Meditation Styles: An Overview
What comes to mind when you hear the word meditation? For me, it used to be people in long robes, sitting cross-legged in silence for a period of time. It conjured up images of monks and Buddah, anything and everything that symbolized stillness and quiet. Sure, that is part of the meditation family, but meditation also doesn’t have to look like that. Meditation can look like you laying on your floor in silent reflection. It can also look like prayer. Or floating on soft water. Meditation is more so about the act of meditating and clearing one’s mind than it is about looking a particular way.
In early 2020, I realized the only way I was going to be able to balance it all and be the best version of myself was if I really buckled down and made my health and anxiety management just as much of a priority as I was making my job, if not more. I started making meditation a daily practice, even if it was just for five minutes, I made it something I did for me.
When I first began on my journey in understanding and practicing meditation, I had some notion that it had to look exactly one way. I’d imagined people in long off-white robes, sitting cross-legged and in silence for enormously long periods of time. I was wrong. There are a number of “Schools of Meditation” and understandings of how it can be practiced. Chances are, you’ve meditated before without even realizing you were doing it. Have you ever prayed? You’ve meditated. Have you ever practiced a breathing technique and cleared your mind while working through a panic attack? You’ve meditated. Have you ever sat for a moment of silence at school, church or in any social group? You’ve meditated.
As I said, you’ve probably meditated before without even realizing. This is where the lines between mindfulness and meditation almost become blurred in a way and to help, I will let you know how I distinguish the two. Mindfulness is guided thought and introspection meant to uncover or achieve realization. Meditation is guided non-thought, or rather the guided act of clearing one’s mind to rid oneself of negative thoughts, feelings and emotions. The three schools of meditation that I have focused my energy on and that I will share with you are Buddhist meditation, mindful meditation and yoga.
Buddhist meditation is very similar to what my initial image or mind-picture of meditation was, just not always so strict. But generally speaking, this is what people think of when they hear the word meditation. This is the type of meditation I practice every day for a mere 10 minutes and I can tell a difference. So no, you do not need to sit in silence for hours to gain any benefit from this practice, but just like anything, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.
Buddhist meditation is a tradition amongst Buddhist monks and has more recently been explored to help heal diseases and chronic pain. In my readings, I’ve read stories about people who have reversed the effects of their cancer or rid themselves of their chronic pain with their meditation practices. It’s similar to the mindfulness healing practice in that you’re actually allowing your body more energy to remove the stress on your joints, bones and organs. Your body can then re-route that energy to heal itself. Personally, I used to wake up most mornings in an absolute panic and now I am able to sleep quite soundly and wake feeling calm and relaxed, most days.
How is it done? Again, meditation does not need to follow a particular set of rules and can look different from person to person, just be honest with yourself about your practice. I like to start either sitting or laying on my back and placing my hands on pain areas in my body. I do this without crossing any limbs so that I can remain open. From there, I clear my mind and breathe deeply until the practice is finished. How do I clear my mind? If I’m feeling particularly cluttered, it’s a bit harder. Some days I can just allow my thoughts to drift off, other days I focus on clouds, or the sky, or even my favorite lake. I do this until my thoughts have floated away. If you’re having difficulty clearing your mind, that’s ok too, take note of it and keep moving forward with your practice. You might need it more than you realize.
Mindfulness meditation is incredibly similar to mindfulness in general. The biggest difference, in my opinion, is that you are focused on your breathing and ridding your mind of negative thoughts. Whereas mindfulness may bring up bad memories and fears, mindfulness meditation is about focusing on good memories and positive affirmations. It is meant more to rewire your brain to positive thinking and mindfulness in general can be more broad in scope.
I use mindfulness meditation often when I have a big presentation coming up or my hypochondria is acting up because it is a way for me to breathe through repetitive positive affirmations. I will breathe into thoughts like, “I am healthy” or “I am a badass bossbabe”, until my anxieties start to dissipate. I believe that this can be a great form of “starter” meditation and it’s also a great meditation for someone with anxiety because instead of clearing your mind you are focused on one positive thought or emotion. The other thoughts and feelings tend to fall away the deeper you delve into the practice.
Yoga as Meditation
Last, but certainly not least, I like to practice yoga as a form of meditation. Why? It forces proper breathing and is a great happy-medium if you’re antsy. I’m a huge advocate for balance and completely understand that there are times we cannot sit in absolute silence and be still. For me, it’s much more likely that I’ll need some movement. Yoga forces you to focus on the practice and the movements in the practice and if you’re doing it correctly, it forces conscious, deep breathing.
When I introduced regular yoga into my life in my early 20's, I learned rather quickly that it was forcing me to breathe deeply into my stomach and the way the movement is structured, it helps promote a more relaxed feeling everywhere in the body. It quickly became more of a habit and certainly I have lost it over time and re-started my yoga practice, but it has always been a default for me whenever I am feeling anxious or when I am traveling and just “need a breather”.