Bad at Meditating? Try These 4 Lesser Known Meditation Styles
by Catherine Morris | October 19, 2020, updated about 1 month ago
There are as many ways to meditate as there are studies on its many health benefits—maybe more. With its roots in various world religions and spiritual philosophies, meditation is one of the most diverse healing therapies out there.
Mindfulness meditation is probably the most well known. It guides you to focuses on your breath, clear your head, in order to connect fully with the present moment. There's a dizzying number of apps offering mindfulness meditation for insomnia, heartbreak, grief, gratitude...basically any emotion ever.
But even the most zen among us needs to mix it up once in a while. If you feel like your practice has grown stale it might be worth checking out something new. After all, no-one wants to plateau on their way to enlightenment.
Alternative Meditation Techniques
The soothing chime of a one-note bowl or gong gives the mind something to focus on as it clears out the rest—which is why meditation coaches often turn to audio aids. In one study, participants in a singing bowl meditation reported significantly less tension, anger, fatigue, and depression after just one session.
It doesn't have to be melodic—drumming or monotone chanting can get you there. A generic 'om' sound often works.
Sound-based meditation is for you if you have a hard time tuning out (pun intended). Rhythmic noise acts as a focal point to give you something to point your wandering attention towards. Meditation teacher and health and wellness coach Payal Khanwani says—
“Not everyone can just pay attention to their breath. Sound helps in further anchoring you to it and makes it easier. Different things work for different people. External sound is very effective. The human body is made of 70% water, and when you listen to a very powerful external sound, that vibration moves through the body.”
Primordial Sound Meditation
Khanwani, who has studied music meditation, points out that there's more to sound-based meditating than listening to singing bowls, or your own breath—
“There are two types of sound meditation—sounds coming from external instruments, those coming from the outside in, and mantra meditation where people repeat [internally] Sanskrit words which have a meaning and a frequency, so you are resonating with those sounds.”
These mantras can be deeply personal. In primordial sound meditation, stemming from the Vedic tradition and popularized in the West by Deepak Chopra, your mantra comes from the moment of your birth. Khanwani explains—
“We are all born with a sound. If I know your date of birth, the time and the place you were born, I can get a person a mantra based on these details. That is the sound of the universe when you are born. That is connecting to your source. It’s very personal.”
Transcendental Meditation has since become one of the most popular forms of meditation in the world. The CIA just declassified it. David Lynch, Jerry Seinfeld, and Oprah Winfrey are all enthusiastic devotees. It's become so trendy that it's now just known by its acronym, TM.
While mindfulness meditation is all about observing the moment and cultivating awareness, TM is about letting go and tuning out. Practitioners sit in silence for 20-30 minutes, repeating a mantra to themselves until they reach a state of blissful transcendence where the world melts away. Like most forms of meditation, the more you practice, the easier it becomes to slip into that zoned-out feeling.
There's evidence that TM changes the body's response to stress in as little as four months, lowering cortisol and testosterone levels. Given the role of chronic stress in heart disease, it's unsurprising that further study shows TM is effective in improving cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and harmful cholesterol.
Practice TM for long enough, and you might rewire your brain. An Italian study put TM practitioners through an MRI after a three-month daily practice, and discovered changes in the connectivity between different areas of the brain—the areas that moderate emotion.
Virtual Reality Meditation
Advances in technology are transforming every aspect of our lives, including how we heal. With cutting-edge virtual reality tools, meditation is about to become more accessible, and easier than ever.
While some meditations rely on guided imagery, VR will do the imaginative work for you—by transporting you from your living room or couch into an immersive 3D setting.
The tech was trialled in 2017 when 44 attendees of a mindfulness conference put on a VR headset and floated down a virtual river, listening to mindfulness coaching as they serenely floated. All were more relaxed after the experience and reported being in a better mood, feeling less anger, sadness or anxiety.
This unique form of meditating is still in its infancy, but researchers hope it'll tempt more people into giving meditation a go, and encourage them to stick with the practice by making it easy to block out distractions. The virtual reality landscape does appear to affect the brain just as it would in the real world—simulated nature is just as effective as actual nature in terms of its calming effects, and VR scenarios improve cognition in dementia and Alzheimers patients.
Khanwani says technology can be a good tool for introducing meditation to beginners, but warns that it is should be seen as a jumping off point—
“Virtual reality might be helpful to take you to a different state because we are sensory humans. These are good tools for fun and exploring what is possible with your senses. Any sensory experience creates imprints in the mind that are helpful so from a healing perspective, it is all good. A lot of people don't know what's possible with meditation so these practices are good as entry points, but nothing external can replace the inner work.”
Tips for Any Technique
Meditation is a constant learning process, and your practice won’t be static. Some days it'll be a struggle, other days you'll sit in Lotus for an hour and come out glowing. Life is full of variables and the path to inner peace gets tangled as we ride out the ups and downs.
There's a few things you can do to build a solid practice. Meditation coach Carleen Ellis says the core principles are—
- Not trying too hard,
- Sticking with it
- Coming to your practice with no expectations
- Being kind to yourself when it gets tough.
She says it's also important to enjoy the journey–
“If it’s just a chore, most people can’t keep it up, even if they know it is good for them. We all know we should be doing it, but that doesn’t motivate us. You need some pleasure. Meditation doesn't follow a formula. Maintain an open mind every time you sit down to it.”
Khanwani says a regular habit can be formed after around 66 days of continual meditating, but urges people to challenge themselves by aiming for 100 days, saying— “Once I passed my 100 days I never looked back. After 100 days you will see a level of change you cannot ignore.”
If you think a coach would help, Ellis advises picking a practitioner who’s done the work to cultivate their own practice—“You want to go for someone who has experience and someone who meditates often, because they will have had all the pitfalls through their study and practice and will be able to help you.”
If you're new to meditating, hitting a wall with your practice, or simply want to find out more about building a daily practice, get in touch to book a one-on-one with Khanwani, Ellis or any of Which Doctor's experienced meditation mentors and sound healers.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.