It can be difficult to know where to start with meditation. A brief google is enough to show us that there are many different types, so how do you know where to start? Below we have put together a brief description of the most common types of meditation. However, whilst there are differences (and we don’t yet know how they compare according to the science) they are all essentially techniques that involve focusing attention in a deliberate and sustained way. It is this common theme that is thought to drive many of the benefits that result from sustained practice. Meditation can be divided in to 4 broad types:

  • Concentration/focus practices - learning to attend and focus and train mind
  • Insight meditations - nature of self, reality, experience
  • Generation practices - to cultivate particular emotional states e.g. compassion or loving kindness meditation.
  • Open Monitoring Practices - non-judgmental observation

 

Mindfulness (open monitoring meditation)

John Kabat-Zinn is widely credited with bringing mindfulness to the west with the development of his MBSR course which has now been the topic of hundreds of research studies and is being used in NHS hospitals and outpatient clinics to help people with a wide variety of problems.

Below are two websites that teach the basics of mindfulness and offer various starter online courses with audio guides to get you going in your practice.

  • Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
  • Headspace. offer both free starter courses such as 10/10, which provides 10 mins guided meditation for 10 days. It also offers more advanced courses and longer guided practices for a small sign up fee.

 

Vipassana (insight meditation)

Vipassana is one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques. It is a form of insight meditation and can be translated as ‘to see things as they really are’.

There are many centres around the world that run 10 day introductory retreats to teach the practice to beginners. These are free to attend, with an option to donate a course place for someone else once you have completed the 10 day course. Click here for more information.

A brief description of the course can be found here. 

Students receive systematic meditation instructions several times a day, and each day’s progress is explained during a taped evening discourse by S.N. Goenka. Complete silence is observed for the first nine days. On the tenth day, students resume speaking, making the transition back to a more extroverted way of life. The course concludes on the morning of the eleventh day. The retreat closes with the practice of metta-bhavana (loving-kindness or good will towards all), a meditation technique in which the purity developed during the course is shared with all beings.

 

Metta-Bhavana (Generation Meditation)

Metta-Bhavana meditation can be translated as Loving-Kindness Meditation. It originates from the Bhuddist tradition but like mindfulness it has been adopted into western practices and has also become the subject of scientific enquiry. The basic practice involves 4 steps, directing feelings of loving kindness towards others, starting with the easiest (the self) and gradually moving through a friend to an acquaintance and onto the most difficult person by step 4 (someone you find difficult or dislike). Interestingly, when this practice was used in research with westerners it was found that the self was often not considered the easiest person to direct loving-kindness towards. This may relate to the high levels of self-criticism found int he west, or perhaps to the highly competitive nature of western society (REF). Various researchers have adapted the practice to use in clinical and research settings, including the use of both directional flows (giving and receiving loving kindness). For example Prof Paul Gilbert has developed various forms of compassionate imagery which involve the same sorts of loving-kindness/compassionate emotion but rather than using real people from ones life for the meditation, participants are invited to create an ‘ideal’ compassionate other within their imagination. Guided audio resources are available online here.

Guy Burgs is Bruce's meditation teacher and friend. Here the link to his site, The Art of Meditation.