The word meditation covers a fairly wide spectrum of practices, from walking and eating meditation to mantra-based meditation. Some meditators find that one style works best for them—and they stick to it. Others like to experiment with the different styles. The important thing to remember is that one style isn’t better than another; they are all different and offer their own unique benefits.
Let’s take a look at some of the main types of meditation and the value they can bring to your life.
Reflection or recapitulation is to refer back over past events and situations. This can be a useful technique to practice at the end of the day—to meditate on the events of the day. It should be done without evaluation or judgment but rather as a process of witnessing the main events of the day and your reactions to them.
As you practice this you will find yourself saying things like, “I ate breakfast, I went to work, I met my friend.” You will see that the events came and went but the one constant was “I.” You begin to appreciate that who you really are is the witness in all experiences, the timeless Self in the midst of all time-bound events.
Contemplation is to think about something, to ponder it, and explore all its aspects. It can be a process of self-reflection, where you ask questions such as:
- Who am I?
- What do I want?
- What is my purpose?
- What I am most grateful for?
Contemplation is where you look to your inner world for answers, asking the questions, and then listening for the answers and insights that rise from your deepest Being. Contemplation helps you lead a life directed by your inner wisdom.
It has been said that prayer is when you talk to God, and meditation is when you keep quiet so God can speak to you. Prayer itself can take many forms, from the “shopping list” of desires to prayers of praise and gratitude. Prayer can be a way of expressing your love and devotion for the Divine, both essential aspects of your spiritual journey. Prayer is often something you only turn to in times of need or great challenges. Fortunately, the Divine is patient and accepts all comers. The ultimate prayer and expression of surrender is, “Thy will be done.”
The air you breathe and the food you eat are what keeps you alive, so eating is a sacred act and should be a meditative experience. Try to follow these tips to make sure you’re eating mindfully:
- Eat in a settled environment, not working, watching TV, or checking Facebook.
- Sit down to eat.
- Avoid eating if you are upset.
- Practice gratitude: The first part of your digestion takes place in the mouth so take a moment to appreciate the food in front of you—the color and smell. Think of everything that went into bringing that food to you—the rain and sun that helped it grow, the farmer who tended the crop, and the love and care that went into the preparation.
- Place the food in your mouth and enjoy the taste. Put your utensil down until you have fully chewed and swallowed each mouthful.
- Avoid cold liquids during the meal as these will extinguish your digestive fire.
- Be mindful of your appetite so you don’t overeat. A good rule is to fill one-third of your stomach with food, one-third with liquid, and leave the remaining third empty for digestion.
- Take a few minutes to remain seated after finishing.
Many people enjoy making their activities a meditative experience. Whether walking, dancing, bicycling or any other activity, be fully aware of the activity. You could coordinate your movements with your breath or repeat a simple phrase such as, “I am walking, right leg up, right leg down” or something more meaningful such as, “peace and love.” Whenever you find yourself distracted by something in the environment, pause, enjoy that experience, and then return to the meditation. Next time you go for a walk, try being fully present in the walking, not thinking about what you have to do next.
In guided meditation, you are led through a series of experiences. Usually you will be instructed to see, to feel, or be aware of different things. While this is easy for some people, it can be quite difficult and frustrating for others. If you fall into the second group, when asked to “see yourself walking in a beautiful meadow,” don’t worry if you can’t see a picture of the meadow in your mind. Just imagine what you would be feeling if you were in the meadow. Awareness and imagination are really the same thing.
Many people enjoy guided meditations because someone else directs and you just have to follow along. While guided meditations do keep the mind engaged in activity, they can be useful in helping to relieve physical, mental, and emotional challenges. The Internet is packed with guided meditations of all types for you to try. Here are some options for guided meditations from the Chopra Center.
The meditations discussed to this point have all involved some degree of activity—mental, physical, or both. While these can all have great values in helping to restore harmony and wholeness to your life, it is important to take time each day to enter totally into the experience of inner silence. These final two types of meditation are specifically for this purpose.
The vast majority of your thoughts take you into the future or the past. Consequently, this is where you spend most of your lives. In essence, you miss the present moment entirely. Your breath can never be in the future or the past, it is always right here, in the now. By simply sitting quietly with eyes closed and effortlessly observing your breath flowing in and flowing out, you are immediately brought into the present moment. This can have a profound effect on centering and grounding you and, more importantly, allowing your thoughts to settle down to their deepest level—silence.
Mantra means vehicle or instrument of the mind and there are many different types of mantras, which can be used for a variety of purposes.
The mantras referred to here are specific sounds or vibrations, which have no particular meaning. Most thoughts have a sound and a meaning. It’s the meaning that keeps your awareness on the active thinking level. When you introduce this type of mantra, it acts like a thought with no meaning. With nothing to keep you at the active level of the mind, your awareness turns within until you reach a point where you transcend thought completely and slip into the silent field of infinite possibilities. These mantras are best learned from a qualified teacher such as those certified by the Chopra Center to teach Primordial Sound Meditation.
Making the journey regularly back and forth from activity to silence gradually integrates these qualities into your life, bringing profound benefits in all areas.
Meditation essentially means to be aware, and to have focus or direction. When you learn to live your life with awareness, to live consciously, and to make conscious choices, your whole life becomes a meditative experience. Try practicing different types of meditation at different times of the day until you find the practice, or practices, that work best for you.