Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years in cultures around the world. It’s used to help calm the mind and suppress wandering thoughts, and it can be a relaxing way to clear your mind and find inner peace.
The techniques used during meditation have several physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits that are backed by scientists, philosophers, religious leaders, and spiritual gurus alike. Most meditation forms emphasize breathing, stillness, and mindfulness to achieve a higher state of relaxation and focus, and there’s an almost endless variety of ways to practice meditation.
Seven Types of Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is likely what comes to mind when you think of meditation: closed eyes, relaxed posture, deep breathing, and either soothing music or complete silence. Mindfulness meditation is the practice of acknowledging the thoughts in your brain and then choosing where you’d like to redirect your thoughts. You observe the thoughts as they appear and take note of any patterns or sensations that come up in the body.
How to practice mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation calls for a quiet, relaxed environment and body. Find somewhere comfortable to begin, and one by one, acknowledge worries and fears before sending them away. Focus on your breathing during the session.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a form of silent meditation that claims to teach you how to avoid distracting thoughts while promoting a state of relaxed awareness. The TM technique utilizes a mantra – or silent, personal encouraging word or phrase ‒ and is typically practiced for 15–20 minutes, twice per day.
How to practice Transcendental Meditation
Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Repeat your personal mantra in your mind and clear your thoughts of anything else. Do this for 15–20 minutes, twice a day.
Mantras are incredibly personal, which is why some people find them so effective during meditation sessions. You’ve probably heard “Om” or “Aum” before; the Sanskrit word is an ancient mantra that’s often used in Hinduism and Buddhism. It’s also commonly used in yoga practices. Other mantras include (but aren’t limited to):
- Personal quotes that are important to you
- Religious quotes
- Short, powerful statements, like “I can, and I will”
- Anything that motivates you to make the changes you’re looking to make
How to practice mantra meditation
Mantra meditation sessions include repeating your mantra over and over, either aloud or internally.
Kundalini yoga is a form of yoga that focuses heavily on deep breathing – or diaphragmatic breathing – with the goal of expanding the reach of your breath and energy to all areas of the body. According to the Cleveland Clinic, diaphragmatic breathing is the most efficient way to take in more air, ultimately using less energy and effort to breathe properly. Kundalini yoga is just one type of yoga; many others also focus on mindfulness and meditation.
How to practice Kundalini yoga
Kundalini yoga – or any form of yoga, for that matter – can be practiced both at home and in a class setting. Kundalini yoga sessions often include deep breath work, the repeating of mantras, and physical movements. Try to really focus on your breaths during sessions.
Guided meditation is a helpful option for meditation newbies, since all you have to do is follow the instructors’ directions throughout the session. Guided meditation offers a way to calm your racing mind, since the teacher's voice reminds you to bring your attention back to your meditation. Guided meditations also offer a way to see which kinds of meditation sessions you enjoy and find most effective before striking out on self-guided sessions.
How to practice guided meditation
Find a local class or search online for guided meditation sessions. (The YouTube videos and app options are seemingly endless!) Get into a comfortable position and follow the leader’s instructions throughout the session. This can include closing your eyes, regulating your breathing, and focusing on different aspects of your body or your life.
Self-guided meditation is just the opposite of guided meditation. There’s no one to tell you how to breathe or what to focus on; it’s up to you to decide those things. Self-guided meditation sessions are generally thought of as “advanced,” but they don’t need to be.
If you find that someone speaking to you is distracting, you may be better off starting with a self-guided session. Reading up on general meditation techniques before you begin can help keep you from feeling overwhelmed during your self-guided sessions.
How to practice self-guided meditation
Read up on how to practice meditation, then begin! Find somewhere comfortable, relax, and try to find your inner peace.
Zen meditation (or zazen) is a meditation technique rooted in Buddhist psychology. It’s sometimes referred to as a practice that involves “thinking about not thinking.” Zazen encourages you to look inward, without necessarily focusing on anything in particular.
How to practice Zen meditation:
Sit with your legs crossed in the lotus position, if you’re able. If not, sitting cross-legged is an alternative; focus your attention inward. Count your breaths in groups of 10, from one to 10. Repeat this for as long as you feel you need to, focusing on blowing out your worries as you release your 10th breath.
The Benefits of Meditation
Meditation and meditation practices offer a wide array of mental, physical, and emotional health benefits:
Meditation calls for long periods of relaxing your mind and trying not to focus on your daily worries and stressors. By allowing yourself dedicated time to focus solely on the present (and not everything you’re worried about in the past or future), you learn to let go and allow yourself to focus on getting tasks done throughout the day. Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni found that meditation not only changes brain patterns, but that it “confers advantages in mental focus that may improve cognitive performance.”
Improved emotional health
Meditation can lower stress levels, which can in turn decrease feelings of anxiety and depression. One study found that eight weeks of mindfulness meditation helped reduce symptoms of anxiety in people with generalized anxiety disorder as well as improved their stress levels and coping skills. Another study of almost 1,300 people found they experienced anxiety relief after meditation sessions.
Everyone wants to sleep more soundly and wake up refreshed, and meditation has shown it can help do just that. The Sleep Foundation recommends meditation for anyone having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep and for those suffering from insomnia. One 2010 study found that mindfulness meditation was nearly as effective in aiding people with insomnia as medication was.
General health and wellness
Besides stress relief, meditation practices can result in improved overall health and wellness. Stress takes its toll on the body; relaxing during meditation sessions lowers stress levels, which can prevent events like heart attacks and strokes. Higher stress levels have also been shown to increase cortisol production in the brain, which can lead to overeating and unintended weight gain.
Tips for More Effective Meditation Sessions
Make meditation part of your routine.
Practice makes perfect, and the best way to ensure you stick with your meditation practice is to incorporate meditation into your daily routine. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or right before bed, keeping your meditation session at the same time (and place) can help fully integrate the practice into your life.
Part of meditation requires finding stillness, starting with the body. But this can be challenging if you’re in an awkward position, focusing on something that’s irritating you. When you begin your meditation practice, find a place that you can feel good in – a chair, a couch, or anywhere you find peaceful.
Acknowledge your emotions.
Meditation sessions can be emotional at times. Meditation can create the mindfulness you need to acknowledge and experience your emotions, helping you recognize that they deserve to be seen, heard, felt, connected with, and appreciated.
Let go of the all-or-nothing mentality.
Do you ever notice yourself thinking, “If I can’t do it properly, then I might as well not do it at all”? This can be an example of an all-or-nothing mentality. Although you might feel like five minutes of meditation isn’t worth it, it’s better than not meditating at all.
The Bottom Line
Meditation teaches you to slow down racing thoughts, shed feelings of negativity, and calm your body and mind. The goal is to understand how your thoughts contribute to the way you feel and then either deal with them effectively or release them. This can help you live more consciously outside your practice, instilling mindfulness, alertness, and awareness. Meditation offers physical, emotional, and spiritual health benefits, and you don’t need to enroll in expensive classes to reap those benefits.