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Meditation techniques

Meditation techniques


Training the mind through meditation is training in awareness, and training in awareness offers the potential to fundamentally transform your perspective on life. Meditation is simple to learn and involves some fairly straightforward techniques.

What is meditation?

  • Meditation is not about “emptying the mind,” “clearing the mind,” or “stopping thoughts.” The mind’s nature is to think. We meditate to see those thoughts more clearly.
  • Meditation is not about becoming a different person, a new person, or a better person.
  • Meditation is not the same as concentration. It is not the active engagement of the mind on a specific topic.
  • Meditation does not guarantee relaxation, serenity, or bliss. Relaxation can certainly be a side effect of it, but meditation involves a range of feelings, not simply the nicer ones.
  • Meditation is not “checking out” or escaping our problems or duties.
  • Meditation is not necessarily spiritual or religious. It shares a very long history with religion and offers an important spiritual component for many practitioners. But anyone can meditate, regardless of creed.

Benefits of meditation

If relaxation is not the goal of meditation, it is often a result. In the '70s, Herbert Benson, MD, a researcher at Harvard University Medical School, coined the term “relaxation response" after conducting research on people who practiced transcendental meditation. The relaxation response, in Benson’s words, is “an opposite, involuntary response that causes a reduction in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.”Since then, studies on the relaxation response have documented the following short-term benefits to the nervous system:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved blood circulation
  • Lower heart rate
  • Less perspiration
  • Slower respiratory rate
  • Less anxiety
  • Lower blood cortisol levels
  • More feelings of well-being
  • Less stress
  • Deeper relaxation

Contemporary researchers are now exploring whether a consistent meditation practice yields long-term benefits, and noting positive effects on brain and immune function among meditators. Yet it’s worth repeating that the purpose of meditation is not to achieve benefits. To put it as an Eastern philosopher may say, the goal of meditation is no goal. It’s simply to be present. In Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate benefit of meditation is liberation of the mind from attachment to things it cannot control, such as external circumstances or strong internal emotions. The liberated or “enlightened” practitioner no longer needlessly follows desires or clings to experiences, but instead maintains a calm mind and sense of inner harmony.

Meditation for sleep

Insomnia is a troubling condition, everybody dreads a sleepless night. Sadly, about a third of the American population suffers from some form of sleep deprivation, whether occasional or chronic. If you’re one of those misfortunate folk who stare at the ceiling and count sheep all night to no avail, meditation just might be a solution. An article in the Harvard Health Blog confirms that meditation triggers the relaxation response, which is why some people actually have the opposite problem: they fall asleep as soon as they begin to meditate.

Meditation makes us happy

The mind holds innate qualities of well-being and clarity that lie waiting beneath the superficial level of dissatisfaction. The main purpose of meditation is to access, recognize and enhance the positive qualities of mind. The more we can do this, the less we need to rely on external situations for our happiness and the more we can rely on the natural, positive qualities of mind: contentment, well-being and peace.Accessing our natural happiness and inner well-being is one of the greatest achievements that can be attained. They’re always with us because they don’t depend on anything external: no one can take them away. They depend only on us and affect everything in our lives in a positive way. It’s like discovering that there’s a hidden treasure within. To access this treasure, we begin by focusing inwardly, and for this we need training. Meditation is this training. As we meditate more, we gain confidence in our basic, innate goodness and well-being; this unlocks our potential and gives our lives tremendous meaning. 

How to choose a meditation technique?

  • Focused Attention (FA): In FA practices, the idea is to focus your attention on one single object in your awareness. A candle, an internal image (a visualization), a worthy emotion such as compassion (an intention), or a generalized sound such as "So hum" or "Om mani padme hum" (aka mantra meditation).
  • Open Monitoring (OM): OM falls within the various branches of Buddhist mindfulness techniques. There is a placement of awareness on things such as your breath, your feelings or thoughts, with a view of detaching yourself from the grip of your ever-wandering mind. Once detached, you may begin to identifying with your thought patterns and emotions, instead of allowing them to take hold of you.
  • Automatic Self-Transcending (AST): In AST techniques, such as Transcendental Meditation (TM) and Vedic meditation, the emphasis is on effortlessness. No contemplation or concentration is involved, simply the gentle repetition of a mantra that has been specifically chosen for the individual. It is the unique quality of these mantric vibrations and their soothing effect on the nervous system, that leads to deep levels of transcendence and the spontaneous correction of physiological and psychological imbalance. Whilst it would be easy to confuse these practices with other mantra meditation techniques such as those described in Focused Attention, it is worth noting that AST techniques deliver qualitatively very different results both scientifically and experientially due to the nature of the mantras used.

When it comes to making your choice, you may find it useful to assess the differing qualities of each of the above categories, to help narrow down your selection.

Christian meditation

In Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Daoism meditation is usually practiced with the purpose of transcending the mind and attaining enlightenment. In the Christian tradition the goal of contemplative practices is moral purification and deeper understanding of the Bible; or a closer intimacy with God/Christ, for the more mystic stream of the tradition.

  • Contemplative prayer : which usually involves the silent repetition of sacred words or sentences, with focus and devotion.
  • Contemplative reading: which involves thinking deeply about the teachings and events in the Bible.
  • Sitting with God: a silent meditation, usually preceded by contemplation or reading, in which we focus all our mind, heart and soul on the presence of God.

Guided meditation

  • Traditional meditation: With these types of audios, the voice of the teacher is simply there to “illustrate” or “guide” the way for your attention, in order to be in a meditative state; there is more silence than voice in it, and often no music. Examples are the ones offered by Thich Nhat Hanh and Tara Brach, which are rooted in authentic Buddhist practices. 
  • Guided imagery: Makes use of the imagination and visualization powers of the brain, guiding you to imagine an object, entity, scenery or journey. The purpose is usually healing or relaxation.
  • Relaxation & Body Scans: Helps you achieve a deep relaxation in your whole body. It’s usually accompanied by soothing instrumental music or nature sounds. 
  • Affirmation: Usually coupled with relaxation and guided imagery, the purpose of these meditations is to imprint a message in your mind.
  • Binaural Beats: This is used to generate alpha waves (10 Hz), which is the brain wave associated with initial levels of meditation. There is scientific research into why and how binaural beats work.

Mantra meditation

As most type of meditations, it is usually practiced sitting with spine erect, and eyes closed. The practitioner then repeats the mantra in his mind, silently, over and over again during the whole session. Sometimes this practice is coupled with being aware of the breathing or coordinating with it. In other exercises, the mantra is actually whispered very lightly and softly, as an aid to concentration. You may practice for a certain period of time, or for a set number of “repetitions”, traditionally 108 or 1008. In the latter case, beads are typically used for keeping count. As the practice deepens, you may find that the mantra continues “by itself” like the humming of the mind. Or the mantra may even disappear, and you are left in a state of deep inner peace.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of intentionally focusing on the present moment, accepting and non-judgmentally paying attention to the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise. 

  • For the formal practice time, sit on a cushion on the floor, or on a chair, with straight and unsupported back. 
  • Pay close attention to the movement of your breath. 
  • When you breath in, be aware that you are breathing in, and how it feels. 
  • When you breath out, be aware you are breathing out. 
  • Do like this for the length of your meditation practice, constantly redirecting the attention to the breath. 
  • The effort is to not intentionally add anything to our present moment experience, but to be aware of what is going on, without losing ourselves in anything that arises.
  • Your mind will get distracted into going along with sounds, sensations, and thoughts. Whenever that happens, gently recognize that you have been distracted, and bring the attention back to the breathing, or to the objective noticing of that thought or sensation. 
  • Learn to enjoy your practice. 
  • Once you are done, appreciate how different the body and mind feel.

There is also the practice of mindfulness during our daily activities: while eating, walking, and talking. For “daily life” meditation, the practice is to pay attention to what is going on in the present moment, to be aware of what is happening and not living in automatic mode. If you are speaking, that means paying attention to the words you speak, how you speak them, and to listen with presence and attention. If you are walking, that means being more aware of your body movements, your feet touching the ground, the sounds you are hearing. Your effort in seated practice supports your daily life practice, and vice-versa. They are both equally important.

Metta meditation

One sits down in a meditation position, with closed eyes, and generates in his mind and heart feelings of kindness and benevolence. Start by developing loving-kindness towards yourself, then progressively towards others and all beings. Usually this progression is advised:

  1. oneself
  2. a good friend
  3. a neutral person
  4. a difficult person
  5. all four of the above equally
  6. and then gradually the entire universe

The feeling to be developed is that of wishing happiness and well-being for all. This practice may be aided by reciting specific words or sentences that evoke the “boundless warm-hearted feeling”, visualizing the suffering of others and sending love; or by imagining the state of another being, and wishing him happiness and peace. The more you practice this meditation, the more joy you will experience. That is the secret of Mathieu Richard’s happiness.

Qigong meditation

There are thousands of different Qigong exercises cataloged, involving over 80 different types of breathing. Some are specific to martial arts (to energize and strengthen the body); others are for health (to nourish body functions or cure diseases); and others for meditation and spiritual cultivation. Qigong can be practiced in a static position (seated or standing), or through a dynamic set of movements, which is what you typically see in YouTube videos and on DVDs. The exercises that are done as a meditation, however, are normally done sitting down, and without movement.

  • Sit in a comfortable position. Make sure your body is balanced and centered.
  • Relax your whole body (muscles, nerves, and internal organs)
  • Regulate your breathing, making it deep, long, and soft.
  • Calm your mind
  • Place all your attention in the “lower dantien”, which is the center of gravity of the body, two inches below the navel. This will help accumulate and root the qi (vital energy). Where your mind and intention is, there will be your qi. So, by focusing on the dantien, you are gathering energy in this natural reservoir.
  • Feel the qi circulating freely through your body.

Self-Enquiry meditation

Your sense of “I” is the center of your universe. It is there, in some form or another, behind all your thoughts, emotions, memories, and perceptions. Yet we are not clear about what this “I” is, about who we truly are, in essence, and confuse it with our body, our mind, our roles, our labels. It’s the biggest mystery in our lives.

  • With Self-Enquiry, the question “Who I am?” is asked within yourself. 
  • You must reject any verbal answers that may come, and use this question simply as a tool to fix your attention in the subjective feeling of “I” or “I am”. 
  • Become one with it, go deep into it. This will then reveal your true “I”, your real self as pure consciousness, beyond all limitation. 
  • Focus the mind on your feeling of being, the non-verbal “I am” that shines inside of you. Keep it pure, without association with anything you perceive.
  • With all other types of meditation, the “I” (yourself) is focusing on some object, internal or external, physical or mental. In self-enquiry, the “I” is focusing on itself, the subject. It is the attention turned towards its source.

Sufi meditation

Sufism is the esoteric path within Islam, where the goal is to purify oneself and achieve mystical union with Allah. Their main techniques include:

  • Contemplation muraqabah
  • Sufi Mantra meditation (zikr, jikr or dhikr)
  • Heartbeat meditation
  • Sufi breathing meditation (including Five Elements Breathing)
  • Bond of Love meditation
  • Gazing meditation
  • Sufi walking meditation
  • Sufi whirling

Taoist meditation

  • Zuowang: to sit quietly and empty oneself of all mental images (thoughts, feelings, and so on), to “forget about everything”, in order to experience inner quiet and emptiness. In this state, vital force and “spirit” is collected and replenished. This is similar to the Confucius discipline of “heart-mind fasting”, and it is regarded as “the natural way”. One simply allows all thoughts and sensations arise and fall by themselves, without engaging with or “following” any of them. If this is found to be too hard and “uninteresting”, the student is instructed with other types of meditation, such as visualization and Qigong
  • Cunxiang: an esoteric practice of visualizing different aspects of the cosmos in relation to one’s own body and self.
  • Zhuanqito focus on the breath, or “unite mind and qi”. The instruction is “focus your vital breath until it is supremely soft”. Sometimes this is done by simply quietly observing the breath (similar to Mindfulness Meditation in Buddhism); in other traditions it is by following certain patterns of exhalation and inhalation, so that one becomes directly aware of the “dynamisms of Heaven and Earth” through ascending and descending breath.
  • Neiguan: visualizing inside one’s body and mind, including the organs, “inner deities”, qi (vital force) movements, and thought processes. It’s a process of acquainting oneself with the wisdom of nature in your body. There are particular instructions for following this practice, and a good book or a teacher is required.
  • Neidan: a complex and esoteric practice of self-transformation utilizing visualization, breathing exercises, movement and concentration. Some Qigong exercises are simplified forms of internal alchemy practices.

Most of these meditations are done seated cross-legged on the floor, with spine erect. The eyes are kept half-closed and fixed on the point of the nose.

Transcendental meditation

Transcendental meditation is not taught freely. The only way of learning it is to pay to learn from one of their licensed instructors. It is known that TM involves the use of a mantra and is practiced for 15–20 minutes twice per day while sitting with one’s eyes closed. The mantra is not unique, and is given to the practitioner based on his gender and age. This is the official site of the movement: TM site.

Vipassana meditation

Ideally, one is to sit on a cushion on the floor, cross-legged, with your spine erect; alternatively, a chair may be used, but the back should not be supported. 

  • The first aspect is to develop concentration, through samatha practice. This is typically done through breathing awareness. 
  • Focus all your attention, from moment to moment, on the movement of your breath. 
  • Notice the subtle sensations of the movement of the abdomen rising and falling. 
  • As you focus on the breath, you will notice that other perceptions and sensations continue to appear: sounds, feelings in the body, emotions. Simply notice these phenomena as they emerge in the field of awareness, and then return to the sensation of breathing. 
  • The attention is kept in the object of the breathing, while these other thoughts or sensations are there simply as “background noise”. 
  • The object that is the focus of the practice is called the “primary object”. And a “secondary object” is anything else that arises in your field of perception, either through your five senses or through the mind. 
  • If a secondary object hooks your attention and pulls it away, or if it causes desire or aversion to appear, you should focus on the secondary object for a moment or two, labeling it with a mental note, like “thinking”, “memory”, “hearing”, “desiring”. 
  • Then return your attention to the primary meditation object. 

Yoga meditation

  • Third Eye meditation: focusing the attention on the spot between the eyebrows. The attention is constantly redirected to this point, as a means to silence the mind. By time the silent gaps between thoughts get wider and deeper. Sometimes this is accompanied by physically “looking”, with eyes closed, towards that spot.
  • Chakra meditation: the practitioner focuses on one of the seven chakras of the body, typically doing some visualizations and chanting a specific mantra for each chakra. Most commonly it is done on the heart chackra, third eye, and crown chackra. 

    1. The Root Chakra: The root chakra, or Muladhara in Sanskrit, is located at the base of the spine. It governs the way we connect to the outside world and oversees our basic needs for stability, food and shelter. It is associated with the color red and the earth element.

    2. The Sacral Chakra: Svadhisthana, the sacral chakra, is located below the navel. This chakra is intimately linked to our sexuality and creative process. Its energy encourages us to explore the world and use our creativity to find artistic outlets and adapt to change. Its base color is orange and its element is water.

    3. The Solar Plexus Chakra: The Sanskrit name Manipura means City of Jewels. This chakra is located between the rib cage and the navel. It is believed to be a source of personal agency and self-esteem in that it translates our desires into action. Physically, it helps regulate digestion. Its color is yellow and it is associated with the fire element.

    4. The Heart Chakra: Anahata, the heart chakra, means “unstuck” in Sanskrit. This chakra lies at the middle of your cardiovascular system and is connected to organs such as the heart and lungs. The heart chakra is associated with a person’s emotional profile, such as their natural generosity and ability to appreciate compassion and connectedness. Its color is green and its element is air.

    5. The Throat Chakra: Vishuddha, the throat chakra, governs the neck, mouth, tongue and other physical elements of the throat area. It regulates how we communicate and allows us to express ourselves skillfully. Confidence and understanding are related to this chakra. Its color is blue and its element is ether.

    6. The Third Eye Chakra: Ajna is located behind the forehead, at the level of the space between the eyebrows. The “third eye” chakra governs intuition and insight, especially at spiritual levels. A receptive and balanced ajna chakra empowers us to notice interconnections that exist in this world and beyond. Its color is indigo and its element is light.

    7. The Crown Chakra: Sahasrara, the crown chakra, is situated at the top of the head. Also known as the “thousand petal lotus” chakra, it is considered to be the most spiritual of the core chakras as it governs spiritual consciousness and the potential for awakening to the dimension of the divine. Its color is purple (or white) and it embodies the spirit.

  • Gazing meditation: fixing the gaze on an external object, typically a candle, image or a symbol. It is done with eyes open, and then with eyes closed, to train both the concentration and visualization powers of the mind. After closing the eyes, you should still keep the image of the object in your “mind’s eye”. 
  • Kundalini meditation: Kundalini meditation is part of Kundalini yoga, and its primary purpose is to awaken the kundalini energy present at the base of the spine. This power lies coiled like a snake in the triangular sacrum at the lower end of the spine. It has to be summoned from the lower planes through all the seven chakras of the body and finally unleashed in the top most Sahasrara chakra above the head. Evoking this energy purifies your system and brings about complete awareness of your body. It gets rid of any mental, spiritual, and physical diseases ailing your body. The coiled energy is primal and very powerful. Awakening it will lead to profound consciousness and supreme bliss. It is not an easy task to reach this state. You need to follow an austere mental and physical regimen to get anywhere close to raising your kundalini energy. Kundalini meditation is a slow and prolonged process done in various ways, with slight variations. The purpose of all techniques is to raise the kundalini energy. This meditation must be done holistically and responsibly. Your body, mind, and emotions must be ready to receive a powerful energy through your body. It can get dangerous if the energy is not received well. So, be cautious and well prepared before you delve into Kundalini meditation.
  • Kriya meditation: is a set of energization, breathing, and meditation exercises taught by Paramahamsa Yogananda. This is more suited for those who have a devotional temperament, and are seeking the spiritual aspects of meditation. To learn it, you can apply to receive the Self-Realization lessons, free of charge.
  • Sound meditation: focusing on sound. Starts with meditation on external sounds, such as calming ambient music, whereby the student focuses all his attention on just hearing, as a help to quieten and collect the mind. By time the practice evolves to hearing the internal sounds of the body and mind. 
  • Tantra meditation: unlike the popular view in the West, most Tantra practices have nothing to do with ritualized sex. The text Vijnanabhairava Tantra, for instance, lists 108 meditations, most of them more advanced. 
    • Pranayama meditation: breathing regulation. It is not exactly meditation, but an excellent practice to calm the mind and prepare it for meditation. There are several different types of Pranayama, but the simplest and most commonly taught one is the 4-4-4-4. This means breathing in counting up to 4, holding for 4 seconds, breathing out for 4 seconds, and holding empty for 4 seconds. Breathe through your nose, and let the abdomen (and not the chest) be the one that moves. Go through a few cycles like this. This regulation of breathing balances the moods and pacifies the body, and can be done anywhere.

    Zen meditation

    It is generally practiced seated on the floor over a mat and cushion, with crossed legs. Traditionally it was done in lotus or half-lotus position, but this is hardly necessary. The most important aspect, is keeping the back completely straight, from the pelvis to the neck. Mouth is kept close and eyes are kept lowered, with your gaze resting on the ground about two or three feet in front of you. As to the mind aspect of it, it’s usually practiced in 2 ways:

    • Focusing on breath: focus all your attention on the movement of the breath going in and out through the nose. This may be aided by counting the breath in your mind. Each time you inhale you count one number, starting with 10, and then moving backward to 9, 8, 7, etc. When you arrive in 1, you resume from 10 again. If you get distracted and lose your count, gently bring back the attention to 10 and resume from there.
    • Shikantaza: in this form the practitioner does not use any specific object of meditation; rather, practitioners remain as much as possible in the present moment, aware of and observing what passes through their minds and around them, without dwelling on anything in particular.

     

    Meditation for beginners

    In this episode we practice: finding a comfortable seat, bringing your attention to the breath, and becoming aware of any sensations and thoughts that enter into the mind while meditating.

     

    How to meditate?

    How To Meditate - The most effective meditation technique, plus tips for how to avoid the most common meditation mistakes.

     

    Relaxing music for stress relief

    Meditation Relax Music Channel presents a Relaxing Music Video with Amazing nature and Ambient Celtic Music for Meditation, Concentration and Balance, music therapy. This relaxing new age composition can be used as Deep Meditation Music, Music for Yoga and Pilates , Music for Massage , Spa Music. Also this music is perfect as dream music, Healing music, Study Music, Sleep Music and Total Relaxation Music.

    Resource, resource2, header is from Unsplash (Andressa Voltolini), video's are from YouTube.