There are thousands of different meditation traditions across the world. There are likely hundreds of thousands of meditation techniques.
For the purposes of this article though, we will over-simplify and break these techniques down into two general categories: energy and insight.
Insight meditation teaches students to train their awareness, direct it skillfully, and to learn to accept an experience as it is… to allow whatever thoughts or feelings arise to flow naturally without interference. The primary skills of insight meditation are awareness and acceptance.
Insight meditation often trains to students to pick a single focus for a given meditation. When the focus begins to drift, the student gently brings it back to the focus of meditation. Accepting whatever arises in consciousness (or in life) develops deep peacefulness. Growing more and more aware of the specifics of our experience allows us to deeply change the nature of our understanding (insight), and we can begin to be more selective about what we bring into our lives!
Energy meditation teaches students to notice and circulate energy in the body, to notice how experience and perception changes with the location of the energy. Some of the most popular systems of energy meditation are the meridian system of qigong and the chakra system of Yoga.
With energy meditations, a student will often use a breathing method that is outside of their normal pattern of breath. Then the student will pay attention to whatever feelings arise in the body. Once an awareness of the feelings develops, the can then be directed as the practitioner sees fit. This energy can be directed into chakras, or through the meridians, into the aura, etc. Many powerful effects grow from developing control over the energy fields in and around the body.
Even these two very generalized varieties of meditation cross over quite a bit. In order to pay attention to energy in the body, the meditator has to develop a somewhat skillful level of awareness. Before the energy can be effectively circulated, it must be accepted and allowed to flow. On the other hand, the insight meditator is bound to have experiences of energy flow in the body, whether this is the object of meditation or not. The very awareness and acceptance the insight meditator is developing will allow energy to flow more freely.
In the long run, the reported benefits of these two styles of meditation are very similar. Meditators who open all the chakras usually report an experience of transcendence, oneness, and/or the inter-connectedness of all things. Long term insight meditators typically report similar experiences.
With either method, powerful meditative experiences can translate into transcendent day-to-day experiences. This is not hard to do with either method of meditation. When you are completing a session, allow the meditative state to linger as you get up and begin to go about other activities. Once you are proficient with them, you can also practice some of your meditation techniques with open eyes while you are doing other activities during the day (please use common sense: don’t do this while driving or operating heavy equipment).
Ultimately, there is little if any qualitative difference between these two approaches. The most important thing to do is practice. Get started today! If you already meditate, choose to take it a little bit further today. Whether you prefer insight or energy meditation, there are powerful benefits to come for those who keep up the practice!