In a modern world where we have more and more distractions in our life meditation has become somewhat of a salvation to many; giving them the opportunity to take some time to switch off and clear their minds. But what is meditation and when did it all start? Why is it so beneficial for your health and wellbeing, and most importantly how can you practice it? In this article, we take a look at some of the most common meditation practices, the history of meditation and the benefits it can bring to your life.
Meditation is all about improving and transforming your mind. Meditation is a group of techniques that help you to improve concentration, clarity and reach a place of inner calm and positivity.
In a world where there are so many situations that are beyond our control but can have an impact on our emotional wellbeing it is important that we take some control over our state of mind to ensure that we don’t let stress and worry get the better of us. In Buddhism, they teach that taking responsibility for our own state of mind is the most important thing to do and that it is the best way to reduce sorrow, hatred, anxiety and fear.
There are many different types of meditation practice that you can engage in, and we talk about some of the most common later in the article, but at the centre of them, all is the act of training your mind to be in a calm and positive state so you can be at peace.
The techniques of meditation are also quite simple, but the discipline of clearing your mind and being still can take some time to master and many people feel that having a teacher is a much better option than trying to read or learn about them yourself.
Meditation is a practice that exists throughout history and is found particularly in religious contexts. Some of the prehistoric religion meditation involved repeating rhythmic chants or mantras. The earliest known records of meditation, much like yoga, come from the Hindu traditions of Vendantism in ancient India where meditation was practiced, although the exact dates are regularly debated.
The practice of meditation in Buddishm can be found recorded in the Sutras of the Pali Cannon around the 1st century BCE. It is thought that the practice then spread to China where it can be found in the Vimalakirti Sutra at around 100CE. In the west, it is a little less clear but by 20BCE there were some writings on spiritual exercises for attention and concentration and by the 3rd century, meditative techniques had been developed. Many religions took on meditation in some form such as Judaism where meditative approaches were taken to prayer and study.
The first original school of Buddhism/meditation was founded in the 6th century in China, this led to much of Asia taking on the techniques and Japanese Buddhism grew from the 8th century. This knowledge continued to spread and by the 18th century, Buddhism was being discussed in the West and in 1927 the first English translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead was published. Yoga Schools were introduced and the practice became more well-known.
Now in the modern day meditation is taught alongside yoga and on its own to help people reduce stress, relax and focus on their inner self, which in a world with so much noise and distractions can be hard to achieve.
Meditation is said to have many benefits for mind, body, and soul. Some use it to improve their ability to concentrate in work or study and others use it to reduce stress and improve inner calm. Others use it in a more traditional sense to look for the meaning of life and understand who they really are, however, whatever you use it for there are a variety of benefits including;
There are many different methods of meditation that exist, but at the core of them all, they have the same objective. The great thing is that meditation can be practiced anywhere at any time and as regularly as required. Simply find yourself somewhere preferably calm and peaceful, get yourself seated comfortably and take as long or short a time as you need. Each method has a slightly different focus and technique, so there’s bound to be one that suits your needs.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a meditation that uses a sound or mantra and it is suggested you take 15-20 minutes twice a day to practice it. It’s said to be non-religious and is used to reduce stress and improve self-development. To practice it you simply sit comfortably with your eyes closed and use your mantra while you meditate.
It is reported to be one of the most common meditation techniques with lots of information readily available on the technique. There is also a seven-step course that is taught worldwide by certified TM teachers.
Vipassana, is one of the most ancient techniques of meditation that originated in India. The technique is used to remove mental impurities, create happiness and help people achieve full liberation.
The technique uses mindful breathing and contemplation techniques to help you investigate your thoughts to gain insight into your mind and the world around you. It focuses on getting you to understand the connection between body and mind and really forces self-exploration.
There are said to be 4 stages of enlightenment to the practice which you must work your way through to achieve permanent liberation.
Zen or Zazen meditation is unique to Zen Buddhism and is a form of sitting meditation performed by Zen Buddhists. To practice this form of meditation you need to first get into a seated position and in Zen Meditation how you sit is important. There are a number of positions to choose from;
Once you’re seated place your dominant hand palm up and hold your other hand palm up with your thumbs touching. Begin to clear your mind and focus on your breath – your eyes can be open or closed. Count your breaths until you get to ten and then go back to one again and repeat. If at any time your mind wanders, clear the thought from your mind and start counting at one again. Do this for around 15 minutes. The more you are able to clear your mind and avoid it wandering the more improved your focus and concentration is. For this to happen it is recommended that you practice Zen meditation daily.
Chakra meditation focuses on the seven chakras (energy centers) of the body. Chakras are believed to be places of energy in your body that you receive, transmit and process life energies and each chakra is considered a point that relates to spiritual, physical and emotional energy. Through this network of chakras your mind, body, and spirit become one system.
To do Chakra meditation you begin by sitting comfortably with your back straight. Once you’re comfortable you then start focusing on each part of your body from your feet up and as you do this let your stress disappear. From there you focus on your breathing and allow it to become steady and deep before going on to visualize your beating heart and your body functioning perfectly so that all parts work in harmony. The process is long, but once you’ve done it a few times you will feel a strong connection between body and mind and the energy you have.
Kundalini is a form of energy found at the base of the spine and Kundalini meditation is said to result from deep meditation that leads to enlightenment and bliss. In yoga there is a focus on awakening Kundalini through meditation, breathing and chanting of mantras.
You start by sitting comfortably with your eyes closed and begin to focus on the breath. Notice what the process of breathing does to your whole body and consciously slow your breath down, keep your mind focused and clear it of any wandering thoughts by using a mantra if you need to. This technique should be done for around 10 minutes to feel the full benefit.
Meditation is certainly not easy to master, particularly if you’re new to it, but with a little time and patience, the rewards can be huge. If you’re unsure which techniques to use then why not try a couple of them and decide which one works best for you. In the same way that yoga is a continual process of improvement, meditation is too, so don’t worry if your mind wanders on your first attempt, you can always improve next time.