A lot of beginners struggle with their meditation practice because they are finding some difficulty achieving the state of conscious relaxation they are looking for. This makes sense for a beginner because until the emotional baggage is unloaded and the fog cleared from the mind, it is a struggle to “go there” and at this stage, just about any method will do. But, there comes a time when a practitioner may wonder if they have overlooked a way to further their practice. It is natural progression to ask yourself, “am I using the right method?”
When you go to a shoe store to buy new shoes, do you just pick up the first pair that looks about right and head to the checkout? If you are an avid runner and are looking for a four-legged running companion, would you take the Chihuahua puppy because someone handed it to you and said, “Here, try this?” If you are passionate about biology in high school, do you ignore that passion and pursue an education and career in tennis? No. We make decisions about our lives based on how well something “fits.” Do we find it agreeable? Does it suit us? Will it blend with the décor? The same goes for mediation. You need to take into account what your goals are with meditation. It is a powerful tool and can be focused in many directions. Perhaps you are using meditation for its powers of physical wellness and healing. Maybe you wish to achieve enlightenment and oneness with all things. Or maybe you wish to put a leash on your monkey mind and lower your stress levels.
So, we’ve come to the conclusion for whatever reason that meditation is good for us and we want to incorporate it into our daily lives. We’ve watched some videos, attended some classes, or read some books, and we feel well informed about the techniques and benefits. So, what technique did you choose and why?
Most of us just pursue what we’ve been taught. If your first experience with meditation was a mindfulness video, when you close your eyes, your mind heads there conditionally. Perhaps you can’t stay focused or perhaps you keep getting distracted. Maybe your brain needs more guidance than what you are giving it through mindfulness. Maybe that pair of shoes isn’t so comfortable. Sit down and try on another pair of shoes.
The first point to understand is that all techniques have the same goal in mind, which is to get you into a different state of consciousness where you can spend time organizing, disciplining, and training the mind for various desired outcomes. What differs in the methods is how each one engages the mind, and our preferences can be as different in us as accent and hair color. Also, the backgrounds and attachments or non-attachments to philosophies and religions are very different. I highly recommend exploring these various methods on your own, even if you do it just for the fun of it. You will definitely learn a lot about meditation, and I bet you will learn a lot about yourself in the process.
Mindfulness meditation, or traditionally named Vipassana, teaches observation without engaging emotionally, and the contemplation of the impermanence of that which we are observing. It also teaches us to be observant of our connection of mind and body. Vipassana means to see thing as they really are, and is one of India’s most ancient techniques. It has recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity and modern practice. If you are interested in this type of meditation, I recommend this website (see it here).
Transcendental meditation ™ is a secular form that teaches you to focus your attention by transcending a personalized mantra and experience the subtle states of thought. For 20 minutes twice a day the practitioner makes an effort to seek out the source of thought and pure awareness. If you’d like to find out more about TM, I recommend this site (see it here).
Mantra meditation is Hindu in origin but is used widely in Buddhism and many other religions. It uses a sacred word or phrase repeated over and over that uplifts you, keeps you focused, and helps you have a transformative experience. By focusing your mind on your mantra, it stays busy and free from mischief and wandering. For instance, an ancient mantra that has been used for centuries is, “Om Mani Padme Hum”, which means, “hail the jewel in the lotus”. A more modern mantra could be, “Be the Change You Wish to See in the World,” which is a quote from Buddha.
Zen meditation, or Zazen, is defined as sitting meditation and has its roots in Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. It has become very popular in the West. The ultimate purpose of Zen meditation is to strip away the layers of the mind that prevent free and open thought until one gains enlightenment. It is used to calm the mind and body and seek out spiritual insight. Zen is usually taught from teacher to student in a class of some sort. It uses concentration directed at something, such as the breath or a Zen koan, which is a phrase or question that defies logical, rational thought and understanding. This forces you to tap into a deeper insight to find the answer you seek. A popular koan is, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” I found a lot of great information and links to other articles at this site (see it here).
Qigong Visualization is a form of meditation used to promote health and wellbeing and can be used in conjunction with the tai chi postures. Visualizations can include guided imagery and sensual guides such as candles, drumming, music, colors, and incense. They also use visualizations of chakras, pressure points, chi circulation, and healing energy.
Yoga is believed to be founded in Northern India about 5000 years ago. The basic philosophy of yoga is that mind, body, and spirit are all one and intertwined in such a way that what benefits one will benefit the other two. What most people know of yoga is the asana, or postures, which is seen in the West as mostly an ancient form of exercise turned modern. But, in truth, yoga has 8 areas of learning, only one of which is the physical asana. The asana are designed to stimulate the connection between the mind, body, and spirit in preparation for meditation. Many people benefit from the use of asana before meditation. There are literally dozens of different schools of yoga to choose from, so if you decide to look into it, get ready to shop for another pair of shoes that fits.
Prayer is accepted and used my many organized religions including the many branches of Christianity. Prayer is a form of meditation that uses words of worship to connect to God on a personal level. Prayer can bring a sense of connectedness and help to organize thoughts and keep focused energy on what the practitioner feels is important. A lot of people are eager to argue that prayer is not a form of meditation, but I think these arguments come from a closed mind that feel conditioned prejudice against the word meditation and what it has grown to mean to them. I think there are many great benefits to prayer and should be explored by practitioners that want a meditation practice that is connected to their specific organized religion.
There are certainly many more techniques to find and explore out there, but the last one I want to mention is the new wave of technology that is available. We have thoroughly accepted and absorbed technological advancements into every part of our lives, and using technology to create a great meditation practice is no different. Binaural beat downloads like the ones found here on Soundshift can help you quickly achieve states of consciousness that may take a practitioner years to get to traditionally. Another new alternative is guided meditation, which is allowing a voice to lead you to a deeper state of consciousness. Both can be found on our products page.
If you are looking to begin a meditation practice or enhance the one you’ve built, I encourage you to explore all the amazing options out there. They all teach us a philosophy and a wisdom as well as practical procedure. Many serious meditators believe it is important to find a master that will decide which method will be good for which person, but in the day and age of the internet and boundless information, I can’t see the harm in exploring it on your own. The teacher from gurumaa.com suggests you give it at least three months to see if the technique you chose is a good fit, as they need time to grow on us.