Do you need to demystify the different types of meditation, so you can prescribe the best types and practices for your students? Let’s dig into this important topic for yoga teachers and wellness practitioners.
There are two primary types of meditation – formal and informal – and several subtypes under each main type.
I’ve been a yoga and meditation teacher for over 20 years, and I’m also a licensed psychotherapist. I went live on Facebook to share the five basic schools of meditation with you, so you can understand your options for meditation and choose the best path for yourself and your students.
Here are the highlights from the video:
Formal practices of meditation are what you might initially picture when you think about meditation. This kind of practice might mean setting aside 10 to 20 minutes to sit down and meditate. There are three primary subcategories of formal practices of meditation.
The first category is concentration practices. In yoga practice, we talk about having a one-pointed focus. There are eight limbs of yoga – the Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.
The sixth limb, Dharana, means “focus” or “concentration.”
Just like we go to the gym to train our muscles with targeted exercises like lunges or biceps curls, you can flex the muscle of the mind by doing concentration practices. When we concentrate during meditation, we have a one-pointed focus on something. That might include a mantra, a candle flame, your own breath, the sensation you’re experiencing, or in Vipassana meditation, it is attentive listening to your own flowing life experience.
Concentration practices are like a dam for the mind. We loosen our distractions and addictions as we practice, so we can have moments of Dhyana, the seventh limb of yoga. Dhyana is the Sanskrit word for “absorption.”
In your day-to-day life, you might be absorbed in the present moment, or focusing on your child. You could be focusing on a mantra, or a sunset. Meditation is the practice that can help us reach that state of absorption.
Generative practices are the second type of formal meditation. With generative practice, we choose a meditation that will help us cultivate a certain quality. Generative meditation could be used to invoke states like loving kindness, forgiveness, or gratitude.
Metta meditation, or loving-kindness meditation, is used to cultivate kindness toward all beings, including yourself, family, friends, acquaintances, and difficult people in your life.
In Sanskrit, the word is “bhavana,” which means cultivating and developing. You can choose a mental or emotional state, and we can practice that psychological state just like we’re building a muscle.
Awareness meditation, also known as open-mind awareness, is the third type of formal meditation.
With this type of meditation, we’re in a contemplative, aware state. We might be observing the room we’re in, or taking note of any sensory input we can pick up on. Or we could be in a state of self-inquiry, like when we’re contemplating a Zen koan, a succinct paradoxical statement or question. We’re sitting with a question or query and developing insight via contemplation.
Informal practices of meditation are the ways we slip into a meditative state and weave mindfulness throughout our days. There are two primary types of informal meditation: mindfulness and mindful movement.
“Mindfulness” is a common catch phrase right now, and it’s being used in a lot of circle to describe a certain way of being in the world.
Mindfulness is a great practice we can use to cultivate our meditative awareness in every moment of our lives – but it’s important that you practice mindfulness in the correct way to get maximum benefit.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, has defined mindfulness meditation as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”
That means we’re choosing to pay attention – we’re not just lost in the moment when we’re making love or playing sports or spending time with our children.
As we’re being mindful, we’re also paying attention with a non-judgmental awareness. That’s key, because practicing non-judgmentally means we can see things just as they are and be open to receiving exactly what is.
Using this definition, we can practice mindfulness in anything we’re doing, whether it’s doing the dishes, going for a walk, or communicating with our partners. It’s a highly beneficial practice for us to cultivate.
I’m also going to include mindful movement as a subcategory of informal meditation. There are many movement-based processes that bring us into a state of meditation. Yoga, of course, can be mindful movement, as can ecstatic dance, Tai Chi, running, and walking.
There are many ways to use body movement to train and soothe the mind.
We’ve talked about the five types of meditation practices in this post, and I’m hoping this information helps demystify the practices of meditation. The five types give you a map for working with different states and choosing the right practices based on your own goals, or your students’ goals.
I want to hear from you! What type of meditation do you practice most often? If you don’t practice meditation, what’s the number one question or reason why you don’t practice it?