Which Meditation Style is Right For You?

Naomi Chrisoulakis
Discover the style of meditation that works for you. Image: Thinkstock.

Studies show meditation can help with everything from easing stress and supporting our immune system, to boosting creativity, increasing weight loss and our memory. But when the options are overwhelming — should you try transcendental meditation, yogic breathing, podcasts? — it’s hard to know how to begin.

“Meditation doesn’t need to be a one-size-fits-all approach,” says clinical psychologist and meditation teacher Dr. Paula Watkins (calmconsciousconnected.com). “The term refers to a group of practices which all share the feature of cultivating the mind in some way. Typically they all involve some kind of repetitive activity, like returning one’s awareness to the breath or a mantra over and over again, and they also all share the feature of activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is what makes meditation so calming and restorative.” Here, six options for inner peace.

'''You want: To slow a racing mind
Try: visual imagery'''

You might not be able to bliss out in a rainforest, but visual imagery can help you experience a similar level of chill. “The meditator conjures up specific images in their mind which are known to have a calming effect on their physiology — often of nature — in order to evoke that desired corresponding response in the body,” says Kevin Jankelowitz, meditation teacher and co-founder of Sydney meditation studio, Centred Meditation (centredmeditation.com.au). “This meditation attracts fast paced minds, because these types or people prefer having something for their mind to tend to, and these images in particular do a pretty good job at lulling the mind relatively quickly.” Watch a visual imagery exercise (there are plenty on YouTube).

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'''You want: To train your brain
Try: Mindfulness'''

“If you want to benefit from the relaxation benefits of meditation but also do more mind-training and really improve your ability to deal with unhelpful, old or negative thinking patterns, then mindfulness approaches are likely to be most beneficial,” says Watkins. “These are the practices also shown to help cultivate greater emotional insight and present moment awareness. For anyone who suffers chronic pain, open awareness styles of mindfulness are the way to go.” Want to give it a whirl? Download the Headspace app on iTunes, which offers 10 days of free mindfulness meditation exercises.

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'''You want: To form a good habit
Try: In-person guided meditation'''

If you’re someone who needs the accountability—and appointment-style scheduling—or a personal trainer to fit your exercise in, you might find a similar approach works for your mental wellbeing, too. Find a local meditation centre or group you can join for regular sessions, which can help make the practice a habit. “We find that our clients manage to schedule our sessions into their diary so that their colleagues know that they are occupied at that time, and nothing else can get in the way,” says Jankelowitz. “The benefit of a guided meditation is that it is super easy. There is nothing to do but sit and listen to the facilitator’s soothing voice as they help you breathe your worries away. It’s perfect for people in high-pressure jobs and those who lead fast paced lives.”

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'''You want: Better relationships
Try: Metta meditation'''

"If cultivating greater empathy, enhancing your interpersonal skills and connecting better with others is something you’re interested in then metta, or loving-kindness and compassion meditations should be explored,” says Watkins. “Research suggests these practices do specifically target areas of the prefrontal cortex specifically related to empathy.” So what is it, exactly? In a nutshell, metta meditation involves directing well wishes to yourself, a loved one, someone you feel neutral towards and someone you’re having a hard time with. Try following along with Tara Brach’s free metta meditation podcast episodes to get the hang of it—then you can go it alone.

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'''You want: Instant stress relief
Try: Body scanning'''

Your mind is all over the place and your neck is as tight as a drum. Yep, you need some time out—fast. “The main purpose of this type of meditation is to get grounded in our physical bodies,” says Jankelowitz. “Science has proved how intimately connected the mind and the body are, and it’s not hard to see how much we hold tension in our hunched shoulders, our scrunched-up eyebrows and our tight chest. Taking a few minutes to observe each body part, and actively release any tension we find built up there is a fantastic way to mirror this relaxation in our mind too.”

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'''You want: Deep soothing
Try: Mantra meditation'''

“If you’re looking for relaxation, then techniques that emphasise absorption (such as mantra) will likely appeal,” says Watkins. First up: pick your mantra — a meaningful word or phrase that you’ll repeat over and over during your meditation, either aloud or in your mind. Now find a quiet place to sit, close your eyes and focus your mind on that repeated affirmation.

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