One of our all-time favorite celebrations is just around the corner: on May 21, join us in marking the special occasion of World Meditation Day by expanding your awareness of this ancient practice for better health. Dating as far back as 3000 B.C., when it was first referenced in Indian texts, meditating can bring us into a state of homeostasis, helping us return our mind, body and spirit to a calm, stable place. It can also provide a boost of energy and vitality to our lives by reducing stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness.
For novices to mindfulness and for experienced practitioners alike, we invite you to explore these seven different techniques to find a deeper connection to the source within you. If you already meditate, consider trying something new to expand your consciousness. Despite the common misperception that you need a special corner, cushion, or environment to meditate “properly”, meditation can be done almost anywhere (even in correctional facilities, at work, at airports, or on your daily commute, for example).
To get started, ask yourself these three simple questions:
- Am I breathing? (Maybe take a moment to give gratitude to your lungs, body, and breath).
- How is the quality of my breath (quick, slow, labored, easy flowing, etc.)?
- Now that I’m conscious of my breathing, can I dedicate five minutes to meditating?
Then, browse our roundup below of seven different paths to inner peace, their benefits, and who is best suited for each style. To avoid feeling intimidated or getting in your own way, you can start with as little as five to ten minutes a day. Remember, you can improve your health with even a few deep breaths whenever you’re feeling off-center. Building habits takes time and patience, but we can all enjoy the beautiful, miraculous life force within us—our breath—without any teachers, tools, or practice at all.
1. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation helps build concentration and awareness. Ideal for beginners, this style of meditation is accessible to anyone willing to shift their awareness to the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced while eating, walking, or even doing household chores. Start by quieting any internal “chatter” in the mind and ignoring external distractions. Focus completely on what you are doing. Whether sitting comfortably with your eyes closed or drawing your attention to the natural rhythm of your breath while engaged in a singular task, you can practice mindfulness nearly anywhere and anytime.
Good for: Anyone without a teacher who wants to practice easily alone.
The basics: Simply allow your thoughts to pass without judgment and be fully present.
The science says: According to neuroscience research compiled by researchers at UC Berkeley, long-term mindfulness practices have been shown to help improve resilience to and recovery from stress, sharpen attention, increase compassion and mental health, and reduce bias, among other benefits.
2. Transcendental Meditation (TM)
Transcendental meditation is a wonderful way to quiet the mind, and has shown powerful results for diverse populations throughout the world. From healthier family lives to reduced blood pressure, this type of meditation (when practiced with a guide) offers a range of positive outcomes to practitioners. While not considered a recommended first initiation into meditation for newbies, those wishing to try a more simple version of this practice can choose a mantra (here are some ideas to get started) or positive phrase to repeat to send messages of love and compassion to ourselves and others through repetition.
Good for: Inducing a state of calm and peace, and accessing the depths of meditation.
The basics: This style of meditation uses mantra, and is best taught by a certified TM practitioner or experienced guide capable of leading mantra-based meditation.
The science says: In over 200 independent universities and research institutions worldwide over the course of 40 years, transcendental meditation has demonstrated the potential to increase creativity, intelligence, and test scores, while reducing burnout, insomnia, and cardiovascular-related mortality, among numerous other benefits to veterans, trauma survivors, educators, children, and more.
3. Guided Meditation (Visualization)
Form a mental picture, then allow that visualization to come into full focus, shedding all other thoughts and distractions in the process. Also referred to as visualization meditation, this technique invites us to vividly visualize positive images, scenes, or beloved people in our lives. Alternatively, this can be a transformative practice for healing conflicts if we imagine with all five senses in as much detail as possible a person or situation we want to send kindness, even perhaps someone we may not feel is deserving of this compassion at first. For those with a specific goal in mind, visualization can also be a powerful conduit for manifesting success, motivation, and focus for achieving a particular objective.
Good for: People who want to be guided to relax through imagery.
The basics: Led by a teacher (or an app in modern times!), uses all the senses to evoke tranquility. Free, guided meditations are now available on many platforms like Insight Timer.
The science says: Visualization meditation has been linked to a plethora of greater health outcomes, including but not limited to: better athletic performance and self-confidence, pain relief, compassion for others and one’s self, improved sleep and relaxation, and relief from depression.
4. Vipassana Meditation
See things as they really are with Vipassana. This ancient technique is used to improve self-awareness and concentration, typically over the course of 10 days. By observing the Self, practitioners are guided through transformative practices whereby meditators use disciplined attention to their physical sensations. In many international studies, non-sectarian approaches have demonstrated astonishing results, especially in unconventional settings like correctional facilities, where Vipassana was credited with improving both mood and behavior among inmates (Source: NIH).
Good for: Those willing to practice silence and abstinence to pursue deeper interconnectedness.
The basics: More than 2,500 year-old Indian traditional form of meditation popularized by Sayagyi U Ba Khin in Yangon, Myanmar to observe and transform the Self.
The science says: Transcending cultures and geographic boundaries, Vipassana practice has been shown to improve physical and psychological well-being, increase awareness, and facilitate acceptance. Evidence indicates that Vipassana meditation can be a promising tool for mitigating many types of psychological and psychosomatic distress.
5. Metta (Loving Kindness) Meditation
The Pali word “metta” is defined in English dictionaries as “a feeling of benevolent affection”. However, in Buddhist teachings, metta is a more active, “mental state or attitude, cultivated and maintained by practice” (Source: Learn Religions). While this practice does not require the meditator to have much prior experience, those wishing to try it may want to first explore some mantras that resonate with them, as this style of kind, positive phrase is a common tool in metta meditation. For example, “May I be happy. May I be safe. May I be at peace.” Repeating this without judgment, and then replacing “I” with “you” or a specific person’s name, can help create a ripple effect of compassion from inside your own heart to radiate pure positive energy to others, even those we might not want to wish well at first.
Good for: Directing well-wishes toward other living beings, starting with oneself.
The basics: Practitioners recite mantras to ignite the heart’s capacity for unconditional love.
The science says: In numerous studies, metta meditation has been shown to foster greater self-compassion and reduce feelings of unworthiness, decrease migraines, physical pain, PTSD symptoms, stress and anxiety, and improve our overall longevity, among other powerful benefits.
6. Chakra Meditation
Build your energy and spiritual power. By opening, aligning, and letting energy flow through the body’s seven chakras, the primary aim of chakra meditation is to unblock or balance any negative physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual ailments that may be harming us. Visualizing energy or light radiating through one or more of the chakras and its corresponding color is a common technique of this style.
Good for: Visual, creative, and active spiritual seekers.
The basics: Each of the seven chakras along the spine has a corresponding color, which is brought into balance and well-being through various relaxation techniques.
The science says: It’s challenging for researchers to find funding to study something that is non-visible, and even more so to try to understand this subtle energy from a scientific perspective. However, the authors of a 2005 paper wrote, “subtle energy is a healing energy that anyone can learn to perceive and utilize. It’s a crucial, but often missing, component in healthcare.” Further studies demonstrated evidence that the chakras may be “scientifically delineated, similar to acupuncture points and meridians which have unique electrical properties and possible anatomical correlates.”
7. Yoga Nidra
Have you ever tried yogic sleep? Some might argue that while yoga nidra is similar to meditation, it is in a category of its own because you are inching toward “a deep state of conscious awareness sleep” (Source: Cleveland Clinic) that is akin to surfing between the unconscious and conscious. While traditional meditations lead practitioners to a theta state, the deeply healing delta state is the aim of yoga nidra, which maintains conscious alertness while the physical body is facilitated into deep rest.
Good for: Those who have trouble letting go or struggle with sleep, trauma, anxiety, or depression. Also suitable for those who are equally or more comfortable lying down than seated for mindfulness practice.
The basics: While lying down in motionless rest, healing and restoration happens in a unique state that hovers between wakefulness and sleep during this guided, effortless relaxation.
The science says: As countless studies have shown, meditation and yoga nidra are both effective tools for reducing stress and anxiety. However, one recent study demonstrated results that indicated yoga nidra was more effective for the reduction of anxiety than traditional meditation.
This Sunday, May 21, is also International Tea Day! One of the most beloved beverages worldwide, more than two billion cups of tea are consumed daily. What better way is there to bring awareness to our own mindfulness practices than to sip a warm cup of tea before or after meditating?
In celebration of two of our favorite things—sustainability and herbal tea—we’ve compiled a list of our top apothecary picks. Here’s a few our herbalists recommend you try: