Like many people, I used to think the only way to meditate was to sit in a lotus position, while thinking about “nothing,” or while repeating the word “om” over and over. While you could choose to meditate in that fashion, the truth is that there are many different ways to meditate and to reap the rewards of this powerful practice.
Hundreds of studies have found that meditation provides tremendous benefits for your mind, body, and spirit. Meditation can improve your ability to focus, your sense of optimism, and your immune system. Meditation can also reduce your anxiety, your sense of worry, and your blood pressure.
In this article, you’ll learn of five of the most common ways to meditate, in addition to another powerful form of meditation that I’ve practiced for over a decade.
What Exactly Is Meditation, and How Do You Do It?
I define meditation simply as “focusing your attention and thoughts in order to achieve a calm state.”
Meditation is like physical exercise in that there is no single or “best” approach that every person must follow. While some people might claim that you have to meditate (or exercise) a certain way in order to maximize the mental, physical, and psychological rewards, the truth is that different approaches can be effective.
Below are five of the most popular forms of meditation. Each could be performed on your own or under the guidance of another person. Note: these approaches are not mutually exclusive.
- Mindfulness Meditation– Simply focusing on the present moment. This is what many people think of when they think of meditation.
- Mantra Meditation– Repeating a word, phrase, or sound as a way to focus your attention. This approach can work well for people who prefer not to meditate in silence.
- Loving-Kindness Meditation (aka Metta Meditation)– Generating thoughts and feelings of kindness toward yourself and toward others, including loved ones, close friends, neutral people, difficult people, and all others.
- Body Scan Meditation– Using your thoughts to scan your body for tension- usually beginning at your feet and working your way up. If you notice any tension, the goal is to allow it to release.
- Moving Meditation– Using gentle or leisurely physical activity as a way to focus your attention on the present. This could be done by taking a leisurely walk in the woods or by taking a rhythmic yoga class. (Despite what some people think, you need not be still or have your eyes closed in order to meditate.)
As noted above, there is no single or “best” way that you have to meditate. However, let me share with you another form of meditation that I refer to as Grateful Meditation. It has been one of my most cherished rituals for over a decade, in addition to Moving Meditations.
Here’s how Grateful Meditation works. You close your eyes and take a moment to focus on and appreciate each thing (one at a time) that is positive in your life.
If and when you notice your mind start to wander away from what is positive, don’t fret. When you catch yourself, bring your attention back to where you were before you got distracted. Then, continue going through your list of what you appreciate.
You could do this ritual in silence, or you could speak out loud by saying “I appreciate” before you acknowledge each thing. Or, you could think/say “thank you” before each thing- if you believe in a higher power and want to give credit to that entity for what is positive in your life.
Not sure what to think about? Here’s a list that I developed and use in my practice of Grateful Meditation. This will help you get started:
- Loved ones, close friends, and groups that you are part of. One by one, imagine the faces of each of these people smiling at you, and take a moment to appreciate each of them for being in your life. You could also acknowledge what it is that you appreciate about each of them.
- Your body and your senses. Beginning with your toes and moving upward, picture and sense your body parts and appreciate any/all of them that are functional or that you especially like about yourself. Then, take a moment to appreciate any/all of your senses- your ability to see, to hear, to smell, to taste, and to touch. You could also imagine a prior positive experience with each sense, i.e. seeing something beautiful, hearing something beautiful, smelling something intoxicating, tasting something delicious, or being touched or touching someone else in a loving way.
- Your food, shelter, and freedom. You could take a moment to appreciate having access to fresh food and water, having access to your own residence, and being able to live life on your own terms. As basic as these things may seem, the majority of the world is not able to enjoy each of them. Over 3 billion people live in incredible poverty and on less than $3 a day.
- Your academic experiences. You could take a moment to appreciate any of the schools that you have been able to attend, any teachers, coaches, or mentors that you have been able to learn from, any books that you have been able to read, or any other learning experiences that have helped you grow and develop.
- Your professional experiences. You could take a moment to appreciate any of the jobs, projects, or career opportunities that you have had, along with the benefits that these experiences have provided you in terms of income, intellectual stimulation, and personal or professional development.
- Your recreational experiences. You could take a moment to think back fondly to any memorable vacations and trips that you have been able to take, you could think about any memorable sports or entertainment events that you have been able to attend, or you could appreciate any other recreational experiences that you have been able to enjoy.
- Your proudest achievements and impact: You could also take a moment to appreciate your proudest personal or professional achievements and how you have positively impacted the world. As written here, don’t only acknowledge what the world is giving you. Remember to acknowledge and celebrate what you are giving the world as well.
When should you meditate?
It’s up to you when and how you want to meditate. Some of the people who I interviewed for Work Stronger told me they like to meditate first thing in the morning. One example is Scott O’Neil, CEO for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (which includes the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Devils, and leading venue Prudential Center). “The peacefulness I find in the morning [through meditation and a faith-based devotional] is something that I do not experience later in the chaotic day,” Scott told me. “This quiet time is a great way to center and ground myself.”
As for me, my preference is to do a Moving Meditation each day right after lunch (by taking a 20-minute leisurely walk). Then, I like to spend a few minutes in Grateful Meditation each night- immediately after getting into bed and if I ever wake up during the night.
Whenever you decide to meditate, the key point is to set a specific time or action that will serve as the trigger for your meditation habit. Notice how Scott does it immediately upon waking, and how I do it right after lunch and right after getting into bed. If you don’t specify when you will meditate and you just try to “meditate more often,” it’s much less likely that you will turn it into a long-term habit or experience the benefits of this practice.
Summary and Final Thoughts
Meditation provides many powerful benefits for your mind, body, and spirit. Just like with physical exercise, there is no single or “best” way or time that you have to meditate. Different approaches and schedules can be effective.
As with any new habit, the benefits of meditation will not occur overnight or without effort. However, a consistent meditation habit can make you stronger physically, mentally, and psychologically over time. That has definitely been the case for me.
If you feel like your brain is too active to meditate, that’s even more of a reason to start! Meditation is one way to train your mind to slow down and to focus.
If you feel like you don’t have time to meditate, recognize that even a few minutes a day can lead to more positive energy, less stress, and greater focus. Consider the wisdom in this Zen proverb as well: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
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About the author: Pete Leibman is the creator of StrongerHabits.com and he’s the author of Work Stronger; Habits for More Energy, Less Stress, and Higher Performance at Work. Before writing Work Stronger, Pete worked as an executive recruiter for Heidrick & Struggles, a leadership advisory firm who serves the majority of the Fortune 500. In his free time, he teaches one of the largest group exercise classes in the Washington, D.C. area, and he has competed in the Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) World Championships.
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