Meditation Types You May Want to Consider if Life Is a Chaotic Hellstorm
The first time I took a silent meditation class, it was… a struggle. I felt out of place the instant I entered the studio. As I unrolled my $20 yoga mat in a back corner of the room, lithe, Lululemon-clad regulars who looked like they might possibly be able to levitate trickled in and claimed their spots, chatting with each other as they stretched. Already, I could feel my armpits sweating from social anxiety alone.
The silent meditation lasted for 30 minutes. As someone who had never silently meditated, this was an eternity. Sitting there in sukhasana, struggling to focus on my breath, I began to have a panic attack.
How many minutes had passed? Would I be able to make it? Why was I sweating so much? Should I leave? If I left, how much of a disruption would I cause? How much noise would I make? How many people would I have to tiptoe around? How far was I from the exit?
Would I make it??
Suddenly, I heard a chime and the instructor brought us out of our meditation.
My heart was pounding.
But I had survived.
I later learned that silent meditation can sometimes be difficult for those, like myself, who have generalized anxiety disorder. I also learned that there are many different types and philosophies of meditation (thousands!), and that no one type works for everyone.
This was great news for me.
If you’d like to try meditation but don’t know where to start, consider this your starting point. Below, I describe some basic types of meditation that you can try right away at home. Test out a few. See what feels right. And then make it a regular part of your routine.
Breath meditation can often be a gateway meditation practice for those dipping a toe into that world, as it can feel the most accessible. After all, you can start small, focusing on your breath, noticing where you feel the breath in your body, trying to lengthen out every inhale and every exhale. Doing this for even a few minutes in the middle of the day can work wonders for your state of mind.
While breath meditation may be the most well-known form of meditation, practices like drishti and sri yantra meditation have practitioners resting their gaze softly upon a still point. Yoga guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the man behind Ashtanga yoga, introduced the drishti practice to the Western world, instructing students to bring their awareness to various parts of the body as they moved through the asana practice. Sri yantra meditation, meanwhile, has its roots in India’s Vedic and yogic traditions. Those who practice sri yantra meditation stare into devotional labyrinths in the form of Buddhist mandalas and Hindu yantras.
Because I am a walking bundle of nerves, guided meditation has always felt more accessible to me than, say, silent meditation. Guided meditation can take many forms. You can be verbally guided through a deepening of and awareness of the breath. You can be guided through a visualization exercise. You can be guided through a scan of the body (my favorite way to quiet the mind before bed), through a loving-kindness (metta) meditation, or through the practice of yoga nidra (also known as “yogic sleep”). For all of these, the voice of the teacher is meant to act as your anchor, the thing you come back to whenever you notice the mind beginning to wander.
In Secrets of Meditation, Davidji refers to a mantra as a mind vehicle, the word or words—or even just a string of syllables—that transport your mind from a state of activity to one of silence and stillness. These mantras are typically chosen for their vibrational quality. One mantra that many of us have already heard of is om, considered to be the ultimate vibration. But if that one doesn’t resonate with you (see what I did there), you can explore other common mantras or even come up with your own, which you can then chant out loud or meditate upon silently.
Energy meditation is a form of meditation that encourages folks to connect with the energy centers in their body. The form of energy meditation you’ve likely heard of is chakra meditation. Chakras are energetic junction points in the body, and the seven main chakras are lined up from the base of your spine all the way to the top of your head. Chakra meditation requires you to bring your awareness to each chakra, envision the color associated with it, reflect upon that chakra’s purpose, and repeat the vibration or mantra associated with it.
Movement meditation can be any physical practice that combines calm and purposeful breath and movement. I consider the practice of yoga itself to be a form of movement meditation, in addition to practices such as tai chi and qui gong. But to start, you can try walking meditation, moving slowly with mindfulness and intention.
I couldn’t possibly fit an explainer of Buddhism and Buddhist meditation into a single paragraph. For that, you should check out the work of those like Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist who wrote The Miracle of Mindfulness, among many other titles. What I can share are some of my favorite forms of Buddhist meditations:
My absolute favorite is metta, or loving-kindness, meditation, in which you focus on sending out loving-kindness to all living beings, starting with yourself, moving on to those you love and respect, and moving outward from there.
Another form of Buddhist meditation, which overlaps with several of the other meditation types on this list, is samatha bhavana, in which one focuses on a single object (like a drishti) or action (like breathing) for an extended period of time.
And then there is vipassana bhavana, where you cultivate mindfulness of your thoughts and feelings, bearing witness to them with detachment.
This last one is especially challenging for me.
But as with all of these, what’s tough for me may be quite simple for you.
It’s hard to know which meditation practices you will and won’t connect to. I encourage you to play around with whichever ones most appeal to you. And once you’ve gone through this list? Don’t stop there! Explore the many other forms of meditation that exist. This post only exists as the most basic of primers.
For further reading, I recommend titles like Jiddu Krishnamurti’s The Book of Life, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Moments of Mindfulness, and Bhante Gunaratana’s Mindfulness in Plain English.