- Five of the most common types of meditation are mindfulness, body scan, walking, loving-kindness, and transcendental meditation.
- Different types of meditation come with different benefits, but some benefits include reduced anxiety, improved self-control, better self-care, and less pain.
- If you’re a beginner, you may want to consider first trying mindfulness, body scan, or loving-kindness meditation.
- This story is part of Insider’s guide on How to Meditate.
Practicing meditation can help you focus and feel more connected to the present moment. In doing so, you can also benefit your health by lowering stress, achieving higher self-awareness, and improving your tolerance for pain.
There are many different types of meditation. In this article, we explain five of the most common types and the benefits they offer.
To put it simply, mindfulness meditation is the basic act of being aware â€” or mindful â€” of what you are doing in the present moment. For example, you could be practicing mindfulness while you are walking your dog, brushing your teeth, or washing your dishes.
That would mean you are 100% involved in the activity you are doing â€” and not thinking about any distractions, stressing about the past, or worrying about the future.
However, many people may struggle with this. That’s why beginners often start out with a more formal mindfulness meditation.
This practice involves setting time aside to sit and focus on your breathing, and it can be as little as five minutes each day. Just find a chair, couch, or spot on the floor where you can sit comfortably, close your eyes, and focus on your breath.
A common misconception is that mindfulness meditation involves not thinking â€” but completely erasing all thoughts is impossible. Instead, learning how to meditate is about being able to redirect your thoughts when you get distracted, and come back to your breath rather than be carried away by distractions.
Once you’re able to do this while practicing mindfulness meditation, the skills can translate to daily life, and you’ll be able to stay more fully present for any activity, whether it’s dog walking, dish washing, or something else.
By improving your ability to focus in the moment, what you’re actually doing is training the brain to become less affected by stress. According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness meditation improves emotional regulation in the brain by decreasing amygdala reactivity. The amygdala is the part of the brain that controls the “fight or flight” response. By regulating this stress response, you may be able to limit anxiety, reduce depression, and improve self-control.
Body scan meditation
Body scan meditations focus on consciously relaxing different parts of the body.
You can do this by:
1. Focus on your feet and how they feel on the floor. Breathe in, and then as you exhale, try to relax your feet.
2. Next, move up to your legs and notice how they feel as part of your body. Breathe in, and then as you exhale, try to relax your legs.
3. You can repeat this process as you move up the body, focusing on your arms, shoulders, and head. You can also start at your head and work your way down.
This type of meditation may be preferable if you have a difficult time focusing on your breath alone â€” it may be easier to anchor your awareness on how your body feels.
In addition, body scan meditations are a great way to relieve tight shoulders or a tense neck, which often builds up as a result of stress or anxiety.
The practice is also particularly helpful for those who suffer from chronic pain. For example, a 2012 study of 55 people found that those who practiced a 10-minute body scan every day for eight weeks reported a significant reduction in chronic pain.
Overall, by listening to the body, practitioners become more self-aware and can also make more beneficial choices, such as increased quality of self-care and less likelihood to indulge in temporary pleasures.
Instead of using the breath as the object of awareness, walking meditation encourages you to focus on each footstep in order to be fully present.
This involves becoming aware of the movement of each foot; noticing the action of lifting, lowering, and having each foot touch the ground, one step after another.
Like body scan meditation, walking meditation allows you to cultivate a sense of mind-body awareness by focusing on your body’s physical sensations as it moves. Walking meditation is a great substitute when you might find it difficult to sit still, because it allows you to get moving while still focusing on an object of awareness.
In a 2013 study, researchers examined 75 individuals who had perceived high levels of psychological distress. They found that those who engaged in mindful walking for 10 minutes a day showed reduced levels of stress and anxiety, and overall improvement in quality of life compared to those who did not participate in mindful walking.
Loving kindness meditation
Loving kindness is a form of meditation geared towards cultivating compassion for yourself and others.
During loving kindness meditation, you can direct phrases of goodwill and a positive intention to yourself, loved ones, difficult people in your life, and even complete strangers. Here’s how:
1. First, get into a comfortable position, in a quiet room, and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale.
2. Think about yourself in your head, without judgment. Then, either out loud or in your head, repeat, “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe.”
3. Next, think about someone you love, and direct that same positivity towards them, repeating, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe.”
4. You can continue to do this while you bring other people into your awareness. Try harnessing these kind, loving feelings towards someone you don’t always like, or someone you don’t even know that well.
Loving kindness meditation may be useful to resolve conflicts. In fact, a 2011 study found that when this practice was combined with cognitive behavioural therapy, it helped participants alleviate anger, depression, social anxiety, and marital conflicts.
Moreover, a 2015 study found that practicing seven minutes of loving kindness meditation every day may even help reduce racial bias. Specifically, 71 non-meditating white males were asked to look at photos of people from different racial backgrounds and repeat loving kindness phrases with the help of a recorded tape. This simple practice resulted in lower levels of reported racial bias in the group of participants.
Transcendental meditation involves focusing on a specific mantra or phrase by repeating it during meditation.
The mantra acts as the object of awareness for the practitioner, just like breathing is the object of awareness for mindfulness meditation. A mantra can be something as simple as saying “Om” or a phrase like “I am worthy.”
This type of meditation gained popularity in the United States in the 1960s, when it was brought over from India and secularized for a Western audience. It is widely popular among Hollywood stars and Wall Street executives. That could be due to its sense of exclusivity and high price tag (around $US2,500 for instruction).
As a result, transcendental meditation may not be the natural first choice for someone hoping to start a meditation practice. However, research has found that transcendental meditation can have similar health benefits to mindfulness meditation, helping to relieve stress and anxiety, and improving overall well-being.
How to get started
Starting a meditation practice can seem daunting. In the beginning, it’s normal for your thoughts to race, and to feel like it isn’t working.
But the key to meditation is discipline, and being kind to yourself. Think of it the same way you would as working out at the gym or going for a run â€” the more you exercise the parts of your brain that help you focus and concentrate, the stronger it will become.
Some days will be easier than others. Remember that there is no perfect meditator, and there’s a reason it’s called a meditation practice.
To get started, there are a number of guided meditation apps that can help you learn how to meditate. The Insight Timer app is a great place to start to check out all kinds of meditations in a variety of languages for free.
It may also be helpful to find an accountability partner. By sharing your progress with them through daily check-ins, you can feel like you have accomplished something for the day.
Finally, pairing meditation with a daily habit â€” like brushing your teeth or taking a shower â€” can help you keep up with your practice and incorporate it into your life.