Types of Meditation: Which One Is Right For You?
People often assume meditation is meditation is meditation. You sit, you quiet your mind, you feel peaceful, all is well. Right? But the truth is, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different meditation techniques, and they each have different benefits and orientations. Meditation has been around in some form for virtually all of human history, as part of many different cultural traditions – healing, divination, sports, the arts, and, of course, religion and spirituality.
So how do you know which approach is best for you? Like in most things, it takes some exploration and experimentation. One of the easiest ways to start is to clarify for yourself why you want to meditate – that is, what are you hoping to get from it? To help you get started, here is a list of some of the main benefits of meditation, with links to resources that provide more info and instruction related to each (disclaimer here: some of these links are to my own teaching site www.TheMaatInstitute.com ).
Health and Stress Management: Studies have shown that regular meditation is effective for lowering blood pressure, boosting immunity, improving sleep quality, and managing chronic pain. The leader in health-related meditation research and techniques is the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine. Their website provides both meditation instruction and published medical research on its benefits.
Psychological Therapy Complement: An increasing number of therapists incorporate some form of meditation into their therapy practice, believing that quieting the mind is an important complement to exploring the mind. Techniques vary, but the relaxation response(the same technique as from the health-based listing above) is a common one, because of its proven medical benefits. For a thorough overview of the different views on meditation within the psychological community, try this article from Buddhanet.net (jump to the Conclusion and Summary section at the end if you want to skip the mind-numbing academic detail.)
Concentration/Focus Improvement:Everyone from Olympic athletes to poker players have begun to incorporate some form of meditation into their training regimes, because it helps them detach from distractions and hone their focus. For the same reason, Zen meditation was incorporated into martial arts training centuries ago, and Zen meditation is still one of the most common forms used for this purpose (and championed by such illustrious sports figures as Phil Jackson, coach of the LA Lakers.) Although there are many Zen variations, try this overview to get started.
Intuition Development: Many occult and spiritual traditions teach that we all posses an intuitive level of knowledge within us, but that we can only tap into it when we let go of our ego-based thoughts and emotions. For this reason, meditation is a big component of most intuition-development training programs. There are thousands of such programs, so it is difficult to recommend just one, but Dr. Mona Lisa Schulz offers a grounded, modern approach in her book Awakening Intuition (here’s an excerpt.)
Creativity Development: Artists of all types use meditation to trigger their creativity and help them work through blocks. One of the most popular books to explore this is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Here’s a Q&A on this book, or try this video for an overview.
Energy Body Strengthening: Many ‘alternative’ healing traditions are based on the idea of an energy body, or that the flow of our non-physical energy (or lack of flow) influences our physical health. Acupuncture and reiki are both based on this idea, but even within Western medical traditions, there is growing awareness of the role our mind plays in our physical health and ability to heal. Here’s an intro to a very basic form of chakra meditation, a common form of energy center meditation. Another common form of meditation used in energy healing is visualization; here’s an intro to using visualization as an aid to healing.
Spirituality: Meditation has been and is part of virtually every world religion in some form. From St. Theresa of Avila’s ‘mental prayer’ to Rabbi Issac Luria’s Kabbalah symbol visualizations, and then to better known Buddhist, Sufi and Hindu meditation techniques, mystics within every tradition have practiced meditation as a means to exploring the forces and spirit beyond themselves. If you are interested in exploring meditation as part of a specific religious tradition, try this book list for some suggestions.
However, spiritual meditation is about shifting your awareness – shifting it away from your usual thoughts and emotions and towards a larger force (whether you call that force God or something else.) In that sense, the technique is less important than your intent. It’s important to remember that the meditation technique you select is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and that the ultimate goal is to change the way you relate to the world and your mind even when you are not meditating. So feel free to explore, but don’t let yourself get too caught up in finding the ‘perfect’ technique.
Good luck in your meditation journeys!
Here’s some info on Meditation Medical Research, or, if you are interested in how meditation is incorporated into the world’s religions, try Meditation within ALL the World’s Religions. For more posts on Meditation, try the meditation page. Or, if you are interested in another main theme of this blog, motherhood, try the Spirituality and Motherhood posts.