Which Meditation Is Right for Me?

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I believe the best chance you have of sticking to a meditation practice is finding the one best suited for your personality. Many meditation practices exist, but not all of them will resonate with you. So I have compiled a description of some of the more common practices to see which one is the best fit. If you’re like me, you might find yourself using more than one meditation practice!

1) BREATH-CENTERED MEDITATION

Best for those who want to experiment with the breath; have unobstructed breathing; want the simplest (this does not mean easiest) form of meditation

This practice focuses solely on the breath, which serves a number of purposes. The breath is our greatest tool for calming the nervous system, staying focused, and letting go. When the mind wanders during meditation, you can always return to the breath. Your breath is your best friend.

There are many ways to use the breath. The simplest breath-centered meditation is to simply be aware of your breath:

1) Sit comfortably. Don’t worry about sitting in a lotus position (although you can!) or placing your hands in any particular position. I believe that if you’re comfortable, you are more likely to keep returning to meditation.

2) Gently close your eyes.

3) Take 3 deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose or mouth, although the nose is preferable. You will more commonly hear teachers say to breathe out your mouth, but if your nostrils are clear, I suggest breathing through them. That is what they are designed for. The ancient medical practice of Ayurveda teaches that we take in prana (life force energy) through our breath, and that breathing out through our mouth releases that prana, which is not what we want. We want to keep that life force energy inside.

4) Now breathe naturally.

5) Because you are a living, breathing human being, thoughts will begin to intrude. This is natural. Don’t stress over this. Just acknowledge that your mind is doing what it is designed to do, and then let those thoughts go and return to the breath. Focus on how the air feels cool on the inhale and slightly warmer on the exhale. You might even, in your mind, say “breath.”

6) Every time a thought enters your mind, gently replace it with a focus on your breath.

7) If you want to try a more structured breath-centered meditation, you can count your inhales and exhales. This might have a more calming effect, if that is your desire. Breathe in to the count of four, hold your breath to the count of four, breathe out to the count of six, hold for a count of four, and repeat. Why the longer exhalation? Studies have shown that longer exhales have a deeper calming effect on the nervous system. Here is an article that discusses this in-depth: Effects of Longer Exhalations

8) See if you can work up to doing this 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night. If you only do 10 minutes, that’s great!

2) GUIDED MEDITATION

Best for those who prefer someone else’s direction; struggle to stay focused without guidance; want to be taken on a journey; want to meditate on a particular issue  

What I love most about guided meditations is that you can choose from a wealth of teachers and pick a meditation based on what you’d like to experience. Want to meditate on chronic pain, your inner child, forgiveness, releasing anger? There are meditations for almost anything you can imagine. You can choose whether you want a male- or female-sounding voice, music or nature sounds, or silence. You can choose the length of meditation as well. Meditation apps are plentiful and most offer some free content, and expanded content for paid subscriptions. They also occasionally offer a sale on subscriptions. Here are some of the best:

1) Insight Timer – This meditation app has more than 95,000 free meditations from some of the best meditation teachers across the globe, including davidji, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Sharon Salzberg. You can listen to meditations 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Many Insight Timer teachers also offer live sessions, where you can tune in to meditate with them in real time or listen to them talk on a particular subject. The app also has a feature called “circles,” where you can connect with other meditators across the globe who have an affinity for a particular teacher or type of meditation. Insight Timer is free but also has a yearly paid subscription for $59.99 US, which is a steal for all they offer. This allows you to take self-paced courses (10-day, 30-day) offered by many teachers.

Visit Insight Timer

2) Calm – This meditation app is more limited than Insight Timer, but it does have some interesting offerings. Their meditation tab is sub-categorized into the following:

  • Sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Beginners
  • Relationships
  • Personal Growth
  • Kids
  • By Guest Instructors
  • Relaxation
  • Inner Peace
  • Emotions

They also offer a tab called “scenes,” where you might look at a beach or a mountain or lake, while listening to nature sounds. This would obviously require meditating with your eyes open. If you want to meditate without guidance, they do offer music or soundscapes alone.

Calm offers limited meditations for free, but to really make use of the site, you’ll need to get a subscription, which is $69.99 a year or $399.99 for life.

Visit Calm

3) Headspace – This meditation app is similar to Calm in its offerings, but it’s a bit more “cutesy” with its animated content. Like Calm, it has sleep content themed meditations with topics such as:

Coping with Cravings

Acceptance

SOS Meditations for Losing Your Temper or Panicking

Headspace offers a free 11.5-minute beginners meditation as well as some basics on how to get started, such as what to wear, how to sit, how long to meditate for, and busting some common meditation myths. Subscriptions are $69.99 per year, or monthly at $12.99.

Visit Headspace

3) MANTRA MEDITATION / PRIMORDIAL SOUND MEDITATION

Best for those who are interested in mantras; interested in Sanskrit or Vedic chant; require more pointed focus; are ready to challenge yourself with unfamiliar language 

This is the tradition I was trained in, though I vary it with other practices now. Primordial sound meditation (PSM) involves the use of a mantra to help focus the mind and quiet the thoughts. These mantras come from the Vedic tradition founded in India. The Sanskrit word mantra means “tool of the mind” (man = mind; tra = instrument/mechanism/vehicle).

Everything in the universe has a vibration. Even objects that appear to be still are not truly still. Movement is constant. If you go through PSM training or you study with a PSM teacher, you will be given your personal mantra based on vibrational sound the Earth was making at the time of your birth.

Mantras are used for their vibrational quality, not their meaning. Mantras are believed to induce quiet, calm, and peaceful states, and they are preferred to images that might conjure up thoughts.

There are many mantras you can use if you don’t have a personal mantra (or even if you do!) Here are some of commonly used mantras:

1) So hum = “I am” or “I am that”

2) Om = this is thought to be the sound that encompasses all others, or “the sound of the Universe,” “the original vibration”

3) Shanti = peace

You can also use a bija mantra. Bija is the Sanskrit word for “seed.” These mantras are a bit longer because they all begin with Om and they end with Namaha. The literal translation of the Sanskrit Namaha is “not mine,” but it is interpreted to mean an honoring or salutation. So a bija mantra starts with the universal vibration (Om), the seed word or heart of the mantra—for example, “Moksha,” or emotional freedom, and dedication (Namaha). The bija is the only part that you change based on what you want to meditate on. Here are some examples:

1) Om Suryaya Namaha = Mantra to the sun

2) Om Ritam Namaha = Mantra for truth

3) Om Hreem Namaha = Mantra to induce joy

 4) WALKING MEDITATION

Best for those who find it very difficult to stay still; prefer movement; enjoy being outside; feel inspired, calm, or peaceful when moving 

The one thing that separates walking meditation from other forms of meditation is that you must do this with your eyes open. Meditations are typically done with the eyes closed to help quiet the mind by blocking out visual stimulation. But walking meditations definitely have a place in the meditator’s toolkit.

A walking meditation is about mindfulness, the breath, and your sense of awareness. The breath is gentle; you tune in to physical sensations; and you notice your surroundings. Notice if you’re holding tension anywhere while you’re walking. Common places to hold tension are the shoulders, facial muscles, and abdomen. Make a conscious effort to relax them. Keep your eyes ahead and slightly downcast.

If weather permits, I suggest going outside for your walking meditation. Nature heals, calms, and induces a sense of well-being. If you can walk near trees, a mountain, beach, or a body of water, such as a lake or river, even better. If not, just walk someplace quiet and unpopulated. Some people find it meditative to walk in a labyrinth.

Take three deep breaths before walking. Then walk slowly down a path, a winding road, through the forest, or wherever you’ve chosen to walk. When your mind starts to wander, pay attention to your breath. Are you taking even, gentle breaths? If you are breathing quickly or your breaths are shallow, slow your pace.

Notice your surroundings. Do you see trees, water, animals, insects, people, grass, rocks? If you are feeling grateful for what you see, you can offer up a thank you to the Universe, Source, God, or whatever you perceive to be nature’s creator.

Notice other sensations. What do you feel on your skin? What do you hear? Is there a scent in the air? Walking meditations allow for awareness of things we normally do not notice. This will help you develop a sense of mindfulness.

I often doing walking meditations in my own backyard or front yard. I just walk in large circles. I take in the desert air, the trees, the rocks, the mountains, the coyote howls, the dogs barking, the birds chirping.

If you cannot be outside, see if you can find a stretch of indoor area that is quiet, where you can walk, even if you have to keep going in circles. I sometimes do walking meditations in my home.

5) VIPASSANA MEDITATION

Best for experienced meditators; highly committed individuals; those comfortable with sitting for long periods; those willing to take a course or retreat 

Vipassana is believed to be the oldest Buddhist tradition. It is translated to mean “insight” or to “see the true nature of reality.” This meditation is an introspective practice aimed at deep awareness of the self and our illusion of separateness from others. It is believed to lead the practitioner toward the Buddhist belief in impermanence and the attainment of egolessness.

Vipassana is a precise practice, where one focuses on micro-movements, such as the beginning, middle, and end of each breath. It asks that we make note of whatever we notice by mentally verbalizing these things. For example, if a thought arises, we gently think “thought.” Or if we feel warm, we mentally note the word “heat.” Similar to primordial sound meditation, this is a way of helping the mind acknowledge thoughts and sensations without allowing them to dominate. Vipassana is essentially a two-step process: train the mind to release distractions, and then allow for an awareness of the self to be revealed.

Vipassana suggests that you sit, with legs crossed, as the Buddha is believed to have sat, although comfort is important. Vipassana practitioners often practice one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. Because of some of the challenges of the practice, many meditation students attend a Vipassana retreat to immerse themselves in the experience of this form. It is typically a 10-day retreat held in silence. Stringent rules are often in place, such as limited eye contact, separation of males and females, and very early rise times.

6) TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION (TM)

Best for those who want to focus more on mantra than breath; prefer a less structured practice 

Transcendental meditation is very similar to mantra meditation/primordial sound meditation, but the mantras used are not chosen in the same manner as PSM. They might even be based on the teacher assigning the mantra rather than your personal information. It can vary. If you were to be instructed in transcendental meditation, the teachings would likely be very different than in PSM. TM promotes the same outcomes as other meditations, but with a focus on mantra repetition and simplicity.

Transcendental meditation says that practitioners should do the following:

1) Sit in a comfortable position.

2) Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.

3) Start mentally repeating your mantra.

4) Gently let thoughts go as they arise.

5) Sit for 20 minutes.

6) Slowly open your eyes and come out of the meditation.