meditative traditions on earth, dating back as far as 1700 BC. Broadly speaking, yoga combines body postures, breathing techniques, and meditative practices to promote physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.

Today when we think of yoga, we primarily think of yoga poses -- cobra, downward dog, and cat/cow, just to name a few popular ones -- but fitness actually was not the primary goal of the ancient yogic tradition. The focus was much more meditative in nature, practitioners hoping to expand their spiritual energy and gain mental clarity.

Yoga flows -- or series of yoga poses -- can be used as a form of moving meditation, but there are also several meditations that are common in the yogic tradition, including third eye meditation, chakra meditation, sound meditation, and tantra (we’ll go over some of these in more detail below).

If you’re interested in using yoga itself as a form of meditation, be sure to check out the different forms of yoga available to find one that works for you. Here are a few common ones:

  • Vinyasa yoga. The most athletic form of yoga, it was adapted from ashtanga yoga in the 1980s and is one of the most common today. Meaning “to place a special way,” it focuses on yoga postures and a variety of yoga forms -- including ashtanga, power yoga, and prana -- fit into this category.
  • Hatha yoga. Any physical-based yoga that does not fall into the Vinyasa category, including Iyengar yoga.
  • Iyengar yoga. Yoga that focuses on alignment, precise movement, and controlled breath.
  • Kundalini yoga. Yoga that focuses on releasing the kundalini energy that is believed to be held in the lower spine. Equal parts spiritual and physical practice.
  • Bikram/ hot yoga. Yoga practiced in a heated, sauna-like room.
  • Yin yoga. Gentle, slow-paced, meditative yoga in which poses are held for longer.
  • Jivamukti yoga. Combines yoga postures with Hindu spiritual teachings.

6. Chakra Meditation

According to several spiritual traditions, the chakras are seven energy centers in the body that control how a person’s energy flows. These energy centers become blocked or closed, resulting in physical or mental imbalance. Chakra meditation is a form of meditation in which the practitioner focuses on controlling the flow of energy through the body to heal their chakra system and bring their body and mind into harmony.

Chakra meditation can focus on an individual chakra or on the chakra system as a whole. Practitioners can incorporate different tools into their practice to help them focus in on each chakra, including:

  • Mantras. The bija mantras are a series of sounds associated with each of the seven chakras. Starting from the first (root) chakra at the base of the spine and working toward the seventh (crown) chakra on top of the head, the bija mantras are lam, vam, ram, yam, ham, om, om.
  • Mudras. These are a series of hand postures that are used to aid in meditation. There is a specific mudra associated with each of the seven chakras.
  • Essential oils. Certain essential oils or scents are associated with each of the seven chakras. Sprinkling some around your meditation space or using an essential oil diffuser while you meditate may help you focus your meditation.
  • Crystals, candles, stones. For tactile people, holding an object associated with a chakra may be a good way to focus their meditation. Chakras are also associated with certain colors, which makes burning a candle of that color a good option as well.
  • Yoga. Because they are part of the yogic tradition, there are also yoga poses designed specifically to help activate each chakra.

7. Walking Meditation

If seated meditation makes you feel antsy and unable to focus, walking meditation may be a good option for you. Walking meditation focuses on syncing the body and mind, bringing together the action of walking and the breath that powers it.

There are several traditions of walking meditation -- some dating back centuries -- but reaping the benefits of walking meditation can be as simple as going on a walk and being mindful of your environment and what you notice around you. Walking meditation is traditionally done at a slow pace to allow the practitioner more time to focus on the sensations of walking and being immersed in their environment, but if a brisker pace feels more natural, experiment to see what works best for you.

A few forms of walking meditation you may want to check out if you’re looking for a more structured practice include:

  • Theravada walking meditation. A Buddhist practice that involves walking back and forth on a single path for an extended period of time to develop concentration and focus.
  • Kinhin walking meditation. A Japanese Zen meditation that is typically completed between sessions of seated meditation.
  • Thich Nhat Hanh walking meditation. A simplified, Vietnamese walking mediation that uses affirmations to produce positive mental effects on each inhale and exhale.
  • Mindfulness walking meditation. Practicing mindfulness while walking -- being aware of every sensation from your socks against your feed to the air on your skin -- and letting them go.
  • Yogic walking meditation. Focus on guiding or regulating the breath in different ways while walking.
  • Taoist walking meditation. There are a few forms of Taoist walking mediation -- these include aimless walking (moving without conscious mental effort), allowing your body to be pulled forward from its center, and visualizing your body’s energy expanding and contracting around you as you walk and breathe.

8. Affirmations

Like mantras, affirmations are words or phrases that you can incorporate into your meditation practice. However unlike mantras, which are more about their tone and vibrations, affirmations are designed to help you focus on a particular goal or belief.

Affirmations can be general or very personal -- choose or create one that feels right for you, and focus on it as you meditate. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • “I release tension, I accept tranquility.”
  • “I exhale anger, I inhale serenity.”
  • “My quiet mind is as important as my thinking mind.”
  • “My mind is clear and focused.”
  • “I am allowing time for healing in my life.”
  • “I am at peace within myself.”
  • “I am safe, I am loved, I am supported.”
  • “I am confident, I am strong, I am prepared.”
  • “I believe in my ability to connect with others.”
  • “I radiate friendliness, sincerity, and compassion.”
  • “I am.”

9. Tantra Meditation

When we think of the tantric tradition in the west, one thing comes to mind: sex. Tantra is a rich tradition, and a majority of tantric practices actually don’t have anything to do with ritualized sex. For example, the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra lists 108 tantric meditations that focus on merging the mind and the senses, becoming aware of the emptiness between thoughts and feelings, meditating on pains and delights, and contemplating the fullness and emptiness of oneself or the universe.

To get a sense for some of the different types of tantric meditation and practice out there, consider checking out some of these tantric meditations:

  • Open energy centers. This tantric meditation helps you open your higher chakras to receive energy from the universe. Click here for the details.
  • Connect with your body. This tantric meditation helps you bring focus to different areas of the body so that you are more aware and connected to your physical body. Click here for the details.
  • Chakra meditation with a partner. This tantric meditation is for couples -- it focuses on clearing and connecting the chakras to promote intimacy between partners. Click here for the details.

10. Coloring Meditation

Think coloring’s just for kids? Think again! You may have seen coloring books out there geared towards grown ups -- ones with complex garden designs, beautiful but scary horror images, and even curse word coloring books -- but did you know they can be a meditative tool?

Coloring meditation is a type of creative mindfulness -- enjoying and focusing on the creative process without putting any expectation on yourself about the end result. Creative activities are a great meditation tool because people naturally tend to lose themselves in coloring, painting, sculpting, or whatever their medium of choice is. You can essentially achieve a meditative state without having to sit down and meditate, which is great news for people who aren’t fans of traditional seated meditation.

Whether you’re a practiced artist, a total beginner, or somewhere in between, giving yourself permission to have fun and express yourself even if you’re “bad” at it is enormously freeing.

If you decide to go the coloring route, consider picking up a mandala coloring book or printing out some mandala coloring pages (or even learning to design them yourself). Mandalas are sacred symbols for the universe in Hindu and Buddhist mythology that are used to facilitate meditation, making them a popular choice for creative mindfulness projects.

11. Sound Meditation

Sound meditation is a type of focused awareness meditation that uses noise to help guide the meditation. Sound baths are a popular type of sound meditation that uses Tibetan singing bowls, quartz bowls, or bells to guide the listener. The principle behind this kind of sound meditation is similar to the principle behind mantras, which is that the vibration of different tones are associated with different meanings.

Other sounds can also be used for sound meditation -- really, it just needs to be something that allows you to focus on the sound and clear your mind. Some people prefer listening to ambient music, Native American flute music, or chanting.

This can be a great way to decompress and clear your head. If you want to deepen your practice of sound meditation, you may eventually be able to progress beyond hearing and focusing on the sounds around you to hear the “inner sound” of your body and mind. Ultimately, you may even be able to hear the sound of the universe.

12. String Bead Meditation

Beads are a part of many meditative and contemplative traditions. They are a useful tool especially when counting mantras or affirmations, which you may want to repeat a specified number of times. Many people use mala beads for meditation, but other strings of beads may be used as well.

Praying the rosary is an example of a string bead meditation. Practitioners repeat prayers for each bead of the rosary, focusing on the mysteries of the Catholic faith as they do so.

String bead meditation can be a form of religious devotion, but it is not necessarily religious. It can be used for secular meditation as well.

13. Writing/Journaling/Blogging

Similar to the way visual artists may lose themselves in their work, writers may also find themself in a meditative state where their writing just flows. Automatic writing -- or writing continuously everything that comes to mind without censoring, judging, or diving too deeply into it -- is one form of writing meditation.

Other forms of writing meditation involve responding to mindfulness-based writing prompts. A common form of mindful journaling in this way is gratitude journaling. If you aren’t sure how to get started with writing meditation, consider starting with one of these prompts:

  • What is a simple pleasure that you’re looking forward to?
  • What can you hear/taste/see/smell/feel from where you are sitting now?
  • What is your place right now? In the universe, in your home, in your life?
  • What is a possession that makes your life easier?
  • What is something that you’ve accomplished that you wouldn’t have thought you could achieve a year ago?

14. Self Hypnosis

The meditative state and hypnotic state are extremely similar, so if you’re struggling with meditation, it might be worth trying some self hypnosis strategies. Self hypnosis is typically used by people who want to reach a specific goal (quitting smoking or overcoming anxiety, for example), but you can adapt this practice for less specific goals as well (like relaxation or finding inner peace).

To practice self hypnosis, it is suggested that you start with a common hypnotic induction technique known as progressive muscle relaxation. This involves slowly scanning your body, starting at your toes, taking note of any tension, and carefully releasing it before you progress. Once you are fully relaxed, you can begin to make suggestions to yourself about what goals you want to achieve and how you want to achieve them. Visualize the goal or action. When you are done, slowly return to your usual level of alertness.

15. Forest Bathing

What is forest bathing? It’s actually pretty simple. Forest bathing is being mindfully present in nature, something that everyone could use every now and then. It can include elements of other forms of meditation -- walking meditation and sound meditation, to name a few -- but the essential part of forest bathing is being outside immersed in a natural environment.

From there, you can focus on your breath, listen to the wind in the treas, take note of as many small details in the environment that you can, go for a walk -- whatever suits you best.

16. Flow State

We’ve already touched on flow state in our sections on creative meditation and writing meditation, but it can be applied more broadly as well. If you have ever found yourself totally absorbed and deeply focused on something -- whether its a physical activity, a creative pursuit, or something else entirely -- you have been in a flow state.

Here are a few tips for getting into a flow state and turning anything into a meditation, whether it’s hula hooping, chalk art, dancing, or even a simple day-to-day task:

  • Choose a task that you genuinely care about
  • Choose a task that isn’t too easy or difficult, one that requires concentration but isn’t frustrating
  • Focus on the journey of completing the task, not the destination of having the task completed

17. Specific Guided Meditations

Need more inspiration? If you like the idea of seated meditation but just aren’t quite sure what to do with your brain while you’re meditating, guided meditations can be an excellent option. There’s a huge variety of guided meditations available on podcasts or on YouTube. Some are spiritual, some are dedicated to specific goals (like better sleep or relieving anxiety), some are long, some are short -- all you have to do is sort through them to find ones that work for you.

Some interesting guided meditations you might want to check out include:

  • Past life regressions
  • Spirit animal meditations
  • Astral projection meditation
  • Lucid dreaming meditation
  • Color scan meditation

Meditation Resources for Beginners + Experts Alike

Establishing and maintaining a meditation routine can be challenging, but the benefits of meditation are worth it. If you need help getting started or want to have a variety of guided meditations at your fingertips, check out some of these meditation resources:

  • Insight Timer. A smart phone app that connects you to thousands of recorded and live meditations. Check it out here.
  • MindPlace. Light and sound systems to help you create a relaxing meditative environment. Check it out here.
  • Plant Therapy. Essential oils and diffusers to deepen your meditation. Check it out here.
  • Brooklyn Candle Studio. Essential oil-based candles to help you focus your meditations. Check it out here.
  • Yoga Download. Stream and download yoga classes anywhere you go. Check it out here.

As you can see, there are countless types of meditation to choose from. If traditional seated meditation isn’t for you, don’t worry! There’s bound to be one there is. Tell us about your favorite meditation types, tips, and tools in the comments -- we’d love to hear from you!

Main image from Baurzhan Kadylzhanov on Pexels.

Posted 
Apr 14, 2021
 in 
Health
 category