Meditation means many things to different people across the globe but usually involves training the mind to reach a new enhanced state of consciousness. People in the West have been intrigued by meditation since its introduction from the East and as such it is often regarded as mystical and difficult only to be undertaken by those seeking a spiritual journey. This in fact could be no further from the truth as, fundamentally meditation is the art of sitting quietly doing nothing. Our lives are filled with the chitter chatter of our internal monologue reminding us what we're doing tomorrow or when our next appointment is. The aim of meditation is to get away from this and focus our mind on what we choose.
The Different Types of Meditation
The different types of meditation are often linked with the various cultures and religions from which they were developed.
- Transcendental Meditation was introduced to the west by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1958. It is associated with releasing stress and bringing rest to the mind and body. It is one of the easier types of meditation to practice and has become popular in the West.
- Zen meditation, the aim of which is to find insight into the natural human condition.
- Vipassana meditation, which was taught by the Buddha and is about trying to heal the mind and body, and it is often best practiced with the guidance of a teacher.
- Mindfulness meditation, which teaches to be aware and give deliberate, thought to everything we do in our lives.
How to Meditate
There are many types of meditation and it is worth trying several different techniques to see which works best for you. Most types simply require a quiet place with somewhere comfortable to sit, however there are some that involve walking or chanting.
The easiest technique is to sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and to count your breaths one in, two out, until you reach ten, at which point you return to zero. Although it seems easy the mind will wander away from the counting. The important thing is not to let this become stressful or dwell on the thoughts that arise but to let them pass and return to counting the breaths. At first try ten to fifteen minute sessions of this twice a day and slowly build up to longer sessions.
Meditating is often associated with the Full Lotus sitting position with legs crossed over each other but unless you are particularly flexible or practice yoga it becomes uncomfortable very quickly and can be damaging to the knees. A better solution is the Quarter Lotus, which involves placing your foot onto your calf while the other sits underneath. If you would prefer, meditation can just as easily be done sitting upright in a chair. Meditation For Dummies, with an Audio CD has some great tips and clear illustrations to help you find a comfortable position.
Another question often asked is whether to have the eyes closed. In most traditions the eyes are closed however in Zen meditation the eyes are only half closed. The most important thing is to find what is the most comfortable position for you.
Another technique involves reciting Mantras, single words or phrases that are chanted over and over while sitting, often on the "out" breath. The most basic mantra is "Aum", often described as the sound of the universe, however there are many such as the commonly used "one".
Visualisation is another way often used in meditation to focus the mind. Try visualising a particular object such as a flame, or perhaps visualise yourself outside of your body.
If you'd prefer to be moving, walking meditation uses the act of walking as the focus. This is slightly different from other forms as you are more aware of the surroundings, especially those you want to avoid. For more information on walking meditation take a look at the Wildmind website (http://www.wildmind.org/walking/overview) for a great overview.
More important than the particular technique is that to gain the many benefits of meditation it must be practiced on a regular basis. Try to set aside a period of time every day when the mobile phone is switched off and you can feel truly relaxed. Also remember to have fun. Meditation isn't always easy but by making it a chore you are less likely to stick to it.
Taking Meditation to the next level
So once you got yourself into a regular routine of meditating and are comfortable sitting for extended periods of time where can you take it? This is not an easy question to answer, as there is a great deal of different answers to this depending on whose advice you takes. One answer is nowhere, that's the whole point of meditation; there is no goal, only sitting. The general consensus from many experienced meditators though is if you want to delve deeper, find yourself a teacher. They can guide you and offer advice to many of the questions that long periods of meditation can open up.
Meditation is a great work out for your mind and remember it's easy. Sit quietly and breathe.