Types of Meditation

By Amalia Sirica, LCSW on January 3rd, 2021

Meditation and mindfulness are defined as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.” Research continuously demonstrates the proven benefits of meditation for mind, body and spirit. This article will discuss and outline the various types of meditation and the distinctive benefits of each. 

At at a Glance

  • Research continuously backs the proven benefits of meditation for mind, body and spirit.
  • A common meditation misconception is that the mind is meant to be perfectly still and calm in order to “succeed” at meditation.
  • As with most self-care practices, finding the right meditation style for you may take some experimentation.

Guided vs. Unguided Meditation

Guided meditation involves another person, typically an advanced teacher, leading the meditation either virtually or in person. It can be an excellent tool, especially for beginner meditators. 

It is a common meditation misconception that the mind is meant to be perfectly still and calm to “succeed” at meditation. This is hard to master even for the most seasoned meditator, as most of us have fairly active minds. Guided meditation gives our minds something else to focus on so our thoughts can pass through our minds without fixating on them. However, guided meditation can be distracting for some, taking away the opportunity to learn to sit with thoughts in silence.

Unguided meditation is characterized by sitting in total silence or perhaps with some music in the background. It can be timed or open-ended, and it allows the practitioner to learn how to sit with their thoughts, even when it’s uncomfortable. The practitioner can then take this built resilience and bring it into their everyday lives. 

A downside of unguided meditation is that it can be quite difficult and sometimes painful to sit and observe our own thoughts. This might be discouraging and lead practitioners to believe that meditation is not right for them.

Determining Which Type of Meditation Is Right for You

As with most other self-care practices, finding what works for you may take some practice. Finding the right meditation style and starting a meditation practice does not have to be intimidating or overwhelming. 

For example, if sitting in stillness is initially challenging, going for a walk in nature can be just as meditative. You know your needs and body best, so experiment with these different forms of meditation to find what works for you.

Mindfulness primarily involves sitting and observing our thoughts as if they are clouds passing by, as opposed to something to attach to or worry about. These thoughts can include your verbal and visual thoughts, your feelings, your bodily sensations like physical discomfort or temperature, and things in your environment, like noise or distractions. 

Loving-kindness meditation is a meditative technique that involves sending love and kindness first to self, then to a loved one, then to a more neutral person or group, and then to someone who you might have difficulty getting along with in your past or present. 

The loving-kindness meditation style expands compassion and empathy for self first and then to others we may not get along with. Loving-kindness meditation strengthens our feelings of kindness and connection towards ourselves and others.

Spiritual meditation takes you to the deepest parts of your real self, separate from previous perceptions you had of yourself. It can relax the nervous system and help you unwind from stress, as well as allow you to let go of the past and move forward in peace. Spiritual meditation might mean connecting more to the idea of a higher power or something greater than ourselves. But meditation does not need to be a religious practice and can be practiced even if you do not believe in organized religion. 

Focused meditation is when the practitioner focuses on something specific during meditation. One study differentiates between Focused Attention Meditation (FAM) and Open Monitoring Meditation (OMM). FAM involves focusing your attention on a specific object or action, such as a candle flame or your breathing. In contrast, OMM does not involve an object or action in the external environment, but instead the person monitors themselves and their environment, without choosing or judging any particular thing. 

Much like guided vs. unguided meditation, FAM may be more accessible for a beginner meditator, as it would give the mind something specific to focus on. OMM, however, might present more opportunities to learn to sit with the mind in stillness and without a specific focus.

Movement meditation is meditation that incorporates moving the body. Yoga can be an example of movement meditation, as can a walk in nature or dancing to music. One study found that meditative movement consistently produced decreases in anxiety and depression.

Mantras are sacred utterances (syllables, words, or verses) that some believe possess mystical or spiritual ability. Mantras can be spoken aloud or thought in the mind. A mantra can be as simple as “I am enough.” 

Mantra meditation can be done the same way as mindfulness meditation, sitting and meditating on the mantra repeatedly. But they can also be used in combination with movement meditation or in the form of affirmations. Mantras can also be sung or chanted over and over again.

Visualization meditation can be a form of focused meditation, with the focus being whatever the practitioner chooses to visualize and meditate on. This can look like visualizing a favorite place that brings feelings of peace. It could also be visualizing a specific goal, the steps required to reach it, and what it will feel like when the goal or milestone is achieved.

Transcendental meditation is a technique of meditation in which people mentally repeat a Sanskrit word or phrase to achieve a state of inner peacefulness and bodily calm. Research has shown that the transcendental meditation technique significantly increases serotonin (the “rest and fulfillment hormone”) and decreases the brain chemicals associated with the fight-or-flight response. This powerful combination of effects can increase the person’s inner peace and harmony.

Beginning Meditation with Nobu

Remember that your journey is unique to you! If you are considering trying out any of these meditation techniques, but are not quite sure where to start, consider checking out the Nobu app. The Nobu app has mindfulness and meditation resources that can help you get started on your meditation journey.

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Edited by – Abby Doty

Abby Doty graduated from Hamline University in 2021 with a Bachelor’s in English and Psychology. She has written and edited creative and literary work as well as academic pieces focused primarily on psychology and mental health. Read more.

Amalia Sirica

Written by – Amalia Sirica, LCSW

Amalia Sirica is New York State Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a writer. She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Duke University and her master’s degree in Social Work from New York University… Read more.

dr angela phillips

Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.