Being meditative means focusing on a single activity or thought while embracing the present moment. Usually, the word “meditative” is associated with meditation, a state of mind that is not only focused—like you might be while working or watching TV—but also calm and deliberate. You can reach a meditative state through meditation techniques like mindfulness or focused attention. Meditation is not only a relaxation and calming technique but is integral to the many religions and spiritual practices where it first originated.
If you look meditative up in a thesaurus, its synonyms include being contemplative, introspective, pensive, reflective, awake, and aware.
How do you make something meditative?
In order to reach a meditative state of being, you don’t necessarily have to meditate in the traditional way—sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed. Deep breathing, reading, listening to music, cloud gazing, dancing, playing a sport, yoga, or a walk in the forest can all cultivate a meditative state.
The two keys to embodying a meditative state are practicing awareness and being open. When you are in a meditative state you may experience a feeling of inner peace, slowing of your heart rate, increased focus, relaxed body, fewer thoughts, and feelings of interconnection.
- Training awareness
To train your awareness means to embrace the present moment with mindfulness and kindness. Practice observing what is within and around you without judgment or labels. Ironically, we can be very hard on ourselves while meditating—either because we have “too many” thoughts or feel impatient. But accepting yourself as you are is an important part of awareness practice. What is most important is how you react to the thoughts and feelings that pass through your mind. Are you going to allow frustration to overtake you or will you take a deep breath, welcome the emotion, and then let it go?
- Being open
Another important aspect of meditation or entering a meditative state is to open yourself to new perspectives, feelings, and sensations. Meditation can be a powerful tool for shifting the way you view yourself and the world by practicing non-judgment and trying to see reality more clearly and with less bias.
What are the different types of meditation?
There are many forms of meditation, each with its own benefits. You can play with each type to learn which one suits you best. You may even find that you prefer certain meditations at different times of day or when you are in different moods. For example, it can be invigorating to start the morning with an analytical meditation to set a constructive tone for the day, practice a walking meditation in the afternoon to take a break from work, and use a body scan meditation at night to reconnect with your body and relax. When you feel especially stressed, a mindfulness meditation may serve you best; and a loving-kindness meditation is a powerful antidote when you are feeling angry.
The point is that you don’t have to limit yourself to one type of meditation, despite what the latest trend may tell you. You have the freedom to meditate in any way that suits you, and many great masters of meditation like the Dalai Lama even suggest being playful as you approach meditation!
- Mindfulness meditation
- This type of meditation focuses on connecting to the present moment by releasing judgment and staying open to everything. In this practice, you simply observe thoughts, feelings, and external factors. This can require patience and discipline. Mindfulness meditation is especially popular among those struggling with anxiety, depression, and addiction.
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction unites mindfulness meditation and yoga in a secular form of meditation to reduce stress. It is especially popular in the scientific community. Many of the scientific meta-analyses of the benefits of meditation are derived from studies that use mindfulness-based stress reduction.
- Body scan meditation
- If you take yoga classes, you may be familiar with this mindfulness practice; it is a common guided meditation that yoga teachers use during savasana. With body scan meditation, the intention is to focus attention on each part of your body without judgment. The effects of mindfulness include improvement of body awareness and increased relaxation.
- This meditation technique is also highly recommended by stress reduction expert Jon Kabat-Zinn for those suffering from chronic pain.
- Mantra meditation
- In a mantra meditation, one repeats a word or phrase—a mantra—as a way to boost awareness and concentration. You can choose a traditional mantra, such as “shanti” (the Sanskrit word for peace), or an affirmational phrase, such as “I am grounded in this moment.”
- Mantra meditation is especially helpful in improving mood, anxiety, fatigue, and memory. This is a great meditation practice for beginners or those who experience a lot of mind-wandering.
- Transcendental meditation
- This is a silent mantra meditation. It is commonly practiced for 15-20 minutes a day and unlike mindfulness meditation, does not involve monitoring of thoughts or concentration. The main benefits are deep inner peace, clarity of mind, and a healthier heart. Those suffering from depression, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, or on the autism spectrum may find this meditation technique especially useful.
- Analytical meditation
- This meditation is particularly developed in Tibetan Buddhism, including the Dalai Lama‘s Lamrim Tradition. For those new to Buddhism, analytical meditation may seem like the opposite of meditation. In analytic meditation, you conjure an active stream of thoughts, images, and emotions that gradually steer your mind toward beneficial thoughts, feelings, and habits.
- This meditation not only calms the mind but also changes the mind. Analytical meditation is a great way to develop healthy habits through neuroplasticity, to further understand yourself, and to increase your positive states of mind and the positive effect you have on the people and the world around you.
- Visualization meditation
- When practicing a visualization meditation, you imagine certain ideas, events, goals, or people in your mind’s eye. This is a powerful practice that is popular among athletes, those suffering from chronic pain, and people who want to improve their overall well-being and mental health. In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions, visualizations may involve beautiful idealized realms and beings that represent purified and perfected qualities like love, wisdom, or compassion.
- Loving-kindness meditation
- Also called love and compassion meditation, this Buddhist practice can be considered a form of visualization meditation. If you are a beginner, one way to practice this meditation technique is in five stages of one to five minutes each. The stages progress through feeling love for yourself, appreciating someone you love, expanding your love to someone you feel neutral toward, loving someone you dislike, and finally, sending love to the whole world.
- Moving Meditation
- Moving meditation focuses on the mind-body connection and can be a great opportunity for self-expression and creativity. Examples of this meditation technique are walking meditation, yoga, Tai chi, Qigong, or ecstatic dance.
- This is a great form of meditation for beginners who struggle to sit still and feel overwhelmed by their mind’s chatter.
What are the health benefits of meditation?
“Meditation is a simple practice available to all, which can reduce stress, increase calmness and clarity and promote happiness. Learning how to meditate is straightforward, and the benefits can come quickly.”The New York Times
All of the benefits of meditation listed below have undergone systematic review and are scientifically backed. Some health benefits may present themselves soon after your first few meditation sessions, others will take more time to develop.
- Decrease blood pressure
- Meditation has been proven to decrease blood pressure, reduce inflammation, regularize circadian rhythms, and stabilize glucose metabolism.
- Improve happiness
- Scientific studies have established that one of the biggest causes of happiness is simply being focused on what you are doing, whatever it may be. The activity itself matters less than staying in the present moment and in a meditative state. The less the mind wanders, the happier you will be.
- Reduce symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety
- Meditation leads to lower levels of cortisol release, less stress and anxiety, and an overall balance of stress levels.
- Improve focus and memory
- The improvements in focus and memory from meditation practice are not limited to the moments during or right after meditation. With a regular meditation practice, one can maintain these health benefits throughout the day or even weeks later.
- Improve self-control and addictive habits
- Meditation decreases activity in the brain areas related to addiction. In addition, many addictions are related to negative emotions and stress, so meditation is a useful tool since it can also help regulate these two experiences.
- Reduce chronic pain symptoms
- A meditation practice can expand the brain regions related to reducing chronic pain. Developing mindful awareness and openness to pain in a meditative state can actually reduce pain.
- Improve sleep
- People have trouble sleeping for a variety of reasons, but two common ones are issues with mental health and chronic pain. Meditation helps with both of these, including improvements to mental health that increase happiness and decrease stress and anxiety by regulating activity in specific areas of the brain.
- Increase neuroplasticity
- A regular meditation practice positively changes brain structure and organization through the creation of new neural pathways.
As you embark on your meditation journey, it may be useful to track your progress in a meditation journal. You can track qualitative measurements, such as daily mood or your ability to exert self-control; and quantitive measurements like blood pressure or sleep quality (perhaps using a smartwatch or sleep ring). Measurements like these can be an excellent motivation to continue meditating, as you document your progress and evidence of mental and physical improvement.
Guided Meditations for Beginners
Letting Life Be – Tara Brach
Calm and Ease – Thich Nhat Hanh
10-Minute Breath Meditation – A Skeptic’s Path to Enlightenment
Body, Space, and Awareness – Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
5-Minute Meditations for Beginners – Science & Wisdom LIVE
Meditation Apps for Beginners
Disclaimer: This post is not medical advice. Before taking on specific meditation techniques or other treatments for a psychological or health problem, please consult a psychologist or medical professional regarding your specific health conditions.