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All Good But Not Equivalent: Meditation Types

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

All Good But Not Equivalent: Meditation Types

The Big Family by Rene Magritte

In Bridget's recent post Different Paths to Meditation, she presented some observations long-time mindfulness meditation practitioner Daron Larson made about meditation:  "Similarly, practicing formal meditation isn't to get better at sitting in meditation, it's practice for being more mindful in the future. It's a no-lose game that sometimes feels like a no-win game. It's actually hard work. Meditation is not relaxation; it's becoming intimately aware of what it's like to be alive."
I had a strong reaction to this because well, some kinds of meditation are very relaxing and some are also not such hard work! And probably for concentration meditation the goal is to get better at meditating. You must mean "mindfulness meditation" Daron Larson, not all types of meditation! Unfortunately, these days all the types of meditation do tend to get lumped together as if they were all completely equivalent and it doesn't matter which one you choose. It's kind of like a doctor telling you to "do yoga" without specifying which kind because they were thinking all yoga was just gentle stretching. The 
truth is that although all types of meditation bring you into the present and enable you to cultivate equanimity and reduce stress, the different types have different aims, provide different in-the-moment experiences, and have different long-term effects.
Because the different types of meditation have some different effects, if you have a particular goal in mind for your practice, consider learning a little about the basic types of meditation. You can then choose the type that’s right for you or even switch to a new type if you’re ready for a change.  So today I'm going provide a brief overview of three basic types so you can get the big picture. In my research, I’ve seen these types labeled and categorized in several different ways, so bear with me if I use different categories than the ones you’re used to.
NOTE: I’m leaving out a category of meditation practiced in Hatha Yoga, Tantra Yoga, and Kundalini Yoga, where the techniques are intended to activate your chakras, awaken your kundalini, and liberate shakti. Not only is this type of meditation something I have no experience with, but I also understand that this is practice can have a very strong effect on your nervous system. So, it is best to do this type of meditation only under the guidance of an experienced teacher.

1. Concentration Meditation
This is the classic yoga meditation technique called focused attention or one-pointed awareness, among other names. It consists of concentrating on a single object of meditation (your breath, a mantra, an image, and so on), and, when your attention wanders, bringing your awareness back to the object. The aim for this type of meditation is to quiet the mind, eventually stopping all thoughts, emotions, and sensations (restricting the movements of consciousness). Because this technique is so quieting for the mind, it is sometimes called Serenity or Tranquility meditation.If you are following the eight-fold path described in the Yoga Sutras, this technique is what will enable you to reach a state of samadhi, meditative absorption. In the Tantra Yoga tradition, this meditation technique is one of many ways to unite with the universal consciousness. And Buddhism uses concentration meditation to steady the mind before practicing mindfulness meditation.Concentration meditation cultivates your ability to be in the present moment—you return your focus repeatedly to the here and now, away from thoughts or feelings about the past or future. Regularly quieting your mind and training yourself to focus on the present help you cultivate equanimity through the ups and downs of your everyday life. And science tells us that this type of mediation hones your ability to focus.2. Training the Mind and HeartThis type of meditation focuses on cultivating a particular feeling, such as compassion, gratitude, joy, or relaxation, or on cultivating a particular mental state. The aim for these practices is to affect the way you feel or think in the moment and also to have a lasting effect that shows up in your everyday life. The most common are Loving-Kindness meditations, gratitude practices, and relaxation practices. For people who find that sitting alone with their thoughts sends them into a downward spiral (which can be dangerous for those with depression and anxiety), one of these highly structured and/or guided meditations might be engaging enough to keep you grounded in the here and now.Tantra yoga uses this type of meditation to allow you to commune with different aspects of the universal consciousness. For example, by meditating on joy, delight, or satisfaction, you can access the experience of ananda (bliss), which Christopher Wallis defines as “a state of absolute contentment, acceptance, and quiet yet sublime joy: the peace that passeth all understanding.” This type of meditation, like basic concentration meditation, cultivates your ability to be in the present moment because you return your focus repeatedly to the here and now, away from thoughts or feelings about the past or future. But the long-term effects of these practices differ, depending on which one you practice because you're actually  improving your ability to feel a certain positive emotion. For example, a Loving-Kindness meditation can help reduce or remove violent feelings toward others, such as hatred and desire for revenge, and causes thickening in regions that are associated with "socially driven emotions,” such as empathy. 3. Mindfulness MeditationThis is the “open-monitoring” meditation technique that was originally taught by Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha. It consists of non-judgmentally observing your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. Rather than “restricting” the movements of your consciousness, you cultivate awareness of them.The aim for this type of practice is to learn to see reality as it is—impermanent and ever changing—and to make peace with this reality. It is also intended to allow you to observe how your mind works, to understand that your thoughts and feelings do not define who you are, and to “liberate” you from the suffering caused by distressing mind-states such as anger, fear, greed, jealousy, and hatred.Mindfulness meditation cultivates your ability to be in the present moment because you maintain your focus on thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the present rather than allowing your mind to wander to the past or future. This is a mental skill you can take into your everyday life to make you less reactive in challenging situations and to help improve your relationships with others. In a study on brain morphology and meditation, this type of meditation caused changes in areas associated with understanding the mental states of others.In some yoga traditions, such as Tantra and Hatha, this form of meditation, as well as many other forms, is used to unite with the universal consciousness. And Tantra Yoga specifically uses mindfulness meditation practices to allow you to become aware of the unchanging, eternal witness to all your experiences.Choosing a TypeIf you can’t decide which type of meditation to practice, just pick something that appeals to you. If that sounds flakey, consider that some of the oldest advice on meditation, sutra 1.39 of the Yoga Sutras, simply says that you can achieve steadiness meditating on anything you like.Sutra I.39 Or [steadiness of the mind is attained] from meditation upon anything of one’s inclination. —Edwin BryantIt’s also okay to experiment. In Meditation for the Love of It, Sally Kempton says that after you become familiar with a technique, it should feel natural. So, if after several days of practice, you feel you still have to work very hard, that could mean that’s the wrong technique for you. Try something else and see how that goes.Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook ° To order Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being, go to AmazonShambhalaIndie Bound or your local bookstore.

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