Just like specific physical exercises can help you obtain different physical benefits (e.g. cardiovascular health vs. stronger muscles vs. increased flexibility, etc.), different kinds of meditations can help target and build different psychological abilities. I wanted to take a little bit of time to detail some of my favorite meditations and guided imagery exercises, talk about how they can support mental wellness, and provide some useful links to where you can find more details and audio scripts. Enjoy!
Focused Attention Meditations (helps reduce anxious and depressive thoughts, reduce addictive behaviors, and improve concentration) - Focused attention meditations involve focusing on your breath, an object, mantra, or visualization for an extended period of time. When your mind wanders, simply notice it and gently bring it back to the breath/object/manta/etc. Practicing focused attention meditation over time improves your mind’s ability to be in the present moment and can help reduce the mind’s tendency to wander toward worried thoughts about the past or future.
For an audio script: http://marc.ucla.edu/mpeg/01_Breathing_Meditation.mp3
Loving Kindness Meditations (helps build a strong sense of compassion and non-judgment toward the self and others, can help those struggling to let go of anger) - Loving Kindness Meditations are particularly useful for those with strong negative feelings toward themselves and/or others. To practice a loving kindness meditation, close your eyes and remember a time when someone was particularly kind towards you. Focus on that image and feeling until it grows larger and then imagine sharing this same feeling of loving kindness with yourself. Once you feel comfortable receiving this feeling from yourself, slowly imagine sharing it with close loved ones, acquaintances, and eventually a person or people you’re struggling with.
For an audio script: http://marc.ucla.edu/mpeg/05_Loving_Kindness_Meditation.mp3
Open Monitoring Meditations (helps increase non-reactivity and knowledge of the self and reduce impulsivity) - Open Monitoring involves sitting in meditation and noticing/labeling all of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise with a sense of curiosity, kindness, and detachment. To practice open monitoring you may want to imagine yourself sitting by a stream and placing any thought, feeling, or sensation on a leaf in the stream and watching it drift by as you wait to place another thought, feeling or sensation on a new leaf. If you find yourself getting carried away with one thought, simply go back to the original image of sitting by the stream.
For more info: http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/mental-noting/
Body Scan and Progressive Muscle Relaxation (reduces muscle tension and cortisol, increases relaxation)- A body scan involves gentle noticing each part of your body and setting the intention to loosen and relax one’s muscles. Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercises are very similar but involve first tensing each muscle and then focusing on relaxing them one muscle at a time (this may be particularly necessary if one carries a lot of stress in one’s muscles).
For an audio script: http://marc.ucla.edu/mpeg/Body-Scan-Meditation.mp3
For an audio script: https://www.nyu.edu/content/dam/nyu/studentHealthServices/audio/shc-progressive-muscle-relaxation.mp3
Guided Relaxation (increases feelings of relaxation, reduces cortisol, can help induce sleep)- Guided relaxation exercises refer to an array of audio scripts that use relaxing imagery, the movement of the breath, soothing music, and suggestions to trigger strong feelings of relaxation. While focused attention and open monitoring meditations can make the biggest impact at improving anxiety over time, guided relaxation meditations are often the most helpful at reducing anxiety/stress in the moment.
For an audio script: http://podcast.momentsofmagic.com/e/countdown-to-relaxation-guided-sleep-meditation/
Inner Child (Increases insight into early childhood needs that may influence current functioning) - An Inner Child Meditation involves sitting comfortably and focusing on one’s breath. After one feels relaxed in this position, imagine a safe comfortable place and notice all of the sensations (colors, textures, sounds, smells, etc.) present in this space. Then imagine oneself as a small child approaching you in this space. Let yourself greet this child in whatever way feels natural. Listen to how the child feels and what the child wants most in life. Then, if you can, make a promise to this child—the child part of yourself that we all carry around. This meditation can be very intense and should be done with a therapist particularly if you have experienced trauma in childhood.
For a video script: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mpfl_wAVGBk
Inner Guide (Increases insight into a particular question you may have, helps you tap into your own inner-wisdom) - The beginning of an inner-guide meditation is the same as the inner-child meditation. Comfortably focus on your breath and when you feel relaxed, imagine a safe place in great detail. Then wait for an inner-guide to approach the safe space. Your inner-guide may take the form of a person who is living or dead, a spiritual figure in your life, an animal, or simply some kind of light. If you feel comfortable with your inner-guide, invite it into your safe space and ask it any questions you may have. Listen for the answers. The answers may be simpler than you imagine- perhaps a meaningful facial expression or a nod. If you don’t feel comfortable with your inner-guide, send it away and wait for a new one to emerge.
For a video script: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruAf6Pez5lw
Container Exercise (Reduces anxiety and worry about a particular issue) - Focus on your breath until you feel very relaxed. Then imagine a room with a table in the center and a container placed on the table. Look closely at the container’s tight lid. Imagine opening the lid and placing all of your worries inside. When you feel confident that all of your worries are in the lid, close the container tightly. Remind yourself that all of your worries are safe in the container and simply place any additional worries that may come up throughout the day into the container. Imagine closing the lid tightly and walking out of the room.