I never thought I'd teach meditation. I'm kind of a smartass. But I tried it and it works. We all need a way to launder stress from out system - life is too overwhelming. I promise you can do it. It's not about shutting off the brain. Meditation benefits everyone & it's easier than you think.
People ask me how to meditate all the time, or how to get started.
Here are some answers.
How to Get Started Meditating---
- There are LOTS of ways to meditate. No kidding, I've heard as many as 84,000, but I think of it as more like a hundred.
- TRY A FEW. It's not like you're buying a house. Try some meditations, if one doesn't feel right, it doesn't mean you don't like meditation, it just means you don't jive with that one.
If you want to try Mindful Meditation now - I recorded teaching rock star Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo. Listen & meditate a few minutes with us.
- CD's! There are lots of guided meditation cd's & avail on itunes & even podcasts. Lots are on Amazon.
- VIDS. I typed "How to Meditate" into Youtube & got THIS. Watch a few, try it. See if you like any of them.
- APPS. HEADSPACE is a phone app for meditation. It gives you different ways to meditate each day & I've heard great things about it. Here are other Meditation Apps.
- VISIT LOCAL. Google (or Bing) "Meditation" and see what's available in your area. You can do the same thing on Yelp. Go by reviews or price or proximity or simply try it if it seems attractive to you for any reason at all.
Overall, I'd recc - Anything that doesn't cost much money. Maybe a $20 class or $15 book. Some free stuff from podcasts or youtube. Sometimes Buddhist Temples offer meditation for a small donation.
What I do is Vedic, and it costs money to take the course and learn it. But before, I had tried several kinds. And when I went (for free) to hear a teacher talk about Vedic, I strongly felt it might be for me, so I tried it. But I'd tried others first.
Go with your gut, you can't go wrong. Even if you don't like a type of meditation, it's good information. & you can move it right along to one you do like.
Finally, here's this from Live & Dare .... 23 Types of Meditation. I hope this helps you get started. Enjoy! There's nothing to feel but better!
Scientists usually classify all types of meditation, depending on the way they focus attention, into two categories: Focused Attention and Open Monitoring. I’d like to propose a third: Effortless Presence.
Focused attention meditation
Focusing the attention on a single object during the whole meditation session. This object may be the breath, a mantra, visualization, part of the body, external object, etc. As the practitioner advances, his ability to keep the flow of attention in the chosen object gets stronger, and distractions become less common and short-lived. Both the depth and steadiness of his attention are developed.
Examples of these are: Vipassana, some forms of Zazen, Loving Kindness Meditation, Chakra Meditation, Kundalini Meditation, Sound Meditation, Pranayama, some forms of Qigong.
Open monitoring meditation
Instead of focusing the attention on any one object, we keep it open, monitoring all aspects of experience, without judgment or attachment. All perceptions, be them internal (thoughts, feelings, memory, etc.) or external (sound, smell, etc.), are recognized and seen for what they are. It is the process of non-reactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment. Examples are: Mindfulness meditation, as well as some types of Taoist Meditation.
It’s the state where the attention is not focused on anything in particular, but reposes on itself – quiet, empty, steady, and introverted. We can also call it “Choiceless Awareness” or “Pure Being”.
This is actually the true purpose behind all kinds of meditation, and not a meditation type in itself. All traditional techniques of meditation recognize that the object of focus, and even the process of monitoring, is just a means to train the mind, so that effortless inner silence and deeper states of consciousness can be discovered. Eventually both the object of focus and the process itself is left behind, and there is only left the true self of the practitioner, as “pure presence”.
In some techniques, this is the only focus, from the beginning. Examples are: the Self-Enquiry (“I am” meditation) of Ramana Maharishi; Dzogchen; some forms of Taoist Meditation; and some forms of Raja Yoga.
Click here for an Overview of Buddhist, Vipassana, Mindfullness, Metta, Mantra, TM, Yoga, I Am, Chinese, Qigong & Guided.
Or read on about a few of them...
1) BUDDHIST MEDITATION
Zen Meditation (Zazen)
Origin & Meaning
Zazen (坐禅) means “seated Zen”, or “seated meditation”, in Japanese. It has its roots in the Chinese Zen Buddhism (Ch’an) tradition, tracing back to Indian monk Bodhidharma (6th century CE). In the West, its most popular forms comes from Dogen Zenji (1200~1253), the founder of Soto Zen movement in Japan. Similar modalities are practiced in the Rinzai school of Zen, in Japan and Korea.
How to do it
It is generally practiced seated on the floor over a mat and cushion, with crossed legs. Traditionally it was done in lotus or half-lotus position, but this is hardly necessary. Nowadays most practitioners sit like this:
The most important aspect, as you see in the pictures, is keeping the back completely straight, from the pelvis to the neck. Mouth is kept close and eyes are kept lowered, with your gaze resting on the ground about two or three feet in front of you.
As to the mind aspect of it, it’s usually practiced in two ways:
- Focusing on breath — focus all your attention on the movement of the breath going in and out through the nose. This may be aided by counting the breath in your mind. Each time you inhale you count one number, starting with 10, and then moving backward to 9, 8, 7, etc. When you arrive in 1, you resume from 10 again. If you get distracted and lose your count, gently bring back the attention to 10 and resume from there.
- Shikantaza (“just sitting”) — in this form the practitioner does not use any specific object of meditation; rather, practitioners remain as much as possible in the present moment, aware of and observing what passes through their minds and around them, without dwelling on anything in particular. It’s a type of Effortless Presence meditation
- Zen Mountain Monastery
- Open Way (PDF)
- Visit a Zen Buddhist center near to you. Most of them teach zazen for free.
Is it for me?
Zazen is a very sober meditation style, and you can easily find a lot of strong communities practicing it, as well as plenty of information on the internet. There is a lot of emphasis in keeping the right posture, as an aid for concentration. It is usually practiced in Zen Buddhist centers (Sangha), with strong community support.
In many of them you will find it coupled with other elements of Buddhist practice: prostrations, a bit of ritualism, chanting, and group readings of the Buddha teachings. Some people will like this, others won’t. Personally, I practiced zazen in a Buddhist group for 3 years, and I found that those elements and a bit of formality can also help create a structure for the practice, and in themselves they are also meditative.
Origin & Meaning
Mindfulness Meditation is an adaptation from traditional Buddhist meditation practices, especially Vipassana, but also having strong influence from other lineages, such as the Vietnamese Zen Buddhism from Thich Nhat Hanh). “Mindfulness” is the common western translation for the Buddhist term sati. Anapanasati, “mindfulness of breathing”, is part of the Buddhist practice of Vipassana or insight meditation, and other Buddhist meditational practices, such as zazen (source: Wikipedia).
One of the main influencers for Mindfulness in the West is John Kabat-Zinn. His Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) – which he developed in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School – has been used in several hospitals and health clinic on the past decades.
How to do it
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of intentionally focusing on the present moment, accepting and non-judgmentally paying attention to the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise.
For the “formal practice” time, sit on a cushion on the floor, or on a chair, with straight and unsupported back. Pay close attention to the movement of your breath. When you breath in, be aware that you are breathing in, and how it feels. When you breath out, be aware you are breathing out. Do like this for the length of your meditation practice, constantly redirecting the attention to the breath.
Your mind will get distracted with sounds, sensations, and thoughts. Whenever that happens, gently recognize that you have been distracted, and bring the attention back to the breathing.
Learn to enjoy your practice. Once you are done, appreciate how different the body and mind feel.
There is also the practice of mindfulness during our daily activities: while eating, walking, and talking. For “daily life” meditation, the practice is to pay attention to what is going on in the present moment, to be aware of what is happening – and not living in “automatic mode”. If you are speaking, that means paying attention to the words you speak, how you speak them, and to listen with presence and attention. If you are walking, that means being more aware of your body movements, your feet touching the ground, the sounds you are hearing, etc.
Your effort in seated practice supports your daily life practice, and vice-versa. They are both equally important.
- Psychology Today (more details on how to practice)
- Palouse Mindfulness (MBSR free online course)
- Mindfulness exercises
- Mindful Schools
Is it for me?
For the general public, this is perhaps the most advisable way to get started with meditation. It is the type of meditation that is most taught at schools and hospitals, as far as I am aware. The “mindfulness movement” as practiced nowadays in society at large, is not Buddhism, but an adaptation of Buddhist practices due to their benefits in good physical and mental health and general wellbeing.
For most people, Mindfulness Meditation may be the only type of meditation they will like, especially if their focus is only the physical and mental benefits of meditation, as it is usually taught dissociated from several of the eastern concepts and philosophies that traditionally accompanied the practice. And for that it is great – it will bring many good things to your life.
If your focus is a deeper transformation and spiritual development, however, then mindfulness meditation may be just an initial step for you. From here you can then move into Vipassana, Zazen, or other types of meditation.
2) HINDU MEDITATION (Vedic & Yogic)
Mantra Meditation (OM Meditation)
Origin & Meaning
A mantra is a syllable or word, usually without any particular meaning, that is repeated for the purpose of focusing your mind. It isnot an affirmation used to convince yourself of something.
Some meditation teachers insist that both the choice of word, and its correct pronunciation, is very important, due to the “vibration” associated to the sound and meaning, and that for this reason an initiation into it is essential. Others say that the mantra itself is only a tool to focus the mind, and the chosen word is completely irrelevant.
Mantras are used in Hindu traditions, Buddhist traditions (especially Tibetan and “Pure Land” Buddhism), as well as in Jainism, Sikhism and Daoism (Taoism). Some people call mantra meditation “om meditation”, but that is just one of the mantras that can be used. A more devotion oriented practice of mantras is called japa, and consists of repeating sacred sounds (name of God) with love.
How to do it
As most type of meditations, it is usually practiced sitting with spine erect, and eyes closed. The practitioner then repeats the mantra in his mind, silently, over and over again during the whole session.
Sometimes this practice is coupled with being aware of the breathing or coordinating with it. In other exercises, the mantra is actually 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, the mantra becomes increasingly abstract and indistinct, until you’re finally led into the field of pure consciousness from which the vibration arose.
Repetition of the mantra helps you disconnect from the thoughts filling your mind so that perhaps you may slip into the gap between thoughts. The mantra is a tool to support your meditation practice. Mantras can be viewed as ancient power words with subtle intentions that help us connect to spirit, the source of everything in the universe. (Deepak Chopra)
Here are some of the most well-known mantras from the Hindu tradition:
- om namah shivaya
- om mani padme hum
You may practice for a certain period of time, or for a set number of “repetitions” – traditionally 108 or 1008. In the latter case, beads are typically used for keeping count.
As the practice deepens, you may find that the mantra continues “by itself” like the humming of the mind. Or the mantra may even disappear, and you are left in a state of deep inner peace.
Is it for me?
People usually find that it is easier to focus with a mantra than with the breathing. 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. In whatever activity you find yourself into, it can be as simple as repeating the mantra in your mind.
3) GUIDED MEDITATIONS
Origin & Meaning
Guided Meditation is, in great part, a modern phenomenon. It is an easier way to start, and you will find guided meditations ba
sed on several of the above traditions.
The practice of meditation requires some dose of determination and will-power. In the past, people that were into meditation were more committed to it, and also had strong ideals fuelling their motivation. Their life was more simple, with less distractions.
We live in very different times now. Our life is busier. Will power is a less common personal asset. Distractions are everywhere, and meditation is often sought as a means to develop better health, enhance performance, or improve oneself.
For these reasons, guided meditation can indeed be a good way to introduce you to the practice. Once you get the hang of it, and wish to take your practice to the next level, I would urge you to try meditation unassisted by audio. It is up to you to decide when you feel like taking this step.
Guided Meditation is like cooking with a recipe. It’s a good way to start, and you can eat the food you make like this. But once you understand the main principles and flavors, you can cook your own dish. It will have a different, unique taste; it will be tailored for you, and more powerful. And then you will not want to use the recipe anymore – unless if you are trying a dish of another cuisine.
[Image from BinauralBeatsMeditation.com]
How to do it
Guided meditation usually comes in the form of audio (file, podcast, CD), and sometimes audio and video. You will find that any guided meditation will fall in one of below categories (with some overlap, obviously).
- Traditional Meditations — With these types of audios, the voice of the teacher is simply there to “illustrate” or “guide” the way for your attention, in order to be in a meditative state; there is more silence than voice in it, and often no music. Examples are the ones offered by Thich Nhat Hanh and Tara Brach, which are rooted in authentic Buddhist practices. The purpose is to develop and deepen the practice itself, with all the benefitsthat come with it.
- Guided Imagery — Makes use of the imagination and visualization powers of the brain, guiding you to imagine an object, entity, scenery or journey. The purpose is usually healing or relaxation.
- Relaxation & Body Scans — Helps you achieve a deep relaxation in your whole body. It’s usually accompanied by soothing instrumental music or nature sounds. In Yoga these are called yoga nidra. The purpose is relaxation and calmness.
- Affirmations — Usually coupled with relaxation and guided imagery, the purpose of these meditations is to imprint a message in your mind.
- Binaural Beats — Binaural beats were originally discovered in 1839 by physicist Heinrich Wilhelm Dove. He discovered when 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 (10 Hz), which is the brain wave associated with initial levels of meditation. There is scientific research into why and how binaural beats work.
While they all have their merits, it is the first type that most naturally evolves into individual unguided practice.
- UCLA Free Guided Meditations
- Head In The Clouds (big collection of free guided meditations)
- Free Binaural Beats
- Yoga Nidra (YouTube)
- Headspace app (Guided meditations on your phone!)
Is it for me?
If you feel traditional meditation is a bit too hard, or you are unsure where to start, then guided meditations can be the way for you to begin. Or if you are seeking some very specific experience or benefit – like improving self-esteem, working through a trauma, or just letting go of some tension in your body – you can also find some guided meditation that suits you.