If Mental Health Awareness Month has inspired you to start meditating, you’ve come to the right place! In this guide, we’ll introduce you to meditation basics and send you off with instructions for a basic body scan meditation session.
What Is Meditation?
By definition, meditation is the practice of focusing the mind to heighten your attention and awareness or to achieve clarity and calm.
If the idea of meditation sounds intimidating or outside of your comfort zone, keep an open mind. There are many different forms of meditation, some as simple as repeating an uplifting phrase. While many meditation practices have religious or spiritual intentions, others simply focus on mindfulness and breathing. Depending on what you hope to get out of the experience or how much time you can dedicate to the practice, you can choose the form of meditation that works best for you.
Meditation in its many forms may date back as far as 5000 BCE, but the earliest documented evidence comes from the Hindu tradition of Vedantism practiced in India circa 1500 BCE. Meditation has deep cultural roots and ties to Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, and other religions—but today, it’s commonly practiced in religious, spiritual, and secular contexts.
Across its many variations, modern meditation practices typically have four core elements in common. They require:
1) A quiet, distraction-free environment
2) Comfortable posture
3) A means of focusing your attention
4) An attitude or mindset of openness
Health Benefits of Meditation
Increased attention to meditation and mindfulness within the medical community is one of many factors that has pushed the practice into the secular mainstream. Today, many health professionals recognize it as a tool for relieving stress, improving sleep, reducing anxiety, mediating depression symptoms, improving memory, lowering blood pressure, managing chronic pain, and more.
In this article, the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary Integrative Health summarizes a wide range of research on meditation health’s benefits. Below, we’ve gathered a few of our favorite insights from these studies and others.
- Sleep- In a randomized controlled trial, meditation-based intervention significantly improved sleep quality for subjects with chronic insomnia.
- Anxiety- In a randomized control trial, eight weeks of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program showed a substantial reduction in anxiety scores among subjects with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
- Anxiety, Depression, and Pain- A review of 47 trials including 3,515 participants found moderate evidence of meditation’s positive effects on anxiety, depression, and pain perception.
- Blood Pressure– After eight weeks of mindfulness meditation intervention, subjects with arterial hypertension showed lower clinically measured systolic blood pressure.
- Mood and Memory- Eight weeks of brief daily meditation may decrease negative mood states, enhance attention, and improve both working memory and recognition memory.
- Diet- A review of 14 studies showed that mindfulness meditation could help reduce binge eating and emotional eating.
Meditation Styles and Strategies
If you want to try meditation but don’t know how to get started, you may want to explore the basics of a few different meditation styles and identify the practice that interests you most. You have countless options—too many to cover in a single guide—but we’ve listed a few of the most common meditation styles, strategies, and traditions below.
10 Types of Meditation
1. Body Scan Meditation/Progressive Relaxation
Many people who practice meditation as a means of falling asleep use the body scan technique. While lying down, you mentally “scan” your body by focusing on the sensation in each area of your body, slowly moving from your toes to your head and back down again.
2. Focused Meditation/Concentrative Meditation
Focused meditation requires you to focus your full attention on a single target, such as an object, sensation, or sound. Many people who practice this meditation style choose their breath as their focal point.
3. Loving-Kindness Meditation
This meditation technique emphasizes self-acceptance, connection to others, and forgiveness. During loving-kindness meditation, you choose a target (usually yourself or another person) and extend feelings of kindness and peace.
4. Mantra Meditation
During mantra meditation, you repeat a word or phrase over and over again, either in your mind or chanting out loud. This narrows your focus and reinforces your intentions for meditating.
5. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation entails slowing down your thoughts and training yourself in awareness, calm, and positivity. It encourages you to be present and experience your thoughts and feelings without judgment.
6. Movement Meditation
This form of meditation embraces the mind-body connection. At a slow pace, you cycle through different physical positions, focusing on your movement, breath, and the sensation of connecting with the ground.
7. Spiritual Meditation
The term spiritual meditation encompasses any form of meditation you practice to connect with a higher power, divinity, or meaning. As previously mentioned, countless religions and cultures embrace forms of meditation, and some practices date back to ancient civilizations. Many of the other meditation types included in this list derive from spiritual meditation practices.
This list is far from comprehensive, but a few forms of spiritual meditation include:
- Chakra meditation
- Samatha meditation
- Qigong meditation
- Vipassana meditation
- Zen meditation
8. Sound Bath Meditation
As the name suggests, sound bath meditation immerses you in sounds and vibrations. It often employs musical instruments like gongs, bowls, and chimes.
9. Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental meditation is mantra-based, but you focus on your mantra’s vibrations, not its meaning. Transcendental meditation mantras typically have an open quality, like the commonly-used “om.”
10. Visualization Meditation
This highly creative form of meditation requires you to cultivate and focus on mental imagery. You can visualize scenes, emotions, or your specific goals.
When and Where to Meditate
It’s up to you how often you want to meditate, but practicing daily will help you form a strong habit. Many people find it most beneficial to meditate early in the morning to start their day with a clear head or right before bed to help them sleep. You can also meditate whenever you feel stressed, anxious, or in need of a break.
Most meditation styles require a distraction-free environment. If you take a meditation class, they usually take place in a bright, open studio or out in nature.
To practice meditation on your own, find a quiet place (indoors or outdoors) where you can sit up straight or stretch out if your meditation style requires lying down or movement. If it helps you get comfortable, you can sit on a cushion or mat.
Many meditators also like to set up calming aromatherapy or focus-enhancing music. We’ll include some music suggestions in the Meditation Tools and Resources section below.
Body Scan Meditation for Beginners
Want to try your first meditation session? Body scan meditation is a great place to start. Below, you’ll find instructions for basic progressive relaxation, a great way to calm your body and mind or induce sleep.
Meditation Tools and Resources
Want to dive deeper into meditation? Below, we’ve gathered a few resources to help you continue on your journey.