For a practice that is supposed to be peace-inducing, meditation provokes angst for a lot of people — specifically, not knowing which variety to try or how to do it “right.”
With so many different types of meditation, it can be tough to figure out which one best serves your needs. But because meditation is proven to reduce stress, improve sleep and elevate your health in countless other ways, it's well worth the effort to find the one that quiets your mind.
Below, the experts weigh in on three of the most common forms of meditation.
“A mantra meditation uses a word or short phrase that is repeated silently or out loud as a focal point for the mind,” explains Manjit Devgun, founder of the app Manjit Meditation and a meditation instructor at THE WELL. “This word or phrase usually derives from a sacred text that has a spiritual meaning and carries a vibrational, energetic and positive intention.”
“There are different mantras for different states and energy that you want to cultivate,” explains Valerie Oula, Director of Vibrational Energy Healing at THE WELL. “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo from Nichiren Buddhism is a wonderful mantra for balancing your inner and outer world. You can also find mantras on Spotify to chant to — listen to several versions and see which speaks to you.”
One of the most prevalent mantra-based meditations is transcendental meditation, (TM). It involves 20 minutes of silent mantra repetition twice a day — and research shows it can improve sleep and reduce stress, among other benefits.
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Who Should Practice Mantra-Based Meditation?
If you’re comfortable sitting alone, a mantra-based meditation would work for you, Devgun says — and because meditation is a practice, a person looking to develop a more focused restless mind can also learn from trying mantra-based meditation. Additionally, if you’re seeking a spiritual practice, there are many mantra-based meditation options and philosophies that could speak to your needs.
Breath-guided meditation is similar to mantra-based meditation in that it establishes a point of focus — but instead of a word or chant, you observe your breath where it’s most prominent in the body. “With breath meditation or pranayama, you are working with vital life-force energy, which is known as prana in yogic traditions, or chi in traditional Chinese Medicine,” explains Oula. “There are so many breath meditations ranging from simple mindful breath awareness to more complex breath sequences that cultivate more energy.”
Who Should Practice Breath-Based Meditation?
Breath-based meditation is ideal for those wanting to experience a more physiological-based practice. That said, like mantra-based practices, Devgun explains breath-based meditation is better for confident meditators — but it’s always worth a try. Tip: Beginners can start with a simple mindful breathing technique and work from there.
Guided meditation is exactly what it sounds like — it implements the help of a teacher or instructional recording for those who need a little direction. This type of meditation has the most external focus point of the three, which is great for people who struggle with anxiety and find it hard to stay grounded.
“I see guided meditation as having the comfort of someone holding your hand, which we all need at some point in life,” says Devgun.
Who Should Practice Guided Meditation?
Guided meditations come in various forms, from those that channel peace and relaxation to others that make you feel grounded and energized, so there is a diverse array of options for meditators of all kinds.
Guided meditations, like those offered at THE WELL, often use prompts and imagery, so they’re also great for flexing your creative muscles. “Guided meditations can enhance someone’s healing potential by keeping them tethered to a story and higher vibrational emotions, which creates new neural pathways in the brain,” adds Devgun. “This mental rehearsal can ‘upgrade’ one’s thinking, also known as neuroplasticity.”
What Should You Think About While Meditating?
Everyone who meditates experiences a wandering mind. It’s human nature —especially in our over-stimulating modern world. Instead of getting frustrated, Oula suggests observing fleeting thoughts — just let them float by — and then gently return to your focus point — be it a mantra, breath or verbal guidance. “Thoughts are constant, but through meditation, we can learn to simply allow them,” explains Oula. “We begin to pay attention in a different way.”
If you find yourself distracted while meditating, Devgun recommends turning to self-compassion and kindness. Eventually, you’ll notice a calmness settle in.
“Meditation is the pathway to self-discovery and alignment to show up as the best version of you, but you have to slow down the thoughts first and weed the garden to allow the real flourishing to occur,” says Devgun. “It’s hard weeding at first, but eventually, you see a clearing. And that’s a moment when you feel the beauty of being in the present moment.”