Meditation Techniques


Variety Of Meditation Techniques

Meditation is available to everyone and can be practised using many different techniques. Some are mantra-based, some are based on compassion, mindfulness, and transcendentalism, among others:
  • Transcendental Meditation (TM) - This is the most popular type of meditation around the world, and it is the most scientifically studied. It is a specific form of mantra meditation, using a mantra or series of words that are specific to each practitioner. The goal of TM is to reach the state of enlightenment. Enlightenment means that you experience a state of inner calmness, a quiet state of least excitation, even when you are dynamically busy. This form of meditation traditionally requires you to sit in a Lotus position with your eyes closed for 15–20 minutes twice per day. You internally chant a mantra and focus on rising above your negativity. If you cannot sit in a Lotus position due to physical inability then sitting upright in a chair is acceptable. The mantra is not unique, and is given to the practitioner based on his gender and age. The mantras are not meaningless sounds but Tantric name of Hindu deities. To effectively learn TM, expert guidance is recommended. This practice is for those who like structure and are serious about maintaining a meditation practice. Transcendental meditation is not taught freely. The only way of learning it is to pay to learn from a licensed instructor but you do get good support. However it is expensive and cheaper alternatives exist such as Natural Stress Relief (NSR) or Mantra Meditation.
  • Mindfulness Meditation - This is an adaptation from traditional Buddhist meditation practices and is the most popular meditation technique in the West. The Buddhist term sati translates to mindfulness. With mindfulness, you intentionally focus on the present moment, accepting and non-judgmentally pay attention to the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise, without becoming involved with them. This practice combines concentration with awareness. You pay close attention to the movement of your breath. You do not judge any feelings, thoughts or emotions that arise, you simply observe observe them, accept them and return your attention to your breath. The purpose is to not intentionally add anything to your present moment experience, but just be aware of what is going on, without losing yourself in anything that arises. Formal practice usually involves sitting on a cushion on the floor, or on a chair, with straight and unsupported back. However it can be done in any posture. There are also daily practices you can do with activities such as while eating, walking or talking. With these, you pay attention to what is going on in the present moment, to be aware of what is happening and not living in an auto-pilot mode. If you are walking, be more aware of your body movements, your feet touching the ground, the sounds you are hearing, etc. If you are speaking, pay attention to the words you speak, how you speak them, and to listen with presence and attention. This type of meditation is good for people who don’t have a teacher to guide them, as it can be easily practised alone. For most people, this may be the only type of meditation they will like, especially if their focus is only the physical and mental benefits of meditation. If you want a deeper transformation and spiritual development then this may be just an initial step for you before moving on to other methods such as Vipassana, Zazen, or other types of meditation.
  • Vipassana Meditation - This is a traditional Buddhist practice where you start with focusing your attention on an aspect of the breath, called the primary object, such as air passing through the nostrils, with the goal of calming the mind. You then move on to develop a clear insight on any perceptions and sensations you notice, called secondary objects. These can be through the senses (sounds, feelings in the body, smells) or through the mind (thoughts, memory, emotions). You observe them moment by moment but do not attach to any of them. If secondary objects distract your attention, focus on them for a moment or two, label them with a general mental note, such as thinking, desiring, memory, hearing, smelling or feeling, and return your attention to your breath, the primary object. As a result you develop a clear seeing that the observed phenomena is pervaded by three marks of existence: impermanence or constantly changing (annica), insatisfactoriness or suffering (dukkha), and emptiness of self or no soul (annata). As a result, calmness, peace and inner freedom is developed in relation to these inputs. The ideal posture is to sit on a cushion on the floor with your legs crossed and your spine erect. However, a chair may be used as long as the back is not supported.
  • Zen Meditation (Zazen) - This is at the heart of Zen Buddhist practice and translates to "seated meditation." You sit in a comfortable position with your back completely straight and centred, your mouth closed and eyes lowered, with your gaze resting on the ground about two or three feet in front of you. You then focus your attention on the movement of your breath going in and out through your nose. This may be assisted by counting your breaths in your mind, counting down from 10 on each inhale to 1, then resuming from 10 again. If you are distracted and lose your count, gently bring back your attention to 10 and continue counting down. This method is easy to begin with and engage with as it only relies on self-guidance. However, the lack of guidance can make it difficult to progress in the future.
  • Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation - This practice stems from Buddhist traditions and Metta is a Pali word that means kindness, benevolence, and good will. Benefits include: boosting your ability to empathise with others; development of positive emotions through compassion; a more loving attitude towards oneself; increased self-acceptance; greater feeling of competence about one’s life; and increased feeling of purpose in life. With this practice, you sit down in a meditation position, with closed eyes, and generate in your mind and heart, feelings of kindness and benevolence. Begin by developing loving kindness towards yourself, then progress towards others and all beings. For example, follow this progression: yourself; a good friend; a "neutral" person; a difficult person; all four of the above equally; then gradually the entire universe. You develop the feeling of wishing happiness and well-being for all. This can be aided by: reciting specific words or sentences that evoke a feeling of boundless warm-heartedness; visualising the suffering of others and sending love; or by imagining the state of other beings, and wishing them happiness and peace. You may benefit from this if: you are sometimes too hard on yourself or on others; or if you feel like you need to improve your relationships. It is beneficial both for selfless and self-centred people, and it will help increase your general level of happiness. You cannot feel loving-kindness and depression (or any other negative feeling) at the same time. It is also help with insomnia, nightmare, or anger issues. The more you practice this meditation, the more joy you will experience.
  • Mantra (OM) Meditation - Mantras are used in Hindu, Buddhist and other traditions. Some people call mantra meditation "om meditation", but that is just one of the mantras that can be used. A mantra is a syllable or word, usually without any particular meaning, that is repeated for the purpose of focusing your mind. It is not an affirmation used to convince yourself of something. Some of the most well-known mantras from Hindu & Buddhist traditions are: om; so-ham; om namah shivaya; om mani padme hum; rama; yam; ham. With this you repeat the mantra in your mind, silently, over and over again during the whole session. Some practices couple the mantra with being aware of the breathing or coordinating with it. In other practices, the mantra is whispered very lightly and softly, as an aid to concentration. As you repeat the mantra, it creates a mental vibration that allows the mind to experience deeper levels of awareness. As you meditate, your mantra becomes increasingly abstract and indistinct, until you are finally led into the field of pure consciousness from which the vibration arose. Repetition of your mantra helps you disconnect from your thoughts filling your mind so that maybe you can slip into the gap between thoughts. You can meditate for a specific period of time, or for a set number of repetitions, in which case, beads are typically used for keeping count. As your meditatione deepens, you may find that your mantra continues on its own like the humming of the mind. Or the mantra may even disappear, and you are left in a state of deep inner peace. As with most type of meditations, this is usually practiced sitting with spine erect, and eyes closed. Some people enjoy mantra meditation because they find it easier to focus on a word than on their breath. Because a mantra is a word, and thoughts are usually perceived as words, it can be easier to keep the focus on a mantra rather than on the breathing. It is useful especially when the mind is racing with many thoughts, since it mantra meditation demands constant attention. Meditating with a mantra can also make it simpler to integrate your meditative state into your daily life. Whatever activity you find yourself going, it can be as simple as repeating the mantra in your mind. This is also a good practice for people who do not like silence and enjoy repetition.
  • Yoga Meditation - The word Yoga means union. Yoga is not a single type of meditation but refers to several meditation types. Classical Yoga divides the practice into rules of conduct called yamas and niyamas, physical postures called asanas, breathing exercises called pranayama, and contemplative practices of meditation called pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Yoga tradition is the oldest meditation tradition on earth and also has the widest variety of practices. Here are some types of Yoga meditation. The "third eye meditation is the most common and universal. Other popular ones involve concentrating on a chakra, repeating a mantra, visualisation of light, or gazing:
    • Third Eye - This focuses your attention on the "spot between your eyebrows", called "the third eye" or "ajna chakra”". Your attention is constantly redirected to this point, as a means to silence the mind. Over time, the silent gaps between your thoughts get wider and deeper. Sometimes this is accompanied by physically looking with your eyes closed towards that spot.
    • Chakra - This focuses on one of the seven centres of energy in the body, called chakras. You typically do a visualisation and chant a specific mantra for each chakra (lam, vam, ram, yam, ham, om). Most commonly it is done on the heart chackra, third eye, and crown chackra.
    • Gazing (Trataka) - This fixes your gaze on an external object called, such as a candle, image or a symbol called a yantra. It is done with your eyes open, then with your eyes closed, in order to train both the concentration and visualisation powers of your mind. After closing your eyes, you should still keep the image of the object in your "mind’s eye". This meditation is very important and powerful.
    • Kundalini - This type of meditation has roots in both Buddhist and Hindu teachings, and in Sanskrit it translates to "coiled." This practice focuses on a rising stream of energy and has a very complex system, with the goal of: awakening your "kundalini energy" which lies dormant on the base of the spine; the development of several psychic centres in the body; and, finally enlightenment. To access this energy the individual must concentrate on their breathing as it flows through the energy centres in the body. Once that energy is felt, the individual can experience an altered state of consciousness. There are several dangers related with this practice so it should not be attempted without the guidance of a qualified yogi.
    • Kriya - This is a set of energising, breathing, and meditation exercises. and is more suited to people hose who have a devotional temperament, and are seeking the spiritual aspects of meditation. To learn it, you can apply free of charge to receive the Self-Realisation lessons.
    • Sound (Nada) - This focuses on sound. You start with meditation on external sounds, such as calming ambient music such as Native American flute music. You focus all your attention on just hearing, as a help to quieten and collect the mind. Over time the you evolve to hearing the internal sounds of the body and mind. The ultimate goal is to hear the "Ultimate Sound" called para nada, which is a sound without vibration, and that manifests as "OM".
    • Tantra - Tantra has a very rich tradition, with dozens of different contemplative practices. "Tan" means expansion and "Tra" means liberation. Together, Tantra means to expand your consciousness in order to obtain liberation. The goal of Tantra is to take you on a journey, taking your individual consciousness and merging it with infinite consciousness. In essence, Tantra is a practice that combines movement, breath, meditation and sound, to assist your Chakra energy system within your body to open. This opening allows dormant energy, known as Kundalini, to move up from the pelvis, along the spine. The movement of this life-force energy can help you to heal by loosening constrictions within your body that have developed over time. The expansion of your energy body also increases sensation, clairvoyance and your ability to connect with others. It feels good to practice Tantra and has the side benefit of ecstatic orgasms.
    • Pranayama - This is about breathing regulation. Although not strictly meditation, it is excellent for calming the mind and preparing for meditation. There are a number of types of Pranayama, the simplest and most commonly taught one being the 4-4-4-4 breath. This means breathing in to the count of 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, breathing out for 4 seconds, and holding empty for 4 seconds. You breathe through your nose, and let the abdomen move, but not the chest. You go through several cycles like this, regulating your breathing to balances your moods and pacify your body. This and can be done anywhere.
    As Yoga has many types of meditation you are likely to find one that suits you. For musicians, nada yoga may be attractive. For devotional type people, kriya yoga is a good option. Kundalini and Chakra meditation should only be attempted with a teacher. The "3rd eye meditation" is probably the simplest to try and yields results fairly quickly. Other types would probably need more instruction, either of a teacher or a good book. Also, Pranayama is definitely something anyone can benefit from.
  • Self-Enquiry (I Am) Meditation - Self-Enquiry is actually "atma vichara" in Sanskrit which means to "investigate" our true nature to find the answer to the question "Who am I?". It culminates with intimate knowledge of our true Self, our true being. It is very simple and very subtle but sounds very abstract when explaining it. Your sense of "I" (ego) is the centre of your universe. It is behind all your thoughts, emotions, memories, and perceptions. However, you are not clear about what this "I" is and confuse it with your body, your mind, your roles, your labels. It is the biggest mystery in your life:
    • To begin, you ask yourself "Who I am?" within yourself.
    • You reject verbal answers that arise, simply using the question as a tool to fix your attention in the subjective feeling of "I" or "I am".
    • You become one withe it, going deep into it to reveal your true "I" or real self as pure consciousness, beyond all limitation.
    • This is not an intellectual pursuit. It is a question to bring your attention to the core element of your perception and experience: the "I".
    • This is not your personality. It is a pure, subjective, feeling of existing without any images or concepts attached to it.
    • When thoughts or feelings arise, you ask yourself, "To whom does this arise?" or "Who is aware of it?". The answer is "It is me!"
    • You then ask "Who am I?" to return your attention back to the subjective feeling of self, of presence, as pure existence, object-less and choice-less awareness.
    In essence, this practice focuses your 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 other types of meditation, the "I" (yourself) focuses on an object, internal or external, physical or mental. With self-enquiry, the "I" focuses on itself, the subject. This is attention turned towards its source.There is no specific posture for this practice, although general suggestions about posture and environment are helpful for beginners. Self-Enquiry is very powerful in bringing inner freedom and peace. However, if you do not have previous experience with meditation, it may prove very difficult to follow through. To get a feeling for it, start with some guided meditations from Mooji on YouTube.
  • Taoist (Daoism) Meditation - This is a Chinese philosophy and religion which emphasises living in harmony with Nature, or Tao. Its main characteristic is the generation, transformation, and circulation of inner energy. Its purpose is to quieten the body and mind, unify body and spirit, find inner peace, and harmonise with the Tao. Some styles of Taoist meditation focus on improving health and longevity. There are several types of Taoist meditation, sometimes classified as: "insight", "concentrative", and "visualisation". Here is a brief summary:
    • Emptiness (Zuowang) - You sit quietly and empty yoneself of all mental images (thoughts, feelings, etc.). You "forget about everything" to experience inner quiet and emptiness. In this state, vital force and "spirit" are collected and replenished. Similar to the Confucius discipline of "heart-mind fasting", it is regarded as "the natural way". You simply allows all thoughts and sensations to rise and fall by themselves, without engaging with or "following" any of them. If you find this too hard or "uninteresting", then visualisation and Qigong may be better for you.
    • Visualisation (Cunxiang) - This is an esoteric practice of visualising different aspects of the cosmos in relation to your own body and self.
    • Breathing (Zhuanqi) - You focus on your breath, or "unite mind and qi". The instruction is "focus your vital breath until it is supremely soft". At times it is done by quietly observing the breath in a similar way to Mindfulness; at other times it is done by following specific patterns of exhalation and inhalation, so that you become directly aware of the "dynamism of Heaven and Earth" through your ascending and descending breath. It is a type of Qigong and similar to Pranayama in Yoga.
    • Inner Vision (Neiguan) - This visualiees the inside of your body and mind, including the organs, "inner deities", qi (vital force) movements, and thought processes. It is a process of getting to know yourself with the wisdom of nature in your body. There are specific instructions for following and a good book or a teacher is required.
    • Internal Alchemy (Neidan) - This is a complex and esoteric practice of self-transformation that utilises visualisation, 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. Although not easy, ideally you should practice by "joining the breath and the mind together"; if you find that too difficult, focus on the lower abdomen (dantian). If you are more connected with your body and nature you may like to try Taoist meditation, and enjoy learning a bit about the philosophy behind it. Or if you are into martial arts or Tai Chi, this might interest you. However, Taoist centres and teachers are not as easy to find as Buddhist and Yoga ones.
  • Qigong (Movement) Meditation - Although most people think of yoga when they hear of movement meditation, this practice may include walking through the woods, gardening, qigong (chi kung, or chi gung), and other gentle forms of motion. It is an active form of meditation where the movement guides you. Qigong is a Chinese word that means "life energy cultivation". It is a body-mind exercise for health, meditation, and martial arts training. It is one of the oldest forms of meditation originating from ancient Chinese society. It is a meditation favourite because this method improves posture, respiration, and the ability to relax with greater ease. It uses breath to circulate energy through the body and energy centres. The focused combination on breathing techniques, movement, and meditation helps the individual to control their reactions to stress. It typically involves slow body movement, inner focus, and regulated breathing. Qigong has thousands of different exercises with over 80 different types of breathing. Some are specific to martial arts to energise and strengthen the body; others are for health to nourish body functions or cure diseases. There are others for meditation and spiritual cultivation. Qigong can be practised in a static position (seated or standing), or through a dynamic set of movements. The meditation exercises are normally done sitting down without movement. Here is an overview of seated Qigong meditation:
    • Sit in a comfortably with your body balanced and centered.
    • Relax your whole body - muscles, nerves, and internal organs.
    • Regulate your breathing, making it deep, long, and soft.
    • Calm your mind.
    • Focus your attention in the "lower dantien" - center of gravity, two inches below the navel. This helps accumulate and root the qi (vital energy). Where your mind and intention is focused, iw where your qi will be. Focusing on the dantien gathers energy in this natural reservoir.
    • Feel the qi circulating freely through your body.
    Movement meditation, or specifically Qigong, may be better for people who like to be more active, find peace in action and prefer to let their minds wander.
  • Heart Rhythm Meditation (HRM) - This meditation is a downward meditation as it focuses energy on developing the application of consciousness. It concentrates primarily on the heart, with an emphasis on breathing, and the purpose is to experience the mystics’ mantra, "I am a part of all things and all things are a part of me." It is described as a triple threat form of meditation as individuals experience physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. It helps the individual better handle stress and develop an appreciative and joyous spirit.
  • Guided Visualisation - This is a newer technique that can be used for spiritual healing, stress relief, or personal development. The inspiration comes from Buddha, "The mind is everything. What you think you become." Among other factors that set this form of meditation apart, the emphasis on one specific goal is defining.By imagining relaxing and positive experiences, the body will respond by releasing chemicals that generate feelings of positivity. This method can be done casually by imagining a certain situation in the brain.
  • Focused Meditation - This is a widespread style of Buddhist practice which involves concentration using any of the five senses. For example, you could focus on something internal, such as your breath, or use an external influence to help focus your attention, such as counting mala beads, listening to a gong, or staring at a candle flame. Although this is simple in theory, it can be difficult for beginners to maintain their focus for longer than a few minutes to begin with. If your mind does wander, it is important to come back to the practice and refocus. As the name suggests, this type of meditation is ideal for someone requiring additional focus in their life.
  • Spiritual Meditation - This is used in Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Daoism, and in Christian faith. It’s similar to prayer in that you reflect on the silence around you and seek a deeper connection with your God or Universe. Essential oils are commonly used to heighten the spiritual experience. Spiritual meditation can be practised at home or in a place of worship. This practice is beneficial for those who thrive in silence and seek spiritual growth.

Guided Meditation

I have separated guided meditation from the meditations above as it is a relatively modern phenomenon. As the term suggests, guided meditation is assisted. It is an easy way to begin learning meditation and is usually based on one or more on the above traditions.

To practice meditation requires some degree of determination and will power. In times gone by, people interested in meditation were more committed to it, and usually had strong ideals motivating them. Past lives used to be more simple and there were fewer distractions.

These days, life is busier and will power is a less common personal asset. Distractions are everywhere, and people usually seek meditation to develop better health, enhance performance, or improve themselves. It is for these reasons that guided meditation can be a good way to introduce people you to the practice of meditation.

However, once you get to grips with meditation and want to develop your skills further, it would be better to try meditation unassisted. It is up to the individual to decide when to move on to the next stage. Once you understand the main principles you can step out and meditate on your own. That way your meditation will be different, tailored to you, and hence more powerful.

Guided meditations usually come in the form of audio and/or video formats. Many guided meditation will fit within one of the following categories, with some overlap between them:
  • Traditional Meditations - With this types of recording, the voice of the instructor is simply there to guide the way for your attention, in order to be in a meditative state. There will probably be more silence periods than than voice instructions in it, and often no music or other sounds. The purpose is to develop and deepen the practice itself, with all the benefits that come with it.
  • Guided Imagery - This uses imagination and visualisation powers of your brain, guiding you to imagine either an object, an entity, a scene or a journey. The purpose of this type of recording is usually heal or relax.
  • Relaxation and Body Scans - This helps you achieve a deep relaxation in your whole body. It is usually accompanied by soothing instrumental music or nature sounds. In Yoga these are called yoga nidra. The purpose is to instil relaxation and calmness.
  • Affirmations - These are usually combined with the relaxation and guided imagery categories. The purpose of these meditations is to imprint a message within your mind, usually a positive one.
  • Binaural Beats - This is when the signals of two different frequencies are presented separately, one to each ear. Your brain detects the phase variation between the frequencies and tries to reconcile that difference. This is used to generate alpha waves at 10 Hz, the brain wave associated with initial levels of meditation.
While they all have their merits, it is the first type that most naturally evolves into individual unguided practice. If you feel that unassisted, non-guided traditional meditation is a little too hard for you, or you are not sure where to begin, then guided meditations can be a good way for you to begin. Also, if you want a very specific experience or benefit such as: improving self-esteem; working through a trauma; or just letting go of some tension in your body; then guided meditation will probably suit you.


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