Updated: Jul 5
Meditation has become all the hype lately, with Covid and isolation taking a toll on our mental health and an increased awareness of how mindfulness can benefit our every day lives. But what is all the hype about? What is meditation?
History & Philosophy - What is Meditation?
Meditation is both a state of being and a practice.
As a state of being, meditation is the realization of the true self, also known as bliss or Samadhi. Meditation is a shift of awareness from external focus and identification to an open and receptive state of being. Simply put, meditation is listening. It is the experience of stillness and space in between thought. The expansion of this space is what draws us deeper into the experience of meditation.
As a practice, meditation is the cultivation of attention and awareness. Through habit and repetition, the practice of meditation opens us to possibility and is a catalyst for transformation. The practice of meditation conditions our physical, mental and energetic bodies to remain in balance. With regular meditation practice, we are able to better respond to the external fluctuations without identification to their perceived cause.
Meditation is about bringing the mind and body together in the same place at the same time - being in the present moment.
Meditation can also take other forms. You don't need to sit cross-legged on the floor with your hands in a mudra and eyes closed to meditate. You can meditate by colouring a colouring book, going for a walk in nature and paying attention to your feet as they step and noticing the beauty around you, or even doing chores. When you take yourself off of autopilot while conducting a task and are mindful to your experience and the present moment, you are meditating.
Variations of Meditation Practice
Meditation practices can be divided into different categories based on tradition, focus and method.
Mindfulness (Mindfulness, Vipassana, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction or MBSR, and Living-Kindness Meditation)
Concentrative Method (Transcendental Meditation or TM and Primordial Sound Meditation or PSM)
Guided Meditation (Kundalini, Yoga Nidra, Visualization, Qi Gong)
Open Awareness (Zen)
Other (Prayer, Journaling, Pilgrimage, Creativity, Music)
It's origins are in Buddhism, and is a broad term for the group of techniques used to create awareness through focused attention, observation and acceptance. The 2 core pillars of the mindfulness practice are wisdom and compassion.
This is a great practice for beginners and experiences seekers since it uses simple instructions and there are lots of resources available.
Often referred to as insight meditation, with focus being on seeing things honestly - as they really are. Typically, the breath is used as a focal point during the practice, thoughts are recognized and noted, and then attention is returned to the breath. Vipassana also has origins in Buddhism.
This is another great practice for beginners and experienced seekers, and for those looking for silent retreats.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
Started by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, MBSR is based on the teachings of Buddhism and Vipassana. Similar to Vipassana, MBSR uses breath awareness and also integrates body scanning. It is typically offered in an 8-week program that also integrates Yoga with Western medicine.
This practice is great for anyone dealing with chronic pain, anxiety, or illness. As well as anyone interested in meditation and seeking a more 'Western' or medical approach with evidence and data to support. Those looking for a more detailed program and community support would benefit from this method.
Also known as Metta meditation, this style of meditation boosts empathy, acceptance, self-love, positivity, kindness, and forgiveness. The practice begins with awakening the state of loving-kindness in oneself and then extending it out to a friend or loved one, the community, the city, the country, or even the world. Loving-kindness can also being extended out from oneself to a neutral figure in one's life, then toward a person with whom one is experiencing difficulty with, and then out to the Universe. It's origins are in Tibetan Buddhism.
Anyone with a desire to develop self-love and extend empathy to others would benefit from this practice.
Transcendental Meditation (TM)
Founded by Maharishi Mahesh, with origins in Hinduism and Ancient India, TM is a mantra-based technique during which an individual is given a personal mantra to be used for the vibrational qualities it imbues to settle the mind. The mantra is provided by a certified teacher based on a factor specific to the individual practitioner.
This practice is great for those seeking structure in their practice and for those who are looking for a more defined practice.
Primordial Sound Meditation (PSM)
Primordial Sound Meditation utilizes a mantra and is a silent practice. It was founded by Deepak Chopra and David Simon, and has origins in the Vedic Tradition. As a practitioner, you are given a mantra that is unique to you based on Vedic mathematical formulas. The mantra is meant to represent the vibrational sound of the Universe at the time and place of your birth.
This is another practice that is beneficial for those seeking structure in their practice and for those who are looking for a more defined practice.
The practice of meditation in the Kundalini tradition has its origins in Yogic tradition and Yogi Bhajan. It offers guided tools of breath, mantra, mudra (hand position), and focus. In Kundalini meditation, the goal is to awaken the Kundalini energy, located at the base of the spine, causing the energy to travel up the spine and result in an awakening. Kundalini practice is taught by specially trained practitioners.
If you're looking to explore your spirituality and energetic self, then this is a great practice for you.
Yoga Nidra - Yogic Sleep
Yoga Nidra has origins in the Tandra tradition of Yoga and is from the Upanishads (late Vedic Sanskrit texts of Hindu philosophy). The wisdom teaching of Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation practice that leads you on a journey of expanded consciousness, through the 5 sheaths of Self - physical, energetic/subtle, mental, wisdom, and bliss. The practice provides you with a direct experience with all sheaths of Self.
This practice is accessible to anyone and those who are looking to dive into a deeper awareness of Self. It is also excellent for anyone who suffers from insomnia or anxiety, who has difficulty sleeping or falling asleep. This is an evening ritual for me. I, personally, fall asleep to a Yoga Nidra or sleep meditation.
This is a more 'New Age' form of meditation with origins in all traditions. Guided Visualizations holds opportunity for a variety of focus and practice. An instructor leads the practitioner on a journey of internal visualization, which provides for an expanded experience of consciousness in the non-external world. The guided visualization leads to a receptive state of consciousness and creates relaxation, reduces anxiety/stress, and helps form new belief patterns.
Because it is easy and accessible to anyone, this is a great practice for everyone.
Qi Gong is a movement practice that incorporates breathing techniques and focuses on the circulation of energy through the energy centers in the body. It has origins in Chinese tradition.
Typically learned from a teacher, this practice is easy and accessible to anyone.
Open Awareness (Zen)
Zen practice, of Buddhist origin, means "seated meditation" and is performed through interaction with a teacher through observation of the breath and the mind. In Zen meditation, the eyes remain open with a downcast gaze.
This practice is beneficial for more experienced meditators seeking freedom in practice and who enjoy practicing with a teacher.
The benefits of meditation are vast! There have been several scientific studies done (but that's a post for another day).
Decrease in effects of stress
Down-regulates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS)
Improves breathing and heart rates
Reduces blood pressure
Reduces illness associated with heart and brain problems
Lessens inflammatory disorders, including arthritis
Increases focus and mental strength
Memory retention and recall is increased
Build creative thinking and cognition
Better able to make decisions and solve problems
Helps manage ADHD
Decreases worry, anxiety and impulsivity
Reduces stress, fear, loneliness and depression
Enhances self-esteem, self-love and self-acceptance
Increases feelings of optimism and relaxation
Improves mood and emotional intelligence
Helps develop positive relationship and social connections
Development of intuition
Sense of increased connection with God/spirit/divine/Universe
Direct experience of energetic/spiritual Self
Opens channels to guidance and clear vision
Opening as conduit of Divine energy
Recognition of Self as Divine
There are so many reasons to meditate - and a lot of science to back the practice and benefits. But as I mentioned, that's a post for another day. I challenge you to try a meditation if you're new to the practice or have never practiced before. And if you're an experienced seeker, I challenge you to try a new variation and expand your connection.
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