There is a certain stereotype surrounding meditation. People mostly link it with numerous Eastern traditions. While this might be the case, in this text we’ll show that meditation is a diverse and colorful phenomenon, and describe the main types of meditation.
The word “meditation” stems directly from the Latin term meditationem, which means “thinking something over, consider, reflect”. From the very beginnings, the word signified some kind of deep thinking, but it also meant “to plan, practice, and study”. Thus, today we shouldn’t be surprised to see numerous types of meditation, which should share a lot of common qualities, but also have their peculiarities.
Buddhist Meditation Techniques
As Buddhism spread throughout Asia (and the whole world) it always found new paths towards what’s essentially the same goal- the tranquility of mind, acceptance, truth.
Most of the techniques and exercises in this section are influenced by the Mahayana school of Buddhism, which originated in India and then spread throughout the whole of Asia. We’ll now describe the different types of Buddhist meditation.
Zazen is the type of meditation practiced within Zen Buddhism, which is one of the main streams of Mahayana School. Generally speaking, zazen means “to gain insight and fathom the secret of existence”. This is quite a vague definition of zazen, because some streams of Mahayana thought practice objectless meditation, while some Japanese Zen disciples (like Rinzai) often incorporate the so-called koans (great conundrums, questions- a kind of test that students of Rinzai school have to pass).
Zazen means “seated meditation”, and when Western people think about Eastern tradition, they first think about something like this. Practitioners often assume several different styles like full-lotus (Kekkufuza) or half-lotus (Hankafuza). Also, after long periods of seated meditation, practitioners might start the so-called walking meditation (kinhin).
Within this type of practice, students keep their eyes half-shut. This symbolizes their ability to stay concentrated without running away from external stimuli.
It comes from the sati discipline, which is one of the most important elements of the Buddhist tradition. Sati is closely linked with the concepts of mindfulness and awareness. This path essentially teaches us to tame our attention and learn how to turn it wherever we want. At first, students are advised not to devote their attention to anything in particular and involve numerous breathing exercises. By focusing on one’s breath, it gets easier to turn attention from external stimuli.
Mindfulness meditation found its way to the Western tradition thanks to Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Thanks to the propensity of its teachers to empirical research, Mindfulness-Based therapy has been scientifically proven to be effective in numerous contexts. For instance, Kabat-Zinn’s techniques are beneficial for people who suffer from various mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and even psychosis. Related, but distinct types of mindfulness meditation have been developed by Richard Davidson and Herbert Benson.
Psychosis is a mental illness that has been traditionally regarded as impossible to change with psychotherapy. In this light, the importance of mindfulness meditation is even greater.
There are many mindfulness meditation types, but most of them focus on relieving us from ruminant, obsessive thoughts.
This is one of the oldest techniques, that even precedes the inception of Buddhism. However, Gotama Buddha retook it and started practicing Vipassana, which means “to see things as they are”.
Today, this ancient technique is taught at retreat courses that last 10 days. Although it lasts 10 days, it takes practitioners through 3 essential steps, which might be explained as follows:
- The basic morality (abstaining from lying, killing, sexual activity, and drugs)
- Mastery of mind- focusing on the breath and learning various breathing exercises.
- Loving and kindness meditation
Loving – Kindness Meditation (Metta meditation)
This kind of teaching is proof that meditation doesn’t have to be deprived of emotions. Metta teaches us to be benevolent, loving, and kind towards people around us. Within this tradition, practitioners concentrate on compassion and loving-kindness they have for others.
People practicing Metta usually repeat short phrases (mantras) such as “may you be free from pain”. Students are sometimes advised to visualize a person, or persons to whom they send their good wishes. In other schools, visualization might be discouraged, as it takes our mind away from the essentials like wisdom.
Generally speaking, students start from aiming their positive thoughts towards themselves, their loved ones, neutral people, and finishing on the “difficult” people whom they may have even despised previously. The Metta practitioner ends the session by feeling compassion and kindness for all beings in the world.
Chinese meditation techniques
This kind of meditative practice is inextricably tied to the Taoist philosophy. The Tao means “the Way”, but the meaning of this word is much more complex, and at the same time it denotes underlying principle, substance, and the source of everything. One is reminded of the ancient, pre-Socratic thinkers from Miletus, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes who also sought to explain everything that surrounded them with one all-pervading substance/source/principle.
Consequently, Chinese meditation focuses heavily on feeling in harmony with everything that surrounds you, feeling the Tao that underlies everything. Taoist practices usually don’t involve a heavy emphasis on body postures, at least not as much as Hinduism followers do.
Christian meditation techniques
This is perhaps the most interesting part of our text. Although many people know that there are different kinds of meditation, most suppose that to mediate you have to go out of the framework set by Christianity. But this is wrong.
If you remember the etymology of the word “to meditate” you’ll see that prayer and contemplation that are the basic parts of Christianity are quite similar to Taoist traditions or Buddhist mind exercises. More specifically, prayers are like mantras, something that you repeat endlessly, achieving the state of calm and serenity in the process of doing so. On the other hand, Christians who try to interpret the ancient texts and contemplate the wisdom hidden within them are no different from a person who tries to see Buddha’s wisdom in the surrounding world.
Furthermore, one can see why Metta (loving and kindness) meditation is very similar to what Christianity teaches us- loving every human being in this world.
Realizing that there is a thing called Christian meditation might be very helpful to some people who simply don’t want to believe in all sorts of chakra energies and other things inherent to Hinduism, for instance.
Hindu Meditation techniques
Just as Buddhism finds its roots in the Hindu religion, so we can track the most ancient meditation practices back to the Vedic period of Hinduism. Dhyana or “meditation and contemplation”, is a basic part of all Yoga exercises.
Yoga meditation exercises may involve Pranayama, which involves changing the way you breathe. Usually, Pranayama is sometimes defined as a three-step process that involves inhalation, retaining the breath, and releasing it.
According to some translators of Sanskrit texts, Dhyana meditation involves concentrating on something that you’ve chosen. In other words, Yogic exercises differ quite a bit from, say, mindfulness meditation, because the latter focuses on separating our thoughts from what happens to us. Within Yogic meditation, however, one can focus on an object and try to observe it without any presumptions or can try to fathom all aspects and consequences of an idea.
While some modern practices focus on calmness, relaxation, and clearing one’s headspace, Yogic meditation might help you gain insight into some complex problems.
Needless to say, Hindu Yoga exercises are linked with learning to control chakra energies with the help of breath exercises, kundalini yoga, or mantras.
Sufi meditation techniques
There is also an Islamic version of deep, contemplative thinking, called Muraqabah. In Sufism, disciples are encouraged to think about their connection with God and their surroundings. Some Islamic teachers state that one has always to be aware of God, which would be similar to the continuous meditation observed by Taoists.
Here are some of the things taught by Sufi practitioners- be modest and humble; avoid sin; always reflect on your internal state and the surrounding world; observe the truth.
Of all kinds of meditation practices, the guided subtype is perhaps the most popular one, simply because guidance is the initial part of all courses. Guided courses often employ the transmission of instructions via sound recording, video, which are often accompanied by soothing music that encourages the sensation of relaxation.
This term is often used by people who want to scientifically research meditation and its psychological and physiological benefits.
Here’s a short list of the most popular guided meditations we’ve been able to find on the Internet:
- Guided Walking Meditation by Kabat-Zinn
- 5-Minute Gratitude Practice by Elaine Smookler
- 11-Minute Awareness of Breath Practice by Susan Greenland
- A Meditation for Easing Into Sleep by Mark Bertin
- An Inquiring Practice to Notice the Body by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Meditation types: in conclusion
As we’ve seen there are many different types of meditation, which practically underlie all religions known to mankind. You don’t necessarily have to practice Buddhist meditation or Hindu tradition if you want to reach a higher state of mind. Moreover, while most kinds of meditation are somehow linked to various religious ideas, you don’t have to approach this problem from the perspective of religion. Many atheists regularly do breathing practices or other techniques. To learn more about the techniques, we have got a wonderfully simple and straightforward guide to meditation you can buy and download right now – click here.
We would like to underline that practicing various kinds of meditation within the traditions of Islam or Christianity is also possible. While most people think that these are rather unrelated fields, people who pray or contemplate the existence of life are very much meditating.
This is why Judaism is also acquainted with meditation. Jewish prayers are often very structured, which provides a good framework for mantras. On the other hand, there’s also a thing called unstructured personal Jewish prayer, which allows for a more free form of thinking. Meditating about divine names, gaining emotional insight, introspection, and visualization are just some aspects of Jewish meditation.Meditation is a simple tool how you can gain more peace of mind and obtain a lasting inner peace. It is a journey to a healthier and happier you. Apart from a very helpful book that we’ve just recommended, we are also fans of Muse, a meditation device that can give your practice a nice boost.