In the video below, I explain the different types of meditation techniques and give you at least a good clue or two about how to choose the one you’re most compatible with. You can also read about all this below the video.
First of all, let me tell you something. In reality, there’s really one type of meditation technique. In its basic bare bones form, a meditation technique is composed of two parts: Mindfulness and/or concentration.
Concentration is the art of focusing on one thing and becoming deeply more intimate with it. As the meditation progresses, you become more relaxed and “present” with this one thing on deeper and deeper levels.
I liken this to falling in love. When you’re with your lover and you are in a good mood at least, it’s easy to concentrate. Your pupils may dilate as a sign that you’re totally digging the experience. When you’re making love, it’s pretty hard to think of anything else, or let’s hope so. There’s a merging process taking place.
In meditation, this same process is happening with your meditation focus. When the mind wanders away, you fix your attention on this object of focus yet again.
Mindfulness is the art of being present with experience that is happening in each NOW. What often happens when you try to concentrate? You’re thinking of the next Undertaker wrestling match against The Boogeyman. You’re feeling stuff the ego doesn’t want to feel as you begin relaxing. The mind just keeps chattering. The ego keeps pushing away discomfort and chasing after comfortable experience.
With mindfulness, you are noting thoughts as they happen in the moment. You are paying attention to experiences as they happen in the moment. This includes thoughts, emotions, antsy feelings and distractions of all different kinds.
During a meditation practice, when thoughts distract you from your object of focus, you let them be. Take notice of them and know that you are the sky and they are the clouds. They are just processes happening in the present moment. Then, go right back to your meditation object.
The Different Types of Meditation Techniques
Meditation techniques vary the most according to the object you are focusing on.
Verbal Object Meditation
These include mantra meditations. Mantra meditations have a word or a phrase repeated silently or aloud over and over again.
Other verbal object meditations include a line of a song or a prayer. You can sing this phrase or speak it silently or aloud. “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace” is a good one for devotional meditators. Otherwise, “I am peaceful and happy” works.
Some lovingkindness meditations follow a verbal pattern. In many cases, it’s a verbal prayer wishing the highest form of happiness for all sentient beings. In these cases, it may be a whole paragraph full of words.
When the mind wanders from your object, take note and honor the distraction. You are an impartial observer taking note of what’s happening now. Then bring the mind back.
Visual Object Meditation
The object in visual meditation techniques is an image happening in your mind. It can be a nature scene from childhood. It can be Meditation on a flower or a beloved deity. The same principles of concentration and mindfulness apply.
Kinesthetic or Feeling Meditation
In kinesthetic meditation techniques, you focus on something you can feel. This is a sensation in the body.
Body scan meditations belong in this category. They have a roving object of focus. You start with the bottoms of your feet and become more intimately aware of the sensations. Every couple minutes you work your way up to the calves, knees, thighs, genitals and all the way up, relaxing into the experience along the way.
Breathing meditations are often in this category because you are paying attention to the feeling of your breath.
Senses are the objects of sensory meditation techniques. Candle gazing, moon gazing, campfire gazing, the kinesthetic techniques mentioned earlier, listening to your indoor fountain or a beautiful song are all sensory techniques.
Pay attention to the sense itself and don’t focus so much on the object of the sense. E.g. the experience of hearing the crickets on your patio.
In this type of meditation technique, you focus on the breath. You may just watch your breath without controlling it, or you can breathe deeply through the nose.
There are different yoga pranayama techniques that can each become meditations. Some are complex and some are simple. Alternate nostril breathing and Ujjayi are some of the more popular ones.
In one type of breath meditation, you just focus on the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils without judging how deeply you are breathing.
The focus here is on concepts. All you’re thinking about is love, beauty, infinity, God, the Buddha Mind, cosmic consciousness, peace. You’re only picking one of these, of course.
This type of meditation often brings a flood of intuitive insights as you become more intimately connected with the reality behind the concept.
Remember mindfulness. If thoughts or distractions take you away, note them and go back to your concept.
Movement meditation techniques include Tai Chi Chuan and certain Qigong exercises. You’re concentrating on the fluid movements in these disciplines. They are kinesthetic and often have a goal of eventually feeling the more subtle experience that many refer to as “energy”.
I learned one movement meditation in a Mahayana Buddhist monastery that utilized organized hand movements. The more you practice the more awakened you become to what’s happening within you. You take in a lot more of that experience as you increase your capacity for experience.
This class of techniques usually ends up in other categories mentioned earlier. It includes Tai Chi and many Qigong exercises as well as various chakra meditations. You’re working with very subtle processes that we tend to experience as “energy”, at least after some training and patience.
Some people practice movement and kinesthetic styles of energy meditation. Others do visualizations, using their minds as radio dials to “dial into” very subtle systems in the bodymind.
These are the major types of meditation techniques that you will come across. Other ways in which they vary, other than the meditation object, include how people warm up for meditation and how they integrate meditation into daily life. Those aspects will be explained later on.
Which Meditation Technique is the Right One?
Remember when I said that meditation is the art of falling in love? How do you choose the technique that you are most compatible with? The short answer is that you find an object that you can fall in love with.
This might take some experimentation. Start with something that really compels you to concentrate on it. This is something that invites a state of deep loving absorption. Try something else another day. This is how you do it in a nutshell.
The folks who subscribe to this blog by email get an ebook that outlines a step by step process for successful experimentation with various types of meditation techniques.
Right now, this is getting way too long for a blog post, so we’ll stop here for now.
Are there any meditation types I missed? Do you have experiences you want to share about techniques that you’ve tried? Leave a comment below.
Tom Von Deck specializes in making meditation much much easier for busy and non-busy people from all paths. He is also the Mackdaddy of the Deeper Meditation Blog.