What’s Your Meditation Type? + 5 Top-Rated Meditation Apps

The Challenge: You’ve heard meditation is good for you but don’t know where to start!
The Science: Different meditations impact you in different ways.
The Solution: Find the type of meditation that’s right for you!

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.

Here’s a sampling of different types of meditation:

Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness meditation 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 study showed 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 are already very focused and have a tendency towards being Type A. For them, a meditation that relaxes the mind and coaxes 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 and 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. Another great way to start from your own home (or car or office) is to use one of the following handy apps.

These are 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, including 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. The app is free.

#2 Calm

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

#5 Buddhify

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

Emma Seppälä
EMMA SEPPÄLÄ, Ph.D. is the author of The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success and Science Director of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. She also teaches at Yale University and consults with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. She founded Fulfillment Daily and a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Psychology Today.
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