Meditation and especially mindfulness has become a buzzword of late. More and more doctors who originally shunned the notion of anything alternative are now recommending mediation to patients suffering from stress. But how do you do it and for how long? Does it matter what style of meditation you do?
So here are eight popular methods of meditation:
1. Mindfulness Meditation or Vipassana: The most popular type of meditation comes from the Buddhist tradition. Mindfulness is about being aware of the sounds and activities happening around you. It’s all about ‘being present’, letting your mind accept whatever thoughts come up, while practicing detachment from each thought. Mindfulness is taught along with awareness of the breath, though the breathing is often considered to be just one sensation among many others in the body. Through the practice of mindfulness the aim is to become the observer of your thoughts. You come to realise you are more than your thoughts and they do not control you. With regular practice the practice of non- attachment becomes habitual. The goal is to carry mindfulness into your daily life, whereby you become more aware of your thoughts, words and actions. In this way you come to cultivate peace and serenity in your life.
2. Zazen (Sitting in Zen meditation) Similar in many ways to mindfulness, Zazen focuses on attentiveness, which is the heart of most forms of meditation. As you sit in lotus position, the spine must be erect with the head held high.
You become aware of the restless, wandering mind. One moment you are thinking one thing and the next moment a new thought arises. Inwardly we are often absent. Our minds are permanently busy with demands, illusions, desires and other distractions.
Attention in Zen meditation concentrates on breath and body. In this, deep abdominal breathing is of major significance. It connects body and mind and helps to explore the deeper levels of existence. Respiration through the nose down to the diaphragm centers and relaxes the mind. During expiration the slow extended length of the breath is particularly supportive. With each out-breath there is a sense of “letting go”, of breathing without any goal. There is no need to manipulate the breath. It should be silent, slow and relaxed.
Zazen also aids the practitioner raising their self awareness and cultivating non- attachment to material things, thoughts, events etc
3. Transcendental Meditation – originates from Vedanta, within Hinduism. It first gained recognition in the west during the 1960’s popular in the sixties when the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi became guru to the beatles. In TM, you sit with your back straight, in the Lotus posture, and use a mantra, a sacred word like OM that is repeated. Your focus is on rising above all that is impermanent in this life. TM is a more involved method than either mindfulness or zazen. At the more advanced levels, TM focuses on the breath and changes the breath to change one’s state of being. TM often leads to out of body experiences. That is can be problematic because the energy of the body and the mind can be disrupted.
4. Spiritual Meditation or Connecting with inner knowledge: Known by many as an exercise in listening to the still small voice within. This type of meditation is often for those who regularly participate in prayer, as it’s based on communicating with God. Paradoxically, for some non-spiritual people it is a way of connecting with one’s higher self or super consciousness. Just like the other styles, you may begin with concentrating on your breath. As you become quiet and still, you may focus on a question or problem you might have. This style of meditation can feel not only relaxing, but rewarding as well. Many people who practice this find it is a way to get answers to problems which may otherwise make them anxious and act unwisely.
5. Guided visualization is usually led by a teacher or can be done while listening to a recording. It may begin with a focus on slowing the breath as you inhale and exhale. An example would be to imagine you are walking down steps (leading to a beach or panoramic scene) as you breathe in and out. Not every recorded meditation is an example of guided visualization; some may contain elements of hypnotic suggestion. If you are listening to a recording where the guide lays out a method for you to do yourself, or calls attention to sensation and energy already occurring within you, that is not guided visualization, but rather meditation instruction.
6. Mantra Meditation: This is becoming popular in group gatherings and is no longer associated entirely with TM. Some people new to meditation find a mantra useful to concentrate the mind on. Mantras are words that are chanted loudly during meditation. It may seem odd to be making loud noises during a meditation session, but it’s actually the sounds that become the object being focused on. In yoga, the mantra Om is regularly used since it delivers a deep vibration that makes it easy for the mind to concentrate on that particular sound
7. Movement Meditation: Movement meditation can be extremely uplifting and relaxing at the same time. Qi gong or Chi Gung (from the Taoist tradition) is a form of Taoist meditation that uses the breath to circulate energy through the organs and energy centers of the body in an oval pattern called the ‘microcosmic orbit’. Attention is focused on the breath and the circulation of energy (called ‘qi’ or ‘chi’). Attention is also focused on the major centre used in Taoist meditation: a point about two inches below the navel (called the dantean). Qi gong has no core set of teachings on how to work with emotion and is not necessarily regarded as a spiritual form of meditation. It has however been scientifically proven to produce lasting health benefits
8. Meta Meditation or Loving Kindness
The practice of Meta meditation is a beautiful support to other awareness practices such as mindfulness and zazen. One recites specific words and phrases evoking a “warm-hearted feeling.” We begin with our self and gradually extend the wish for well-being and happiness to all beings. In many ways it is like sending out good wishes or a prayer while in a peaceful, meditative state. To practice loving-kindness meditation, sit in a comfortable and relaxed manner. Take two or three deep breaths with slow, long and complete exhalations. Let go of any concerns or preoccupations. For a few minutes, feel or imagine the breath moving through the centre of your chest – in the area of your heart. Meta is first practiced toward oneself, since we often have difficulty loving others without first loving ourselves. Sitting quietly, mentally repeat, slowly and steadily, the following or similar phrases:
May I be safe. May I be well. May I be happy. May I be peaceful and live with ease.
While you say these phrases, allow yourself to sink into the intentions they express. Loving-kindness meditation consists primarily of connecting to the intention of wishing ourselves or others happiness. Through the various 5 stages you will in turn send out these intentions to persons who are close to you and finally to all sentient beings. The method of meditation if practiced often can bring great peace into the practitioner’s relationships. It is said to produce an inordinate amount of good karma.
There is a lot of myth surrounding meditation so I hope I have explained the various methods in a reasonably simplified manner.
When asked by a man holding a brochure outlining self development courses, which one he would recommend, Eckhart Tolle answered “All those courses are fine but if you can spend fifteen minutes each day concentrating on your breath, that will be more beneficial to you than any course.”
My teacher Lama Jigma concurred with this message, telling us that you do not have to meditate for long periods in the day. In fact to begin with ten minutes in the morning is great. Lama Jigma emphasised that it is the quality of the meditation that is more important than the quantity.
My personal choice is a mix of Mindfulness, Zazen and Meta. Feel free to tell me what you think by adding your comments below.