There is an overwhelming abundance of meditation techniques available these days. How do you sort through to find what might work best for you? Is one method better than all the others? How do you know and how do you choose? The purpose of this article is to help you answer these questions for yourself.
First, let’s briefly define what we mean by meditation. This way we can differentiate it from other methods, such as brainwave entrainment technology, which, as we discussed in last month’s article, is different from meditation.
Meditation is consciously focusing your attention for a period time. It is a process of guiding your focus in specific ways to promote health, personal development, and spiritual growth. Your specific results depend on the technique you use and the intention you bring to your practice. In general, when you meditate you can expect to:
You can focus your attention in meditation in various ways: following your breath, following pathways through your body, holding specific emotional states, visualizations, or intentions, concentrating on specific focal points, observing your thoughts, or simply being aware of what is happening in the present moment.
While you may feel more relaxed when you first meditate, meditation is not a quick fix. Significant and lasting benefits result from sincere devotion to your practice on a regular basis. It’s important to choose a style of meditation that appeals to you, so you’ll stick with it.
Let’s look at some of the most common meditation methods. We can divide these methods into categories: body-centered, heart-centered, mind-centered, and spirit-centered. Note that most methods will cross these lines and include some elements from each category. Nevertheless, it’s helpful to understand the emphasis of each style, so you can choose which one best suits you.
Body-Centered Meditation Systems
Yoga, pranayama, t’ai chi, and qigong are examples of body-centered meditation systems. These use gentle movement, stretching, attention to posture, deep breathing, being present in your body, and sensing internal energy flow as meditative cues.
The results of body-centered meditation include relaxation, chronic tension release, improved health and immune response, and positively entraining the mind and emotions. They are powerful tools for self-healing. Meditations that emphasize the physical body are good for active minds and those who find it difficult to sit still and meditate. They are a great entry point to help you be present and centered.
Heart-Centered Meditation Systems
Heart-centered meditation methods include certain Christian prayers, Buddhist loving-kindness meditation, and the HeartMath methods.
The Christian tradition emphasizes purifying your heart so that it is filled only with devotion to God and love for yourself and others. “The Prayer of the Heart” in the Eastern Orthodox tradition and “Praying the Rosary” in the Western tradition are examples of this type of meditative prayer. In both practices, you focus your attention through the repetition of phrases that reinforce your devotion and loving intention.
Buddhist loving-kindness meditation is another heart-based practice. Buddhist teacher, the Venerable Pannyavaro, says that “Loving-kindness is the first of a series of meditations that produce four qualities of love: Friendliness (metta), Compassion (karuna), Appreciative Joy (mudita) and Equanimity (upekkha).” You begin by cultivating a feeling of loving-kindness toward yourself and then extend this feeling to others with the intention to help relieve their suffering.
The HeartMath Institute takes a scientific, research-based approach to heartful meditation practice. They have found that the human heart generates an electro-magnetic field that is as much as 5000 times the strength of the human brain. Your heart can be focused on core heart feelings such as appreciation, gratitude, and trust to positively and powerfully affect your mind and body.
Mind-Centered Meditation Systems
When people think of meditation, they often think of training the mind or the brain. While all types of meditation do this, certain meditation styles are mind-centered. Examples of this include Transcendental Meditation, Buddhist Insight Meditation, and Hindu focus on the “third eye.”
Transcendental Meditation™ is one of the most widely-practiced and well-researched meditative systems. It is highly structured and the method is kept close within the elaborate organization developed by its founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It is a mantra-based meditation that is taught in seven lessons and is learned only from an authorized teacher who gives each student a unique mantra fitting for that student.
Insight Meditation or Vipassana (“vipashana”) is a form of mental observation or clear seeing. It involves relaxed, yet alert, awareness of the present moment. After a period of calming your mind, often through attention to your breath, you focus your attention into observing the present moment to discern the nature of reality and self.
In the Hindu tradition, there is the simple meditation method of concentration on the “third eye” (a point in the center of the forehead just above the eyebrows) to develop single-pointed focus. Practicing single-pointed attention in your upper brain centers develops concentration, quiets your mind, and leads to more-refined spiritual states. In this tradition, there are also more discursive forms of meditation, such as those of Raja Yoga, that ask you to contemplate a series of questions to uncover the nature of reality and self.
Mind-centered meditation systems can be elaborate because of the accumulation of thousands of years of study and practice. However, they can also be quite simple, as in Dr. Herbert Benson’s method to elicit the “Relaxation Response.” In this method, you sit quietly with your eyes closed, pay attention to your breathing, and repeat a word or phrase silently to yourself as you exhale. Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered, you bring it back to your breathing and your word/phrase. You do this for 20 minutes once a day.
Meditation can be as simple as that.
Spirit-Centered Meditation Systems
The purpose of spiritually-based meditation systems is devotion to communion with God, Source, or Spirit, depending on the tradition. Fr. Thomas Keating summarizes this intention in the “Centering Prayer” technique by instructing participants to “consent to the presence and action of God within.”
In spirit-centered meditation systems, your intention is to go beyond the relaxation or health benefits of meditation to surrender yourself to the deeper Reality that is the Source of Being. Techniques that relax your body, calm your emotions, and quiet your mind may be used as a preparation for this transcendent or “superconscious” experience. The superconscious state is variously described as an experience of Oneness, Pure Consciousness, or communion with God.
Each meditation system promises certain benefits and experiences. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t realize all these results right away. Meditation is a skill that grows through mindful repetition.
On the other hand, don’t fall prey to the idea that to get benefits from meditation you have to lock yourself in seclusion and go at it for hours a day. You can get significant and life-changing benefits from as little as 15-20 minutes a day practiced consistently over time.
As you start any meditation, remember that the right approach to successful meditation is to have a relaxed, yet alert and receptive, attitude. Set your intention and follow the cues of your particular system, but do not force it. Allow meditation to unfold naturally.
If you are interested in a comprehensive, holistic, meditation program that fuses body, heart, mind, and spirit, Core Energy Meditation™ is designed to do just that. You can check out a technique to release negative emotions from “Raise Your Vibration: A Guide To Core Energy Meditation™” by clicking here: Core Energy Meditation
Copyright 2009 by Kevin Schoeninge