Mental Health Awareness Week: how to find the right meditation practice for you

·5-min read
 (Getty Images/Westend61)
(Getty Images/Westend61)

Learning to be more present and live more mindfully can help to quiet a busy mind. While helping to improve mental clarity, many meditation proponents claim it can help to manage feelings of stress and anxiety, and some say it can even enhance sleep quality.

A recent study suggests practising meditation for just 10 minutes a day could even help improve your concentration. The small study from scientists in New York found that meditation training for 10 minutes a day over a period of eight weeks led to faster switching between the brain’s two general states of consciousness.

And, after the brain fog hangover from the pandemic, you could say there’s more reason than ever to take up a practice. I say this having recently undertaken a free online 40-day course with psychologist Tara Brach, through which I have to say, I’ve noticed a greater degree of calm when dealing with everyday life.

Really, meditation is just a skill that most of us can learn with practice and YouTube is full of free online guided meditations. Some feel the barrier to entry is the idea that you have to be able to “empty your mind” — something that’s nigh on impossible for many of us. But not all forms of meditation require you to do so. So which kind of meditation is right for you? Find your meditation tribe with our guide.

Mindfulness meditation

Try if: you want to be more conscious of how you spend your time

Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. Mindfulness is about bringing awareness to your breath, thoughts and feelings in the moment. You can practice by sitting still, or while doing mundane activities, such as washing up.

Body scanning is an effective form of mindfulness meditation. It involves checking in with your physical self by mentally scanning your body, usually from feet to head, to notice any pain or tension that you may be holding. When practised just before bed it may even help promote a better night’s sleep, too.

Find your zen: Jon Kabat-Zinn offers free mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) guided body scan meditations online. Tara Brach’s free 40-day online Mindfulness Daily course with Jack Kornfield involves 10-15 minutes of training each day and is another excellent introduction to mindfulness to help you establish a practice.

Walking meditation

Try if: you just can’t sit still

If you struggle to sit still, walking meditation could be for you. By taking a step with each in-breath and another with each out-breath, it encourages you to bring awareness to the action of walking, rather than just constantly rushing from A to B. A 2014 study found Buddhist walking meditation was effective at reducing symptoms of depression, and offered greater overall health improvements on respondents than traditional walking.

Find your zen: Find mindful walk practices on apps like Plum Village, Headspace and Calm.

Mantra meditation

Try if: you’re feeling stressed and struggle to quiet a racing mind

Mantra meditation is a technique that uses a repetitive sound to calm the mind. In a practice you typically repeat a single word or syllable to yourself silently while sitting comfortably. One of the most popular versions of this is transcendental meditation (TM) and the likes of Katy Perry and Daisy Lowe swear by it. Charlotte Ferguson, psychotherapist and founder of skincare brand Disciple London, practices transcendental meditation for 20 minutes a day. “It’s great for people with busy brains as the idea of ‘emptying’ the mind can seem impossible,” she says. “It’s a simple technique of repeating a mantra to yourself — thoughts and memories are welcomed without judgement. It’s been proven to reduce the stress hormone cortisol and many clients reported being less reactive and more calm throughout the day.”

Find your zen: You can book onto Transcendental Meditation courses at locations across London, prices vary (uk.tm.org).

Visualisation meditation

Try if: you’re feeling stuck or want to channel good intentions to yourself or others.

Visualisation meditation techniques engage your imagination, so can also be suited to busy minds. “Sensory contributions in meditation help keep focus, especially for those of us that get easily distracted,” says Jasmin Harsono, reiki master, author and founder of Emerald & Tiger. Harsono offers a chakra meditation in her book Self-Reiki, in which she asks participants to visualise their breath as waves; with renewed energy flowing in on the inhale and stagnant energy leaving the body on the exhale. As they arrive at each of the seven “chakras”, or main spiritual energy points in the body, they visualise corresponding colours and affirmations for each energy point, and introduce touch by placing their hands over it. “This style of meditation is excellent for anyone who feels stuck in life; releasing blocks on all levels of the mind, body and spirit.”

Other forms of visualisation meditation encourage you to focus on something, such as a goal or idea, a technique commonly adopted by athletes, including Novak Djokovic and Michael Phelps. Loving kindness meditation (LKM), meanwhile, is a visualisation technique that allows you to channel feelings of compassion to yourself and others, to relieve emotional suffering and promote recovery, and living more happily.

Find your zen: Tara Brach offers a huge archive of free compassion practices online, Headspace also has some.

Yogi Marié Yagami practices Zazen, a Japanese sitting meditation  (Thomas Kimmerlin Poupart)
Yogi Marié Yagami practices Zazen, a Japanese sitting meditation (Thomas Kimmerlin Poupart)

Zazen meditation

Try if: you need a break from it all

Zazen is a traditional form of Buddhist seated meditation in which you are encouraged to simply observe the nature of existence. “People might expect that the goal of sitting meditation is to attain enlightenment or awakening, but the main idea is to have no goal,” explains Jiriki yoga instructor Marié Yagami. This kind of meditation may benefit people who suffer from the stresses of modern society, she says.

“It is important to take time to remove ourselves from the value judgement that we create in order to live and fit into society. In zazen we simply observe, sense, and be with the flow of nature.” The meditation practice typically involves sitting on the floor with your eyes open, gently gazing, unfocused, towards the floor in front of you.

Find your zen: Marié Yagami holds online zazen and jiriki yoga sessions live from Japan on her Instagram @marieyagami_move, you can find more information on the practice here zmm.org.

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