Most people have heard about the benefits of meditation; you hear about how it reduces blood pressure, reduces stress, helps relationships, improves sleep, etc. Yet, most people who try to meditate end up giving up after a short time, saying it’s too difficult, or that they can’t. The truth is that, like anything worthwhile, meditation requires practice. In fact, it’s called “practice” in many traditions. So, yes, it’s unlikely that your first time trying to meditate will be easy. Should you then just give up? NO!!
The truth is that there are many different types of meditation out there, and it’s really just a matter of finding the one that suits you best. Not everyone can do Zazen practice (in the traditional Zen monasteries, if you fall asleep you get whacked between the shoulder blades with a wooden pole!). There are dozens of different types. There is no one form that is “better” than another. So, here are some different basic meditation practices to explore, so that you can find the right one for you!
- Mindfulness. This type has many different variations, but it is essentially a practice in which you observe your thoughts, without attaching to them. It can be helpful to focus on your breath while you practice, and any time you find your thoughts wandering (which you will), you simply let them go again, like a balloon, with no judgement. Some find it helpful to say to themselves, “thinking,” when this happens, and then return the focus to the breath.
- Mantra Meditation. With this type, you can either say the mantra out loud, or say it silently to yourself. Using a mantra can help you stay focused and avoid your mind wandering or attaching to thoughts. The mantra you use does not have to be in Sanskrit, though there are many powerful Sanskrit mantras and seed syllables that can be used, such as Om, Om Namah Shivaya, Om Mani Padme Hum, etc. One powerful one in English is “I AM that I AM.” If you are working with a spiritual teacher, they may give you one to use. The important thing is that the mantra feels good to you, so observe how you feel when you use it until you find the one you like best.
- Transcendental Meditation. This is actually also a mantra meditation, but you use a specific mantra that is customized for you. Transcendental meditation became known in the West during the 60’s, is very well-known, and is often what people think of when they first hear the word “meditation.” It’s been scientifically studied, including by the Mayo Clinic, and is practiced by a wide variety of people. Many celebrities have endorsed its effectiveness, which is partly why it is so well known.
- Moving Meditation. This can take many forms. Among them is walking meditation. You can do this anywhere, simply by focusing on each step, trying to stay totally present, walking slowly and deliberately. Some practice this by walking in nature, observing the sounds of the birds and wind as well as their steps. Chi kung or Qigong is another practice that offers many other health benefits. Conscious dance can also be considered a type of moving meditation. 5 Rhythms is an organization dedicated to conscious dance, and can be found in many cities. In addition, yoga, done properly, is by its very nature a meditation practice, which is often forgotten in this era of “Yoga Chic.”
- Guided Meditation. This type involves a teacher or facilitator who leads the individual or group in a meditation that can incorporate visualizations, breathwork, sounds, music, movement, etc. This one can be a good place to start for people who say they “can’t meditate,” because the guidance helps keep the practitioner focused as they are taken step by step through the meditation. It can also range from very simple mindfulness practice to extremely esoteric spiritual journeys, depending on what you are drawn to.
Did you know? Any activity can become a meditation, if done with mindfulness. Next time you cook dinner, try preparing it with mindfulness: slicing the vegetables, chopping the garlic, watching the ingredients simmering in the oil. Later, when you are finished cooking, try eating mindfully, carefully biting and chewing each mouthful with focused attention, really tasting the food. Notice how you feel afterwards.