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May 13, 2021
6 min read

Types of meditation: what’s most effective?

Meditation is a practice to train your attention and focus. With many different types of meditation available, you may not know where to start. Check out this list of 13 different forms of meditation for a style to try to gain the benefits of increased focus, creativity, and decreased stress.

steve silvestro

Reviewed by Steve Silvestro, MD

Written by Ashley Braun, RD, MPH

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Are you looking for a better night’s sleep? Or maybe to increase your concentration at work? Perhaps you’re just trying to get a moment’s break from that running to-do list in your head?

Meditation may be able to help. 

What is meditation?

Meditation is a practice and set of techniques used to train attention and focus on a particular moment, object, thought, or activity. A meditation practice helps to achieve increased mental clarity and emotional calmness. 

While meditation has only become popular over the past few decades in Western countries, people have been practicing meditation for thousands of years in many Eastern cultures.

Hinduism and Buddhism use meditation as a core part of their practices to connect with the deeper inner self to search for enlightenment. Sitting mindfulness and meditation practices can be an integral part of these traditions. 

Various cultures have developed more active and movement-based approaches to increasing awareness and concentration over the years. Tai chi, qi gong, martial arts, and kundalini yoga could be described as meditation in motion. Their focused, controlled movements promote an increased connection between the mind and body.

Why would so many cultures develop their own forms of meditation? Practitioners understood the health benefits of meditative practice—long before science could show brain change from practicing meditation.

Here are some of the potential health benefits of meditation (Sharma, 2015):

  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Increased focus and attention
  • Better sleep
  • Decreased stress and anxiety
  • Management of chronic pain
  • Protection of the brain from age-related changes and dementia

Guided vs. non-guided meditations

Even for practiced meditators, it’s easy for the mind to wander when meditating. Guided meditations can help keep you focused while you’re learning the skill of meditation. 

Guided meditation is a practice that uses a meditation teacher or narrator to lead you through a meditation, providing cues for what your mind and body should be doing during the meditation. In contrast, a non-guided meditation doesn’t have any tools leading you through the meditation, which can sometimes be trickier, especially for beginners.

Guided meditations are available in a few ways, from meditation teachers and classes to apps or videos online. Meditation apps use videos or recordings of narrators for cueing you through the meditations. Apps or courses can give you access to different types of meditation and teach you how to use them.

Types of meditation

There are many kinds of meditation available. Some are simple for beginners to try, while others may be better suited for more advanced meditators. 

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is one of the most popular forms of meditation. In this form of meditation, you focus your attention on sensing and feeling without trying to change it. 

The idea is to notice how you feel—physically, mentally, and emotionally—without judgment.

Mindfulness meditation practices often use breathing exercises, generally done while sitting in a comfortable position. Try sitting up straight without tensing your muscles. Then, close your eyes, notice your breath, and check in with each part of your body to see how you feel. 

Focused attention

Focused attention is a form of meditation that involves centering your focus on one action or object. This form helps you slow down your thoughts by bringing your focus to one thing.

Often the breath is used as the focal point in this type of meditation. Simply focus on the movement of your breathing, and anytime you notice your thoughts wandering, just shift your focus back to your breath. 

Loving-kindness meditation

Practicing loving-kindness meditation helps you to increase your feelings of connection and kindness toward others. Loving-kindness meditation is also known as metta meditation. Metta means kindness, love, and goodwill towards others. 

This kind of meditation is done by focusing your attention on one person and repetitively thinking a series of goodwill mantras about that person or sending them positive wishes. 

Metta meditation can increase your feelings of kindness to anyone, including people you don’t know, or it can even be someone you dislike. Focusing on the latter can make this meditation challenging, so visualizing someone you dislike during a loving-kindness meditation is typically recommended only for those who have meditation experience. 

Visualization

Visualization involves picturing something within your mind. A mental image becomes the object of focus, which helps your mind think in new ways and increases creativity (Kozhevnikov, 2013). When directed by an instructor or a recording, this type of meditation is called guided imagery.

Transcendental meditation

Transcendental meditation practices involve sitting silently, with your eyes closed, repeating a mantra for 20 minutes a day. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi founded the transcendental meditation movement and introduced the technique in India in the 1950s.

Since then, it has become one of the more popular meditation styles. It originally used words chosen from Sanskrit—the language used in Hinduism—but other words or phrases from other languages are now used.

Mantra meditation 

Mantra meditation uses a syllable, word, or phrase repeated throughout the meditation practice. This can be done silently, or the mantra could be spoken or whispered out loud.

The focus on a word or phrase is used to help center your concentration. If your thoughts wander, you simply notice the new thought and then refocus on the mantra. 

Body scan

The body scan meditation increases the connection between your body and mind. Many times throughout the day, we are often doing one thing while thinking about something completely different. This creates a disconnect between our physical sensations and our awareness. The body scan technique can help reconnect those sensations. 

For this method, you’ll do a mental scan. Start at the top of your head and move down through the tips of your toes. Imagine scanning through each muscle and body part, and notice any discomfort, pain, or sensation without trying to change anything.

Chakra meditation

The Chakra is a part of some Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Within those traditions, the Chakra defines seven energy points in the body. Chakra meditation focuses on unlocking blocked chakras to help energy flow freely. 

If you’re interested in this type of meditation, it may help to work with a meditation teacher to help you understand the spiritual component of Chakra and to identify blocked chakras. 

Vipassana meditation

Vipassana is a traditional meditation technique that has been taught in India for thousands of years. In the Buddhist tradition, vipassana means “to see things as they really are.” 

It is practiced by observing your mind and body without reacting. A vipassana practice involves sitting for long periods and simply observing the sensations. So, if your leg starts to fall asleep or your nose itches, you simply notice that without actively trying to do something about it.

Spiritual meditation

Spiritual meditation is used across numerous cultures and religions to increase connection to a higher power, the universe, God or gods, or some other spiritual existence. It uses prayers, mantras, or reflecting to increase religious or spiritual understanding to connect with a higher power. 

Zen meditation

Zen or zazen meditation is a traditional form of meditation of Zen Buddhism. This meditation practice involves mindful observation and introspection.

While many forms of meditation focus on one thing, zen meditation focuses on general awareness of your mind and body to connect to the deeper, unconscious mind to gain insight.

Walking meditation

A walking meditation practice involves focusing on your body’s movement while walking. This is typically done while walking slowly to increase your awareness of how your muscles move and the sensations of your body as you walk. 

You may wish to keep your hands lightly clasped in front or behind your body, or your arms can be kept loosely hanging by your side. Then, deliberately pay attention to your feet and the movement of your legs, the sensation of the ground against your feet, and observations about your environment as you walk.

5 senses meditation

This exercise helps increase your awareness between your mind, body, and surroundings. It brings attention to all five of your senses—sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. 

Try to find 3–5 things that you can see, hear, feel, smell, and taste (if you can’t find three, try to identify at least one). Focusing on all your senses one at a time can increase your awareness of your physical self and your relationship with your environment. 

Choosing a meditation type

Trying a new style of meditation can be a challenge because it calls for you to use your brain differently. If you’re used to being busy and keeping a running list of everything you need to do in your head, it can be tricky to quiet the mind and focus on the present moment. 

If you’re a beginner, trying a guided meditation may help you stay focused. Try starting with a meditation style that focuses on something simple, like your breath, and you can always keep your meditation practice short. 

Even just starting with 3–5 minutes can help you begin to manage your thoughts.

Once you get the hang of meditating, branch out to try different meditation styles to increase the health and wellness benefits you can get from consistently practicing meditation. The more you practice, the more complex meditation styles you can try, and the more time you can spend practicing to engage your mind and challenge yourself in a new way.

References

  1. Kozhevnikov, M., Kozhevnikov, M., Yu, C. J., & Blazhenkova, O. (2013). Creativity, visualization abilities, and visual cognitive style. The British journal of educational psychology, 83(Pt 2), 196–209. doi: 10.1111/bjep.12013. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23692530/
  2. Sharma H. (2015). Meditation: process and effects. Ayu, 36(3), 233–237. doi: 10.4103/0974-8520.182756 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4895748/
  3. Kozhevnikov, M., Kozhevnikov, M., Yu, C. J., & Blazhenkova, O. (2013). Creativity, visualization abilities, and visual cognitive style. The British journal of educational psychology, 83(Pt 2), 196–209. doi: 10.1111/bjep.12013. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23692530/
  4. Sharma H. (2015). Meditation: process and effects. Ayu, 36(3), 233–237. doi: 10.4103/0974-8520.182756 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4895748/