By now, you’ve heard that meditating is good for you, but putting it into practice seems easier said than done. Luckily, meditation also comes in all shapes and sizes. This means the length, style, and purpose can vary while still offering benefits like reduced stress, a stronger mind-body connection, calmer breathing patterns, and improved emotional well-being. Our experts explain the most common forms, what you can expect from each, and how to choose the right styles of meditation for you and your lifestyle.
Aaptiv has hundreds of meditation classes if you’re interested in adding it to your daily routine.
What styles of meditation exist?
There are several different forms and styles of meditation, all of which can be applied as a spiritual or secular practice. Additionally, many of them can be paired together.
- Focusing on something specific, like the inhale and exhale of your breath or an intention
- Doing an activity, such as walking, Tai Chi, Chi Gong, or yoga
- Practicing mindfulness by staying in the present moment and noticing emotions and sensations in the body
- Visualization of a certain scene
- Chanting a mantra or phrase aloud (like Transcendental Meditation)
“Breathing meditation focuses on controlled breath cycles with an emphasis on sitting in stillness,” says Aaptiv Trainer Ceasar Barajas. “Visual meditation still encompasses controlled and conscious breathing but can be done on the move—i.e., commuting, traveling, walking, etc. Visual meditation can also include sitting in stillness and focusing on your physical surroundings. Intention meditations may include repeated mantras, affirmations, or a particular intention and can be done sitting or moving.”
Just as various types of yoga exist, there are thousands of ways to approach meditation, adds Susan Shumsky, who has taught meditation for 50 years. And all varieties use certain methods to get out of the mind, says meditation expert Jennifer Pennell,
“One approach is to categorize meditation based on the practicality of how you are meditating,” says Ian White, a yoga teacher who has been teaching meditation practices since 1991. “For example, sitting meditation, moving meditation, contemplative meditation, reflective meditation, and mindfulness are all forms of meditation that take place in different contexts. This way of categorizing meditation gives us an immediate idea of how a particular meditation practice is performed and what is required in order to do it.”
Are there different benefits to each?
The benefits vary, says Barajas, but you can basically pick and choose which styles of meditation you need on a given day. In general, research indicates practicing meditation as a whole results in more energy and focus for anyone. But some styles of meditation may affect your mind and body differently.
Here’s how, according to White.
- Sitting meditation—”Benefits include getting to a quiet mind, a lower heart rate, lower body temperature, possibly lower blood pressure, improved sleep, and access to a creative self or higher self.”
- Moving Meditation—”This opens meditation up to the busier, more active body and mind. It will be a lighter meditation than sitting but could get your mind quiet quickly. Typically, the movements are slow. However, a short practice for a fast-paced person can be highly beneficial.”
- Contemplative Meditation—”Use your mind to contemplate something, an opportunity, a path in life, philosophy, spirituality, maybe to run through potential future outcomes. This is contemplative in a calm way, not just left brain analysis but more of a pondering and surrendering process.”
- Reflective Meditation—”Great for when your mind keeps holding onto events of the day. Take the time to sit and reflect on the things you are holding onto, how they are serving you, how to let them go, or if you need to act on anything. Journals are a great way to practice reflective meditation.”
- Mindfulness—“The major benefit is you can notice the triggers to your own stress and reactivity and ultimately diffuse them. So you carry less stress through your day. If you are insanely busy, this may be a very challenging way to practice. Just choose one moment or activity to be present with.”
Give it time.
Whatever you choose, know with time and practice you’ll probably start to notice a difference between lighter forms of meditation, like walking, versus deep meditation, which guides you toward a state of deep relaxation, says Shumsky. “There can some benefits from just sitting by a body of water, relaxing in the sunshine, or taking a dip in a lake. You might call that meditation because it’s relaxing. But a true deep meditation is a higher state of consciousness.”
How do you figure out which type of meditation works best for you?
Typically, breathing and intention meditations are done sitting down. But you can also do them on-the-go in order to focus on your breath and the present moment, says Barajas. There’s no best or ideal way to meditate, says Shumsky. It just depends on how many minutes you want to spend in meditation—whether that’s five or sixty minutes a day. Finally, says Pennell, take an approach similar to exercise. Try a few different styles or teachers, notice what you like, and then turn it into a regular practice.
“You know yourself best,” concludes Aaptiv Trainer Jade Alexis. “If the thought of sitting up for a meditation sounds painful, then try a lying down or walking one. If the idea of using mantras and different breathing techniques sounds like it’s not your cup of tea, then try a mediation that focuses on breath and just being present. There are so many different types. The only real way to know which suits you best is to try one. And if it doesn’t seem to work after a fair try, then try another style.”