Amit Ray, an Indian author who is a master of vipassana meditation techniques said this,
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
Ray is talking about one of the main reasons you may be seeking to meditate: anxiety.
About 40 million Americans1 — or 18 percent of the population — suffer from anxiety but very few seek assistance. If you do seek assistance, there’s only one mental health professional for every 1,000 people and there are many societal barriers to help.
Meditation is a proven method of self care to help you with your anxiety. Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety, meditation can help you maintain a healthy mind-state, which is essential for quality relationships, bodily health and a productive life.
Meditation techniques to boost mindfulness
Here, you’ll find detailed information on meditation techniques, including the basics of each technique so you can start right away.
The purpose of this guide is to help you choose a meditation method. Through whichever meditative path you choose, your ultimate destination is a state of liberation and mindfulness.
1. Basic beginner’s meditation
This is a way to initiate yourself to the practice of meditation without engaging in any of the more difficult techniques. This will acquaint you with the emphasis on breathing, the noting of sensations and the lack of judgement.
How to do basic beginner’s meditation:
- Sit or lie down.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe but don’t try to regulate your breathing.
- Let breaths come and go.
- Pay attention to the sensations of breathing, attend to the rise and fall of the abdomen, the chest, the shoulders and the in-and-out of air through your nostrils.
- When thoughts go stray, return gently to your breath.
- Do this for 3 minutes per day at the outset and gradually increase your time.
Zazen is the Zen Buddhist practice of seated meditation. Some Zen Buddhists contend that Zazen isn’t meditation, yet other Zen practitioners believe Zazen is the meditative practice at the core of Zen.
Zazen involves three intertwined elements that to the Zen Buddhist are a single thing: your posture while seated, your breathing and the state of mind arising from the act of sitting and breathing.
How to do Zazen:
- Sit on a small pillow or folded blanket so that your rear end is slightly raised above the floor. Sit with your rear end on the front third of the pillow.
- Assume the posture of Zazen. Depending on your flexibility, you can do any of the following:
– Sit in the Burmese position with your legs crossed so that the backs of both feet rest flat on the floor and both knees touch the floor.
– Sit in the half lotus position with left foot resting flat atop the right thigh. Tuck your right leg beneath left leg.
– Sit in the full lotus position with both of your feet resting atop the opposite thigh.
– Hold your hands just above your feet with palms towards the sky so that the backs of one hand’s fingers rest on the front of the other hands fingers, while thumb-tips touch.
– Push your head towards sky. Release tension in shoulders and open shoulder blades.
- Close your mouth with teeth together and tongue touching roof of mouth
- Breathing through your nose, focus entirely on the rhythm of your breathing. If it helps, count each inhalation. Start at 10 and work your way down to 1, then start over (inhalation 10, inhalation 9, etc.).
- Remain in the posture, concentrating on posture and breathing and your state of mind will be one with your body in the moment.
Qigong is “life energy cultivation.” Qigong is a Chinese Taoist practice that broadly speaking, combines exercises with breathing techniques. For the meditation practice, you’re going to focus your qi, which is your vital energy.
How to do Qigong meditation:
- Sit comfortably and balance yourself with your spine straight and centered.
- Relax every part of your body.
- Clear your mind by concentrating on long deep breaths that expand your lower abdomen.
- Bring deep focus to your center, which is the approximately two inches below your belly button. Your qi is the energy that concentrates there.
- Even as you continue your focus, feel the force of your qi as it courses through your entire body. As your concentration remains on your center, you will feel this force throughout your body without trying to feel it.
Mindfulness has become enormously popular in the West because you can practice it in any setting and it is a stress-reduction technique. Like all meditation practices, mindfulness focuses on mind-state and body simultaneously.
How to do mindfulness meditation:
- Begin by sitting comfortably and close your eyes.
- Focus on breathing. Inhale through your nose slowly and exhale slowly.
- As distracting thoughts enter your consciousness, don’t judge them and don’t hang onto them. Let each thought go but don’t focus on thought cessation; rather, focus on breathing.
- Treat all physical sensations and feelings in the same way you do thoughts: register them, then let them go, returning to breathing.
- Extend this practice to everyday activity, remaining “in the moment” of the body’s activity with each new breath.
Also called Metta meditation, Loving-Kindness stems from Theravada Buddhism. Metta is about directing specific feelings and thoughts. It’s great for anyone who suffers from depression, anger outbursts and negative thoughts.
How to do Loving-Kindness meditation:
- Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
- Direct thoughts and feelings of complete well-being and unconditional love to yourself.
- After you’ve directed loving-kindness to yourself during enough sessions to begin feeling joy, choose a close friend or relative and direct loving-kindness to them.
- Direct loving-kindness to a neutral acquaintance.
- Direct loving-kindness to someone you don’t like.
- Move outward until you’re sending loving-kindness to the universe. You’ll experience joy and will be devoid of anger.
6. Chakra meditation
In Sanskrit, chakra means “wheel” or “disk”. A chakra is a wheel of energy. There are seven of them and they start at the base of the spine and move up to the crown of the head. Each chakra corresponds with bundles of nerves and major organs.
Chakra meditation is about aligning and opening the chakras. Each chakra has a sound (mantra) and a color associated with it.
Begin by learning the basics of each chakra:
How to do chakra meditation:
- Sit comfortably cross-legged on a pillow.
- Breathe evenly and steadily.
- Close your eyes and concentrate on your root chakra by envisioning a red wheel of energy. Concentrate on the bodily location of the chakra. Repeat the corresponding mantra. Picture energy flowing. Continue until you have a clear picture of the red chakra energy flowing in a wheel shape.
- Work your way up to the crown chakra. Give ample time to each chakra.
- Spend time learning more about each chakra and continue meditation and self-awareness until you can tell when an individual chakra is blocked. Then, you can meditate on individual chakras.
7. Gazing meditation
This yogic meditation is a externally focused.
How to do gazing meditation:
- Sit comfortably with your gaze focused on a single object, such as a candle, waterfall or symbol. For as long as you’re able, don’t blink; maintain relaxation.
- Maintain focus until your eyes begin to feel uncomfortable and then close your eyes.
- Keep the afterimage of the object in your mind’s eye for several minutes, then open your eyes and start again.
8. Third Eye meditation
With this practice, you’ll focus exclusively on the ajna chakra, which is the third eye on your forehead between your eyebrows.
How to do Third Eye meditation:
- Sitting cross-legged, direct your focus to the spot between your eyebrows.
- Continue redirecting focus to your third eye each time any other thought arises.
- After some time, your mind will experience stillness and the space between thoughts will lengthen.
- You can also try it with eyes closed, repeated the SHAM ajna mantra, directing your concentration to the spot between your eyebrows, and picturing the indigo wheel.
9. Kundalini meditation
Kundalini yoga will release the snake-like energy coiled up at the base of the spine. That energy will rise up through the spine and to the crown. This practice adheres to dieting practices, breathing exercises and specific movements.
How to do Kundalini meditation:
- Block your left nostril and inhale long and deep. On your next inhalation, block your right nostril. Repeat and let your mind clear as you concentrate on breathing.
- Know that Kundalini is a yoga system that takes studying and regular adherence. There’s a lot to it but proponents claim that Kundalini changes your physiology, brain waves and energy levels.
10. Nada yoga
Nada Yoga is sound meditation, which helps it fit very well with the growing practice of music therapy.
How to do Nada yoga meditation:
- Simply assume a comfortable meditative position, close your eyes and concentrate on an external sound. You could choose ambient alpha wave music, the sound of a rushing brook or any other calming, steady sound.
- After you’ve mastered listening to an external sound, focus on listening to your body and mind.
- Eventually, you’ll hear the sound that has no vibration: the sound of the universe — the OM.
This meditation questions the “I” or what it is you’re speaking of when you say “I do this.” It originates from the Sanskrit atma vichara, to investigate the self. Self-inquiry is about oneness of the body and mind.
How to do self-inquiry meditation:
- Assume a comfortable meditative position.
- When a thought or feeling arises, ask “who is feeling that feeling?” or “who is thinking that thought?” The answer is naturally “me.”
- Ask yourself “who am I?” without attempting to to answer the question. This way, you direct you focus inward, redirecting to the question of the self each time something else arises.
- Through this focus on the self as subject, you achieve pure existence and awareness of the self in space and time.
Unlike the popular conception, Tantra is not necessarily about sex. Vijnanabhairava Tantra prescribes over 100 dharanas or “things to meditate on.” Most of them are advanced meditations that already require you to be familiar with basic meditative practices.
Here’s a Tantric meditation that stems from the Tantrika belief that the body is made of divine light.
How to do Tantra light meditation:
- Assume a comfortable meditative posture. Pay attention to your bodily sensations and breathing in a mindful state.
- Focus on your right foot and imagine it is golden light. Think: “My foot is golden light.”
- Work your way through the rest of your body, from your left foot, to your ankles, to your calves, thighs, pelvis, hips, buttocks, genitals, lower abdomen, lower spine, stomach, solar plexus, so on and so forth until you’ve reached your brain and the crown of your head. Breathe golden light into each part of your body.
- As you go, repeat the assertion that each part of body is golden light. At the end, think: “My whole body is light. I am light.” Breathe in golden light and breathe out golden light to the universe.
13. Taoist Emptiness meditation
The Chinese Taoist tradition of Emptiness Meditation emphasizes letting go of thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise.
How to do Taoist Emptiness meditation:
- Sit in a cross-legged position, spine erect, eyes partially closed and looking at the tip of the nose.
- When any thought, emotion or sensation arises, don’t follow it. Let it go as easily as it came up.
- Sit in a place of quietness. Continue focusing on the quietness with no desire to take up thoughts, emotions or feelings.
Vipassana is a traditional Buddhist meditation practice from which Western practitioners derived mindfulness. Like mindfulness and other meditations, it starts with the breath.
How to do Vipassana meditation:
- Like Zazen, sit on a cushion, back erect, spine straight and legs crossed.
- Concentrate on breathing and the movement of breath through the nostrils; or concentrate on the rise and falling of the abdomen.
- As emotions, sensations, thoughts and sounds arise, let them do so without paying attention to them. Continue focusing on breathing and let other things become background noise.
- If a perception does capture your attention, note it and label it. For example, a barking dog is “voice.” A car’s honk is “traffic.” A thought about something sad in your life is “thinking.”
- After you’ve labeled something, let it go and return to your breath.
15. Mantra Meditation
A mantra has no meaning. It is merely a word or symbol you repeat in order to reach a meditative state. Each mantra is a vibration that puts your brain waves in tune with the rising and falling waves of the universe (light waves, sound waves, radio waves, ocean waves).
How to do Mantra meditation:
- Sit in the posture of meditation.
- Choose a mantra. Om is the most well-known, and there are other options, such as om namah shivaya, ham, yam, and rama.
- In your mind, repeat the mantra. Do this for a set amount for time, say five minutes at the outset.
- You can coordinate the mantra with the rhythm of your breathing if you so wish or you can whisper it.
- Ultimately, the goal is to release all thoughts except for the internal sound of the mantra.
16. Guided Meditation
Guided meditation appeals to the same need that Transcendental Meditation (TM) appeals to: the need for an instructor. However, TM requires you to spend a great deal of money on a guru while guided meditation can be as simple as downloading an app.
How to do guided meditation:
- If you’re a smartphone user, look into meditation apps available for download.
- You can also access guided meditations on YouTube. For example, Kundalini Awakening has a Guided Kundalini Meditation
- Follow guided meditation instructions to a T, without judgment. Then, once you’ve mastered guided meditation, beginning meditating on your own.
17. Body Scan meditation
In this variation on mindfulness, you’ll note what every part of your body is doing. Berkeley University recommends you try this for 20 to 45 minutes per day, 3 to 6 days per week.
How to do Body Scan meditation:
- Begin by sitting, standing, or lying down and close your eyes if that helps increase calmness.
- Whatever surface you’re touching, note the feeling of your weight against it.
- Take several deep breaths through your nostrils, noting your relaxation as you exhale.
- Now note the sensations present in each part of the body. You can note whatever occurs to you first or begin with your feet and move upward.
- If there is any tension in any part of your body, release it with your exhalations.
- Note your entire body. Take a breath, experience total relaxation and when you’re ready, open your eyes.
Choose what calms you
Meditation helps release you from your tendency to brood and dwell on negative thoughts. It increases your discipline, improves your focus and observation skills, decreases anxiety and helps increase awareness of your body, thoughts and surroundings.
Whichever meditation technique you choose, repeated practice will move you closer to liberation, mindfulness and enlightenment.
No one wants to suffer. As a general rule, people like to avoid hurt and pain as much as possible. As a species, humans want a painless existence so much that scientists make a living trying to create it.
People can now choose “pain-free” labor for babies, and remedies to cure back pain, headaches, body-pains and even mental pains are a dime a dozen. Beyond medicine, we also work hard to experience little pain even when it comes to loss; often times we believe a breakup won’t hurt as much if we are the ones to call it off.
But would a world without pain truly be painless? It’s unlikely. In fact, it would probably be painful exactly for that reason.
If people never experienced hurt, they wouldn’t know what it was. On the surface level, that seems like a blessing, but think for a moment: if we didn’t know pain, how would we know peace? If you don’t know you’ve hurt or been hurt, how would you know that you need to heal? Imagine someone only knowing they have an incurable cancer at the final stage because no obvious symptoms have appeared at early stages.
Without the feeling of pain, people won’t be aware of dangerous situations—what should or shouldn’t do for survival.
Pain Is Our Guardian
Pain serves to protect human beings from harmful actions. It’s the same reason parents teach babies that fire equals hot, and that hot equals hurt. Should the baby still place its hand in a fire or on a stove, the intense pain remains so memorable, that the child is certain never to repeat that action.
In the same way, pain within human bodies can serve as a warning that something is not right. Because you know what it is to feel “well,” you know what it is to feel poorly.
Along with serving as a teacher of what not to do, pain also teaches you what you are made of in terms of what you can handle as an individual.
While the cliche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a tired term, it’s used excessively for a reason: it’s true. Pain helps you learn to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties and sadnesses— to develop the grit it takes to push past hardships and carry on.
Whether it’s a shattering pain, like the loss of a loved one or a debilitating accident, pain affects everyone differently. But it still affects everyone. Take a breakup as an example, anyone who has experienced it knows it can hurt to the point of feeling physical. Especially the first breakup. At a young age, it feels like the loss of the only love you’ll ever know. As you grow and learn, you realize you’re more resilient with every ended relationship.
No Pain, No Happiness
You only know happiness when you have known pain. While the idea of constant happiness sounds nice, there is little chance it would be. Without the comparison to happiness, there’s no reason to be grateful for it. That is to say, without ever knowing sadness or pain, you would have no reason to be grateful for happiness.
In reality, there is always something missing, or something unpleasant, but it is only through those realizations that you know to be grateful when you feel you have it all. Read more about why happiness and pain have to exist together: Chasing Happiness Won’t Make You Happy
In a somewhat counter-intuitive finding, researchers found one of the things that brings about the most happiness is challenge. When people are tested, they experience a greater sense of accomplishment and happiness when they are successful. It is largely for this reason that low-income individuals can often feel happier than those who have a sense of wealth.
This is a great thing to remember the next time you feel you would be happier if you just had a little more cash.
Avoiding Pain Leads to More Suffering
Pain is inevitable, embrace it positively. Anyone who strives to have a painless life is striving for perfectionism; and perfectionism guarantees sadness because nothing will ever be perfect.
This isn’t a bleak outlook, but rather a truthful one. The messy moments in life tend to create the best memories and gratitude. Pain often serves as a reminder of lessons learned, much like physical scars on the body.
Pain will always be painful, but it’s the hurt feelings that help wiser decisions be made.
Allow Room for the Inevitable
Learning how to tolerate pain, especially the emotional kind, is a valuable lesson.
Accepting and feeling pain makes you human. There is no weakness in that. Weakness only comes when you try to blame your own pain on someone else, expecting the blame to alleviate your hurting. There’s a saying,
“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”
Think back to the last time you were really angry with someone. Maybe you were hurt because you got laid off from a job. You felt angry and that anger caused so much pain that you could feel it in a physical way. Being angry and blaming your ex boss for that pain didn’t affect him or her in any way; you’re the only one who lost sleep over it.
The healthier thing to do in a situation like that is acknowledge your pain and the anger along with it. Accept it and explore it in an introspective way. How can you learn and grow? What is at the root of that pain? Are you truly hurting and angry about being laid off, or is the pain more a correlation to you feeling like you failed?
While uncomfortable, exploring your pain is a way to raise your self-awareness. By understanding more about yourself, you know how to deal with similar situations in the future. You can never expect to be numb to difficult situations, but you will learn to better prepare financially for the loss of a job and be grateful for an income since you now know nothing is promised (no matter how much you work or how deserving you may feel).
Pain Hurts, but Numbness Would Be Worse
Pain does not feel good, but the bad feeling of it will help you learn and grow. It makes the sweet moments in life even sweeter and the gratitude more sincere.
To have a happier and more successful life, you don’t learn from success or accomplishment, but through pain and failures. For it is in those moments that you learn how to do better in the future or at least cope a little more easily.
You are the strong person you are today because of the hardships this life has presented to you. While you may have felt out of control when those hard times came, the one thing you will always have control over is how you choose to react to things. The next time you hurt or you’re angry or sad, acknowledge it and allow yourself to ruminate in it. Then take a deep breath and start learning from that pain. You’ve got this!