What Is Meditation

meditation-ritual-objectsIn the recent years, there has been a growing need for space away from stress and overworking that characterizes modern times. Most people reported that they feel there isn’t enough time for everything in just one day. Moreover, all the stress and the constant rush lead them to feel unhappy, frustrated and often impatient, with grave consequences on their health on the long run. Under these circumstances, taking some time to stop and meditate seems like a utopic goal. However, only taking 10 to 15 minutes a day for unwinding and meditating might change your lifestyle completely.

The term has been used ever since antiquity, and this practice is part of several religious beliefs or traditions. It consists in a conscious effort to regulate the mind and to gain control over the body. Also, there are numerous ways and positions used for meditation in several parts of the world: sitting, walking or simply doing your chores. Usually, there are also specific objects involved in it, such as prayer beads or other ritual objects.

However, it is hard to clearly define what meditation universally is, since there are hundreds of practices and techniques ascribed to this term. [1]

Benefits of Meditation

But what is it good for? It doesn’t help just with relaxation, but it can also help one understand their own mind, transform negative thoughts in positive, bring peace and improve life quality overall. There are lots of meditation techniques and styles found worldwide, but they all have the same goal: reconnecting the person with themselves, making the mind calm and peaceful. With the help of a clear mind, it is easier to be happier, while if you are always concerned and preoccupied, it is hard to achieve happiness, despite having everything you ever wanted.

Meditation means gaining control over our state, regardless of what is happening around us. The mind and our state fluctuate depending on what is happening to us, whether we receive what we want or not. By managing to meditate, we can manage to keep our calm state and the equilibrium without any fluctuations.

Types of Meditation

Most scientists classify meditation in two main types:

  • Focused attention meditation. This type of meditation is based on focusing your attention on a single object for an entire meditation session. The object can vary, it can be your breath, one part of the body, a mantra, a particular image you visualize, In time, your focus will increase, and you can maintain your attention for a longer period and ignore the distractions. In this category, we find the following examples: Loving Kindness Meditation, Kundalini Meditation, Mantra, Sound, Pranayama, some forms of Qigong and Zazen, together with Samatha, which is the Buddhist meditation.
  • Open-monitoring Instead of directing the attention on just one object, this type of meditation focuses on monitoring all the aspects we perceive, without involving any judgment or attachment. All kinds of perception (either internal – memory, feelings, thoughts – or external – smells, sounds, etc.) are accepted as they are. It is simply monitoring the experience, rather than analyzing it in depth. In this category, we can find Vipassana, Mindfulness meditation and some types of Taoist one.
  • Besides the two models explained above, some people consider that there is a third kind of meditation, named Effortless Presence. In this state, there is no focus in particular for the attention, but it is introverted and quiet. Most meditation techniques talk about this state as being the ultimate one, the goal of every effort, so it is not a meditation type as such. [2]

Techniques

  1. Buddhist Meditation

Zen/Zazen Meditation

The name of this meditation translates to “seated meditation” or “seated Zen, ” and it comes from the Chinese Zen Buddhism, going back even to the Bodhidharma tradition, back in the 6th century CE. This type of meditation says that you should be seated on the floor, on a cushion or a mat, and cross your legs. Initially, this kind of meditation was practiced in the lotus or half-lotus position, but nowadays most people choose to simply sit down or on a chair.

Regardless of the position, what is truly important is to keep your back straight, all the way from the pelvis to the neck. Keep your mouth close and lower your eyes, letting your gaze rest on the ground in front of you. When it comes to the mind, you have two options. You either choose to focus on your breath, on the movement of the breath and even counting when inhaling and exhaling, or you can choose to practice the Shikantaza way (“just sitting”), where you don’t have to focus on anything, but just be in the Effortless Presence type of meditation.

People regard Zazen as being a sober style, and there are lots of communities around the world who practice it. It is mainly found in Zen Buddhist centers and many people add to it other Buddhist elements: chanting, group readings, prostrations, and rituals.

Vipassana Meditation

The name of this type of meditation is, in fact, a Pali word that translates to “clear seeing” or “insight.” It comes from the traditional Buddhist practices, and it has been practiced since the 6th century BC. It has become extremely popular due to its concept of mindfulness of breathing and it was even adopted by the West under the name of “mindfulness.”

When it comes to how to practice Vipassana, there are several versions of the technique. In an ideal way, you should start by sitting on the floor or a cushion, with your back straight and the legs crossed. You can also use a chair, but without any support for the back. Then, you have to focus on your breathing. Simply observe how your abdomen is moving as you breathe, how the air passes through the lungs. Slowly, you will notice other perceptions appear, such as sounds in the surroundings, feelings, emotions, but then you have to return to the breathing, leaving them to be mere background noise.

In this case, as previously explained, breathing becomes the primary object you have to focus on. All the rest becomes secondary, all the perceptions that you receive, either physical or in your mind. If you notice that a secondary object catches your attention, label it mentally with a note, such as “desiring,” “hearing,” “memory” or “thinking.”

This mental note is used to identify an object generally. For example, if you hear a sound, simply put it under the label “hearing,” not “barking dog,” “music” etc. Then make an effort and move your attention back to the primary object. Through this generalization of the distractions, you manage to gain “access concentration” and to just observe things without looking into them. In this way, you achieve the clear seeing of the phenomena, which gives the name of this type of meditation. There are three marks of the existence of the observed phenomena:

  • Unsatisfactoriness (dukkha)
  • Impermanence (annica)
  • Emptiness of self (annata)

As such, equanimity, inner freedom, and peace develop together. This style is perfect for people who are new to meditation and for whoever wants to reconnect with his body and to understand how the mind works.

Mindfulness Meditation

This type is, in fact, an adaptation of the traditional practices found in Buddhism, mainly Vipassana, but not only. “Mindfulness” has become a common translation for the word sati used in Buddhism. Anapanasati, or the mindfulness of breathing, belongs to the Vipassana and Zazen techniques.

The mindfulness technique consists in focusing on purpose on the present, accepting the sensations, emotions, and thoughts without judging them. For starters, sit on a chair or a cushion right on the floor, with your back straight. Pay attention to your breath and how it feels to breathe in and out. The goal is not to let yourself distracted by the sounds, sensations, and thoughts, and come back to breathing whenever this happens. Careful! There is a huge difference between just being aware that a thought/feeling exists and being inside of it, so try and distance yourself from it.

You can even practice mindfulness while doing daily chores: walking, talking or eating. In this case, the goal here is to focus on what is going on at the moment, be aware of it, and not just do things automatically. For example, if you speak, pay attention to what you are saying, how you are saying them and so on; if you are walking, think about the steps, the way in which the body feels, the sound of it, etc. It is important to practice daily until you reach a higher level of control.

This type of meditation is taught in hospitals and schools, and it is excellent for your general well-being. However, the way in which it is present in the Western world is not the same as the original meditation technique in Buddhism, but it is still a great place to start and a gateway for other types of meditation.

Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta Meditation)

Metta is another Pali word that translates to benevolence, kindness, and goodwill. The loving kindness meditation has its roots in the Buddhist traditions such as Theravada and other Tibetan lineages. Also known as the “compassion meditation,” it also refers to a scientific field that shows how metta is effective, together with other similar practices. Among the demonstrated benefits of this particular technique, we can find boosted empathy with other people, developing positive emotions by using compassion, feeling more competent, loving and accepting yourself more and feeling the sense of purpose in life.

You simply start by sitting in a meditation position with your eyes closed. Then, you have to start generating feelings of kindness, benevolence, and love in your mind and heart. The process is a progressive one, and it is recommended that you start by directing these feelings towards yourself, then to a good friend, then to a neutral person, a difficult one, then move onto all four and then extend the sympathies to the entire universe. You can also help yourself by reciting certain words or sentences that evoke such feelings, visualizing how you send love to the suffering or only wish somebody else happiness.

This is ideal for you if you are harsh on yourself or other people. It is particularly beneficial for individuals who want to improve their relationships, and the positive feelings will keep the negative ones at bay. Some Buddhist teachers recommend it as a cure for insomnia, anger issues or nightmares.

  1. Hindu Meditation

Mantra Meditation

A mantra refers to a word or simply a syllable which doesn’t carry a certain meaning, and it is repeated to make your mind focus. Attention, this is different than an affirmation you use to convince yourself of something. Some teachers say that it is important what word is it and how is it pronounced, because every word has a certain vibration, and for this reason you should have an initiation into this meditation style. According to other teachers, the mantra is merely a tool you use to make the mind focus and it doesn’t matter what word is it.

Just like the other types of meditation, you should start by sitting with your back straight and the eyes closed. Then you have to repeat the mantra in your mind over and over again, during the entire session. Sometimes this pairs well with being aware of the breathing or coordinating the mantra with it. Other versions of this type say that you should whisper the mantra softly, to help you focus better.

Transcendental Meditation

This is a form of meditation that was introduced in 1955 in India and the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who would later be known as a guru for The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and other famous people. It has more than 5 million practitioners in the entire world, and many scientific studies have shown the benefits of this technique.

Sadly, it is not taught freely, and the only way to find out about it is to pay one of the licensed instructors. However, it is known that this technique uses a mantra and it takes up to 15-20 minutes a day while keeping your eyes closed. However, the mantra is not unique, but each practitioner receives one according to his age and gender. It is not a random word either, but they use Tantric names for the Hindu deities.

Perhaps it is not the best type of meditation to begin with, unless you want to go deep into this practice. Moreover, it is quite similar to the Mantra Meditation type, so a good idea for beginners would be to try that one first.

Yoga Meditation

This does not refer to one particular type of meditation, but several which are taught in this yogic tradition. This tradition goes way back to 1700 BC, and it has as its goal the spiritual purification and self-knowledge. Here you have some of the types of meditation usually associated with the yogic one:

  • Gazing Meditation (Trataka)
  • Kriya Yoga
  • Kundalini Meditation
  • Chakra Meditation
  • Third Eye Meditation
  • Tantra
  • Sound Meditation (Nada Yoga)
  • Pranayama

Given that there are so many different types, it is impossible not to find one to suit you, depending on your personality and preferences. However, it is recommended to try Kundalini and Chakra meditation only under the supervision of a teacher.

Self-Enquiry/ “I Am” Meditation

meditation-ritual-objects-handThe Sanskrit word atma vichara would translate in English to “self-enquiry,” and it refers to investigating our true nature, to finding some answers for the “who am I?” question that haunts more and more people in the modern world.

It is at the same time a simple and a subtle technique. The goal here is to reconnect with your true “I,” your inner being, which we often mistake for our thoughts, our mind, our body, labels and other things. However, the answer to this question does not have to be verbal, but you have to use it as a tool to assess your subjectivity. You just have to ignore all the surrounding stimuli and to focus on who really lives all the feelings, the thoughts and the sensations.

It is recommended for people who want to be at peace with themselves, to know themselves better. Moreover, some people say that a sitting position and a quiet environment help.

Though these are not all the types of meditation that exists, they are indeed among the most encountered and practiced worldwide, with excellent results in many cases. [3]

Tips&Tricks

Regardless of the type of meditation you choose, there are some simple steps which may help you evolve in this direction, especially if you are a beginner.

  1. Remember always to smile after you are done, to suggest yourself a better mood and to be grateful for the time you had the chance to spend with yourself.
  2. You don’t have to be alone. You can meditate together with your partner, your children or friends. Pro tip: committing with a friend to check in with each other every day after meditation may motivate you more.
  3. Find a community. There are lots of communities tied together by the type of meditation they practice. They can be close to you or just random online people. Either way, they can encourage you, offer support or teach you new things.
  4. Just sit two minutes. If you’re a beginner and don’t know how to start, simply begin sitting down for two minutes. After a week you can increase the time by extra two minutes and so on. Just be patient!
  5. Do it in the morning. We all know how easy it is to procrastinate until the end of the day, and the same thing might happen with meditation. For this reason, it is better to do it first thing in the morning and get it out of the list. Also, it will make you feel better throughout the day.
  6. Pay attention to how are you feeling. Always think about how you’re feeling in the beginning of the session, in the middle, at the end. See how is your body, what you are thinking about, and in this way, you can find out what to improve.
  7. Go back to your focus. It is normal for your mind to wander, but it is essential for you to get back on focusing on your primary object.
  8. Be loving. Channel all your positive energies on yourself and multiply them. Even when some thoughts and feelings interrupt you in your session, have a friendly attitude towards them, since they are part of you too.
  9. Look around you. Take some time and watch all the light in the room. Admire every object and see it with new eyes.
  10. Be friends with yourself. After all, you live with yourself all the time, so use this meditation time to know yourself better, to forgive and befriend your “I”. [4]

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