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Mental Health

3 Types of Meditation for a Healthier, Happier Life

Breathe in…breathe out…empty your mind…

The simplicity of meditation can be daunting. Being left alone with your own thoughts or trying to halt them altogether. It sounds like an uncomfortable, if not impossible, task. But truthfully, meditation is something we can all ease into. After joining a meditation group, doing some research and developing my own practice, I’ve learned that meditation can be helpful and enjoyable and一thankfully一gets easier the more you practice.

It’s also more multifaceted than I initially expected. There are many ways to meditate and here are a few common techniques that work for many meditators. These approaches offer some structure to your meditation, giving you something to focus on as you unwind and find your inner calm.

To practice meditating with any of these methods, find a quiet area, get seated comfortably, take a few deep breaths and begin!

#1 Body Scan

What it is: The body scan prompts you to move your focus to different parts of your body, noticing how they feel and releasing any tension you may find. It helps to develop a connection to and awareness of one’s physical self. In a culture that pushes females to think of their body primarily in terms of what it looks like, this exercise can be particularly powerful. It helps you develop a relationship with your body based on how it feels to you, rather than what you see in the mirror.

How to do it: Begin by bringing your attention into your body. Notice the position you are in, the weight of your body on the chair or floor. Notice any aches, pains or sensations. Starting at the crown of the head and moving downward, focus your attention on specific areas of your body. Place your focus at the top of your head and notice how it feels. Then shift your attention to your forehead, the skin around your eyes, your jaw, neck and so forth. At each new place, pause to breathe and notice any sensations. If an area is particularly tight (maybe your shoulders are hunched or your jaw is clenched), inhale, sending your breath to that body region and then exhale, letting tension drain from it. If you don’t want to move down your body systematically, you can instead explore different sensations randomly, as you notice them. There’s no need to be critical of what you notice during this meditation一it’s an opportunity to simply feel your body as it is, without trying to judge or change it.

#2 Loving-Kindness Meditation

What it is: Loving-kindness meditation (also known as metta meditation) is a method of cultivating compassion and love. By directing kind phrases and energy first towards oneself and then towards others, the meditator is practicing an all-encompassing love and developing feelings of warmth and care. If you have difficulty sending loving-kindness to yourself (the first time I tried this my reaction was, isn’t that selfish?), gently remind yourself that you deserve it. Just like any other human, you are worthy of happiness. Besides, it’s hard to fully love others if you can’t first be kind to yourself.

How to do it: Begin by recalling a moment or person who elicits warm feelings. Maybe it’s the nightly routine when you get home from work or school and your dogs come bounding across the living room to meet you at the door. Maybe it’s being in a loved one’s arms or a memory of a trip you took with friends or family. As the warm feelings gather in your heart, direct loving-kindness to yourself. The mental phrases you use are up to you. A set that I learned from the meditation leader and neuroscientist David McCormick are as follows:

May I be happy.

May I be healthy.

May I be free from inner and outer harm.

May I live life with ease and with grace.

Others you could try include:

May I be kind to myself.

May I be kind to my body.

May I rest in this moment and feel at peace.

May I love and be loved.

Recite the phrases gently, taking time to absorb them as best you can. Don’t fret over or judge how the meditation is going一remember, you’re practicing kindness!

Next, direct loving-kindness at a loved one or benefactor. Someone who you deeply respect and care for一maybe a family member, close friend, mentor or significant other. You can use the same phrases to send positive energy to this person; May s/he be happy…may s/he be healthy…and so on.

When you’re ready, move on to an acquaintance or someone you have neutral feelings for. Maybe they’re a familiar but nameless face you often spot on the subway or a friend of a friend who you’ve only chatted with a few times. Similarly, repeat your loving-kindness phrases for this individual.

Next, direct your loving-kindness towards someone you have a difficult relationship with. This could be a family member you recently fought with or a friend who has let you down. Bring to mind one or two of their positive qualities and use your phrases to direct loving-kindness to them.  

Finally, open your heart and radiate loving-kindness to all living beings! May all living beings be happy…May all living beings with healthy… Imagine your kind energy reaching out to the ends of the earth.

#3  Mindfulness Meditation

What it is: Mindfulness meditation entails paying attention to the present moment without judgement. When you practice mindfulness, you bring awareness to your bodily sensations and to your thoughts and emotions, letting them pass without trying to change or control them. The goal isn’t to achieve a perfectly quiet mind or eternal state of peace, but to observe the present moment as it is. I like to practice mindfulness meditation after doing one of the exercises described above, when my mind has already slowed down a bit.

How to do it: Feel your breath; the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rise and fall of your belly or chest. You may want to place your awareness somewhere in your body such as your stomach or near your heart. Just be in that place and feel yourself gather and release air. When your mind wanders一as it inevitably will, especially in the beginning一don’t berate yourself or try to banish your thoughts. Simply observe them without reacting and gently refocus your attention on your breath.

The most important thing is to accept your experience of meditation without judging it. Any meditation is good meditation! And whatever thoughts or emotions need to bubble up during those quiet moments are perfectly okay.

 

Hi! I am a freshmen at the University of Oregon studying public policy and journalism. Besides writing, I enjoy dancing, reading, swimming in lakes and rivers, and eating vegan food.
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