Whether you are an experienced meditator, or want to start a meditation practice for the first time, there is a meditation style that fits you.
As with any form of art, the more we practice meditation, the better we get at it. Real meditation, however, is practiced every moment of every day by being present and non-judgmental toward others and toward our own thoughts.
Cultivating gratitude, conquering fear, calming a restless mind—all these actions are part of a higher awareness that we can achieve through a consistent meditation routine.
Often people receive conflicting advice on how to meditate. Many people get confused and are not sure how to start meditating.
How do I help people start a meditation practice?
Although meditation in itself is not complicated, when people come to me asking for meditation advice or meditation classes, I often do two things that have worked well for them.
First, I take a brief assessment to determine what meditation style may be more suitable for them. I ask about their personality and lifestyle:
Is it hard for them to stay still for long periods of time?
Do they feel their mind gets easily agitated?
Do they feel restless often?
Is it hard for them keeping intrusive thoughts away from their mind?
Are they more productive early in the morning or in the evening?
Can they sit on the floor without back support for long periods of time or do they prefer to sit?
Do they have any injury?
What is their learning style? (visual, auditory, hands-on)
Second, based on their answers to my assessment questions, I explain two or three different meditation techniques that may work for them. Then, together, we start a round of 5 to 10 minutes meditation practice to see how they feel with each meditation style. The students then start practicing their preferred meditation style on their own until they find one or two methods that they feel most comfortable with or until they start making the desired progress in their meditation practice.
What follows is a practical guide to different styles of meditation. For the sake of brevity and practicality, I have chosen to write only about the main meditation techniques that are used in Buddhism and Hinduism, but have not attempted to include all meditation practices that exist.
1. Insight meditation.
The goal of this mediation technique is to go inward and have clear awareness of what is happening, as it is happening in the moment. Think of it as a logical process of mental purification through self-observation and self-awareness.
The only tool we use for this technique is deep concentration. This method works best for people who can concentrate more easily, but it is beneficial for everyone as it enhances our focus and will power for concentration.
2. Visualization meditation.
This technique provides an image to focus on and it balances out our tendency for visual stimulation. Through this technique, we want to achieve concentration and calm the mind by focusing on items, such as a candle flame, a religious image, a lake, a mountain, a cloudy sky, and other items. This meditation method excludes all other thoughts and perceptions from consciousness.
Practicing visualization meditation in nature is a great way to sooth our senses and bring us into the present moment. The breath slows down and deepens and the mind relaxes. This technique works well for visual learners.
3. Mantra meditation.
Through this meditation style, we silently repeat a sound or mantra (prayer). The mantra can be a single word or sound, for example, repeating "Om" (the root mantra) throughout the meditation, or it can also be a word, a sentence, or a paragraph that has significance for you.
The goal of mantra meditation is to quiet the mind and connect to universal energy. In the Yoga philosophy, sound emanates from the universe or the divine source—it is universal consciousness itself. It is believed that mantra meditation can help you return to this universal source. Mantra meditation works best for auditory learners.
4. Metta meditation.
This technique focuses on practicing loving-kindness by reciting words and phrases evoking a warm-hearted feeling and sense of well-being. Metta meditation is first practiced toward oneself, since we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves first.
5. Walking meditation.
Walking meditation, also called mindful walking, involves going inward and walking quietly while having clear awareness that we are stepping on sacred ground—mother earth.
Mindful walking connects us to earth and provides a sense of grounding and nourishment. Whether we take a walk in nature trails or simply go around the block in a busy city, the goal is to calm the mind and slow down the breath. Walks in nature work best as they provide a special way to connect our mind and body with nature.
"We can train ourselves to walk with reverence. Wherever we walk, whether it’s the railway station or the supermarket, we are walking on the earth and so we are in a holy sanctuary. If we remember to walk like that, we can be nourished and find solidity with each step." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh