When you hear the word "meditation" does it conjure up an image of someone sitting with their legs crossed, eyes closed, and palms facing upward in their lap? This is certainly one type of meditation, but there's a lot more that goes into it! In fact, there are several different types of meditation and we're going to explore them today.
What are the different types of meditation?
- Mindfulness meditation
- Spiritual meditation
- Transcendental meditation (TM)
- Focused meditation
- Movement meditation
- Mantra meditation
- Visualization meditation
- Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) meditation
- Loving-kindness meditation
It's worth exploring all of your options when it comes to meditating so you can find the style that works best for you. Just keep in mind, it takes time to get into a meditation practice. It's not something you can switch on and off, but it's so worth developing these skills so you can reap the rewards of meditation.
Let's talk about each of these different styles to start you on your path.
Tune into what you're thinking right now. You've just practiced mindfulness! With mindful meditation, you focus in on these feelings even more. At the same time, you focus on letting these feelings and thoughts come and go without judgment–you are simply aware of them. Mindfulness meditation has its roots in Buddhist traditions, but it has become one of the most widely practiced types of meditation in the world.
With its close connection to prayer, spiritual meditations are often practiced in places of worship. This isn't a rule, however, and it can also be done from anywhere you are comfortable. During a spiritual meditation, much of the focus is placed on connecting with a higher power, including God or other deities.
Since its introduction in the 1950s, transcendental meditation or TM has become another popular type of meditation. During these silent practices, a mantra is repeated and focused on for 15-20 minutes at a time, typically twice a day. Focusing on this mantra is meant to help the practitioner calm their mind and find peace.
Particularly useful for those seeking relief from stress, focused meditation is another popular type of meditation. By training the mind to focus specifically on something, it helps calm the mind and keep you in the present moment. In addition to using your mind to focus intently on something, focusing on the breath is another technique you might want to try.
While most meditation practices involve stillness of both the body and mind, movement meditation takes on a different approach. Using your breath to guide your movement, a movement meditation involves focusing in on these movements. It can be done during any kind of movement, from washing the dishes to yoga or dancing.
It's very similar to transcendental meditation, but mantra meditation typically involves a more specific mantra with fewer variations. For example, everyone in a mantra meditation class may use "Om" for their mantra, while TM practitioners often have different mantras assigned to them by their teachers. Regardless, mantras can be syllables, words, or phrases. Sometimes it takes some experimenting to find just the right one for you!
Have you ever pictured yourself relaxing on a sunny beach to take your focus off of the cold and snowy conditions around you? Or maybe you've imagined you're at a spa rather than behind your desk at work. Visualizing these positive places, feelings, and experiences can effectively take our focus off of our current discomfort and transport us to a better place, even for just a moment.
But during a visualization meditation, you can focus on positive images for a longer period of time. When you keep your body still and let your mind wander to a wonderful place, your mind and body can begin to relax, lowering your stress levels at the same time.
And it isn't only images you can focus on! In addition to imagery, many practitioners visualize affirmations, mantras, and ideas too.
Progressive muscle relaxation meditation
You've probably noticed there's a physical connection to the way you experience stress. For some people, it's a tense neck and shoulders. For others, it's an upset stomach. And "stress headaches" are another common condition. Stress can manifest in the body in a number of ways, and it often results in tense, rigid muscles. In turn, these tense muscles can cause all kinds of discomfort.
With progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) meditation, you purposely tense each part of the body, section by section, and then release it. Rather than letting your stress control the body's muscle responses, you can take an active role in creating and ultimately releasing the tension during a PMR meditation.
Loving-kindness meditation is as wonderful as it sounds! During these meditations, you can focus on sending loving-kindness to yourself or others. It helps open you up to both giving and receiving love, and it can come with relaxation benefits at the same time.
Interestingly, loving-kindness meditation has been studied for its particular benefits for people with social anxiety, marital conflict, anger, and those who are coping with the strains of long-term caregiving.
Which of these types of meditation is right for you?
Did one of these nine meditation types stand out to you? If so, that's a great place to start! There are all kinds of free meditation resources online to help you develop your own practice. Be patient with yourself as you begin to meditate. Many people find it uncomfortable or even unpleasant at first. But those who persist often report they don't know how they ever lived without it.
Meditation and the vagus nerve
Before we go, let's touch on the relation between meditation and the vagus nerve. Meditation can actually increase parasympathetic activity (the rest-and-digest response) that helps calm you and reduce stress levels.
As you meditate, your parasympathetic system can kick in, which ultimately tones your vagus nerve. When the vagus nerve is toned, it can mean less stress, a brighter mood, better sleep, and overall improved well-being.
In addition to meditation, more and more people are turning to vagus nerve stimulating headphones for a similar effect. Want to learn more about the science behind this method? Check out this link next.
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