Mindfulness Meditation Variations - Basic Tools
The word meditation is a lot like the word "sport" or "art" in that there are virtually countless different variations, styles, lineages, mediums and options. Participating in sport could be anything from archery to powerlifting, while being an artist may mean neo-classical oil painting or it may mean chiseling trolls out of oak trees and making music with them. In this article, I will be listing a few of the more common meditation-types within Mindfulness. These are the practices you will typically experience in a Rebel Mindfulness workshop or an MBSR class.
Awareness of Breath Meditation
In this meditation, you are invited to bring your attention to the details of your current breath. There is not manipulation of your breathing or need to make any changes; it is simply an observation of the breath as it is. I generally lead participants through the entire life-cycle of a single breath, from entrance, to movement into the torso, transition, movement back up and the final exit or exhale. This is all done with open curiosity and lack of judgement, using the breath as an anchor to return to when your attention drifts away and is captured by thought. I often invite people to take the position of someone who will have to write a 500 word description of each breath; encouraging a true attention to detail.
Using the same approach and open-minded observation as we use in the awareness of breath meditation, there are a number of other variations that simply use another anchor or focus.
Awareness of Body Meditation
Awareness of Sound Meditation
Awareness of Thoughts Meditation
Awareness of Feelings Meditation
Choiceless Awareness Meditation
Choiceless awareness or open awareness meditations bring all the aforementioned awareness meditations into the realm of possibility. In this technique, we sit with a true openness and willingness to simply observe whatever is most prominent in the given moment; open to the idea that this could change from moment to moment. Our awareness may shift from a sound, to a throbbing finger to a passing thought; we simply sit, observe and ride the wave. This is a willingness to listen to our body, environment, mind and lives without judgement or criticism. Not always an easy task.
Body Scan Meditation
Typically done in a lying-down position (though not mandatory), the body scan systematically brings our attention to different parts and regions of our body, becoming aware of present-moment sensations and feelings in each area (temperature, tingling, pain, discomfort, emotion, etc...). Generally, the scan will move from one far-end of our body to the opposite, for example, moving from our toes, to our ankle, to our shin....... to the top of our head. The body scan is a powerful practice that can help us strengthen our connection and relationship to our physical body and really begin to pay attention in a way that we may only do when something is wrong or hurt. For many of us, the idea of paying attention to our body sounds like a pretty awful idea; we can carry so much shame, embarrassment and judgement in regards to our body. The body-scan, as part of a regular practice, has the potential to help us change our relationship with our body, become a better (body) listener and hear more of what our body has to say and offer.
Mindful Movement Meditation
While yoga may come to mind, it is only one or many forms of mindful movement. So long as there is physical movement and mindful intent, there is an opportunity for this practice to occur. Mindful movement is most commonly experienced and guided through basic yoga and walking meditation. In all movement meditations, the focus is placed on the feelings, physical sensations, physical changes and even the corresponding emotions that arise as a result of the movement. Much like the body scan, mindful movement practices can help us improve that mind-body connection and really begin to take notice and listen to what our body has to offer. Of course, our mind will wonder as it does, but the movement and characteristics of the movement will serve as your anchor and point of focus.
Mental Noting Practice
Noting can be thought of as single-word, soft, mental whispers that simply take note of what we are currently doing. For example, when walking, simply saying to ourselves (in our head) "walking..... walking.... walking" or when a car horn grabs our attention, "hearing... hearing." These notes are very matter-of-fact and general, they would not take the form of "walking to the store" or "hearing a car horn." Much like our choiceless awareness, we will notice the ever-changing and shifting focus and our noting may begin to sound more like "walking... walking... hearing... walking... feeling... seeing... warm... walking... hungry...etc" This may feel clunky and awkward at first, but with practice can become very natural and beneficial.
Noting can help keep us in the present moment, since we will be much less likely to wander or drift off. Additionally, noting can help us better see what is actually happening in the present moment, possibly begin to recognize patterns in our thoughts or action and may even help us avoid over-reacting as more sensitive moments arise. Give noting a shot, you may be surprised how powerful this practice can be.
Mindfulness with Daily Activity
Every moment is an opportunity to practice mindfulness. We can bring our practice to everything we do, from washing the dishes to making the bed, to cooking a meal and beyond. Treat the moment with true, open, non-judgmental curiosity, fresh eyes and attention to detail and you are essentially meditating. Our "formal" sitting practice is very important, but our willingness and ability to apply the same strengths we cultivate during our formal practice needs to be applied to the other 23+ hours of our day. Pick a task that you do every day (brushing teeth, showering, walking the dog, etc...) and bring a more mindful approach to it; note how much different the experience can be.
Loving Kindness or Metta
Loving kindness meditation is the directing of well wishing toward others. It is an all-inclusive and unconditional extension of love to ourself, others in our lives, all of human-kind and all living things. The practice, quite effectively, aims to soften our mind and heart and bring intentional practice to the act of compassion. Often times, the meditations will include repetitive language, directed at ourselves and others, such as "May I be free from inner and outer harm and danger" or "May I be happy", first directed inward and then slowly expanded to include others. So some, this practice is very natural and comofrting; for many, this begins to dance on the edge of comfort zones that havenet been tested or explored in a long time, if ever. Metta is an incredibly powerful practice and should eventually be part of every personal practice.
Mindful eating is an incredible practice that carries the potential to change our relationship to food, eating and our overall health. Particularly in Western culture, our relationship with food is generally rather poor. We eat on the run, we eat quickly, we often choose based on ease of access and our eating is often attached to emotions and judgments of our body and form. Mindful eating is the rather simple practice of really paying attention to the food we are eating; the way it looks, smells, tastes, textures, origins, preparation, and more. As we begin to slow down and pay attention, we can then begin to feel into the emotions attached to our eating, why are we eating, what exactly are we eating and how are we eating eat? Mindful eating is an incredibly powerful practice that almost all of us can benefit from. Start with just one bite... is there any other way?
These are just a few of the more common meditation practices within mindfulness. As I mentioned before, the variations and styles are virtually unlimited. What is most important is that you find what works best for you and do so knowing that you have lots of options that can be combined and pulled out of your tool box when needed. There is not right or better technique; what matters most is your intention and your commitment.