The ancient art of meditation has been practiced around the world by many for thousands of years and although there are countless different styles of meditation, they all aim to do the same thing – to quieten the mind and find a stillness, an awareness, calm, peace, and clarity; a superconscious yet thoughtless state. In today’s fast-paced, a-million-miles-a-minute lives it is difficult to find the time to do the things we want and need to do in the day, let alone stop and be still and do NOTHING for a period of time! But, it is important to try to make some time each day (or at least a few times a week) to do so, even if it is just for 5 minutes. Come on – we can ALL find 5 minutes a few times a week at the very least 😉
Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story in his book ‘The Heart of The Buddha’s Teaching’ which I often find my thoughts coming back to. It is a story about a man on a horse. The horse and the man looked like they were traveling very quickly and looked as if they were going somewhere really important. A man rode by next to them and asked the other man “where are you going?” and the man replied, “I don’t know, ask the horse!” This is just like how we are. We are on the horse and the horse is our habit energy (vashana), pulling us forward, we often don’t know where we are going and we can’t seem to stop or slow down. The art of meditation is to stop and realize that habit of energy so we can become calm, rest, and heal.
People meditate for various reasons. Some start meditating because they want to alleviate their feelings of stress or anxiety, some because they wish to attain some of the health benefits such as lowered blood pressure or cholesterol, some athletes may use meditation to boost their performance, and others begin to mediate because they want to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and the world.
Main Types of Meditation
As I mentioned above there are many different styles of meditation and if you are just starting out then its good to try out a few until you find one that resonates with you. You may wish to invest in one or more meditation tools like a cushion or altar to help you meditate more easily.
This is probably the best one to try when first starting out with meditation. It involves meditating with an instructor’s live or recorded voice to guide you through the meditation process. It’s just like anything we do in life when starting out – we often need some instruction! Some people, even after they have been meditating for a long time prefer guided meditation versus meditating alone, it just depends on the individual; just like the preference of working out alone or with others in a class setting.
Chanting (Japa) Meditation
Chanting is where we repeat a word, sentence, or more to ourselves over and over again. Chanting can be done anywhere and throughout the course of a day, standing, seated, walking, whatever. When we chant it helps us to deflect other thoughts and we can concentrate almost entirely on our chanting. Chants can be in Sanskrit or in English. You can chant whatever you like. This is where your mala beads come into use. If you are sitting while chanting you would recite the chant 108 times to complete a full cycle. It is said that when one has finished the cycle of 108 repetitions that they will have reached a state of enlightenment. In a scenario where someone is going through a very difficult time, let us say that they are trying to find employment. If that person started each day with a mantra and chanted “I am a successful person and I will find a job” what do you think the end result would be? That person would repeat that phrase to himself every morning, throughout the day and in the evenings for a whole week or month – it would start to alter the neural pathways in the brain so that person starts to really believe it for themselves. Then comes in the law of attraction! Another blog there for me entirely – but in a nutshell, if you believe it, then it will be.
Using your mala beads for meditation would also be beneficial even without chanting because of the properties of the stones and the higher frequencies which that they emit.
This type of meditation is usually done with movement rather than physical stillness, but it is also done with great concentration and mindfulness. Kundalini meditation comes from Buddhist and Hindu belief systems based on the Chakra system, which I have spoken about in previous posts. In short, there are 7 (some believe that there are more, and new ones being discovered all the time). We have the root, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, third-eye, and crown chakras, which are all energy centers within the body that affect our overall health-connected deeply with the adrenal system and our hormones, linking our body, mind, and the path of our lives. The Kundalini is the serpent-like snake which is the energy located at the base of the spine. The awakening of the Kundalini can bring all of the Chakras into alignment and balance and ultimately lead us to enlightenment. In Kundalini meditation the practice of pranayama breathing, specific exercises, asanas, and mantras are used to awaken the Kundalini fire within each of us so that we can bring our Chakras into balance.
Buddhist Meditation Techniques
Here I will briefly discuss the two main types of Buddhist meditation techniques, which can be used by anyone who wishes to meditate. Many types of meditations will include Shamatha so if you have meditated before, you will have likely tried this type of meditation, possibly without even knowing it.
Breathing Meditation (Shamatha)
One of the main types of meditation used by Buddhists referred to as Shamatha. This is a mindfulness meditation focused on ‘stopping’ and calming the mind. It is a pre-requisite to the next type of Buddhist meditation that I will refer to (looking deeply), and concentration. During this type of meditation one focuses on their breathing and aims to slow it down and bring mindfulness to the body, the present, and the mind.
Looking Deeply (Vipashyana)
This is the second main type of meditation used by Buddhists, usually after practicing Shamatha. This type of meditation involves concentrating, or looking deeply in order to understand (insight meditation). It involves becoming ultimately mindful of the present moment and not trying too much to look for ways to change the external reality – but rather changing the way we perceive things to be and looking at them for what they really are – impermanent, unsatisfactory, and impersonal while we detach from our own desires and ignorances which will lead to happiness and end suffering.