5 Meditation Techniques to Get You Started

The benefits extend beyond a calmer state of mind

Man sitting and meditating at the end of his bed

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Meditation is widely recommended as a health-boosting practice—and for good reason. It provides many positive benefits, from reducing symptoms of stress to relieving physical complaints like headaches and even enhancing immunity to illness. Between the health benefits and the fact that it's free and requires as few as five minutes, it's easy to see why meditation has become a popular complement to conventional medicine.

Basic Concepts of Meditation

Though it can be practiced in different ways, a few common threads run through virtually all meditation techniques:

  • Focuses Mind: It is a common misconception that meditation causes the mind to become 'quiet.' In reality, your mind is always thinking. Although your thoughts might not be as rapid, it is perfectly normal for your mind to be active when you are meditating. The key is to acknowledge this with compassion while bringing the focus back to the breath whenever you can. Meditation is like training a puppy to sit; the mind being the puppy, the breath being the trainer. 
  • Being in the Now: Rather than focusing on the past or future, all meditative practices involve focusing on the present. Being in the now involves experiencing each moment, letting it go, and then experiencing the next. Focusing on the here and now takes practice, as many of us live most of our lives thinking toward the future or ruminating on the past.
  • Altered State of Consciousness: With time, maintaining a quiet mind and focusing on the present can lead to an altered level of consciousness that isn’t a sleeping state but isn’t quite your average wakeful state either. Meditation increases brain activity in an area of the brain associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions, and some evidence shows that regular practice brings prolonged positive changes in these areas.

Meditation Techniques

Researchers generally classify meditation techniques into two different categories: concentrative and non-concentrative. Concentrative techniques involve focusing on a particular object that's generally outside of oneself such as a candle's flame, the sound of an instrument, or a mantra. Non-concentrative meditation, on the other hand, can include a broader focus such as the sounds in your environment, internal body states, and even your own breathing. Note that there can be overlap with these techniques—meditation can be both concentrative and non-concentrative.

There are many different ways to meditate. Think of the following categories of meditation techniques as a jumping-off point to understand the practices and differences among some of the main options, rather than an exhaustive list.

Basic Meditation

This involves sitting in a comfortable position and using the breath as a point of focus. If you find yourself distracted by other thoughts or find your mind wandering, gently redirect your focus back toward your breaths.

Focused Meditation

With focused meditation, you focus on something with intention without engaging your thoughts on it. You can zero in on something visual, like a statue; something auditory, like a metronome or recording of ocean waves; something constant, like your own breathing; or a simple concept, like "unconditional compassion."

Some people find it easier to do this than to focus on nothing, but the idea is the same—staying in the present moment, circumventing the constant stream of commentary from your conscious mind, and allowing yourself to slip into an altered state of consciousness.

Activity-Oriented Meditation

Activity-oriented meditation combines meditation with activities you may already enjoy, or with new activities that help you focus on the present. With this type of meditation, you engage in a repetitive activity or one where you can get "in the zone" and experience "flow." Again, this quiets the mind and allows your brain to shift.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness can be a form of meditation that, like activity-oriented meditation, doesn’t really look like meditation. Mindfulness simply involves staying in the present moment rather than thinking about the future or the past. Again, this can be more difficult than it seems! Focusing on sensations you feel in your body is one way to stay "in the now." Focusing on emotions and where you feel them in your body—not examining why you feel them, but just experiencing them as sensations—is another.

Spiritual Meditation

Though meditation isn't specific to any one religion, it can be a spiritual practice. You can meditate on a singular question until an answer comes, or meditate to clear your mind and accept whatever comes that day. Many people also practice kundalini meditation for mind and body connection.

A Word From Verywell

Whichever method you choose, keep in mind that a consistent practice—even just quieting the mind for five minutes a day—is more useful than sessions that are longer but infrequent. In the end, the best meditation technique and the one that will help you gain the most positive benefits is one you can stick to.

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  1. Boccia M, Piccardi L, Guariglia P. The Meditative mind: a comprehensive meta-analysis of MRI studies. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:1-11. doi:10.1155/2015/419808

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