Emma Seppälä
Source: Emma Seppälä

In recent years, both scientists and the popular press have touted the benefit of meditation for myriad health issues from depression to insomnia to chronic pain (see 20 scientific findings here). Ever tried it and it didn’t work for you? No worries, there’s more than one way to do it! You just have to find your type. Although mindfulness meditation is one of the more well-known forms of meditation, there are many other ways of practicing meditation. Find the shoe that fits!

Here’s a sampling of different types of meditation:

Mindfulness Meditation: Although the term "Mindfulness" can sometimes refer to the entire field of meditation, Mindfulness Meditation, at its origin, is a style of meditation that name involves paying attention to sensations, feelings and thoughts in a non-judgmental way. “Mindfulness-based” therapies and educational programs are springing up in clinics and schools across the country. Countless studies are showing that mindfulness meditation is beneficial for attention, memory and stress reduction.

Effortless Meditation: Mindfulness has received a lot of attention. However, a recent studyshowed that more unfocused meditations can have even greater benefits for stress and emotions. For this reason, you may want to try a more unfocused meditation. Guided meditations or mantra meditations require less effort and involve more relaxation for the mind. In particular, this kind of meditation may be suited to people who already are very focused and have a tendency towards being Type A. For them, a meditation that relaxes the mind and coaxes is to go into a more unfocused state may be more appropriate than a meditation that encourages focus and concentration.

Breathing Exercises: Research suggests that yogic breathing exercises like SKY Meditation can have a tremendously soothing impact on the nervous system (see here). Especially in the case of high anxiety or depression, breathing may be the best approach because it both calms the mind and energizes the body.

Loving-Kindness Meditation: Loving-Kindness meditation focuses on developing feelings of goodwill, kindness and warmth towards others (Salzberg, 1997). As I’ve described in my TEDx talk, compassion, kindness and empathy are crucial for our health, well-being and even longevity. Research shows that loving-kindness meditation has a tremendous amount of benefits ranging from benefiting well-being, to giving relief from illness and improving emotional intelligence. For 18 science-backed benefits of loving-kindness meditation, see here.

How can you best figure out what works for you? Taking a class is really the best way. But another great way to start from your own home (or car or office) is to use one of the following handy apps.

iTunes’ Current Top 5 Meditation Apps

#1 Sattva

This app is one of the most comprehensive and advanced meditation apps out there. It’s relatively new but already has celebrities like Hollywood actor Harry Cook tweeting about it. It offers a wide variety of guided meditations by experts in the field, includes a meditation timer, a heart rate monitor, a mood tracker, challenges and trophies to help you keep track of your goals and an insights engine so you can track meditation’s impact on your well-being. App is free.

#2 Calm

The name says it all. Meditation, music, nature scenes all designed for you to get your relaxation on. Over 50 guided meditations for a variety of goals from sleep to focus. App is free. Premium content comes at a fee.

#3 Headspace

An introduction to meditation featuring a 10 session 10 minute class, progress reports, a buddy system, reminders and rewards. App with introductory features is free. Premium subscription comes at a fee.

#4 The Mindfulness App

Features guided meditations by a number of meditation teachers. Also features reminders and timers. App comes at a fee.

#5 Buddhify

Over 80 guided meditations that help you achieve your goals: sleep, working through difficult emotions, productivity, etc. App provides a timer, a tracker and meditations for different circumstances (e.g. while you are commuting). App comes at a fee.

To stay updated on the science of happiness, health and social connection, see emmaseppala.com.

Emma is the founder of Fulfillment Daily, science-based news for a happier life.

Watch Emma's TEDx talk, follow Emma on Twitter, subscribe to Emma on Facebook, and circle Emma on Google+.

© 2015 Emma Seppala, Ph.D.

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