You know meditation is good for you; studies show a regular practice eases stress, boosts mood, amplifies energy and encourages equanimity. But if you’ve never had success sitting still or quieting your mind, you may need a different approach. Check out this guide to seven different styles—one for every personality or need.
1. Clear and committed. Uber-focused by nature? Try a meditation practice that involves concentrating on something, using one of your five senses. The yogic practice of trataka involves gazing at a single point. It’s also said to protect vision, improve memory, and promote intuition. To start, sit with your back straight and choose an object, such as a candle flame, on which to focus. It should be about two or three feet away, and more or less level with your eyes. Gaze softly but intently, until your mind begins to still. If your mind does wander, just return your attention to the object and continue. Start at 5–10 minutes, working up to 20 minutes. For more detailed instructions, check out “trataka” at yogaindailylife.org.
2. Fidgety and energetic. Can’t sit still? A moving meditation is perfect for you. This active form of quieting the mind was traditionally practiced in a labyrinth or Japanese garden, but you can do it anywhere that’s peaceful and relatively flat. Avoid rocky or rugged terrain where your concentration will be divided—the goal is to quiet your mind, not go for a vigorous hike. Start on a path that’s about 40 feet long. With your eyes downcast, walk slowly to the end of the path, come to a full stop, turn around, and walk back again. Keep walking back and forth, making your steps conscious and deliberate. Focus your attention on your breath, the movement of your legs, the feeling of your feet contacting the ground, and other details. Practice for 10 minutes a day, increasing to as long as you’d like. For more details, and a deeper practice, read Walking Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh.
3. Body aware—and committed to comfort. Really in touch with your body but hate sitting upright on a cushion? Try body-scan practices that focus on the physical form and allow you to fully experience sensation. Start by lying down in a comfortable place with your eyes closed. Take a few deep breaths, and bring your attention to your body. Starting at your feet, move your attention toward your head, scanning for areas of tension and consciously relaxing them. Go slowly, and notice your physical body in great detail—your pinky toes, the small bones in your feet, the skin on your ankles—until you reach the top of your head. Take at least 20 minutes to complete the practice, breathing deeply throughout. If you’re new to body-scan practices, guided audio can help. Try Sally Kempton’s Body-Scan Meditation at SoundsTrue.com.
4. Disciplined, and driven to succeed. Up at 5 a.m., at your desk by 6? A focused, simple meditation practice you can do at work is ideal for you. Try awareness meditation, also called “open awareness” or “present moment awareness.” This style works by giving the mind the clear, simple task of being aware of your surroundings. Start by sitting up (yes, at your desk is fine), eyes open, and start to really notice your surroundings—the smell of coffee, the voices of coworkers, artwork on the walls—as well as your inner dialogue, such as memories, thoughts, or feelings. The goal is not to classify, categorize, or judge, but simply to witness. Stay in the experience, and just be aware. For a deeper exploration, check out The Open-Focus Brain by Les Fehmi, PhD, and Jim Robbins.
5. Anxious and apprehensive. Nervous Nellies, this one’s for you. Practices that control the breath—called pranayama in yogic traditions—help slow the heart, calm the mind, and ease anxiety. Start by focusing on the flow of air in and out of your nostrils for a few breaths, then exhale completely through your mouth. Inhale through your nose for a count of four, gently holding the breath for a count of seven, then exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat the cycle a few times, or until you feel calmer, and do at least two full cycles each day. Some tips: when you’re holding the breath, do it gently; relax your shoulders and try not to “grip” the breath. It’s easiest if you start by closing your eyes, but as you get more practiced, you can do it with your eyes open—in a stressful meeting, on a crowded bus, during a tense conversation. For more details on pranayama, read Breathwork: A 3-Week Breathing Program to Gain Clarity, Calm, and Better Health by Valerie Moselle.
6. Laid-back, but lethargic. If you’re maybe too calm: an invigorating practice that enhances energy can clear the cobwebs and revitalize your day. Kundalini meditation is an ancient practice designed to move energy through the body, generally from the root chakra (the base of the spine) through the crown of the head. For a very simplified version, start in a seated position, legs crossed and spine straight, palms in prayer position at your chest. With your eyes closed, focus your gaze on your third eye—slightly above the point between your eyebrows—and begin breathing deeply, noticing the breath moving through your body. You can also use a mantra (traditionally, “Sat Nam,” or “truth is my essence”) to help focus your mind. Continue for five minutes, working up to a longer practice. Because Kundalini is a deep and powerful practice, you’ll get the best results with a qualified instructor. Visit ikyta.org for a list of teachers and classes. And check out “A Beginner’s Guide to Kundalini Yoga” at yogajournal.com for basic information.
7. Dedicated to enlightenment. For serious seekers: traditional practices that focus on insight are ideal. In Transcendental Meditation (TM), founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960s, the goal is to rise above (transcend) thought to experience a state of pure awareness or consciousness. In traditional Buddhist practices, the ultimate goal is to transcend the impermanence of daily life and reach a higher level of consciousness. If these appeal, look for a qualified meditation instructor in your area. Check out shambhala.org or tm.org for teachers and centers. For an intro to TM, read Strength in Stillness by Bob Roth. For Buddhist meditation practices, read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are, or check out his Guided Mindfulness Meditation CDs.