How many meditation techniques are there?
What is most commonly referred as meditation is unguided meditation, which is what I will explore in this article.
However, there’s a plethora of books and audios out there that offer ‘guided meditations’ or ‘guided visualisations’. Most of these actually fall into the category of informal self hypnosis sessions created by non hypnotists.
Although those authors would never call such material hypnosis, they are for all intents and purposes just that. The only reasons they are often termed "meditations" is because that term is more widely accepted by the general public and has less negative connotations than hypnosis.
The difference between 'guided meditations' and proper self hypnosis is that most of the time the induction is shortened to a few minutes of deep breaths and only a few suggestions are included to induce relaxation. The actual content of the visualisation is usually a multi sensory journey that may or may not follow important rules that only good hypnotherapists know.
If you are serious about working on yourself I would recommend you stay away from these type of ‘meditations’ as they are neither written by professional hypnotherapists nor by experienced meditators.
What I would call a proper guided meditation is simply a meditation that is guided by either a teacher in person or pre recorded on an audio recording or even an app.
These meditations instruct you on how to practice in a similar way a guided self hypnosis recordings would, except the content of the meditation greatly differs from a hypnotic audio. Now let’s now have a look at the different types of unguided meditation techniques that exist.
The most popular kind of meditation in the West is mindfulness meditation. What is mindfulness? At its essence mindfulness simply means paying attention to what is: being fully present in our experience in the present moment as it is and without judgement.
This means noticing and accepting our emotions, sensations, thoughts without labelling them as good or bad and letting them flow in and out of our conscious awareness much like clouds flow in and out of the sky. Consciousness is often compared by mindfulness teachers to the sky and thoughts sensations and emotions to the weather or clouds.
Sometimes we have rainy weather, sometimes it is sunny; the weather is in constant flux and so are your emotions. Sometimes clouds are white and fluffy, sometimes dark and stormy and sometimes there are no clouds at all, but the sky is always there to witness them. In the same way our thoughts are sometimes dark and scary, sometimes nice and pleasant and sometimes there are patches of quiet.
When you are not being mindful you are caught up in judgement and therefore being positively or negatively affected by the different weather systems of events as well as your emotional responses to them. When you are mindful instead you are like a mountain, witnessing everything as it manifests and passes, letting it be what it is at each passing moment without trying to change it.
Mindfulness is really a way of being that allows us to remain calm in the face of constant change and to see things like an observer would. The idea is to bring qualities such as acceptance, compassion and curiosity to your awareness so you can fully be present in the now. Since the past is gone and can’t be changed and the future can only be created by what you do now and how you emotionally approach this moment, the present is really the only reality that truly matters and the only moment you truly have.
In order to do this you can practice different types of meditation but really these are only exercises that ideally should spill into the everyday so you will live less in ‘automatic pilot’ and more by conscious choice. The most common mindfulness meditation practices are as follows.
6 Essential Mindfulness Meditation Techniques
Here are six essential mindfulness meditation techniques:
The Body Scan
The Body Scan is a meditation focussed on becoming aware of each part of the body in terms of physical sensations or lack thereof, until the entire body is held in conscious awareness as a whole. The idea is to simply observe the changing sensations as they present themselves with acceptance, compassion and without labelling them in any way.
Breath awareness meditation focusses on the breath. The idea is that you are training your attention on your breath where you are most aware of it: where the air enters your body at the nostrils or noticing the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe.
The breath is always in the present moment so focussing on the breath is a good way to return to the present moment, especially if you are anxious and lost in imaginings about catastrophic future scenarios. The idea is to also train your mind to focus on one thing at a time, in this case the breath, by gently guiding you attention back to it every time you get distracted by thoughts, emotions, or sensations.
Sounds awareness meditation consists of guiding your attention to sounds inside and outside the body in the immediate environment. The idea once again is to notice sounds as they are without labelling them desirable or undesirable or trying to figure out what they belong to or how they were made.
Once again you want to get back to raw data, to the timbre and pitch and texture of sound as an exercise to direct the mind from the internal to the external. This is especially useful in the treatment of depression where the attention is drawn to internal judgement and a negatively slanted inner reality. The idea is to develop awareness of unhelpful inner ideas and direct the mind outwards though concentration.
In this type of meditation you would engage in a practice that focusses on paying attention to how you feel often by focussing on the area of your heart while being open to exploring your feelings with compassion and curiosity. Once again, it’s not about fixing ‘bad feelings’ or only focussing on positive feelings but just becoming aware and observing the feelings you do have without having to change them in any way. Awareness and compassionate acceptance are the key ideas here.
Thoughts awareness mediation focusses on observing your thoughts as they pass in and out of conscious awareness without being caught up in them. Sometimes this is described with the metaphor of being an observer by the side of a busy motorway, watching the cars swish by.
Once in a while a car will stop and the door will open and you will be invited in but if you jump in and later realise you’re off on a journey you are meant to stop the car, get out and get back to the spot where you were sitting before. Another metaphor that illustrates this practice is that of a man sitting by a river observing fish. Your job is not to catch the fish or jump in the river but to just watch them swim. The fish are the thoughts that swim in your mind.
Walking meditation is a type of meditation during which you are walking very slowly while being aware of every movement of your feet and body.
Needless to say you could combine all of the above practices but that I would suggest you only attempt that when you are familiar with each of the above. Although mindfulness can be practiced and taught by anyone regardless of their religious background or belief the philosophy behind mindfulness comes from Buddhism.
For more information on mindfulness I would recommend “Mindfulness for dummies” by Shamash Alidina or “Practical Mindfulness’ by Ken A Verni
Other Buddhist Meditations
Within Buddhism there are various traditions and it’s beyond the scope of this article to explore them in detail. However here are some other types of popular Buddhist meditations that can be done by anyone with beneficial results:
Loving Kindness (metta)
Loving Kindness is a heart meditation that focuses on developing compassion towards the self and others. It starts by wishing ourselves well and then it extends the wish towards people we love, acquaintances and the world at large, including our ‘enemies’ or people we don’t like. Typically you would wish loving kindness towards yourself and others with words such as ‘ may I be well, may I be happy, may I be in peace’ and then elaborating on them by using your imagination to expand on them.
The Mountain Meditation fosters a feeling of inner strength and emotional stability by imagining yourself being as still and solid as a mountain and observing the changing weather around you. The idea is to observe the turbulence of your internal issues and emotions without judgement so you can feel secure in yourself.
Like the Mountain Meditation the Lake meditation fosters our ability to remain calm and develop insight about our issues without becoming entangled in them emotionally. This time a lake, with its changing seasons is the metaphor for the self.
The idea is to imagine being a lake whose surface may be ruffled by winds, falling leaves, ice, twigs and rain but whose depths remain calm and still while the seasons pass. By embracing the constant change in your emotions you learn to feel serene underneath the turbulent surface and to accept what you encounter in yourself as natural, beautiful and enriching.
Dakini / Buddha family mandala meditations
The Tantric School of Buddhism is somewhat different from other schools of Buddhism in that it focuses on embodiment and working with the shadow to integrate our own neglected unresolved emotional issues. The Five Buddha family meditations aim to transform these poisons into wisdom so that spiritual practice and emotional work can merge.
The idea is to delve deeply into how each encumbered pattern of emotion has manifested in our lives so the energy can move and transform into wisdom by using the principle of the Dakini: the empowered feminine. This approach is unique within Buddhism in that it allows us to work with obstructing emotions and meditation at the same time. It is also the meditation that is most compatible with hypnotherapy as it recognises how what we visualise and create internally manifests in external reality.
If you are interested in this approach I would suggest you read the book “Wisdom Rising: a journey into the Mandala of the empowered feminine’ by Lama Tsultrim Allione.
Zazen is a type of Buddhist meditation in which posture is very important. Traditionally practiced in lotus or half lotus position on a Zafu (a thick and round cushion), it can also be practiced kneeling or sitting on a chair. The idea is that the back is always straight and the neck and head are kept in a straight line.
The mouth is closed with the tongue resting on the roof of the mouth behind the teeth. The eyes are kept half open and focused on a blank wall to avoid daydreaming or becoming drowsy. The hands are kept in a position called the cosmic Mudra of non duality: the left hand is placed on the right one and the palm face the sky. The tips of the thumbs touch lightly so they form an oval shape. The wrists rest on your thighs and the edge of the hands rest against your stomach.
You breathe through the nose with your mouth closed. When thoughts arise the idea is to let them be like clouds, drifting in and out of awareness without attaching to them. If you realise you have becoming distracted you focus back on your breath and posture. One way of noticing this is to see if the oval shape in your hands has become distorted which will happen if your mind has wondered. Simply sitting without any personal goal is the idea here.
If you have been to any yoga class there's a chance you have been introduced to Pranayama exercises at some point in your practice. These exercises involve controlling the breath, which is considered the source of our vital life force, that is, our ‘Prana'.
When used in conjunction with the Yoga Asanas which are the poses you find in Yoga classes, they guide you into a meditative state of mind. In the West Yoga has been adopted mainly as a physical practice but it is a lot more than just a way to stay flexible and fit. It is a physical embodied spiritual practice whose ultimate aim is to live in a fully awakened state.
Transcendental meditation is a form of meditation where a mantra is repeated silently by the practitioner for twenty minutes twice a day with the eyes closed. The Mantra is taught and determined by the teacher. Developed by Mharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1975 this practice is rooted in hinduism and the Vedanta texts. The techniques are only taught to adepts and there is a certain degree of secrecy surrounding the practices for non members.
Nowadays there is a growing demand for forms of secular meditation practices based on scientific evidence. One of the most popular is the 6-phase meditation. However this type of meditation is really an adaptation of several practices that are rooted in Buddhism. The idea is that during a fifteen minute meditation you will focus on compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, envisioning your future and feeling blessed.
Benefits of Meditation
Although relaxation is not the end goal of meditation, you can feel relaxed after practicing it for an extended period of time. Relaxation can be induced equally and often best with hypnosis. However relaxation is very good for the nervous system and it carries the following benefits:
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved blood circulation
- Lower heart rate
- Less perspiration
- Slower respiratory rate
- Less anxiety
- Lower blood cortisol levels
- More feelings of well-being
- Less stress
- better sleep
Long term meditators and students of self hypnosis will experience the added benefit of better brain and immune system function. The goal of meditation is not to experience these benefits, though it may be so for those who practice self hypnosis.
The goal of Buddhist meditation is to be present in the moment and to be detached from things you cannot control, such as external circumstances or emotions. When you are able to do so you will feel calm and experience inner harmony regardless of what happens to you.
How to meditate: simple steps for beginners
- Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands not touching. Alternatively lie down with your legs uncrossed and your hands not touching. If you have done meditation before you can try a meditation cushion or small stool.
- Close your eyes and breathe naturally.
- Simply focus on the breath without trying to control it. If your mind wanders return your attention to the breath. Alternatively choose from the meditation techniques listed above.
- Keep going for at least three minutes. When you are ready extend your practice gradually to five, ten, fifteen and twenty minutes or more.
The thing about meditation is: You become more and more you.” David Lynch.
The 6 Essential Buddhist Meditation Techniques
Try an alternative Buddhist inspired guided meditation to achieve peace of mind and feel closer to others