In the same way that roses aren’t objectively lovelier than peonies, and creme brulee isn’t objectively tastier than chocolate ice cream, no one kind of meditation is better than another. Meditation is a mind and body practice that involves becoming more aware of what’s on your mind and how you’re feeling in your body – but there are a lot of different ways to make this magic happen. The varied kinds of meditation are all just different types, different flavors. What they have in common is that they aim to transform your perspective by inviting you to pay attention to and recognize your experience of the here and now with compassion. Some types may just feel better, or like the right fit for you. You may find that meditation that incorporates movement is what’s really your jam, or maybe one day it’s mantra meditation that really moves you, and another day it’s loving kindness meditation that’s really resonant. Here are a few kinds you might want to explore.
The goal of this is pretty simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Find a quiet spot to sit or lay down. This might mean somewhere you’re all alone or, if you can’t swing that, something you practice with headphones on while on a busy train. Then make note of what’s on your mind. What are you thinking? Where does your train of thought lead you? How does your mind wander? Try to observe your thoughts without judgment – don’t consider them good or bad, but just as thoughts that exist. Indeed, a lot of people try this and might feel like they aren’t successful right away – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it out for yourself. The idea here is to quietly observe and consider your thoughts without judgment, which can lead to some interesting insights, calm, and peace. Indeed, it’s about the process and the practice of trying to always return back to your thoughts in this way – not about clearing your head entirely.
Focus on breath
Close your eyes, breathe, and focus on your breath. Notice the physical sensations in your body as you breathe in, breathe out, and repeat. And when your mind starts to wander (which it likely will), try to return to your focus to your breath. This, too, probably sounds simple but isn’t necessarily easy (again, the mind may wander), but getting started with this type of meditation can be fairly basic even if it isn’t easy, so let the breath ground you like a tide going in and out, in and out, a steady and repetitive thing to focus on.
In this sort of a practice, you should focus on a mantra – a word or a phrase – for a period of time. Many people choose to say the word or phrase aloud, and others choose to focus on the word or phrase without speaking it aloud. For a mantra, you should choose something that feels meaningful to you in the moment – something like “peace” or “relax,” “Om” (a sacred Sanskrit letter, syllable, and sound in many spiritual traditions), “let it go” or “move forward,” or an affirmation like “I am strong,” “I am beautiful,” or “I am enough.” When your mind wanders to other thoughts, just try to bring yourself back to the mantra, which should help you feel steady and grounded.
Everyone could use a little more loving kindness, especially when particularly stressed. This practice focuses first on breathing, and then, when one is ready, on opening oneself up to giving and receiving loving kindness. But just what does that even mean? It means imagining that you are receiving loving kindness from out in the world, then thinking about people – specific individuals or groups of people more broadly – who you would like to send these positive feelings out to, and imagining and feeling that you are doing just that. This practice cultivates feelings of (not surprisingly) loving kindness, support, acceptance, and connection.
Doing what is called a body scan can be a wonderful way to feel calmer and less stressed by the end of even just a single session. This style of meditation involves sitting or lying somewhere quiet and then scanning your body for stress and tension, trying to become aware of it, and then focusing on trying to release it. You can move body part by body part, head to toe. The goal here is to move down through your body in great detail – so top of head, face, neck, shoulders, and so on down the body. Take note of if you seem to be holding tension in any one place, and try to release it before moving on. Some people will even try to tense and then release each part as they scan. Breathe as you go – maybe even try to breathe out the tension – and by the end, you may be surprised by how much tension you’ve released.
Many people are interested in meditation, but extremely uninterested in sitting still to do so. If you think this describes you, fear not. Meditation that incorporates movement is still meditation – even if you’ve only ever imagined the practice as being something you would have to do cross-legged and stock still. You could focus on your breath as you stretch or do yoga, run as you repeat a mantra in your mind, or even push your kiddo in a stroller while you practice loving kindness. Just as there are a lot of different kinds of meditation, there are a lot of different ways you can incorporate even just movement into a practice.
- So much love, so much stress: How meditation can help parents
- Seven strategies for getting started with a meditation practice
- Alice Boyes.“5 Meditation Tips for Beginners.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, March 18 2013. Retrieved February 5 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/201303/5-meditation-tips-beginners.
- “Meditation for beginners.” Headspace. Headspace Inc. Retrieved February 5 2019. https://www.headspace.com/meditation/
- “Meditation: In Depth.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, January 02 2019. Retrieved February 5 2019. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm.