Four Ways to Meditate
Meditation isn’t one-size-fits-all: Although you can sit in a white room and hum “om” until you feel you’ve reached a sense of calm—or your lunch break is over—there are other forms of the practice that may be a better fit for both your lifestyle and overall health goals. Consistent meditation has been linked to stress relief, decreased risk of chronic diseases, healthy sleep habits, and many other benefits. Consider a combination of these four practices to promote a healthy brain and body.
The Root: Mindfulness stems from the Buddhist tradition vipassana, which refers to discovering insight into the true nature of reality. This form of meditation focuses on living in the present moment and increasing one’s awareness of what is. The mind is easily distracted, and mindfulness meditation is designed to reconnect us with ourselves by eliminating scattered thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
How to Practice: You can practice mindfulness at any time—in the car at a red light, waiting in line at the coffee shop, watching a baseball game—the idea is to focus on what you experience, such as your breath, and to accept thoughts and emotions as they come but to pass no judgments. That is, the focus is not on changing your energy (or situation) but to accept what is happening in the present moment and detach from any negative feelings.
The Result: Ideally, learning to be mindful should help induce calm and optimize your ability to deal with future stressors. Mindfulness promotes stability and compassion and can help us to better react to unpleasant or undesirable situations such as illness, tensions at work or home, or even a busy schedule.
The Root: Mahesh Prasad Varma—also known as Maharishi (“Great Seer”) Mahesh Yogi—derived the transcendental meditation (TM) technique from the ancient Vedic tradition of India, then brought the practice to the US in the 1960s. The goal is to achieve a state of perfect stillness and consciousness, and to thus transcend ordinary thinking and mental boundaries.
How to Practice: Most people who practice TM do so for 15 to 20 minutes per day. First, create your mantra—a meaningless or calming sound, word, or phrase. Then, find a comfortable space and posture—usually a cross-legged position—and focus silently on your mantra. Repeat your mantra in your mind to help narrow awareness and eliminate thoughts from your mind.
The Result: Regular TM practice is linked to many health benefits. It can reduce anxiety and depression, chronic pain, and the risk of heart attack or stroke. The technique can also help normalize blood pressure, promote healthy sleep, and improve memory.
The Root: This form of meditation didn’t grow out of any ancient tradition, but it is gaining popularity. The practice involves forming mental images of relaxing places or situations, then concentrating on those images to experience a sense of calm.
How to Practice: You will probably have a guide lead you through your journey, and you may listen to a recording to prepare your mind. Sometimes there is a focus on breath, but the body’s actions during guided visualization are usually passive. Remember to use as many senses as possible. If your image takes you outside to a sandy beach, for example, you could focus on the salty taste in the air, the texture of the sand, the smell of nearby restaurants, the sound of the crashing ocean waves, and the brightness of the sun.
The Result: Guided visualization takes less effort to maintain focus because you have another person directing your thoughts. This may help you reach areas of the mind you wouldn’t otherwise think to go. Thus, guided visualization may foster creativity, deepen spirituality, promote deep relaxation, and increase feelings of freedom, awareness, and clarity.
The Root: Pronounced CHEE-gung, this practice comes from Chinese medicine, philosophy, and martial arts. It’s a combination of meditation, relaxation, physical movements, and rhythmic breathing that is meant to restore and maintain the balance of energy within the body.
How to Practice: Dynamic practice involves graceful, choreographed movements that improve the awareness of how the body moves through space; static practice involves holding a stance (such as yoga poses) for a certain amount of time; meditative practice uses breath, sight, sound, and chant to circulate and balance internal energy. Engage in all three forms. To get started, pay attention to your breath and the feeling of energy flowing through the three major centers used in Taoist meditation: a point two inches below the navel, the center of the chest, and the center of the forehead.
The Result: Because qigong is actually a form of gentle exercise, the practice can lessen joint pain and stiffness while increasing strength, balance, and flexibility. Additionally, the aerobic yet relaxing activity improves energy flow throughout the body, which can lead to a better overall sense of wellness.
More Meditation Tips & Facts
Consistency counts. If you’re thinking about trying any form of meditation, keep practicing for better results. In a recent study, consistent at-home practice resulted in increased intrapersonal, interpersonal, and transpersonal levels, which are all associated with a lower risk for personality disorders. Source: Comprehensive Psychiatry
Buddhist Walking Meditation: This mobile form of meditation may look like a walk in the woods or a stroll across a sandy beach—and could provide more benefits than traditional walking. BWM encourages people to focus on their surroundings as they walk and let the natural elements be their guide on their journey toward calm. One study found that BWM walkers had decreased symptoms of depression, improved functional fitness, and better vascular reactivity. Source: Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, New York, NY
The buddy system: It’s not just for kids! Although mindfulness meditation is an individual practice, doing it in a group setting may be beneficial for weight loss. One study found that group meditators lost more weight than those who practiced alone. Source: The International Association of Applied Psychology
1 day of intense mindfulness by experienced meditators—those who practice on a regular basis—led to less expression of genes related to inflammation and pain. Source: Psychoneuroendocrinology
48: The percentage by which cardiovascular disease may be reduced by practicing transcendental meditation over a five-year period. Source: German Cardiac Society