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Guided vs. silent meditation: Which is right for you?

Is one form of meditation better than another? Many popular meditation apps offer both guided and silent meditation. What’s the difference and which is right for you? Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed, CEAP, RYT, CHC, a life and wellness coach at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, explains.

If you’re new to meditation, Buttimer highly recommends working with a teacher or using a program like an app to help you get started. Some meditation apps have silent meditation options that ring a bell at specific intervals to keep you on track. Others offer full guided sessions or intermittent guidance.

Buttimer typically recommends that beginners start with just five minutes of meditation a day so they don’t get overwhelmed.

The benefits of guided meditation

Guided meditation can be a good option for beginners.

“You can use guided meditation like training wheels,” he says. “In the beginning, you want to have that so you don’t get frustrated and give up and so you don’t fall victim to sitting there and making a grocery list, which is easy to do, especially with silent meditation.”

The mind wants to be entertained, he explains.

“When you sit in silence, your mind begins to meander,” says Buttimer. “To get the mind to focus takes a lot of concentration. With guided meditation, you have a better chance of staying in that state of concentration for longer.”

The benefits of silent meditation

“Silent meditation is where you are cultivating as much stillness in your mind as possible by eliminating any noise that is in or around you,” says Buttimer.

In the act of silent meditation, he says, you reflect on the movement of your breath or repeat a mantra. You’re not listening to music or anyone else guiding you through the exercise.

“Silent meditation is the most difficult form of meditation because when you’re silent, your thoughts and emotions begin to bubble up,” says Buttimer. “Initially, it can be overwhelming for a person and they can fall into ‘monkey mind’ easily. We’re all subject to that.”

While silent meditation can take more practice, Buttimer says it’s ultimately thought to be better to move toward being able to sit in silence.

What are the benefits of meditation?

Regardless of whether you choose guided or silent meditation (or a combination of both), you’ll see mental and physical benefits.

“You’ll get benefits with regards to your sleep, blood pressure, concentration, and reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms,” he says. “You may find you have better performance at work and improved relationships because you’re better able to concentrate and listen.”

The key is committing to the practice.

“It’s courageous to practice meditation because the external world is bombarding you with so many stimuli that it’s hard for the mind to rest,” says Buttimer. “Your mind may be restless when you start to meditate and you may feel it isn’t stimulating enough for you. Practice self-compassion. It’s natural to get frustrated. But you’re not doing it wrong; you’re learning to be more skillful in a certain way.”

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