Sorting through meditation styles can be a lot like sifting through yoga-class schedules when you are a new practitioner.
“Especially in the West, meditation practices get mixed and hybrids emerge,” explains Dunne. (Think: Hot Vinyasa Flow, Power Yin, Ashtanga-inspired, etc.) Even in India, the birthplace of meditation, there isn’t just one word for the practice, says Dunne. On a fundamental level, all meditation aims to consciously cultivate the mind, but not all styles are right for everyone. If a mindfulness practice doesn’t resonate with you, here are some other common techniques that may be more suited to your personality and point in life.
Broadly defined, “mindfulness” refers to any practice in which you concentrate and try to remain aware of your experience moment to moment. That experience is anchored by an object (like the breath), a sensation (like walking), a sound, a visual, or more, and ultimately aims to cultivate mental stability. Some of the following styles of meditation relate to mindfulness, some take the practice further—to a deep level of inquiry—and some rely on different techniques like using an object or manipulating the breath to change your state of consciousness. Like mindfulness, some are rooted in Buddhist tradition, while others stem from a lineage of Hindu meditation practices.
If you are ready for enlightement
Try vipassana: This Sanskrit word essentially means “insight.” It refers to a variety of meditation techniques that help the practitioner access a deeper level of consciousness, see “reality,” and experience impermanence. In classical vipassana, a 2,500-year-old Buddhist tradition, you first focus on breath awareness. Insight may come naturally, once you’ve calmed the mind, or you can add advanced techniques that involve dissecting arguments and concepts, and using props.
If you want to practice at your desk
Try Dzogchen: This is a form of Tantric meditation that asks you to be aware of everything, meaning it is “object-less” or “nondual.” You practice with the eyes open and avoid labeling thoughts, feelings, or sensations.
If you need to find forgiveness
Try lovingkindness meditation: Popular in the West, this practice is similar to some Tibetan traditions around developing compassion, but is essentially a relatively new form of meditation. You repeat a mantra related to freedom from fear and suffering, shifting your intention to different people in your life and yourself.
See also From Anger to Forgiveness
If you want an out-of-body experience
Try Transcendental Meditation: A form of Hindu meditation, or Vedanta, the goal is to … transcend, or rise above all that is impermanent. While in a seated meditation pose, you focus on a mantra and actively change the breath in order to alter your state of mind.
If you are looking for more energy
Try Kundalini meditation: Kundalini is a yoga practice, but also a philosophy and the name of energy in Tantric yoga practices and Hindu spiritual practices. This energy rises through the chakras, from the base of your spine to the crown of your head and onward. In Kundalini meditation, you are using your breath to move energy upward in an effort to change your state of mind, while also waiting for that moment when energy is reduced to a simple, pure form, similar to when you sleep, orgasm, or die.
If you have trouble sitting still
Try qi gong: Similar to Kundalini, qi gong is a Taoist method of meditation that uses the breath to circulate energy through the body, and eventually alter consciousness.
If you need rules and guidelines
Try zazen: A very exacting Zen practice with prescriptions for how to maintain the eyes, hands, and posture, zazen is a nondual practice that means simply to sit, as the Buddha did thousands of years ago. You sit, without a focus on an object, until your innate ability to see reality emerges.
About our author
Amanda Mascarelli is a freelance science and health writer based in Denver. Her work has appeared in Nature, Science, The Washington Post, Audubon, and more. She’s hoping a mindfulness-meditation course can help her navigate the daily pressures of her writing career and raise three children more gracefully and with less stress.