What are the Different Types of Meditation?
There are quite a few different types of meditation to choose from, literally hundreds of distinct ways to practice. For those who may be just getting started with meditation, we are going to focus on three of the more traditional types, what they include and how to get started. They include Mindfulness, Mantra and Metta Meditation.
Mindfulness meditation originates from Buddhist teachings and is the most popular meditation technique in the West. It is the practice of intentionally focusing on the present moment, accepting and non-judgmentally paying attention to the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise in your mind. You don’t judge the thoughts or become involved with them. You simply observe and take note of any patterns. This practice combines concentration with awareness.
You may find it helpful to focus on an object or your breath while you observe any bodily sensations, thoughts, or feelings. Your mind will get distracted by going along with sounds, sensations, and1 thoughts. Whenever that happens, gently recognize that you have been distracted, and bring the attention back to the breathing, or to the objective noticing of that thought or sensation. There is a big difference between being inside the thought/sensation, and simply being aware of its presence.
During the meditation time, sit on a cushion on the floor, or on a chair, with a straight and unsupported back. Pay close attention to the movement of your breath. When you breathe in, be aware that you are breathing in, and how it feels. When you breathe out, be aware you are breathing out. Continue like this for the length of your meditation practice, constantly redirecting the attention to the breath. Or you can move on to be paying attention to the sensations, thoughts, and feelings that arise.
The effort is to not intentionally add anything to our present moment experience but to be aware of what is going on, without losing ourselves in anything that arises.
There is also the practice of mindfulness during our daily activities: while eating, walking, and talking. For “daily life” meditation, the practice is to pay attention to what is going on in the present moment, to be aware of what is happening – and not living in “automatic mode”. If you are speaking, that means paying attention to the words you speak, how you speak them, and to listen with presence and attention. If you are walking, that means being more aware of your body movements, your feet touching the ground, the sounds you are hearing, etc.
Mantra Meditation (OM Meditation)
Another type of meditation is “Mantra” meditation.
A mantra is a syllable or word, usually without any particular meaning, that is repeated for the purpose of focusing your mind. It is not an affirmation used to convince yourself of something.
Some meditation teachers insist that both the choice of word, and its correct pronunciation, is very important, due to the “vibration” associated to the sound and meaning, and that for this reason, an initiation into it is essential. Others say that the mantra itself is only a tool to focus the mind, and the chosen word is completely irrelevant.
As most types of meditations, it is usually practiced sitting on a cushion, with your back unsupported and straight, and eyes closed. The practitioner then repeats the mantra in his mind, silently, over and over again during the whole session.
Mantra meditation is prominent in many teachings, including Hindu and Buddhist traditions. This type of meditation uses a repetitive sound to clear the mind. It can be a word, phrase, or sound, such as the popular “Om.”
It doesn’t matter if your mantra is spoken loudly or quietly. After chanting the mantra for some time, you will be more alert and in tune with your environment. This allows you to experience deeper levels of awareness.
Sometimes this practice is coupled with being aware of the breathing or coordinating with it. In other exercises, the mantra is actually whispered very lightly and softly, as an aid to concentration.
As you repeat the mantra, it creates a mental vibration that allows the mind to experience deeper levels of awareness. As you meditate, the mantra becomes increasingly abstract and indistinct, until you’re finally led into the field of pure consciousness from which the vibration arose.
Repetition of the mantra helps you disconnect from the thoughts filling your mind so that perhaps you may slip into the gap between thoughts. The mantra is a tool to support your meditation practice. Mantras can be viewed as ancient power words with subtle intentions that help us connect to spirit, the source of everything in the universe. (Deepak Chopra)
Here are some of the most well-known mantras from the Hindu & Buddhist traditions:
– om namah shivaya
– om mani padme hum
You may practice for a certain period of time, or for a set number of “repetitions” – traditionally 108 or 1008. In the latter case, beads are typically used for keeping count.
As the practice deepens, you may find that the mantra continues “by itself” like the humming of the mind. Or the mantra may even disappear, and you are left in a state of deep inner peace.
People usually find that it is easier to focus on a mantra than with the breathing. Because a mantra is a word, and thoughts are usually perceived as words, it can be easier to keep the focus on a mantra rather than on the breathing. It is useful especially when the mind is racing with many thoughts since it mantra meditation demands constant attention.
Meditating with a mantra can also make it simpler to integrate your meditative state into your daily life. In whatever activity you find yourself into, it can be as simple as repeating the mantra in your mind. This is also a good practice for people who don’t like silence and enjoy repetition.
Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation
Are you sometimes too hard on yourself or on others? Or feel like you need to improve your relationships? Loving-kindness meditation will help you. It is beneficial both for selfless and self-centered people, and it will help increase your general level of happiness. You cannot feel loving-kindness and depression (or any other negative feeling) at the same time.
Metta is a Pali word that means kindness, benevolence, and goodwill. This practice comes from the Buddhist traditions, especially the Theravada and Tibetan lineages. “Compassion meditation” is a contemporary scientific field that demonstrates the efficacy of metta and related meditative practices.
Demonstrated benefits include: boosting one’s ability to empathize with others; development of positive emotions through compassion, including a more loving attitude towards oneself; increased self-acceptance; a greater feeling of competence about one’s life; and an increased feeling of purpose in life.
One sits down in a meditation position, with closed eyes, and generates in his mind and heart feelings of kindness and benevolence. Start by developing loving-kindness towards yourself, then progressively towards others and all beings. Usually, this progression is advised:
– a good friend
– a “neutral” person
– a difficult person
– all four of the above equally
– and then gradually the entire universe
The feeling to be developed is that of wishing happiness and well-being for all. This practice may be aided by reciting specific words or sentences that evoke the “boundless warm-hearted feeling”, visualizing the suffering of others and sending love; or by imagining the state of another being, and wishing him happiness and peace.