Meditation has been a vital part of human existence for some time. The exact origins of this deep meditative practice are not known, but it is believed to have prehistoric roots. Most experts believe that the early practices probably involved repetitive and rhythmic chanting, though the purpose is not known. The first mention of meditation was back in 1500 BCE with Vedantism from early Hindu teachings.
Of course, many more meditation techniques developed throughout the ages and in different religions.
- 1 The Science Behind Meditation
- 2 The Many and Wonderful Benefits of Meditation
- 3 The Many Faces of Meditation–Buddhist-Centered Meditation
- 4 The Many Faces of Meditation–Meditation in the Yogic Style
- 5 Further Readings
The Science Behind Meditation
So what is meditation? This question is usually answered by simply explaining that it is some type of act that allows one to self-reflect or enter a transcendent state through deep concentration. In essence, meditation involves mindfulness exercises that seek to reach a interpersonal state where your surroundings fade.
But that does not fully explain what meditation is and how it affects the mind. The best way to explain what meditation really is is to simply explain what it does to your brain. Yes, you read that right; meditation has a crazy effect on the brain because it not only affects it, it reconfigures it as well.
What you should understand is–through evolutionary needs–the brain naturally analyzes all situations and sensations to judge how they affect you. In essence, there is a part of your brain that constantly worries about how something affects you, personally. This part of your brain is called the medial prefrontal cortex. The problem is–without meditation–the brain is unevenly divided, meaning that you may worry about yourself too much.
This part of your brain is actually associated with anxiety, depression, and other issues. Most of these problems stem from an unbalanced focus on “yourself.” There is also a strong yet damaging neurological connection between your medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala, as well as the insula. The amygdala and the insula are regions of your brain that are associated with fear. This connection leads to things like poor social interactions and irrational fears.
Mindfulness meditation is considered a cure for this unbalanced set of connections. Scientists have noticed that the brain–with meditation–helps break some of these connections. This helps neurons make new connections with another part of the brain called the lateral prefrontal cortex. The lateral prefrontal cortex is a part of your brain that has been somewhat neglected by the amygdala and the insula until now.
The lateral prefrontal cortex is known to be the seat of rational thought and balanced perspective. Refocusing neurons to point from regions like the amygdala and the insula should help change the way you think. You will be able to absorb a moment and think rationally about situations or sensations that might of scared you before. In a sense, you will be breaking that cycle of reacting without thinking things through.
It is kind of strange to tell a friend, family member, or the entire world that you are successfully reverting the path of neurons by meditating, but that is exactly what you are doing. Meditation seems to force the brain to notice that there is more to consider than just how sensations and situations affect you.
There are those who say that mediation is like looking at things through a third eye. This notion might not be too off if one pays attention to the way meditation affects the brain.
The Many and Wonderful Benefits of Meditation
When you meditate, this deep change produces a lot of different effects on the brain. For one, studies have shown that the neurological shift that you experience in your brain seems to help the brain be more aware of viral or bacterial attacks in the body. This–in turn–seems to help increase immunological response, which means that meditation might help keep you healthier.
Another study showed that the ability to introspect regarding any situation gives the person a little more control over his or her emotions. What does this mean? It simply means that you will not be so prone to ‘losing it.’ Yes, apparently meditation is the cure to all those irrational bursts of anger that most people regret after the fact.
Not only does meditation reconfigure your brain, but it also seems to increase gray matter. This means that you might feel a boost in mental acuity, memory, focus, and attention, just to name a few things. More gray matter also gives you the opportunity to learn better and retain more information than you might have before.
Keep in mind that these are just a few of the health-related benefits that you might experience by simply learning how to do meditation properly. But learning how to meditate may seem a little difficult for some, as there is a lot of information to swallow. There are so many types of mediations like guided meditation or Buddhist-centered meditation. It is kind of hard to choose; plus, there are several tools that are meant to help you get in a meditative state like meditation music or sage-burning.
In short, meditation for beginners might seem a little intimidating, but you do not have to worry because every type of meditation–while different–still has the same effects. The difference is more about which meditative practice fits you better and allows you to get comfortable enough to meditate correctly.
The following are a few different meditation techniques that you may find interesting.
The Many Faces of Meditation–Buddhist-Centered Meditation
The key to understanding Buddhist style practices of meditation is that they are mostly centered on insight and wisdom. Most of the time a Buddhist-centered meditation is attempting to help you get to a place of reflection where you might find ways to help humanity with words or actions.
There is no single type of Buddhist meditation; in fact, there are a number of different styles with different names.
Zen Meditation Or Zazen
Zen meditation is said to have derived from the school of Mahayana Buddhism, which originated from China. Zen might have sprung up during the Tang dynasty (though it was called Chan Buddhism back in those days). Most experts believe that Zen meditation was greatly influenced by Taoism.
The teaching seem to focus on rigorous meditation that seeks for the student to focus on the Buddha and his teaching on the balance of life. It is important for those under the meditative state to be able to apply personal expression of how life affects you and others.
To try this particular type of meditation, you simply have to assume the lotus position, which is simply a cross-legged sitting position where each foot is placed on the opposing thigh. Of course, it goes without saying that this is a position achieved when you are flexible. You can at least try to reach this position if you are not that flexible (to the best of your abilities). Remember that meditation can only happen when you are completely comfortable, so do not put yourself in a position that might become distracting.
The next thing you want to do is close your eyes, and start by counting or focusing on how many breaths you are taking and nothing else. The next step is to allow thoughts to flow through you without regard, objections, or sentiments. You want to be completely free to accept thoughts as they come and go.
Try to meditate for at least 15 minutes, and gradually increase the time by five minutes. Some Zen practitioners seem to meditate for hours, but this is not something a novice can be expected to achieve.
It is said that people who need to improve their concentration might do well with zen meditation because it emphasizes the need to concentrate on only breathing. This is one of the reasons why it is one of the more popular techniques; it is quite simple.
Vipassana follows the Buddhist religion and tries to focus on uncovering the true nature of this reality. Buddhists believe that existence can be boiled down to impermanence, suffering, or unsatisfactoriness. There is also a need to discover an existence beyond oneself, which is very important to the Vipassana practice.
The meditation practice was derived from the Theravada-tradition. It is said that this type of mediation is about feeling the totality of sensation. It is not just about counting your breaths, but rather feeling them. You should do your best to notice the differences in natural breathing like when you breathe in a little quicker or slower than before. As the meditation process continues, you should notice an increase of bodily sensations.
Most experts in the field suggest that you try this kind of meditation under a tree, in the forest, or in some other natural setting. This type of mediation seems to be suited for people who have a hard time controlling themselves or their emotions.
All you have to do is sit with your legs crossed and your back straight while attempting to reach a peaceful state. Close your eyes, and start to focus on sensations, starting with your breathing. After some time, you will start to notice other sensations, like how your chest expands and falls. Be sure to be attentive to each part of the process; don’t just acknowledge that it is happening. Try to label each sensation to the best of your ability. For example, if you are feeling warmth, then be sure to call it what it is. This is important because it helps condition the brain to be aware of sensations with more intensity.
You can begin by doing this type of meditation for 15 minutes, but try to increase the time as you go along.
In the simplest terms, mindfulness meditation is seeking to revert attention to everything that is internal and external. This includes experiences occurring in the present moment. The idea is to sit with your legs crossed and with your eyes closed. You want to start by focusing on your breathing. There is no need to focus on counting the breaths, nor be aware of the sensations. All you have to do is focus on breathing.
It is possible that your brain may wander off. If your mind does wander, pay no attention to it. And do not judge yourself for wandering off; simply return to focusing on breathing. Once you have control over your concentration on breathing, you can move on to bigger tasks, like focusing on thoughts or feelings.
This is a simple type of mediation that is suited for those who have a hard time concentrating or paying attention.
Mindfulness meditation has the power to cross over into other parts of your life. Of course, you can only do this when you have enough control of your thoughts. At some point, you should be able to eat, or do other activities, and meditate at the same time. The goal is to become completely aware of everything that you do and what surrounds you.
Metta Meditation or Loving-Kindness
Metta meditation is a powerful meditative practice for those who lack empathy. There is a special goal to raise awareness regarding others–how you affect others or how others affect you. This particular type of mediation has roots in the Buddhist tradition, as well as the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
The goal is to breathe in happiness as well as breathe it out. The order is to think about happiness regarding yourself. After that, you will concentrate on loved ones and then a close friend. You then want to concentrate on an acquaintance and shortly after on strangers. One challenge is to give the same kind of happiness to all of these people without preferences. The last step is to send happiness to everyone in the world.
You can stand, sit, or lay to perform this particular meditation. The point, again, is to concentrate on breathing, and when you are disconnected from your external-self, you can begin to try some of the happiness steps involved in this type of meditation.
Walking meditation is also known as Kinhin, and it is one of the most known types of meditations known. It is an important part of Buddhist-centered meditation practices. It is meant to be both a break from sitting meditation as well as its own type of mediation.
The Buddha himself taught that it helped digestion and overall physical fitness. You can simply walk in a circle as you make a fist with one hand. Then cover your fist with the other hand while resting your hands on the small of your back.
The key is to try to take one step for each breath that you take. Again, you must be mindful of your breathing but also the rest of your body. You need to pay attention to how your feet feel as you lift from the ground and step down.
You need to be aware of the wind blowing in your hair or temperature changes. In short, you must be aware of everything as you walk. You can also walk in a park or do some errands while practicing this particular type of meditation. This kind of meditation is perfect for people who simply do not have time to meditate in any other way.
Mantra Meditation or OM Meditation
Mantras are usually made up of one word, syllable, or phonemes. The meaning and intention of the mantra truly does depend on the religion. One of the most famous mantras is OM. OM is used by many religions, though it means different things. For example, OM is representative of all sounds and no sounds at all. The Buddha taught that there is no essential difference between one sound and speaking words because when boiled down, there is really only one truth.
The idea is to truly internalize what this mantra really means as you use it while meditating. To use it, you simply have to assume the lotus position and say OM when you breath in and breath out. It is meant to help you focus and get into that meditative state that you are hoping to achieve.
This type of meditation is usually used for spirituality and to help one feel that the world is bigger than his or her problems. It is great for people who worry a lot or just have a lot to deal with at the moment.
Tonglen meditation roots lie in Tibetan Buddhism, and its core is to enrich altruism. The teachings were written down somewhere between 1054 and 1123 CE, though the practice is probably much older than that.
The idea is to breath in your own suffering and that of others. And you want to breath out gifts of recognition, compassion, and aid. This type of meditation is made for those who seek a greater connection between family members, friends, and the world.
The function of the practice is to help those who have trouble with selfishness, unforgiveness, giving, and overall kindness.
To perform this particular meditation, all you have to do is assume the cross-legged position and close your eyes. Concentrate on your breathing, but this time attempt to visualize yourself breathing in all that negativity while giving out so much positivity. You might not realize when this happens, but overtime you might become more positive towards yourself and others.
The Many Faces of Meditation–Meditation in the Yogic Style
Yogic meditation is meant to help you focus on concentration. There is also an active push towards calmness and peacefulness. The point of Yogic meditation–besides its religious core–is for a person to feel fulfilled in this lifetime and have a pleasant life that should be free from anxiety, worry and stress.
You already know that mantras are usually made up of one word, syllable, or phonemes. And you also know that they can mean all kinds of things depending on who you are talking and what religion you are invoking. OM–when talking about yoga–means that there is only one reality. This reality is Brahma. Brahma is the creator in the Hindu religion. OM is meant to be a reminder that there is only one reality and that you are as much yourself as you are a part of this reality. There is an immense amount of connectivity that is required when reciting OM under yoga. But the point is that you will definitely not feel alone if you are able to grasp the meaning behind this seemingly meaningless phrase.
To use this mantra, just say OM when you breath in and out while sitting down with your legs crossed. Just like before, it is meant to help you meditate and concentrate. You want to concentrate on your breathing and the way the syllable rolls of your mouth. Be attentive to every sensation to fully comprehend it.
Feeling this type of connection should make you feel calmer and more connected to your fellow human beings. There is a sense of peace and goodwill that you might develop by using this mantra that dates back to ancient Hinduism.
Transcendental meditation is a mantra meditation that gained some traction in the 1950’s, though it really exploded into the global consciousness in the 1960s and 1970s. It is usually the most known type of mediation and usually associated with ‘hippies.’ The practice itself can be both religious in nature or not; it is really up to you and your particular beliefs. The actual origins of transcendental meditation could date back to ancient Verdic traditions in India.
The practice is meant to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve self-exploration.
The goal is to leave your own state of consciousness, and let your mind guide you to a different state. To do this, you simply sit down, and cross your legs again. Close your eyes, and repeat a mantra of your choice as you breath in and out. Be sure to concentrate on your breathing until your mind starts to wander off. There is no need to control your mind or where it takes you; just try to relax, and let go of the steering wheel.
You are going to have to sit down for at least 20 minutes, but this time can be increased with enough practice. This is meant to help you let go of conflicting thoughts and help you get in touch with your inner-thoughts or to that pure-self whom you might have not been in touch with for some time.
Yoga meditation is rooted in Hinduism; it was probably developed somewhere in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE during ancient India’s ascetic and sramana movements.
Yoga meditation also has the distinctive coronation of being one of the most popular types of Hindu traditions practiced in western society. You can find yoga studios and mats in many cities. But the truth is yoga–the exercises– is what is popular whereas yoga meditation is not used as much. Some yoga teachers do inject some of the lessons of meditation into their sessions, but for the most part they stick to the exercises.
Yoga meditation is meant to ultimately help you clear your thoughts completely. But you must first try to focus on something as a beginner to get into that meditative state.
You know that you can simply concentrate on breathing to do this, but some yoga instructors also suggest the use of a flame. Simply stare into the flame, and let the movement of the flame help guide you into that meditative state. Remember to keep breathing in and out as you stare into the flame.
Some yoga instructors believe that giving yourself some time to meditate before performing the physical part of yoga will help the entire experience be more fulfilling.
It is safe to weave through your thoughts when you reach a moment in your training where you feel comfortable to concentrate on your thoughts without letting them affect you.
Kundalini meditation stems from Hinduism and the theory of energies or chakras. There are seven chakras or energies in the body according to Hinduism. These energies correspond to several functions and characteristics of the human body. The word itself appeared between the 9th century BCE to the 3rd century BCE, though its earliest meaning is not entirely known.
Kundalni meditation is said to help awaken the sleeping primal energy that sits at the bottom of the spine. Awakening this energy is meant to help you reach a state of spiritualism and consciousness that you probably have never experienced. What one can expect is a mystical experience, not unlike a religious experience.
Some who were successful in awakening this energy experienced everything from visions to involuntary body movements. It is the kind of experience that seems to truly change a person.
You should know that all of the yoga practices and exercises are meant to help all the energies balance themselves out. Yoga is meant to be a lifestyle that helps keep your mind free, your body healthy, and your energies aligned. The reason that your energies need to be balanced is because it makes it much easier for the kundalini awakening to occur.
Some yoga instructors suggest that the burning of sage, having quartz crystals in your home, or using meditative music might be helpful while attempting to awaken this particular energy. Just make sure that the music that you use is not distracting, so keep it simple or use music with nature sounds.
Awakening your kundalini energy is not the easiest thing in the world, but it does start with you sitting and crossing your legs. Close your eyes, and try to concentrate on your breathing. The next thing you want to do is try to focus on your breathing and help it flow from the bottom of your spine. This is all about concentration, and it can be done since all you are doing is focusing your energy to move from one end to the other. Remember, do not force the energy; just focus on what you want, and let it flow on its own.
This action, at first, will feel strange to you, but given enough time it will start to feel pleasurable, like a bit of a high.
The next thing you want to do is attempt to move this breath or energy towards the center of your head or the middle of your eyebrows. Move the energy from that region to your throat, and then move it to your chest, letting it rest there.
The last step is to push that energy downward to the base of your spine. At this point, you might want to chant OM or anything else you feel a strong connection to. These steps should help you activate this energy, but it is not for certain as it is a practice that is hard to master, even for experienced yogis.
Do not despair if you are unable to awaken your energy because you can just keep practicing, and at some point, you will be able to accomplish this goal. Some yogis suggest that you get an instructor that is well-versed in this type of mediation to help you activate your dormant energy because it is a very complex process. But, of course, this is entirely up to you.
There are many other types of meditations that you can try, like Non-Religious Guided Meditation, Chakra Meditations, Taoist Meditations, Concentration Meditation, Reflective Meditation, or Creative Meditation, just to name a few. But one must be able to conquer the mind before attempting some of these other advanced forms of mediation. Understand that finding a meditation technique that fits you is a very personal experience, so trust yourself should you feel that something just does not seem right, and try another technique.
But it is clear to see how extensive the world of meditation truly is. There are so many types, but at least you know that your health will be improving in more ways than one–no matter what type of meditation that you end up choosing.