Is there a meditation technique that is right for you?

The data is in, and meditation works; not only does it help us live happier, less stressful lives, but it has measurable effects on physical health too. But if you’ve tried and (feel like you’ve) failed at meditating, it might be because you haven’t found the right meditation type for you. Below, you’ll find seven different ways “in” to a meditation practice; the benefits of each type are similar once you are practicing regularly — whether you find your way into meditation via walking and chanting, taking a class from a Transcendental Meditation teacher, or via meditation paired with your existing faith.

The most important part of meditation is not doing it a certain way, wearing particular clothes while doing it, or being in a specific place — or whatever your preconception of the “right” way to meditate is. It’s about finding what works with your life. Unlike a spin class, there are no rules you have to follow (though it’s useful to get a grounding in how other people meditate). There is only the regular practice and sticking with it, day-by-day. Think of meditation more like making a positive, life-long shift to a healthy eating, rather than a specific diet program (with celebrity endorsement and a thick book) that you follow for a month and then abandon. A truly beneficial meditation practice will take time and persistence.

So check out the styles of meditation below, and try them out — play with what works for you, and what doesn’t. Don’t be rigid about what meditation is, or looks like, or what you think it’s going to feel like. Ask yourself questions: Do you like to move, or does stillness work better for you? How about vocalizations? Do you want to focus on something or nothing? Your particular way into meditation may be different, but the stress relief, reduced anger, feelings of well-being, lowered blood pressure, and other benefits are available to everyone.
Focused meditation is an umbrella term for any kind of meditation that includes focus on some aspect of the five senses, though visualizations are the most popular. Focusing on an image of a flower, a flame, or moving water are all ways to keep the mind gently focused so you are less likely to become distracted. You can also try concentrating on the feel of something — your fingers against each other, the way your breath feels moving in and out of your body, or the alignment of your spine. Focusing on a simple sound (a gentle gong, a bell, or music) or sounds from nature are another option.

Guided meditation is a focused meditation that is led by someone other than yourself and usually includes one or more of the techniques in focus meditation, above. You will get led through breathing instructions and some kind of visualization, body scan, or sound, or perhaps a mantra (see below).

Spiritual meditation is interchangeable with what most of us understand as prayer. If you are already part of a spiritual tradition, this may be an easier way into meditation, because you have already been practicing some elements of it. You can try it as an extension of what you already do in your place of worship if being in the church, sanctuary, mosque, hall or synagogue helps you dive into a quieter, more reflective state, or you can conjure up that feeling at home or in another place. Start with the words you have heard or said yourself, but instead of stopping at the end of a prayer or song, keep sitting quietly. You can ask a question and listen for an answer — sometimes people feel that an answer comes from outside of them; or you can enumerate what you are grateful for. Use your experience of prayer to access that quiet, meditative mind space.

Mantra meditation is when you use a sound or a set of sounds, repetitively, to enter and stay within the meditative state. It may seem like a contradiction to make noise when meditating, because many people have the idea that meditation equals silence, but that’s not the case at all, and mantras have a long history within the tradition. Of course, you can chant quietly, or even whisper your set of words, draw them out, make them more sing-songy, or even quite loud. You can say them in your head and maintain outer silence. You can choose a word or words in any language: (Peace and love and happiness, for example), or a sound like “Ohm.” You can make up sounds or words if you like or take them from another language; the sound or words you choose are really up to you and are simply a way to prevent distracting thoughts.

Transcendental Meditation (often abbreviated as TM by practitioners) is the type that’s most likely been studied by scientists when you hear about the various physical and mental benefits to meditation. With over 5 million practitioners worldwide, it is considered the most popular form of meditation, with the bonus being that it is usually easy to find free or low-cost classes in most places. It is a little more formalized than some of the other meditation types mentioned here, but it useful for beginning or exploring meditation if you are new to it. According to their site, TM is: “… a simple, natural, effortless procedure practiced 20 minutes twice each day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. It’s not a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle.”

Movement meditations are exactly what they sound like; instead of sitting quietly, you get to move around the room, the house, a woodsy path, or the garden (or wherever) — usually in a relatively simple and calming way. Walking meditation, most types of yoga, gardening, and even basic housecleaning tasks can be moving meditations. This meditation type is great for people who already sit all day at work and want to move and meditate when not at a desk, and for those people who find sitting still to be a distraction from being able to meditate at all.

Mindfulness is a type of meditation that is an ongoing part of life, rather than a separate activity. A great way to address stress in the moment it is happening, and over time becomes more like a mental skill than a time separate from the rest of life. It can be easier to get into a mindful state of mind if one has already been practicing meditation separately.

Credit: Starre Varten

Seven Forms of Hermetic Meditation

The mind all by itself is capable of many amazing operations, some which have been reintroduced to Western audiences in just the last fifty years or so by the influx of Eastern spirituality and their various meditative techniques. Of course, all of these practices have been part of our own Western esoteric tradition for hundreds of years, but for some reason it seems easier for most people to except exotic ideas when they’re being delivered from an equally exotic, far off place. Perhaps this is why it is said that no man can be a prophet in his own land.
            Hermetic Adepts, however, have practiced the following meditative disciplines for ages, and have used these to obtain each of the many benefits promised by the more popular Eastern spiritualities, as well as a few other benefits with which you may not yet be familiar. These seven important forms of Hermetic meditation will each be explained in greater detail below.
Contemplative Meditation
Contemplative Meditation is the studious consideration of any object, idea, or action. This form of meditation is the closest to one’s usual mental operation, although it involves a greater amount of focus being directed inward and onto the subject matter being considered than one is probably accustomed to.
If it’s an image that’s being considered within the mind, then this form of meditation can be much like the astral meditation which will be described latter. One should visualize the object under consideration from a variety of perspectives, such as being very close to it, and from various angles, even from inside. The object should be dissected and subjected to as many outside influences as one can imagine, from elemental influences, such as heat, cold, moisture and dryness, to animal, mechanical, chemical and temporal influences as well. All possible transformations of the object into any other objects should also be considered. One should examine each of its five sensory qualities individually, as well as how each of these relates it to similar objects. Finally, one can even imagine being the object itself. These are only a few suggestions from which one may begin.
Ideas being considered may be complex philosophical issues, riddles or even single words. The mind can free associate or simply concentrate so much attention onto the idea that it becomes simply an object to merge one’s consciousness with completely. As with the object focused meditation above, one’s actual execution of this operation will depend on the goal of the meditation. Is the purpose of the meditation to understand something, or simply to focus and quite the mind itself? Merging with the object of contemplation in such a way would perhaps be better classified as a form of No-mind meditation, which we will examine next.
However, I would be remiss if I ended this introduction to contemplative practice without first pointing out the enormous benefits of applying such contemplative techniques to the study of specific physical actions. This is sometimes referred to as a praxis meditation, and a great number of modern sports psychologists have verified the surprising benefits of simply pre-visualizing physical actions, within the mind’s eye alone, in order to improve one’s performance of the same. Studies have shown that purely mental exercises such as these are actually effective at training one’s muscle memory and, even more surprisingly, can even be used to improve physical skills almost as effectively as conventional physical practice alone. Obviously individual results will vary, based upon what we’ll call one’s contemplative aptitude, but obviously there’s a tremendous value in being able to improve the actions of the body through the proper application of the mind alone.
No-Mind Meditation
No-Mind Meditation involves the quieting of all mental activity for as long as possible so as to become fully present and still. As stated above, some contemplative practices can be adapted to this end, focusing with intense concentration on a single object or a sound, which in eastern practices are referred to as yantras and mantras, respectively. Other popular techniques involve focusing on, or even counting, every breath. Yet another technique is to examine a cube of sugar as it dissolves within a glass of water, and then using this image to help mentally dissolve each of the objects in one’s immediate surroundings, including one’s own body, until there is nothing left.
This practice of forgetting one’s self can be difficult at first, but if one is patient, not allowing the mind to get too disturbed by its own initial reluctance to quiet down, with regular practice one will find it less and less difficult to maintain an undisturbed state of restful inner silence for increasingly long periods of time. As with any meditative practice, or anything for that matter, start small, be patient, and progress will eventually come.
Energetic Meditation
Energetic Meditation involves the gradual development of one’s awareness of, as well as one’s ability to direct, subtle energetic currents within the body. This energy is called different things in various traditions, such as etheric energy, orgone energy, animal magnetism, energeia, élan vital, prana, mana, vril, chi, qi, ki, odic force, or, even more simply, the force. Modern scientific approaches to this energy have equated it to the bio-electrical currents that run throughout the body’s nervous system, although reducing it to such a merely mechanical force undermines a great deal of the psychic applications which are available to those who become adept at the energetic manipulation of this mysterious occult energy.
Energetic meditation can be done in variety of ways. Some people find it easier to visualize this energy; softening their vision and watching it dance across the surfaces of organic, and even sometimes inorganic, objects around them, Some people claim it’s easiest to see it flowing between their own hands as they concentrate on moving the energy between them. Others find it easier to simply feel it circulating inside them, and, as stated above, some can even project this energy from various parts of their bodies, such as from their hands and feet, or from the various chakras located across their bodies. The number of postures, visualizations, and breathing exercises which currently exist to help one awaken his or her awareness of this mysterious energy are far too numerous to list here, but, thankfully, none of these are terribly hard to find if one knows how to use the internet.
Astral Meditation
Astral Meditation involves the mental projection of one’s mind to another place outside the body. This is also known as bi-location, or an out of body experience, or even more commonly, astral projection. The development of one’s aptitude in astral travel is developed by first learning how to become more mindful of and lucid within various dream states. This typically is where one is most likely to encounter and become comfortable with one’s astral body.
Another place where people often encounter the phenomenon of astral projection is in near death experiences, although I hardly suggest that one use this as an intentional avenue for practice. Once again, as with energetic meditation, there are various esoteric groups active today, most of them with an online presence, who are willing to offer a wide variety of specific meditative techniques, all designed to aid one in the eventual acquisition of an out of body experience.
Mnemonic Meditation
Mnemonic Meditation involves the construction and use of memory palaces, which are an ancient mnemonic technique that makes it possible to retain and recall a great deal of information with ease. A memory palace doesn’t have to be a real place, but the usual method is to utilize any large structure with which one is familiar, and use the memory of that location to provide a mental space for the storage of various things that one wishes to commit to memory.
The sort of things that can be memorized with this method need not be restricted to physical objects alone. Classically, this technique was most often used to memorize long speeches or to commit long tracts of poetry and verse to memory as well. To do this, these would first be broken up into shorter segments and then mentally stored at various locations within one’s memory palace. To recall these segments, one would just mentally move from place to place within the palace. Those who’ve learned how to properly operate this powerful mnemonic device have found that nearly any amount of information stored this way becomes surprisingly easy to recall.
Dramaturgic Meditation
Dramaturgic Meditation is the use of a meditative state to conjure and converse with spirits within the mind. This can be done in basically one of two ways, which are known as evocation and invocation. Evocative meditations place the spiritual intelligence being contacted outside of one’s own ego, meaning that one does not psychologically identify with the force in question, even if one technically acknowledges the primary role of one’s own mind in the facilitation of this experience. For this reason, evocations have classically employed the use of a magic circle, or some other geometric shape, into which these intelligences are projected and sometimes even constrained. This, of course, is objectively false, since the entire operation truly takes place within one’s own mind, but such precautions can be very beneficial to preserve the perceived boundary between the spirits mind and one’s own.
Such precautions become irrelevant, however, when one engages in the other form of Dramaturgic Meditation mentioned above, which is known as invocation. Typically one uses invocation to invite the presence of some supposedly higher intelligence, such as a god or an angel, to assume a degree of control over one’s mind, actively identifying with and becoming the divine spirit in question. Some people even do this with demons, although this seems to me to be a far less prudent practice. However, as previously mentioned, anything contacted within one’s mind, in theory, already lies within, so perhaps it’s not as dangerous as one might think. Perhaps.
Moving Meditation
Moving Meditation involve the merging of one’s mind and body together through physical movement to achieve ecstatic states of consciousness. Although similar in many ways to the no-mind state described above, this ecstatic meditation is not preformed in stillness but rather through dance, martial arts, and even sport. Indeed, moving meditation can be integrated into any physical discipline where one might be said to achieve a unique state of focus and dynamic flowing awareness which is completely beyond what one typically experiences within his or her normal human consciousness.
            Suggestions for achieving such a state include, obviously, an intense amount of focus and concentration, but also a certain degree of relaxation is necessary as well. An extensive amount of practice of whatever kinds of movements are being used to carry one into this state may also be necessary, since one must be able to stop consciously thinking about what needs to be done and simply become one with the action. In the case of ecstatic dance, rhythmic bass has traditionally been thought to aid one’s transition into this higher state of consciousness as well.