Three types of meditation practices
- Concentration: This practice trains your mind to concentrate on one object (your thoughts, your sensations, a word, etc.). Strengthening your mind’s ability to focus produces positive effects mentally and physically as well as enables better decision-making. It can be as simple as focusing awareness on breathing in and breathing out. (For an example, listen to the five-minute meditation on the homepage.)
Concentration practice gives you a tool to first notice the thoughts you are having, then to begin disentangling your identification with them. You begin to realize there are many thoughts that arise throughout the day. There will also be moments when you realize that you have been lost in the thoughts, the storylines, the emotions and the drama. I encourage you to celebrate that exact moment when you realize you are distracted. Fantastic! Those are moments of being fully present, even if only for a split second. Then, simply return your attention, again and again, as many times as needed, to the sensation of breathing. One fact that I found very encouraging early in my meditation practice is research shows that, even if you think you are doing it wrong, just trying to meditate has a positive physical impact, through reducing cortisol levels and blood pressure.
- Natural Awareness: This method retrains your experience of “you” and the world around you. It is designed to strengthen awareness of simply what it feels like to be alive in this moment? Practicing natural awareness enables you to experience that “aliveness” beyond and beneath the usual “noise” of thoughts, emotions, sensations or situations. Let it be enough to just breathe and just be, with a gentle dab of bare awareness.
We can practice doing nothing, and find a sense of peace that is not tied to any external situation or circumstance. Everyone has this innate sense of well-being within them–it is just usually covered up by worry, regret, anger and all the stories we tell ourselves in each moment. We can learn to go beyond the superficial and find a deeper peace by learning how to call upon this bare awareness in any situation.
- Positive Imagery: Research shows that practicing positive mental states, like loving-kindness and compassion, enables you to more often and more naturally experience those states in everyday life, just like the athlete who visualizes their successful performance, including every sensation, every emotion, every thought. For this practice, guided meditations can be a helpful tool. (Check out the ones in “Daily Dose Meditations). While practicing positive imagery, it is natural that conflicting thoughts will arise. For example, while you practice cultivating a sense of loving-kindness for yourself or another, thoughts may arise that tell you “I’m not lovable.” Or “I hate that person.” We can balance cultivating a positive emotion, while also reflecting on any conflicting thoughts. “Is that really true?” “What is that thought about?” Then, return to imagining the loving or peaceful experience.