Why do people meditate?  What are the benefits and types of meditation?  I am finding more and more about the different types of meditation and the influence that mediation has on our lives (both personal and spiritually). I hope that I answer or can help others understand these differences and they important role it plays.     Meditation does work.

Meditation has been widely recommended as a healthy way to manage stress by way of thought, contemplation and reflex ion.  Meditation provides many health-enhancing benefits like reducing symptoms of stress, trauma and anxiety, aids in reliving physical issues like headaches and enhancing our body’s immunity to illness.  One has to be open and receptive to it, and let go of the negative connotations you may have.  You just need to find the right one for you.   Don’t give up.

There are scores of variations of meditation, most of which range along a continuum of some combination of concentration and open awareness techniques. Defining and understanding the type of meditation being practiced represents some of the most important and challenging factors in the field of scientific meditation research. The difficulty of creating clear and consistent definitions of meditative practices is evidenced by the discrepancies found in many academic descriptions of meditation.       Traditionally, meditation has been situated within the context of a set of religious beliefs, teachings, and practices. The objective was to alter everyday consciousness to reach a state of receptiveness to the goals of the tradition. The customary meditation posture involves sitting in a cross-legged position on a cushion with an awareness of bodily position. There are variations that include lying down, standing, walking or even yoga.  Modern meditation groups may sit in chairs. Eyes can be closed or open and unfocused. It can be performed individually or in groups. Some teachers emphasize that meditation is a state of mind involving awareness and acceptance, and can be done at any time in the midst of any activity. There are countless forms of meditation, but most fall into three or four general categories: concentrative, open awareness, and guided – as well as the broadly defined practice of mindfulness.

There are many different types of meditation techniques that are practiced by people from all walks of life, while holding to the fundamental principles of reflection and quiet thought to bring about a state of rumination. The different types of meditation that are acknowledged worldwide include transcendental meditation, prayer, Zen meditation, Taoist meditation, mindfulness meditation, and Buddhist meditation. Several of these call for the body remaining completely still or to be stimulated with controlled deliberation, whereas other types will allow free movement of the body. While being aware of these different types of meditation, the end objective is to teach our busy minds to quieten, freeing our minds of stress drawing on quiet contemplation and reflection.

Quiet Mind:   when meditating, the thinking mind becomes quiet. You stop focusing on the stressors of your day or your life’s problems, as well as solving these problems. You just let that voice in your head be quiet, which is easier said than done. Start thinking about nothing now; if you’re not practiced at quieting your mind, it probably didn’t take long before thoughts crept in.      Being In The Now:  Instead of focusing on the past or the future, virtually all meditative practices involve focusing on right now. This involves experiencing each moment and letting it go, experiencing the next. This takes practice, as many of us live most of our lives thinking toward the future or relishing and rehashing the past. Altered States of Consciousness:    Over time, maintaining a quiet mind and focus on the present can lead to an altered level of consciousness that isn’t a sleeping state but isn’t quite your average wakeful state, either. Meditation increases brain activity in an area of the brain associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions, and some evidence shows that regular practice brings prolonged positive changes in these areas.

There are many, many different ways to meditate, some include: Basic Meditation Techniques:   Involves sitting in a comfortable position and just trying to quiet your mind by thinking of nothing. It’s not always easy to do this if you don’t have practice with it. But a good way to begin is to think of yourself as an ‘observer of your thoughts,’ just noticing what the narrative voice in your head says, but not engaging it. As thoughts materialize in your mind, just let them go.   Focused Meditation Techniques:   you focus on something intently, but don’t engage your thoughts about it. You can focus on something visual, like a statue; something auditory, like a metronome or tape of ocean waves; something constant, like your own breathing; or a simple concept, like ‘unconditional compassion’.  Some people find it easier to do this than to focus on nothing, but the idea is the same — staying in the present moment and circumventing the constant stream of commentary from your conscious mind, and allowing yourself to slip into an altered state of consciousness.    Activity-Oriented Meditation Techniques:   You engage in a repetitive activity, or one where you can get ‘in the zone’ and experience ‘flow.’ Again, this quiets the mind, and allows your brain to shift. Activities like gardening, creating artwork, or practicing yoga can all be effective forms of meditation.   Mindfulness Techniques: Mindfulness doesn’t really look like meditation. It simply involves staying in the present moment rather than thinking about the future or the past. (Again, this is more difficult than it seems!) Focusing on sensations you feel in your body is one way to stay ‘in the now;’ focusing on emotions and where you feel them in your body (not examining why you feel them, but just experiencing them as sensations) is another.    Spiritual Meditating: Meditation can also be a spiritual practice. (It does not have to be, and certainly isn’t specific to any one religion, but can be used as a spiritual experience.) Many people experience meditation as a form of prayer — the form where God ‘speaks,’ rather than just listening.  There are many people that experience ‘guidance’ or inner wisdom once the mind is quiet, and meditate for this purpose. You can meditate on a singular question until an answer comes (though some would say this is engaging your thinking mind too much), or meditate to clear their mind and accept whatever comes that day.

Concentrative Meditation   The objective is to cultivate a single-pointed attention on some object, such as a sound, an image, the breath, or a flame. Through the training of consistently returning to the object of focus, the mind develops the capacity to remain calm, stabilized, and grounded. Many Western meditation teachers start beginners with this practice, most commonly focusing on the breath. In some advanced practices, states of bliss may be reached. The most well-known and researched form of the concentrative type in the West is Transcendental Meditation (TM).    Transcendental meditation was introduced to the western world in 1958. It is extremely simple to learn and practice, yet it brings immense practical benefits to all areas of life. Of all the different types of meditation, this particular technique gives a unique quality of rest to the mind and body, releasing stress and tiredness in a very natural way. Transcendental Meditation is a very practical and simple form of reaching a state of rumination and suitable to all people, especially those who find it difficult to set aside time, as some techniques may require an hour plus to practice. 15-20 minutes twice daily sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. This may even be done on the bus, train, lunch hour, essentially anywhere that is safe for you to sit with eyes closed for those 15-20 minutes.

Open Awareness The objective of these forms of meditative practices is to open the mind into a panoramic awareness of whatever is happening without a specific focus. Often this awareness is compared to the spacious sky or a river with objects floating by. The capacity to be present with whatever arises is developed through this practice. The Zen sitting practice zazen, or shikantaza, is an example of this form of meditation practiced in the West.  Zen meditation is the practice of sitting in preparation of relaxing the body and mind as well as opening oneself up to discovering insight into the nature of your being. In effect this means that as you sit in the various positions prescribed, closing your mind to thought and images; you will notice after a period of time, your heart rate will begin to slow down. Breathing will become shallow, and you will pass into a meditative state. Thought will become isolated and deliberate concentration on the present moment is all you will be aware of. Any thoughts of the past and the future will be kept at bay thus focusing and reacting to what is happening in the now. There will be no rumination on the things you should have done or the things that still need to be done. This will result in a wonderful escape from the constant chatter of the subconscious mind.

Mindfulness The most popular, widely adapted, and widely researched meditation technique in the West is known as mindfulness meditation is a combination of concentration and open awareness. Mindfulness is found in many contemplative traditions, but is most often identified with the Theravadan Buddhist practice of vipassana, or “insight meditation.” The practitioner focuses on an object, such as the breath, bodily sensations, thoughts, feelings, or sounds. The focus is not as narrow as in concentrative meditation, for there is a simultaneous awareness of other phenomena. This mindfulness practice is often extended to daily actions, such as eating, walking, driving, or housework. The contemporary Western adaptation is typically removed from the rigorous contemplative training method of empirical introspection traditionally associated with Buddhism, which has as its objective the development of equanimity and clarity of perception.    Vipassana meditation was discovered and taught by Buddha thousands of years ago. The word vipassana meaning ‘to see things clearly’ was taught to people as a way of healing the body and mind, by means of cleansing both of impurities and toxins.   This type of meditation is not solely practiced by individuals with a Buddhist background; it is used by people of various cultures and backgrounds.

Imagine having complete control over your mind instead of the other way around. Buddhist meditation can give you that, if you undertake the proper discipline to do so. This type of meditation is said to bring your mind, body and soul to a natural balance. Buddha practiced the state of mindlessness through deliberation and rumination throughout his life. The idea was to diminish the mind’s need for selfishness and the craving for material matter to become a happier person. During meditation, you are in complete awareness of your physical body and every movement it makes. You are what’s more very aware of your state of mind and how it can change so rapidly in time – a minute, a day. Buddhist meditation is an extremely disciplined practice and should be done on a regular basis to benefit the mind, body and soul. If practiced correctly and consistently you will soon begin to notice very obvious changes, such as the mind slowly becoming free from fear. Your focus and concentration throughout the day, every day will become far more superior than previously. There will be no concerns or worry in your mind, no link to this physical world, no cares.

Taoist meditation is a type of meditation has several points in common with Hindu and Buddhist systems. The Taoist method is considerably less abstract, far more practical than the contemplative traditions that originated in India. The chief characteristic of this type of meditation is the generation, transformation, and circulation of inner energy. Once this stream of energy is achieved known as “deh-chee”, this can then be useful in promoting better health and longevity or whatever the meditator chooses. The Taoist meditation uses Breath and Navel meditation to teach beginners. This is the oldest method on record in China and India and works directly with the natural flow of breath in the nostrils and the expansion and contraction of the abdomen. This type of meditation is a fine way to improve focused attention and one-pointed awareness.

Guided Meditation All forms of meditation can be guided, and many are practiced with recorded or in-person guidance at first, and is also called guided imagery, the practitioner follows auditory guidance from a teacher or recording that elicits certain images, affirmations, states (such as peacefulness), or imagined desired experiences. Guided imagery is popular in the West to facilitate health and well-being and is often used to rehearse successful outcomes of procedures, such as surgery or an athletic performance.

Mindfulness meditation is a simple type of meditation teaching us to be mindful and alert of everything we do in our lives giving deliberate thought and concentration to everything we do. This will motivate a better awareness of the diverse situations and surroundings we find ourselves in resulting in a much more relaxed body and nervous system. This type of meditation trains your mind and body to meditate on the things in life that you cannot change, with a great deal of contemplation and rumination on the whole idea. It can be applied to every aspect of life, from eating to exercising, to just breathing and living. Mindfulness meditation is about being aware of the things in your life that you have control over.

Amid all the different types of meditation, there will always be confusion as with anything as to questions such as; ‘Is it safe?’, ‘How to decide which technique to practice’, ‘How much does it cost?’ Nevertheless once a decision is reached and you begin to practice the desired type of meditation suitable for you, it will become an essential part of your new daily life.  Then you wonder how you previously survived without it!

 Kathy Kiefer

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