Simplifying The Different Types of Meditation Practice

Last Updated:

When most people start learning to meditate there is often a good amount of confusion about which style of meditation is best and which techniques they should use.

Should you do mantra, transcendental, mindfulness, walking, guided or unguided, body scan, or something else?

It seems that there are so many different types of meditation, but in reality, that’s not really the case. 

We can break meditation down into more simple terms so that you understand how each technique fits into the puzzle.

Once you learn the basics of meditation all of the different styles will make more sense to you and you will have the freedom to find the techniques that best support your practice.

So let’s get to it.

We will go over meditation basics and then dive into all of the different styles of meditation that are most commonly practiced. 

Basic Types of Meditation

Meditation is pretty simple. It is training your mind to develop concentration and to develop sensory awareness.

There are 2 basic components of meditation which all the different styles and techniques fall under:

Concentration & Calming VS Insight & Clarification

Concentration & Calming

Traditionally the concentration aspect of meditation is called Samatha in Buddhist terminology which means to develop concentration power. 

When someone improves their concentration power the direct result is a calming of the mind. 

A lot of meditation techniques focus just on this aspect of meditation. Some examples of these techniques would be:

  • Mantra meditation
  • Transcendental meditation
  • Focused attention on an object (breath, body sensation)

This is an important component of meditation as it trains your base level of concentration power over time which allows you to experience a calmer more focused mind. 

It’s important to note that just practicing concentration styles of meditation is usually not sufficient for the best results over time. 

This is because if you don’t develop a high level of sensory clarity alongside concentration power you will most likely not be able to maintain your awareness during daily life and have the level of insight needed to make lasting progress.

Also, sometimes people can use concentration styles of practice to suppress their personal issues and emotions which is exactly what you don’t want to do for true healing.

The Buddha realized that while there was no suffering in the deeply absorbed state, it returned when he came out and it hadn’t engendered a fundamental shift in his being. 

This is when he realized that there needed to be an aspect of sensory clarity included.

Insight & Clarification

Traditionally the insight component of meditation is called Vipassana. This is the clarifying and dissecting component of meditation.

When someone has greater sensory clarity it is natural that insight will arise from this phenomenon because it allows them to see things clearly for what they are instead of the attachments their mind creates in response to sensory stimuli.

The main sensory components of our mind are mental images, mental thoughts, and body sensations.

Examples of different insight meditation techniques are:

  • Vipassana
  • Noting
  • Body scan
  • Do nothing
  • Mindfulness (which incorporates both concentration and insight)

So, we can boil meditation down into concentration techniques and insight techniques which both are equally as important in a complete meditation practice. 

Sometimes people will start with just a concentration practice but then merge into including more of an insight practice.

Ideally, it’s best to include both components of meditation in a single practice as mindfulness does.

Guided vs Unguided Meditation

When starting meditation most people will also ask if they should do guided or unguided meditation. 

These are just different ways of guidance throughout your practice. Whether you do guided or unguided sessions they will still involve the concentration vs insight components of meditation.

In a guided meditation, an experienced teacher usually talks you through your focus points and how to respond when your mind runs wild. This type of meditation is useful for beginning meditators as it allows them to set the right foundations for practice and create a healthy approach. 

In an unguided meditation, you simply sit down with yourself and practice the style of meditation you are using at the time. Once you are familiar with how to meditate and have your technique down I personally think unguided meditation is best because it allows you to become a fully independent master of your mind gaining your own insights without the input of other people.

So in conclusion, if you’re just starting out guided meditations are helpful but if you’re more experienced I recommend unguided meditations with an occasional guided meditation to brush up on your approach.

Moving vs Sitting Meditation

Another aspect of meditation is movement meditation vs sitting meditation.

These types of meditation both still contain a concentration and insight component to them but the difference is they are either practiced while moving the body or while sitting still.

Examples of moving meditations would be:

  • Walking meditation
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Qigong
  • Focused concentration while doing chores, work, sports etc

Personally, I think it is important to include a component of sitting as well as moving meditation in your practice.

When you include a moving meditation it helps you to maintain your practice in daily life situations while you are on the move.

Also, for people who deal with significant trauma, anxiety, or other illnesses that make sitting still hard for long periods of time, then doing solely moving meditation or both is a great alternative option.

Different Meditation Styles Practiced and How They Fit In

So now we know the basics of meditation.

Meditation consists of concentration and insight-type practices that are either done moving or sitting with guidance or without.

Let’s review all of the different styles of meditation practiced and determine how they fit into this puzzle so that you can figure out which styles are best for you. 

You will see that although there are a ton of different names for meditative techniques they all have similar core components.

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation originates from Buddhist teachings and it is one of the most popular forms of meditation gaining traction in the west as well as the east.

This is because it incorporates both the concentration and insight aspects of meditation in one style.

In mindfulness practice, you can concentrate on your breathing while noticing when your mind drifts off and what images, thoughts, or sensations are arising in your consciousness. 

You have a point of concentration (the breath) and then you are also noting what is arising in your mind and body while you try to concentrate your mind.

You simply allow things to come up and gently bring your attention back to the breath.

This is a great practice to include both concentration and insight in your meditation practice.

2. Focused Attention

The focused attention technique is very similar to mindfulness but it doesn’t have as much emphasis on letting things arise just as they are in the present moment. 

Instead, you pick a point of focus like the breath, sounds, or body sensations and you try to just maintain focus on this object.

In reality, your mind will always naturally wonder anyway so there will be times where you notice what it drifts off to but there isn’t as much emphasis on noting what arises in this style.

This technique focuses on the concentration aspect of meditation.

3. Body Scan

Body scan techniques are a style of meditation where you sit down and scan your body going from head to toe just noticing what sensations are occurring in your body and not trying to push them away.

This style of meditation is helpful to cultivate better mind-body awareness and to synchronize these two aspects of yourself.

When scanning your body if you notice any sensations that are abnormal or uncomfortable you can just stop and rest in that sensation for a little bit and notice what happens as it moves.

This technique mainly focuses on the insight component of meditation but it has a small amount of concentration to it as well when stopping on a focus point.

4. Noting

The noting technique is a common practice in the mindfulness domain so this could actually be grouped into the mindfulness category of meditation.

Usually, when practicing the noting technique you either focus on an object of concentration or do nothing and just note what arises in your mind and body.

This technique mainly focuses on the insight side of meditation and allows you to increase your level of awareness with your own mind.

5. Vipassana

Vipassana is the technical term for insight meditation and the noting technique as well as other clarifying practices can be grouped into this style of meditation.

Vipassana literally means to “break things apart and see things as they are”. 

This type of meditation is popular in the Theravada tradition which started in Burma, Vietnam, India, and Thailand. 

The basic process involves focusing on an object like your breath but then allowing whatever occurs in your mind and body to arise without judgment. 

You simply notice what occurs and then bring your mind back to the focus point of concentration.

Over time this practice naturally creates insight because once your break down the sensory components of your experience and observe them for what they are you see how things interact clearly.

6. Contemplative prayer

Contemplative prayer or deep prayer that is maintained for a longer period of time in comparison to talk-based prayer allows for deeper absorption into God.

This is a type of practice that was traditionally used in Christianity and Judaism which has similar comparisons to concentration styles of meditation.

In contemplative prayer, a person will focus on God or a reflection for a long period of time and allow that thing to take up their consciousness.

This style of meditation is a concentration type of practice focused on God or another spiritual reflection.

7. Loving Kindness

Loving Kindness meditation is a technique that is used to strengthen feelings of compassion, kindness, and acceptance towards oneself and others.

It usually consists of focusing on a memory or image of a time in a person’s life where there was unconditional love, holding that memory in mind, and then using that love to focus it on acceptance towards oneself and other people and beings.

I see this as being pretty much the same as prayer although it doesn’t have a focus on God.

This style of meditation is a little bit unique in that it doesn’t specifically fit into the concentration or insight components of meditation because you are actively bringing images and wishes to mind. 

If I had to put it into either box I would say it is definitely more of a concentration practice.

8. Visualization

Visualization meditation is when you create an image in your mind’s eye and then focus your concentration on that image for an extended period of time.

This is a good practice for when you want to use visualization to accomplish something in your life or cultivate a certain spiritual vibration that is related to the image.

This definitely falls into the concentration component of meditation.

9. Chakra

Chakra meditations are meditations that direct focus to the different energy centers in your body.

Chakras were popularized in the Hindu and Yogic traditions.

To do a chakra meditation you focus on the different energy centers in your body with concentration and allow the energy to flow in those areas of your body with the goal of allowing those chakras to become unblocked.

This style of meditation is a concentration type of meditation.

10. Mantra 

Mantra meditation is when you are given a 2 syllable phrase such as pu-to which is used to focus the mind on.

The process usually involves repeating your mantra over and over again while maintaining the mind’s focus on that object. 

This is very similar to transcendental meditation in that once you maintain a strong enough level of focus on the mantra it allows you to transcend your thoughts and emotions.

In spiritual traditions, the mantras also have certain valuable meanings.

This technique is a concentration meditation technique.

11. Transcendental

Transcendental meditation (also known as TM) is a popular meditation style founded by Maharishi Mahesh.

This type of meditation is designed to calm the mind by using a mantra in conjunction with certified TM teacher guidance.

The mantra is used as the focal point of meditation whereby continued focus creates calming in the mind and the ability to transcend surface thoughts.

People usually pay to learn the process of TM from a teacher.

TM fits into the concentration aspect of meditation but it does not focus on insight.

12. Zen

Zen is a style of Buddhist practice which involves sitting upright and following the breath in and out of the belly.

When practicing Zen meditation you allow the mind to just be and aim to foster a sense of presence and alertness. 

Zen meditation is similar to mindfulness meditation in that it has aspects of both concentration and insight.

13. Yoga

Yoga is a form of movement meditation that focuses on breath, stretching, and flows into different body positions that enable energy to flow more freely in the body.

While practicing the different asanas in a yoga flow the goal is to focus on maintaining a steady breathing pattern in and out.

By doing this while moving the body it allows for greater body awareness, mental concentration, and quality exercise.

I would classify yoga in both the concentration and insight components of meditation as well as being a movement-based practice.

14. Sound Bath

Sound bath meditation is when an operator produces waves of sound from instruments such as a gong, singing bowl, percussion, chimes, rattles, or even human voice and the meditators are asked to concentrate on the sound.

By relaxing and allowing your mind to concentrate on these amazing sounds it allows you to sink into the healing space of traditional noises that calm and purify the body.

This style of meditation would be considered a concentration meditation.

15. Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a form of moving meditation that contains gentle physical exercises, movements, and stretches.

Each posture flows into the next one ensuring your body is in constant motion. You focus on maintaining steady breathing and fluidity of movements in this practice which cultivates a meditative state of mind.

Tai Chi would be considered a concentration type of movement meditation.

Which Type of Meditation Practice is Best?

Everyone has different personalities and interests so I won’t claim to know which type of meditation is best for you but I’ll give you my personal opinion having tried a few different styles of meditation.

If I were to give you a recommendation I would say focus on a meditation practice that incorporates both concentration and insight such as Mindfulness or Zen while including a movement piece such as yoga, tai chi, or walking meditation.

I think this will give you the most complete meditation practice and allow for improved concentration power as well as increased insight. 

By practicing methods that both increase concentration and sensory clarity you will personally grow much faster.

You can always add in other techniques when you want to such as loving-kindness or body scans alongside your routine practice.

It’s also good to note that if you’re struggling with a mindfulness or vipassana style of practice you could also start with just a practice that focuses on concentration like mantra meditation and then move into a practice that includes the insight aspect of meditation. 

For some people, it helps to calm the mind down and get results quickly with concentration to then be more motivated to incorporate the other aspect of meditation.

Concluding Thoughts

I hope that was helpful to simplify the different styles of meditation into their basic elements so that you can understand how they fit into the puzzle.

Just remember, all meditation techniques have some component of concentration and insight involved in them; they just differ on the styles they use to achieve those goals as well as the focus points they use for concentration.

Photo of author


Josh is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a small digital content publishing business. His main interests are in topics related to developing personal and financial freedom. When not working he enjoys reading, yoga, surfing, being outdoors, meditating, exploring, and hanging with friends.