If you are approaching the world of meditation for the first time, you might find it a little confusing. There are so many meditation techniques out there, all claiming to be the most effective. So, where do you start? How to find out which meditation technique is more suitable to you? This article attempts to bring some clarity and help you navigate the exciting but intricate world of meditation techniques.
The difference between meditation and meditation techniques
Meditation and meditation techniques are not the same thing. Meditation can be defined as a state of being when the mind is totally calm and relaxed, the internal chit-chat is turned off and only the present moment exists. In order to achieve this state, a number of meditation techniques have been devised down the ages across various spiritual traditions. It is important to remember that all meditation techniques aim to achieve the same result. It is like climbing a mountain: you can choose the tools, the path and the strategy that most suit you, as long as you make it to the top.
Here is a brief overview of the three main categories of meditation techniques available to you.
Nowadays the term “mindfulness” is often used as synonymous of “meditation”. However, mindfulness is just one of the many meditation techniques available. It has its roots in the Buddhist tradition initiated by the historical figure of Gautama the Buddha, who lived in India approximately 2.500 years ago. The term Mindfulness has been largely adopted by the media, perhaps to strip meditation of any spiritual connotation. Mindfulness is perceived as a more neutral term, instrumental for disseminating meditation to the general public in our secular society.
How to practice it: Mindfulness is practiced by focusing the mind on one single object of attention for a continuous period of time. Normally the object of attention is the breath, but it can be a particular part of the body or anything else (including an image, base of all the visualisation techniques). The practice has the effect of shifting the mind from its habitual wandering state to a more focused, calm and relaxed state.
Advantages: a more focused and clear mind, increased attention span, enhanced capacity of concentration. It counteracts the negative effects of multitasking by bringing attention to the present moment. It can be done anywhere and anytime and it does not require a particular setting.
Disadvantages: if your mind is very active, to begin with you might find mindfulness difficult and even frustrating, due to the inability to focus your mind. You may fall asleep or experience boredom, a feeling of “nothing is happening”; hence the risk of dropping out. It may take a while to start experiencing the benefits.
This is perhaps the oldest meditation technique ever created. It comes from the Vedic Indian tradition, which is thousands of years old. It has become very popular in the West thanks to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced a particular form of Vedic Meditation known as Transcendental Meditation.
How to practice it: internally repeat a personal Mantra for a continuous period of time. The word “Mantra” in Sanskrit means “sacred message”; it is basically a word or sound which is believed to carry a healing and spiritual power. It is given to you by your Mediation Teacher and it is strictly personal, not to be shared with anyone.
Advantages: very simple to practice, no particular effort is required, it can be done anywhere and anytime. It is very helpful for insomnia and stress-relief, as it de-excites the nervous system. It harmonises body and mind with profound healing effects.
Disadvantages: risk of falling asleep during the practice and becoming “intoxicated” with the sound. The mantra can be used as a sort of tranquiliser, liked a drug. Meditation is about expanding your consciousness, not simply improving your sleep.
Active Meditation involves body movement, emotional expression and energy activation. It can be described as high intensity meditation technique and it combines the benefits of physical activity and meditation. It comprises a number of techniques which are modern, having been designed in the 1970s by Osho, a contemporary Indian mystic.
How to practice it: one of the most powerful Active Meditation techniques is called Dynamic Meditation. It starts with fast and deep breathing to oxygenise and energise the body; followed by catharsis and emotional release; it progresses to jumping to activate your life energy; and ends with silence, dance and celebration.
Advantages: it works simultaneously on four levels: physical, mental, energetic and consciousness. It addresses the obstacles to meditation of modern people: sedentary lifestyle, overstimulated mind, emotional dis-balance and lack of energy. It is recommended for people who need to move their body and suffer from a hyperactive mind. It leads to natural relaxation and expansion of consciousness as a consequence of intense activity. Results are immediate, after one single session.
Disadvantages: it requires a suitable space and willingness to put effort into it.
Take away tips
Of course there are many other meditation techniques in the market place, however they all pretty much fall in one of these three main categories.
So, which meditation technique is right for you?
The best way to find out is to try them out and see what clicks. Go through the description and pick the one which attracts you the most. Once you have chosen, find a teacher and practice the same technique for at least 3 days continuously; if it works, then do it for 3 weeks and then 3 months for long term results. At the beginning, in order to enhance your experience and achieve faster results, it is recommended to meditate at the same time and in the same place. Also it is helpful to wear the same clothing, smelling the same fragrance, and create a little routine around your meditation practice. All this signals to your brain that it is time to go inward and switch gear from the outside world to your inner world.
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