Types of Meditation: One Is Bound to Be a Favorite

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Types of Meditation: One Is Bound to Be a Favorite

meditate, meditation, mindfulness, therapyAsk a dozen people what they think about meditation, and they’ll each give you different responses. Even long-time practitioners can’t always agree about style and structure, much less individuals who don’t really consider meditation to be “their thing.” Are you in the latter group? Take a moment to read why at least one type of meditation might fit you perfectly.

Meditation: A Good Thing for Your Brain

Meditation, an ancient practice of cultivating peace, has puzzled scientists for decades. How can something this simple be so effective?

Researchers now know that meditation has a positive impact on neuroplasticity — “the capacity for our brain cells to change in response to our behavior,” according to University of Utah Health. “Neuroplastic change occurs at the chemical, structural and functional levels of the brain. These changes work in concert with one another.”

Neuroscientists used to believe that the brain didn’t develop much beyond our adolescent years, but research now supports that various activities improve our mental abilities for a lifetime. In addition to mindfulness and meditation, the university suggests some others, which we provide verbatim:

  • Learn a new language
  • Learn to play an instrument
  • Visit a different part of the city, state or country
  • Go to a museum or concert
  • Cook new foods or listen to different music
  • Experiment with three good things
  • Try brain aerobics:
    • Use your alternate hand to brush your teeth or write
    • Dress while keeping your eyes closed
    • Buy groceries at a different store

UW Medicine at the University of Washington indicates that specifically, different forms of meditation “may lead to increases in gray matter density in the hippocampus and other frontal regions of the brain as well as increases in anterior insula and cortical thickness.” Put simply, this means that consistent meditation sessions help improve cognition, learning ability, and memory, as well as increase attention, cognitive function, and self-awareness.

Meditation Also Calms the Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system has two distinct branches: the sympathetic, responsible for your “fight or flight” reaction; and the parasympathetic, which issues a “rest and digest” response. UW Medicine notes that “when you encounter a threat, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in, releasing stress hormones that help you either run or fight back. Once the danger has passed, your parasympathetic nervous system activates and allows you to rest and relax.”

While we’re not running away from saber-tooth tigers like our ancestors, we still experience excessive levels of stress and emotional reactivity, keeping our sympathetic nervous system on high alert. However, many studies indicate that regular meditation practice helps reduce this reaction and prompts more response from the parasympathetic nervous system—which in turn lessens the effects of anxiety, depression, stress, and pain.

Types of Meditation to Try

There are numerous ways to introduce more peace into your daily life. Some might require an instructor for better guidance, while others you can pick up in an instant. Here are just a few.

Mindfulness Meditation

With a focus on the absolute present, this practice can be as easy as noticing the little steps in everyday tasks with better awareness. For example, while doing dishes, be more conscious of the water temperature and the flow of it across your hands, the weight of a plate, the scent of the soap, and so on. Mindfulness allows you to reduce racing thoughts.

Breathing Meditation

There’s a reason why we’re told to take deep breaths when we feel stressed or anxious—focused and steady respiration is a prompt for the parasympathetic nervous system. Breathwork in various forms has a powerful effect on your state of being—here are some sessions to try.

Loving-Kindness Meditation

This compassionate practice helps you focus on positive feelings of love and care, initially toward someone close to you, then to yourself and others. You simply sit quietly and mentally repeat a series of phrases in order, such as “May you be safe…may you be happy…may you be healthy…may you live with ease”, then shift to “may I be safe…may I be happy…may I be healthy…may I live with ease” and so on.

Observing Thought Meditation

Many people believe they can’t “do” meditation because they can’t stop thinking. Here’s the secret: you’re not supposed to! However, what this meditation encourages you to do is to not dwell on those thoughts, positive or negative. Instead, learn to label them as they come up and let them pass.

Body Scan Meditation

Sometimes we’re totally unaware of how much tension we’re holding throughout our body. This technique uses focused breathing and tension-releasing movements to help provide a form of relaxation that leads to better stillness. This is especially beneficial for better sleep.

Mantra Meditation

In Sanskrit, mantra is defined as a sacred sound: “man” means mind and “tra” translates to release or deliver. Repeating a series of sounds or words—as a chant, spoken softly, or simply in your mind—acts as a centering point to prompt deeper relaxation. When thoughts enter your mind, returning your attention to the mantra provides better focus.

If you’re curious about additional types of meditation, try an app such as Aura, Balance, Calm, or Headspace.

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More resources:


Greater Good Science Center

Dr. Barbara Frederickson/Positivity Resonance 

SHARP Research Lab, University of Connecticut 

UCLA Health