Meditation was for many years perceived by Western cultures as “mystic mumbo jumbo” from the Orient. In fact, it’s only in the last 10 to 20 years that meditation has become a common practice in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and even parts of Europe. However, it has been practiced by the Chinese, Indians, Japanese, and other Asian cultures for thousands of years.
The benefits of meditation are undeniable:
- It improves your immune system, decreases cellular inflammation, and decreases pain.
- It reduces your risk of anxiety, depression, stress, and improves positive emotions.
- It makes you feel less lonely, increases your compassion, and promotes social connectivity and engagement.
- It improves self-control, willpower, and discipline.
- It enhances your emotion control and your ability to introspect.
- It increases your brain’s grey matter, cortical thickness, and volume in the parts of the brain that regulate emotion.
- It enhances focus, attention, memory, concentration, and multi-tasking ability.
- It improves problem-solving skills, makes you more creative, and helps you think outside the box.
The truth is that there are DOZENS of different benefits you can obtain through daily practice. But don’t think that it is something you have to practice for hours every day. Meditation techniques can last for seconds, minutes, or hours. Each person’s practice is unique and tailored to them.
Below, we’ve got your complete guide to meditation for beginners. We’ll answer questions like “what is meditation”, show you how to meditate, teach you a few meditation techniques, share meditation tips and tricks, and even get into the various types of meditation you can try. By the end of this article, you’ll be ready to give meditation a try for yourself!
What is Meditation?
There are so many definitions of the word “meditation”. Let’s take a look at a few of the more common ones:
“Meditation is a practice where an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or for the mind to simply acknowledge its content without becoming identified with that content, or as an end in itself.” – Wikipedia
“Meditation is a means of transforming the mind…techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things.” – The Buddhist Centre
“Meditation means ‘a cessation of the thought process’ . It describes a state of consciousness, when the mind is free of scattered thoughts and various patterns.” – Health and Yoga
“Meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state.” – Yoga International
A lot of different definitions, but they all point to the same fact: meditation is a way to improve the mind, enhance consciousness, and transform the mind.
The Many Types of Meditation
Meditation is present in ancient cultures, and it is an integral part of Buddhism, Yoga, Hinduism, and Chinese culture. There are many types of meditation you can practice, each with their own unique elements and focus. Below, we’ll take a look at a few of the more common ones:
Zen meditation, also known as “zazen”, is an integral part of Japanese Zen Buddhism. It originated in India, but became a common practice in the Japanese culture.
“Zazen” means “seated meditation”, and is practiced in a seated position. Practitioners sit either on the floor (in the half-lotus or lotus position) or in a comfortable chair. The posture is important: sit straight, keep your head up, close your mouth, and keep your eyes lowered.
There are two ways to practice this type of meditation:
- Shikantaza – This is also known as “just sitting”, and is a meditative practice of remaining in the present while observing objects around you. You observe your thoughts and emotions as well, without dwelling on anything specific.
- Focusing on Breath – This is a practice of focusing on breathing patterns, using a sequence of breaths and counting inhalations and exhalations. Counting helps to keep you focused on the practice and reduces distractions.
Vipassana Meditation is another form of Buddhist meditation popular in India. Its focus is on the mind-body connection, paying attention to the physical sensations running through your body. It’s another observation-based form of meditation, a mindfulness meditation (which is used by holistic healers for mindfulness based stress reduction therapy).
Loving Kindness Meditation
Metta bhavana, also known as “compassion meditation” or “loving Kindness meditation”, is another form of Buddhist meditation commonly practiced in India. Metta meditation uses mental repetition of phrases like “May I be happy” and “May I be healthy and strong” to develop compassion and improve mood. The practice starts with directing these phrases at oneself, then moving on to others (family, friends, “neutral” people, difficult people) and eventually to the world/universe at large.
When we think of Hindu meditation, most of us immediately picture Mantra meditation (or “Om meditation”). The repetition of mantras or the chanting of “Oms” is a common practice in Hindu meditative practice.
The repetition of the mantra is intended to deepen awareness, disconnecting you from your thoughts and putting you into a sort of meditative trance/relaxed state.
Transcendental Meditation is a sub-type of mantra meditation. It’s practiced for 15-20 minutes per day, and the mantras repeated are Tantric names of the Hindu gods. It’s a more “mystical” type of meditative practice, one with deep roots in the Hindu religion.
Every type of Yoga practiced involves some form of meditation (usually paired with the Pranayama breathing techniques), but there are a few types of Yoga that place greater emphasis on meditation. Some of the Yoga-specific meditative practices include:
- Kundalini Meditation – This type of meditation is based around the belief that the “kundalini energy core” is located in the base of the spine. The asanas (physical poses) of Kundalini Yoga practice are intended to tap into this energy.
- Gazing Meditation – This is often included at the end of a Yoga session. The practitioner sits in a comfortable position and fixes their gaze on a specific object—usually a candle. The eyes remain open as the practitioner focuses their gaze on that object. Even when their eyes close, the object must remain fixed in their mind’s eye. It’s a practice intended to develop focus and block out the world.
- Chakra Meditation – Hinduism teaches that there are 7 chakras, or “energy centers”, in the body: root chakra, sacral chakra, solar plexus chakra, heart chakra, throat chakra, third eye chakra, and crown chakra. The meditative practices are intended to activate the chakras and release the energy. This type of meditation is often practiced after a Yoga session, and involves chanting mantras for each chakra.
- Third Eye Meditation – This type of meditation focuses on the “third eye”, or ajna chakra, the spot between your eyebrows that has traditionally been considered the “eye into the spiritual”. It’s a form of mindfulness meditation that involves repeating mantras, and it can be practiced with eyes open or closed.
- Sound Meditation – Also known as “Nada Yoga”, sound meditation is a type of meditative practice that uses external sounds (soothing music, sounds of nature, etc.) to draw the attention of the practitioners. By focusing on external sounds, it’s believed to enable the hearing of “inner sounds” in the body. The goal is to hear a sound without vibration, the “Ultimate Sound”, the OM.
- Kriya Yoga – This is a set of breathing, meditation, and energization exercises intended as a devotional practice, for those who want to explore the spiritual aspects of Yoga and meditation.
Tantra meditation is often erroneously equated with sex, but it is actually a series of meditative exercises that merge the mind with the senses, exist in the present moment, and concentrate on specific objects. There are over 100 different types of Tantra meditation, none of which involve ritualized sex.
Pranyama meditation is a type of Hindu meditation that focuses on regulating breathing patterns. It’s less a form of ritualized meditation than it is basic mindfulness practice. The simple breathing patterns (counting each inhalation and exhalation) helps to focus the mind inward, balances the mood, and calms the body down. It’s an integral part of all Yoga practices.
Meditation has been an integral part of Chinese culture for well over 1,000 years. Daoism was influenced by Buddhist meditative practices, and includes techniques that focuses on circulating, generating, transforming, and accessing the “qi” or “chi”—the body’s internal energy.
Emptiness Meditation – This practice involves sitting quietly and emptying your mind of all images in order to “forget everything”. This is done with the goal of experiencing inner peace and quietude.
Neiguan – Also known as “inner observation”, this is a form of mindfulness meditation that involves visualization of the body, mind, organs, inner movements, and thought processes. It’s intended to “acquaint you with your body”.
Breathing Meditation – This is similar to Hindu Pranayama meditation. The practice uses either mindfulness techniques or breathing patterns to “focus the vital breath”.
The meditation posture for most Chinese meditation practices are the same as Buddhist meditation postures: sitting on the floor or in a chair, with your spine erect and eyes closed.
Qigong, also known as “chi kung”, “chi gong”, or “qi gong” is the Chinese word for “life energy cultivation”. It’s a type of mind-body practice included in martial arts training and meditative practices.
It typically includes:
- Slow body movement (like Tai Chi)
- Regulated breathing
- Inner focus
It uses many Daoist meditative techniques, focusing on the “qi” or “chi” in the body. There are thousands of Qigong exercises and more than 80 different breathing techniques. Some are used only for martial arts, while others are used for meditation healing or spiritual cultivation.
Modern Guided Meditation
Guided meditation is a much more modern form of meditation, one intended for a busier life. It uses auditory stimulus (sounds of nature, binaural beats or binaural music, or even spoken instructions) to “guide” the practitioner through meditative techniques.
Traditional Meditations – These are audio recordings with a teacher or instructor to guide you through to a meditative state. The exercises are often rooted in Buddhist or Hindu techniques.
Yoga Nidra – This is a series of exercises using Yoga meditative techniques to help you fall asleep at night. For those with insomnia, this type of sleep meditation can be an excellent option.
Guided Imagery – Guided imagery uses “focus meditation” to help you imagine or visualize objects or guide you through a mental journey. It’s usually used for relaxation purposes, but it can often be a way to promote emotional and mental healing.
Binaural Beats — Binaural beats have been in practice since the 1840s, using signals of two different frequencies (alpha waves and beta waves) to initiate a meditative state. The binaural music uses that brainwave differences to promote easier meditation.
Affirmations – Affirmations are intended to imprint a positive message in your mind. They’re usually paired with guided imagery and other relaxation techniques.
Relaxations/Body Scans – These help to relax your body, bringing calmness and peace. They’re ideal for those with insomnia or pain, as they can reduce pain and discomfort and promote sleepiness.
Wow, that’s A LOT of different types of meditation!
The truth is that meditation comes in many shapes and forms, and each has its own benefits. It’s worth researching more into each type to see which one suits your personality, lifestyle, and practice habits best.
How to Meditate
If only it was as easy as a 3-step guide to meditation!
The truth is that everyone has to find their own way to meditate. They have to find the type of meditative practice and techniques that work for them. That means experimenting with the different meditation techniques and types listed above. There is no “one size fits all” approach to meditation.
One explanation that many people find helpful comes from the Brahma Kumaris Centre. Basically, it divides meditation into five steps:
Step 1: Relaxation – You have to start off by relaxing your body and mind. This helps to eliminate stress and gets you in the frame of mind to meditate.
Step 2: Concentration – Once you’re relaxed, concentration will help you go deeper into your mind and body. You can focus on your thoughts, feelings, emotions, the sensations of your body, your breathing, or the mantra you’re chanting.
Step 3: Contemplation – As you go deeper, you are able to contemplate your inner world, your values, your desires, and more. It’s a study of the subconscious without coming out of the meditative state.
Step 4: Realization – When you understand the way you feel, you experience a deeper reality, one with greater meaning.
Step 5: Meditation –The final step is the awakening of the inner you, putting you in a sense of well-being, peace, and happiness.
Not all meditative practices follow this process, but it gives an interesting insight into how meditation slowly pulls you deep until you reach that “inner being”.
Meditation for Beginners
You don’t have to sign up for classes or take a spiritual journey to India or China. You can practice some basics techniques without leaving your house or even standing up from your chair.
To begin, get in a comfortable position. Sit or lie down, and make sure your head, neck, back, and knees are all properly aligned.
Close your eyes and take deep breaths. Count to four for the inhalation, and again to four to exhale. Continue this breathing pattern.
As you breathe in and out, pay attention to the sensations of your body. Feel your ribs expanding your chest rising, and the rush of blood that follows each inhalation. Let the sensations fill your thoughts.
Do this for 3-5 minutes, then open your eyes. You’ve just meditated!
Light a candle and set it in the desk in front of you. Sit in your chair in a comfortable position.
Focus your eyes on the candle, and watch the dancing, moving light. Resist the temptation to look anywhere else.
Control your breathing, counting to four with each inhalation and exhalation. After a minute, you’ll settle into a rhythm and won’t need to keep counting.
If any thoughts pop into your head, feed them to the flame. Use the candle flame to keep your mind clear.
Stare at the candle for 3-5 minutes, or as long as you want to complete the meditation.
These are just two basic meditations to try, but there are SO MANY more. You can find amazing resources online, or you can attend your nearest meditation center or Yoga studio to learn more about the various types of meditation. The more you learn, the easier it will be to find a type of that works for you.
If you want to make your meditation as relaxing and effective as possible, here are a few tips to help you do it right:
- Do it at the right time of day. Perhaps it’s easier to meditate first thing in the morning or last thing before bed. Some people prefer to meditate in the middle of a busy day when they need to clear their minds of stress. Find the time of day that works best for you, and stick with that time every day. Repetition is the key to more effective meditation.
- Start small. Very few people can meditate for hours on their first try. Most will be able to sit for a few minutes at first, and slowly increase their meditation time as they practice. Start with just 5-10 minutes per day. Don’t stress if you can’t meditate for longer. It will come with time.
- Don’t stress about it. Stop worrying about “how” to meditate, but just start doing it. If thoughts pop into your mind, don’t worry about keeping your mind totally clear. Just keep being in the moment and allowing your mind and body to relax and simply “be”. Worry makes it much harder to meditate.
- Get to know yourself. Find out when you get the best meditation times, what type of meditation works best, and how you’re most comfortable. Meditation is meant to give you a deeper understanding of both your mind and body.
- Wear comfortable clothes. You should try to wear clothing that is loose, flowing, and comfortable. If it’s cold out, bundle up so you’re warm. In the summer heat, wear clothes that keep you cool.
- Choose the right surroundings. You need to find a place to meditate that is quiet and free of distractions. Smells can enhance or detract from the meditation, so you may want to light a candle or incense to block outside scents. If light draws your attention, try meditating in a dark room. Choose the surroundings that help to bring peace to your mind and body.
- Do it every day. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it will make “permanent”. Your mind is a muscle, one that grows stronger with practice. The more you meditate, the easier it will become. You’ll find that daily practice allows you to clear your mind and focus on your inner being with less effort over time.
The beauty of meditation is that there isn’t just “one path to inner peace”. As you’ve seen above, there are dozens of ways for you to relax, clear your mind, and get in touch with your inner being. The benefits of meditation are undeniable, so it’s worth a try if you want to improve your mind and body. The more you try, the more you will understand the meditation techniques that work best for you.
Jessica is blogging over at Her Infinity, their goal is to provide authentic, smart and meaningful content. With a wide span of categories they are covering health, wellness, career, nutrition and more. They encourage everyone to shine and spread positivity into the world.