What Type of Meditation is Best for You?

How to find and stick with a practice that meets your needs

Woman relaxing

In 1902, the great American philosopher William James published a seminal book, Varieties of Religious Experience. Not himself religious, he asked a number of people what they meant by “religion.” Perhaps not surprisingly, he found that this common word had many meanings, ranging from piety to mysticism to saintliness.

In the same way, the term “meditation” has many possible meanings, from a state of deep relaxation conducive to better physical health, to a spiritual union with something beyond the human — with dozens of possibilities between.

Although some meditation teachers offer definitions so narrow that only their practice can qualify, when my co-author Eleanor Viereck and I began to compile a guide to the subject, we found dozens of options for people who want to learn to meditate or to expand upon their repertoire of meditation practices. We also discovered that people have varying reasons to pursue such a practice. Some are drawn by the desire to deal with a medical problem such as hypertension or insomnia, both of which have been shown to respond well to meditation. Others seek a spiritual practice that will draw them away from the hurly-burly of daily life. Yet others seek a way of freeing up their imaginations and becoming more creative. Any or all of these can be reasons to look for a meditation practice.


What happens when someone who wants to deal with insomnia enrolls in a rigorous class in a course in Zen meditation? Or if someone who wants to create more spiritual space in her life registers for a health-oriented hatha yoga class? Most likely, they will join the long list of meditation drop-outs, people who say, “I tried that, but it just didn’t work for me.”

But switch them around. The insomniac finds relief and relaxation in hatha yoga, and the seeker finds that Zen offers the spiritual discipline she sought. But there are many other options: the Zen drop-out might have tried biofeedback to get the results he needed. The spiritual seeker might have embraced an indigenous tradition such as drumming. Or she might have found a new connection to a religion of origin through meditative traditions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

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Patricia Monaghan, co-author, Meditation: The Complete Guide
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