Which type of meditation is right for you?
The word meditation is normally used to describe the practice(s) that leads to the experience or the state of meditation. There are so many different types of meditation techniques available and it can get quite confusing. Especially when you are starting out and want to find the right type of meditation for you.
As they say, there are many ways to climb a mountain! Some paths are more suitable than others. Depending on the moment. The person. The needs. Your level of experience, and so on.
It’s important to know when and how to choose a meditation practice. The one that is best today, may not be tomorrow.
What is meditation?
Meditation practices are ancient techniques that in today’s society are commonly used to support mental wellbeing and build resilience.
Meditation goes hand in hand with relaxation. A tranquil mind is a prerequisite for meditation.
Much needed skills we need to live in this fast-paced modern society where stress levels are through the roof. Diseases related to stress, such us anxiety, depression, HBP, and coronary heart conditions are a pandemic particularly in western developed countries.
For many people meditation is a spiritual practice.
During the process of meditation, you take your awareness inwards. It is often described as “inner enquiry”. In essence, you are connecting with the deepest part of yourself. Your true nature. It is here that you learn to understand your Self more.
A brief history of meditation
In these modern times, meditation is often referred to as mindfulness.
Many people narrate that the origins of meditation (mindfulness) practices are from Buddhism. But its history goes much further back. It is believed meditation dates back more than 3000 years BC.
The practices were first linked to the ancient Indian philosophies of Vedanta, Tantra, Samkhya and Yoga. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Patanjali defines meditation or “dhyana” as the state “when the mind becomes free from the awareness of subjective and objective experience”.
Mindfulness, has its origins in Buddhism. Jon Kabat-Zinn has been influential in bringing mindfulness to the West through his incredibly popular mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program.
Kabat-Zinn learnt these ancient techniques studying with some of the great Buddhist masters including Thích Nhất Hạnh.
Thích Nhất Hạnh, was a very inspirational Vietnamese Buddhist monk, and a peace and environmental activist. One of his most influential books was “The miracle of Mindfulness.”, It is a wonderful pathway on how to practise mindfulness.
Types of meditation
Meditation can be divided into two forms. Passive and active.
The purpose of active meditation is to practise any activity with awareness. Being mindful. To be present, from moment to moment in daily life. When you are walking, eating, brushing your teeth. Being present in conversation with others, and so on.
Here are three examples of active meditations.
1. Walking meditation (walking mindfully)
Walking is a physical action you do every day. However, the majority of the time you rarely pay attention to it. It is only when you feel or experience some physical sensation or pain in the body that you notice.
The purpose of walking mindfully is to develop focus. Awareness of your body and of your surroundings. It is really lovely to practice in a natural environment and a beautiful way to reconnect with nature.
Personally, I love to practise walking meditation barefoot. Feeling the connection with the soil, the elements, mother nature “the Pachamama”.
Practice walking slowly, tuning into all the senses.
Pay full attention to the movement of your body.
Notice any sensations in your body as they arise.
The touch of your feet on the earth. Notice the sound each step makes.
Be aware of the different smells, colours, textures all around you.
Thich Nhat Hanh, says that walking mindfully is a profound and pleasurable way to deepen our connection with our body and the earth. We breathe. Take a mindful step, and come back to our true home. Learn more.
2. Body, movement meditation, conscious movement
The best examples of conscious movement practices are the eastern disciplines of Yoga, Chi kung, and Tai chi.
In yoga asana the intention is to develop awareness, focusing on the movement of the body and synchronizing movement with the breath.
Any energy blockages or tensions that are held in your body are released allowing the energy, the prana, to flow freely. The body is relaxed.
You are also training your mind how to focus through the conscious movement. Preparing the mind for more advanced meditation.
3. Moment to moment meditation
A technique that is not easy to do all of the time!
In theory, it requires you to be fully present whilst performing your daily tasks. This can be anything from drinking your morning cup of tea. Being present while you are eating, cooking a meal, brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. Being fully present in conversations with others.
The intention is to focus our attention fully on the task. Using your senses completely.
Let’s use eating a meal as an example…
- Be aware of the smell of your food, how it looks.
- Notice the different colours and textures.
- When you start to eat, how does it taste?
- The texture of the food in your mouth.
- The sound of the eating process.
- When you finish eating, notice how you feel.
Passive meditation is the most popular form of meditation. Traditionally it is practiced whilst sitting cross-legged on the floor, or sitting on a chair. The eyes are generally closed. The aim is to slowly disassociate the mind from the senses, taking the awareness inward.
The focus is generally on a single point. Such as the breath, sensations in the body, a sound or an object.
Here are examples of three Passive Meditation Practices:
1. Mantra meditation
When you begin to learn meditation, it is difficult to focus the mind away from your thoughts and external distractions. But don’t worry, this is completely normal. There is always mental chatter, we call this the monkey mind.
Using a mantra makes it easier to concentrate. The focus is on a single point, a mantra. The most common mantra is the universal mantra OM.
Traditionally, mantra meditation is practiced using a Mala. This is similar to rosary beads. The mala is made by a simple string of 108 beads. You rotate the mala reciting a mantra on each bead.
In doing so, the awareness is on two reference points. The mala and the mantra, preventing your concentration from wavering to any external distractions.
Mantra can also be chanted independently, without using a Mala.
First, you chant the mantra out loud. Gradually moving to whispering the mantra, and finally you chant mentally.
2. Trataka Visualisation meditation
In this technique we use an external object to achieve the state of Dharana, concentration. Trataka is a sankrit word that means “to gaze steadily”. Sometimes it can be very difficult to concentrate during a meditation practice, using an external object makes it easier.
Any object can be used. But the simplest way is to start using either a candle flame or a black dot. In Yoga and Buddhist traditions a yantra, mandala, or a deity can be used, but this is a more advanced practice.
The practice of Trakaka is divided into two stages, Bahir (external) and Antar (inner).
The first part is to practise Bahir Trataka, where you concentrate on the external object with the eyes open. It is important to try not to blink or close your eyes.
After a few minutes, you then close your eyes and visualise the external image. This is called Antar Trataka.
It the beginning the image will dissipate quite quickly. However, through regular practice you will be able to maintain the image longer. The aim is to keep the image in your mind, the mind gets more focus, and it’s easier to concentrate.
3. Mindfulness or awareness-based meditation
Again, the technique where the focus is on a single point of awareness. The most common practices are awareness is the breath or sensations of the body.
It is very difficult to stop the thinking process particularly when the mind is busy or when you are feeling stressed or anxious. Focusing you attention on the breath is a wonderful way to move the body and mind from the stress response to the relaxation response.
Even for the most seasoned meditator, the mind has a habit to dissipate away from the focus of attention.
Through regular practice, you are able to develop a longer duration of concentration. When you notice that your attention has drifted away, you bring your focus back to the practice.
Over time you will develop the ability to witness. Being the witness, means to develop the quality of awareness.
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