Three types of meditation to get started

If you think meditation is just for monks and hippies – or at least people with a lot more time on their hands than you – it may be time to think again. Bupa research found it to be the UK’s favourite form of wellbeing therapy, with over a quarter (26%) of UK adults saying they have meditated as a way to improve their mental wellbeing in the past five years. The same survey found even more so in men with almost a third of men (30%) practicing meditation in the time period compared to 18% of women.

As awareness of the importance of mental health increases, people are looking for all the available methods to make themselves happier and more equipped to cope with our ‘always on’, fast-paced modern life. Meditation is an obvious counter to ‘always on’ as it is the chance to switch our brains off for once. With ‘burnout’ now officially recognised by the World Health Organisation as an occupational phenomenon, it’s time to find ways to avoid it.

But what does meditation even mean and where do you start? According to University of Wisconsin neuroscience lab director Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. in The New York Times, ‘In Buddhist tradition… 'meditation' is a word that is equivalent to a word like 'sports' in the U.S. It's a family of activity, not a single thing.’ We take a look at three types of meditation which can be easy to get started with.

Concentration Meditation

Concentrative meditation refers to one type of meditation which – as the name suggests – involves concentrating your thoughts entirely onto one particular object, thought, sound or entity. The intention of the practice is to maintain concentration on that one thing alone. This could be by focusing on something like your breathing, or an object such as a candle, or perhaps a sound like a gong. This type of meditation aims to still the mind and build patience and mental acuity. Don’t be too ambitious to start, set a timer for a short amount of time – say three minutes initially. Grab your chosen object, get comfy in your seat and try to focus on the object for the duration the timer runs for. If you find other thoughts creeping into your head, don’t panic, just gently return your focus to the object. Try and be consistent – it’s not called meditation practice for nothing – it takes practice. Try and manage three minutes every day for a week, then move up to four the following week and so on.

Mindfulness Meditation

In contrast from concentration meditation, mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of everything you are sensing or feeling in that moment. Mindfulness encourages you to step out of autopilot, to stop and feel the world around you; to become more aware of your surroundings without interpretation or judgement.

Mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression in the past. It helps us to become more aware of our thoughts and feelings which makes us better placed to manage them instead of being overwhelmed by them.

Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says, ‘It's easy to stop noticing the world around us. It's also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living 'in our heads' – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour.

An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs.’

Movement Meditation

Whilst the benefits of meditation cannot be ignored, sitting still and meditating is not for everyone. Movement meditation requires moving through various positions with a slow and mindful pace. It incorporates mindfulness within it, to bring an acute awareness of the body and how it feels in the various positions. There is no one movement or thought which is correct – many people use walking meditation – walking slowly in a predefined space. Whilst walking you can take notice of how your feet feel on the floor and how the wind might feel on the skin of your face. You can notice the feelings in your body working from the top of your head, through the forehead, down to your cheeks and so on. Notice any tension or uncomfortable feelings and try to adjust your body to make any feelings of discomfort go away. Movement meditation is ideal for restless bodies who struggle to sit still.

Incorporating meditation into your life doesn’t need to be hard. You don’t need hours of spare time or any special equipment or training. Headspace app can also help to offer guided meditations and plenty of ideas. One of the many benefits of a Vitality Health Insurance policy is a year’s subscription to the Headspace app and if you use it frequently you can earn points towards discounts on your premium and rewards. As of August 2021, Headspace has an incredible 70 million members around the world.

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