Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
You know meditation is good for you. Studies show that it can relieve stress, improve concentration, increase energy, and encourage a sense of well-being. But if you’ve never had success sitting still or quieting your mind, you may need a different approach. Check out this guide to seven different styles—one for every personality or need.
1. Focused and disciplined.
Ultra-focused by nature? Try a meditation practice that involves concentrating on something, using one of your five senses. The yogic practice of trataka involves gazing at a single point. It’s also said to protect vision, improve memory, and promote intuition. To start, sit with your back straight and choose an object, such as a candle flame, on which to focus. It should be about two or three feet away, and more or less level with your eyes. Gaze softly but intently, until your mind begins to still. If your mind does wander, just return your attention to the object and continue. Start at 5–10 minutes, working up to 20 minutes. For more detailed instructions, check out “trataka” at yogaindailylife.org.
2. Fidgety and active.
Can’t sit still? A moving meditation is perfect for you. This active form of quieting the mind was traditionally practiced in a labyrinth or Japanese garden, but you can do it anywhere that’s peacefuland relatively flat. Avoid rocky or rugged terrain where your concentration will be divided—the goal is to quiet your mind, not go for a vigorous hike. Start on a path that’s about 40 feet long. With your eyes downcast, walk slowly to the end of the path, come to a full stop, turn around, and walk back again. Keep walking back and forth, making your steps conscious and deliberate. Focus your attention on your breath, the movement of your legs, the feeling of your feet contacting the ground, and other details. Practice for 10 minutes a day, increasing to as long as you’d like. For more details, and a deeper practice, read Walking Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh.
3. Body aware—and committed to comfort.
Really in touch with your body but hate sitting upright on a cushion? Try body-scan practices that focus on the physical form and allow you to fully experience sensation. Start by lying down in a comfortable place with your eyes closed. Take a few deep breaths, and bring your attention to your body. Starting at your feet, move your attention toward your head, scanning for areas of tension and consciously relaxing them. Go slowly, and notice your physical body in great detail—your pinky toes, the small bones in your feet, the skin on your ankles—until you reach the top of your head. Take at least 20 minutes to complete the practice, breathing deeply throughout. If you’re new to body-scan practices, guided audio can help. Try Sally Kempton’s Body-Scan Meditation at SoundsTrue.com.
4. Driven to succeed.
Up at 5 a.m., at your desk by 6? A focused, simple meditation practice you can do at work is ideal for you. Try awareness meditation, also called “open awareness” or “present moment awareness.” This style works by giving the mind the clear, simple task of being aware of your surroundings. Start by sitting up (yes, at your desk is fine), eyes open, and start to really notice your surroundings—the smell of coffee, the voices of coworkers, artwork on the walls—as well as your inner dialogue, such as memories, thoughts, or feelings. The goal is not to classify, categorize, or judge, but simply to witness. Stay in the experience, and just be aware. For a deeper exploration, check out The Open-Focus Brain by Les Fehmi, PhD, and Jim Robbins.
5. Anxious and apprehensive.
Nervous Nellies, this one’s for you. Practices that control the breath—called pranayama in yogic traditions—help slow the heart, calm the mind, and ease anxiety. Start by focusing on the flow of air in and out of your nostrils for a few breaths, then exhale completely through your mouth. Inhale through your nose for a count of four, gently holding the breath for a count of seven, then exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat the cycle a few times, or until you feel calmer, and do at least two full cycles each day. Some tips: when you’re holding the breath, do it gently; relax your shoulders and try not to “grip” the breath. It’s easiest if you start by closing your eyes, but as you get more practiced, you can do it with your eyes open—in a stressful meeting, on a crowded bus, during a tense conversation. For more details on pranayama, read Breathwork: A 3-Week Breathing Program to Gain Clarity, Calm, and Better Health by Valerie Moselle.
6. Laid-back, but lethargic.
If you’re maybe too calm, an invigorating practice that enhances energy can clear the cobwebs and revitalize your day. Kundalini meditation is an ancient practice designed to move energy through the body, generally from the root chakra (the base of the spine) through the crown of the head. For a very simplified version, start in a seated position, legs crossed and spine straight, palms in prayer position at your chest. With your eyes closed, focus your gaze on your third eye—slightly above the point between your eyebrows—and begin breathing deeply, noticing the breath moving through your body. You can also use a mantra (traditionally, “Sat Nam,” or “truth is my essence”) to help focus your mind. Continue for five minutes, working up to a longer practice. Because Kundalini is a deep and powerful practice, you’ll get the best results with a qualified instructor. Visit ikyta.org for a list of teachers and classes. And check out “A Beginner’s Guide to Kundalini Yoga” at yogajournal.com for basic information.
7. Dedicated to enlightenment.
For serious seekers, traditional practices that focus on insight are ideal. In Transcendental Meditation (TM), founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960s, the goal is to rise above (transcend) thought to experience a state of pure awareness or consciousness. In traditional Buddhist practices, the ultimate goal is to transcend the impermanence of daily life and reach a higher level of consciousness. If these appeal, look for a qualified meditation instructor in your area. Check out shambhala.org or tm.org for teachers and centers. For an intro to TM, read Strength in Stillness by Bob Roth. For Buddhist meditation practices, read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are, or check out his Guided Mindfulness Meditation CDs.
Defusing Anxiety & Negativity: Why Gratitude Is Key
By Frank Kilpatrick
We all want to feel happy and productive. But here’s the Catch 22: the things we do to try to feel that way—working long hours, rushing kids from one activity to the other, and meeting all of life’s obligations—can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, and even resentful. (And that’s not counting the complications that spring up.) We may find ourselves thinking: What’s the point of all this hard work if I can’t enjoy my life?
Thankfully, we can feel contentment (and, yes, happiness!) even when life is at its most chaotic. It comes not from trying to control your circumstances (which isn’t always possible) but from shifting how you look at them.
I love the saying “Gratitude doesn’t change things for you, it changes you for things.” When we can learn to come from a place of gratitude, we see things differently. There’s a mindset shift that brings peace. My Gratitude Musical/Visual Meditation series helps listeners tap into that mindset.
How to Enjoy the Gratitude Series
The Gratitude Musical/Visual Meditation Series is available on YouTube. You can also learn more at GratitudeVideo.com.
New Music for Meditation SERIES Trains the Brain
My colleagues and I—Grammy Award-winning producer Alex Wand and bilingual composer and performer Rayko—are on a mission to fill the world with gratitude. This meditation series—which combines “microtonal” music, vocals, visuals, and on-screen lyrical messages in a unique way that keeps your attention—is designed to help train the brain for gratitude and peace. This focus stems from our work on the Stay Alive video/podcast documentary and is a central part of our strategy for supporting at-risk populations.
Of course, you can’t just flip a switch and BOOM! you’re grateful. Gratitude evolves over time. It’s about building some small, daily habits into your routine—and now is the perfect time to start. A few examples:
- Make room in your life for gratitude. Often Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) drives us to stretch ourselves too thin. Know that it’s totally okay to turn down invitations if you don’t feel like being around others, or to spend the weekend recharging. It’s fine to feel grateful for friends and opportunities, but we need to feel grateful for quiet moments and downtime as well.
- Prepare your mind. It’s important to make time for meditation or contemplation. Think of this as strength training for your mind. At first it might seem difficult to find the time, but it teaches you to get relaxed and centered, which is a vital life skill. Over time, it will get easier and easier to drop into a space of quiet contentedness where gratitude is abundant. “Mind training” should be a part of your daily health routine, like brushing your teeth.
- Stop allowing junk food into your consciousness. Monitor your cognitive input in the same way you regulate your intake of fats, carbs, and calories. What you’re doing is intentionally creating the best version of yourself. Think of it as a gateway to overall happiness.
- Focus on the small things. There are plenty of things you can (and should) be grateful for in life’s simple moments. A hot cup of coffee. Toasty sheets fresh from the dryer on a cold evening. A catchup phone call from a dear old friend. The smell of a delicious dinner wafting from the kitchen. The look of wonder in your toddler’s eyes when they see the first snowfall of the year. Just start paying attention and let yourself feel the wonderment.
- Say “thank you”—and really mean it. When someone does something kind for you, recognize it with a sincere “thank you.” Be specific about why what they did matters. This helps you mean it, which is important; mindless “thank yous” don’t count. Recognition, even in small doses, makes others feel great, but it also gives you a boost of joy. And it exercises those gratitude muscles.
- Manage your expectations. Real life doesn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting, and your home most likely will never look like a spread from a design magazine. Parents get old. Kids get bad grades. Tempers flare from time to time. Even during a wonderful meal with family and friends, someone might get sick, make a judgmental comment, or burst into tears during the salad course. That’s life. It’s messy and complicated … and beautiful.
The best thing about gratitude is that it’s contagious. If you put it out there, chances are very good you will get it back!