Meditation Techniques and Types
There are many different types of meditation practice, from the deeply spiritual to the completely secular. Partly due to the individual nature of meditation – what has powerful effects on one person may leave another wondering what the fuss is about – this wide variety enables choice, allowing you to discover what works best for you.
Regardless of this diversity, almost all types of meditation can be broadly divided into two different techniques – focused attention (FA) or open monitoring (OM) meditations.
In FA – often the starting point for beginners – your attention is focussed on a single, chosen object. This could be a candle flame, a mantra, or simply your breath as it enters and leaves your body. The idea is to maintain this one-pointed concentration, and when you notice that your mind has inevitably wandered, you simply bring it back to what you’re focusing on.
Simple in concept, but tricky to maintain, as with all meditations, your abilities will improve with regular practice.
In contrast, OM doesn’t focus on one particular point. Instead it aims to develop a detached awareness of your thoughts and environment. It is a type of mindfulness and a bunch of meditation techniques. The key here is to simply observe any thoughts, feelings or sensations you’re experiencing, allowing them to flow past naturally, without judging, reacting or holding on to them.
Out of the two, OM can be the more difficult. As it builds on the focussed concentration cultivated during FA practice it is often one that those with this experience graduate on to.
Some types of meditation – such as Vipassanā – combine both techniques, usually starting with FA before shifting to OM once an ability to maintain one-pointed concentration has been established.
While some of the main schools of meditation technologies will be discussed in the next article, the following examples represent some other varieties:
Transcendental Meditation, or TM, was made famous by the Beatles and is still popular with many other celebrities. However beyond de-stressing and relaxing, many experts consider it to have limited applications. As it can only be learnt directly from an official TM one-on-one teacher (and not via apps or general instructions) it also comes with a price tag attached.
Jyoti meditation is a specific technique created by Indian guru Satya Sai Baba. Jyoti means ‘light’. It’s a form of FA meditation where the object of your attention is a candle flame. Your focus and vision are first centred on the flame, before closing your eyes and visualising the flame as instead being present between your eyebrows (the ‘third eye’ chakra). This light is then slowly expanded to fill your whole body. It is a religious form of meditation, suited for those wanting to meditate for spiritual development, and aims to be a purifying experience.
Yogic meditation is an umbrella term used for various meditative techniques developed in ancient India as part of a yoga programme, as described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Yoga actually means ‘union’ – essentially with the higher Self – and describes an enlightened state that can be achieved by following these practices. Yoga teachers in the West tend to focus on just one aspect of this – the poses or asanas. These poses were actually developed as a means to prepare the body for deeper meditative states.There are various techniques, including breath control exercises (or Pranayama), control of the senses, moral codes such as Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satya (truth), as well as the practice of intense inward focus.
Mantra meditation uses focussed attention techniques as a means to distract the thinking mind. A mantra is a phrase, syllable or word. It can be chanted, whispered or repeated internally. By giving your mind a mantra to concentrate on it becomes more focused and so doesn’t jump around from subject to subject, allowing you to relax into your meditation without constant distraction. Think of it like giving your mind a toy to play with, to keep it occupied. For those on spiritual paths, a mantra is provided by a guru or mentor, however this does not mean mantra meditations have to be spiritual . You can simply use positive affirmations as mantras, without any religious connections.
So I hope you have enjoyed this first part of Meditation Techniques and how to use them, in part two I will discuss further meditation techniques to do in your own home!