There are so many great benefits to practicing meditation, so much so that even doctors are recommending it to their patients. There are also a plethora of different meditation techniques, though the key is finding the one that is right for you. Here are a few of the most popular meditation types and techniques.
Vipassana is a Buddhist meditation technique that is part of the Theravada-tradition. It is a Pali word that translates to ‘insight’ or ‘clear-seeing’, with the ‘vi’ meaning to ‘see into’. The Tibetan word for vipassana is Ihagthong, which means ‘great vision’ or ‘superior seeing’. Vipassana became known in the west thanks to Buddhist teachers like Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, and Jack Kornfield, who were the founders of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. Many people today participate in a 10-day vipassana retreat. This was popularised by Burmese-Indian teacher S.N. Goenka. Vipassana courses in this tradition are taught in 94 countries around the world. This includes Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Poland, Singapore, Thailand and the UK, as well as at 78 centres throughout India.
Vipassana focuses on the connection between mind and body, with attention to the physical sensations of the body, and their connections to the mind. It is said to remove mental impurities, resulting in a mind that is balanced and full of compassion. This form of meditation focuses on the breath, forcing your attention on it to develop mastery over the mind. As you do this, you should notice how your abdomen rises and falls, or how the air passes through your nostrils. You will also notice that sounds, emotions, and feelings in the body will appear. The idea is to keep your attention focused on breathing, with everything else in the background. Basically, you are letting feelings and thoughts arise, but then letting them fade away by focusing your concentration on your breath.
Mantra meditation is a Hindu meditation technique that involves repeating a word or a phrase. In Sanskrit, mantra means “instrument of the mind”. This is because it is used as an instrument to create vibrations in the mind and allows you to disconnect from your thoughts. The most popular type of mantra meditation is the Om meditation. You will repeat the word Om over and over again, feeling the vibration of it through your body. More experienced devotees use the japa technique, which consists of repeating a sacred sound with love; i.e. the name of God. Other words or phrases that are often used are om mani padme hum (wisdom, compassion, body, speech and mind, bliss, compassion), so-ham (I am that/here) and Sat Chit Ananda (existence, consciousness, bliss). Traditionally, it is repeated 108 or 1008 times, with beads often being used to keep count.
Many people find mantra meditation to be much easier than vipassana because it is easier to stay focused and not let your mind wander. This is especially true for people whose minds tend to be easily distracted, or for those with racing thoughts. Chanting the mantra slowly calms the mind while chanting it quickly creates energy. The ideal is to chant somewhere in the middle, causing both calmness and energy throughout the body. Experiment chanting at different speeds to see what works best for you. Regardless, pay attention to it and to each repetition, uniting your mind completely with the mantra.
Qigong is a Chinese word that means “life energy cultivation”. It is a Taoist practice that encompasses numerous techniques to help balance the body and promote health. It is a body-mind form of exercise that involves slow body movements, regulated breathing, and meditation. Qigong dates back more than 4,000 years and was said to be developed to improve moral character, promote longevity and enhance health.
Qigong commonly has two categories; dynamic qigong and meditative qigong.
- Dynamic practice – involves fluid movements that are coordinated with the breath. These movements are repeated to strengthen and stretch the body, as well as increase the movement of fluids throughout the body. It also promotes awareness on how the body moves and balances. Sometimes it involves holding postures, like in Yoga.
- Meditative practice – focuses on the breath, visualisation, sound, and mantra. It centers on creating energy and the path in which the qi (life-energy) flows. Mind control is still the focus, but it is done through focusing on something (breathe, visual, sound, mantra) or on an external agent, like, for example, a place.
This meditation technique is excellent for people that have a hard time sitting and would prefer to be active in their meditation practice. There are several styles of Qigong so it’s likely you’ll find one that works best for you.
This is an alternative form of meditation that focuses on the movement of each step and the awareness of your body’s connection to the earth. It is more than just going for a stroll in a park or along a beach, as it involves coordination with the breath or focusing on a point. It is of course done with your eyes open, but the mind is cleared of outside distractions. Walking meditation allows you to be mindful of your body sensations in the present moment. It is done at a slower pace than a normal walk in the park. This type of meditation allows you to focus and teaches you to carry this into your daily life. It is great for overcoming fatigue and lethargy and is often done right after a meal or after a long seated meditation practice.
It is important to do walking meditation properly, or it is just everyday walking without the benefits of meditation. Choosing a place to do it is one of the most important things, as it should be secluded and quiet. A walking path works best, though it can even be done in your backyard. It should be done for at least 15 minutes, walking at a slow pace that is even and steady. Walk so that you can stay in the present moment and focused on each step. There are different types of walking meditation, including Theravada Walking meditation, Kinhin (Japanese Walking Meditation), Thich Nhat Hanh and Mindful Walking Meditation.
Mindfulness is the process of bringing your attention to the present moment. In Buddhist teachings, it is used to develop self-knowledge that will eventually result in enlightenment or the complete freedom from suffering. In terms of meditation, it involves developing the skills needed to bring your attention to what is happening in the moment, letting go of the past or worries of the future. It focuses on the breath as it’s used as a focus point. You do not control your breathing, but instead just try to be aware of it and its natural rhythm. If the mind starts to wander, return your focus to your breathing.
Yoga is a form of mindfulness meditation, as it involves focusing on the breath while moving; moving to your breath. Walking meditation is also a form of mindfulness meditation. Still, in most cases, it is done sitting down, giving you the opportunity to be more present with where you are. It can be done in a chair or on the floor, whichever is more comfortable. The attempt is to not add anything else to your present moment but to be aware of what is going on around you. It is not about not thinking, but rather about not losing yourself in anything that may distract you.
This is commonly known as Loving Kindness Meditation, as Metta is Pali word that actually means loving kindness, goodwill and having an interest in others. Metta meditation consists of silent repetitions of phrases that promote happiness or other things directed at a person that you visualise. This could be a good friend, a person that is suffering, a difficult person or even yourself. Basically, it starts with the practitioner focusing on themselves, then loved ones, neutral people, difficult people and finally all living beings.
Metta meditation is said to improve positive emotions and compassion, as well as helping to treat psychological disorders like depression and anxiety. It is also thought to help with things like chronic pain, PTSD, and schizophrenia, as it enhances feelings of love and compassion for oneself. It is done sitting down with your eyes closed. You start by fostering loving-kindness feelings for yourself, then gradually towards others. Basically, in your mind you are wishing happiness to all beings by repeating phrases in your head that evoke a sensation of positive feelings, sending love to those that suffer or to anyone else you feel needs some joy and peace in their life.