Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.
We all know the power of meditation.
Some of us have experienced it firsthand. Others may have dabbled in it.
Yet, regardless of the known benefits, nearly everyone has a difficult time making meditation a consistent daily practice.
In our modern culture, our minds are trained to work around the clock… and indeed, they’ve become addicted to it.
With countless distractions drawing our awareness away from our own center — and endless gadgets and tools with which to consume information — we condition our minds to process, evaluate, react, and repeat, without ever breaking the cycle to rest and recharge.
It starts first thing in the morning, when most people turn on their smartphones to check email, Facebook, and surf the web – all before they are fully awake, arrived in the body, and out of the bed. It continues throughout the entire day and into the evening, typically ending with a glowing television screen right up until bedtime (and more and more commonly, through the entire night as a “sleep aid”).
All day long, our minds are both confronted with, and in search of, information to consume.
This causes tension, struggle, uncertainty and frustration in every area of our lives. Because as we know, our mind creates our reality.
A cluttered, burdened, troubled mind = a cluttered, burdened, troubled life.
Modern humans have made mental busyness our most ingrained habit — and it can be seriously difficult to break.
This is the real reason people don’t meditate. And, perhaps, that they haven’t found a form of meditation that resonates deeply enough to provide the profoundly tangible and far-reaching benefits inherent to the practice.
It’s time for all that to change…
Are you ready to devote yourself to the cultivation of a practice that will continually clear your mind, elevate your consciousness, and awaken your spiritual life in unimaginable ways?
In this article we will discuss the true purpose of meditation, and explore 9 unique ways to practice. Some you may have heard of, and others are more “outside the box.”
In this way, you can explore the terrain of your consciousness by choosing the pathways that resonate most with your level, your style, and your ultimate goal.
Whichever method you choose, we encourage you to commit to a daily exploration of meditation techniques, in honor of this month’s Intellectual focus.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet.
It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there –
buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.
– Deepak Chopra
Meditation is essentially a state of pure consciousness without content.
Ordinarily, our consciousness is filled with all kinds of rubbish, like a mirror covered with thick layers of dust. The mind is in constant traffic — with thoughts, desires, ambitions, emotions, and opinions in constant motion. Day in and day out, the mind is functioning, evaluating, preparing and reacting, with little or no resting period in between.
Meditation is a ceasing of the traffic — a calming of the fluctuations, and a stillness of the mental “content.” It is within this stillness and silence that our deepest truth can be realized, and our highest Self can be remembered. In the highest state of meditation, known as Samadi, we learn to flow in unimaginably ecstatic and blissful union with the divine energy of love and light, which we come to realize is our essential nature.
If you want to find God,
hang out in the space between your thoughts.
– Alan Cohen
In this article, we’ll explore 9 different approaches to meditation (some of which don’t even seem like meditation!), to help you experiment with what works best for you, and develop a deepening practice of mindfulness, presence and bliss in your own life.
The you that goes in one side of the meditation experience
is not the same you that comes out the other side.
– Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
9 Powerful Meditation Practices
Meaning and Origin
Guided meditation (otherwise known as “guided imagery” or “creative visualization”) has been used for centuries as a medical therapy. Evidence shows Tibetan monks began using guided meditation as early as the 13th century, imagining Buddha curing disease.
In guided meditations, either live or recorded, one is voice-guided step-by-step through a meditative experience.
Guided meditations are a wonderful place for beginners to start, as they require less effort and pressure to “get it right.” After all, meditation is the practice of deepening our relaxation and awareness.
Once you get the hang of it, and wish to take your practice to the next level, you can begin to explore other methods of meditation (some of which are listed in this article).
How to Do It
Guided meditation usually comes in the form of audio (youtube, file, podcast, CD), and sometimes video. You will find that any guided meditation will fall in one of below categories (with some overlap, of course).
- 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 offerings by Thich Nhat Hanh and Tara Brach, which are rooted in authentic Buddhist practices.
- Guided Imagery — This 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 — This practice helps you achieve a deep relaxation in your whole body. It’s usually accompanied by soothing instrumental music or nature sounds. In Yoga this is called yoga nidra or “yogic sleep,” in which you are suspended between sleeping and waking states to achieve elevated awareness and deepened relaxation.
- 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.
- 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!)
Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind,
the light of your consciousness grows stronger.
One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head.
This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously,
as your sense of self does not depend on it.
– Eckhart Tolle
Meaning and Origin
“Vipassana” is a Pali word that means “insight” or “clear seeing.” It is a traditional Buddhist practice, dating back to 6th century BC. Due to the popularity of Vipassanā meditation, the “mindfulness of breathing” has gained further popularity in the West as “mindfulness.”
How to Do It
There is some conflicting information on how to practice Vipassana. In general, most teachers emphasize starting with mindfulness of breath in the first stages, to stabilize the mind and achieve “access concentration.” This is more like focused attention meditation. Then the practice moves on to developing “clear insight” of the bodily sensations and mental phenomena, observing them moment-by-moment and not clinging to any.
Here’s a brief overview for beginnings. To learn more, explore the links below or consider a retreat or personal instruction.
Sit on a floor cushion, cross-legged, with your spine erect. If this is too challenging, you may also use a chair, but the back should not be supported.
Now focus all your attention, from moment to moment, on the movement of your breath. Notice the subtle sensations of the movement of the abdomen rising and falling. Notice the gentle expansion of the body on each inhale, and the contraction on each exhale. Notice the sensation of air passing through the nostrils and down into the throat.
As you focus on the breath, you will notice other perceptions and sensations appear: sounds, feelings or tensions in the body, emotions, mind chatter, etc. Simply notice these phenomena as they emerge in your field of awareness, and then return to the sensation of breathing. The attention should be kept in the object of concentration (in this case, the breathing), while these other thoughts or sensations are there simply as “background noise.” As you continue to be drawn out, draw yourself back in again to the breath. This is meditation.
Make “note” of what arises, without becoming attached to it. You can do this by identifying an object in general, instead of in detail. For example, if you become aware of a sound, you can label it “hearing” instead of “voices,” “cars,” or “barking dog.” If unpleasant physical sensations appear, such as tension or discomfort, you can label it “feeling” instead of “back pain” or “knee pain.” If you notice a scent, say the mental note “smelling,” without identifying the source of the smell.
In this way, you observe the objects of awareness without attachment, letting thoughts and sensations arise (as they inevitably will) and fall away naturally. Mental labeling (explained above) is often used as a way to prevent you from being carried away by thoughts, and keep you in more objectively noticing them.
- Types of Vipassana
- Vipassana Dhura (very in-depth article)
- Vipassana for beginners (Goenka style)
- Mindfulness in Plain English (free eBook)
- Visit a Vipassana center near you
Mental problems feed on the attention that you give them.
The more you worry about them, the stronger they become.
If you ignore them, they lose their power and finally vanish.
– Annamalai Swami
ZEN MEDITATION (ZAZEN or SHIKANTAZA)
Meaning and Origin
Zazen (坐禅) means “seated Zen” or “seated meditation” in Japanese. The aim of zazen is “just sitting;” that is, suspending all judgmental thinking and letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them.
Zazen 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
Zazen 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 a regular crossed legs position is more accessible for most.
The most important aspect of the practice is keeping the back completely straight, from the pelvis to the neck. The mouth is kept closed and eyes are kept lowered, with your gaze resting on the ground about two or three feet in front of
Internally, it is usually practiced in two ways:
- Focus on breath — Focus all your attention on the movement of the breath going in and out through the nose. This can be made easier by counting the breath in your mind, or by gently tapping your thumb to each fingertip on both hands. Beginners should start with an inhale of 5 seconds, and an exhale of 5 seconds, and work their way up, always keeping the inhale and exhale equal in length. If you get distracted and lose your count, gently bring back the attention to #1 and begin again.
- Shikantaza (“just sitting”) — In this form the practitioner does not use any specific object of meditation (such as the breath), but instead remains as much as possible in the present moment, aware of and observing what passes through and around the mind, without dwelling on anything in particular. This is 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.
Self-Enquiry is not asking you to believe or to trust –
it is putting a mirror in front of you and asking you to look.
LOVING KINDNESS MEDITATION (METTA MEDITATION)
Meaning and Origin
Metta is a Pali word that means kindness, benevolence, and good will. This practice comes from the Buddhist traditions, especially the Theravada and Tibetan lineages.
Observed benefits include: increasing the ability to empathize with others; development of positive emotions through compassion, including a more loving attitude towards oneself; increased self-acceptance; greater feelings of competence about one’s life; and increased feelings of purpose in life.
How to Do It
Arrive in a comfortable seated position. Keeping your spine erect, allow your entire body to relax and surrender around it. Close your eyes and bring your attention inward. Bring you awareness to your heart center, and begin to generate feelings of kindness and benevolence. Typically, you will work your way through 6 “objects” onto which you will radiate loving kindness:
- A close friend
- A “neutral” person
- A difficult person
- All four of the above equally
- And then gradually the entire universe
The feeling to be developed is that of wishing happiness and well-being for all. Spreading the light from your own heart outward to the whole of all existence.
This practice may be aided by reciting specific words or sentences that evoke the “boundless warm-hearted feeling”, visualizing the suffering of others and sending love; or by imagining the state of another being, and wishing him happiness and peace.
In this article, Emma Seppälä, Ph.D explores the 18 scientifically proven benefits of Loving-Kindness meditation.
- Wikipedia on Metta Meditation
- Metta Institute (Buddha’s word on metta)
- Huffington Post article on the benefits of metta
When you realize how perfect everything is,
you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.
MANTRA MEDITATION (OM MEDITATION)
Meaning and Origin
A mantra is a sound 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.
Many masters insist that the choice of word, as well as its correct pronunciation, is very important, because of the vibrational power associated with sound and our energetic field. Others believe the mantra itself is only a tool used to focus the mind, and the chosen word is actually irrelevant.
Whichever you choose to believe (and we recommend experimenting with both!), mantra meditation can be a powerful way to enter into deeper states of relaxation and consciousness.
How to Do It
As in most type of meditations, mantra meditation is generally practiced sitting upright, with spine erect and eyes closed. Then, you are to repeat the chosen mantra in your mind, silently, over and over again for the duration of the practice.
To deepen the practice, you can match your breath to the mantra in your mind, coordinating the pacing of the two to unify your physical and mental rhythms.
“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 & Buddhist traditions:
- 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 your practice deepens, you may find that the mantra continues “by itself” like the humming of the mind. Or the mantra may even disappear, and leaving you in a state of deep inner peace.
- Wikipedia article on Mantra
- Seven Ways to Meditate with OM
- Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound (book)
- Mantras: Words of Power (book)
Meditation is offering your genuine presence to yourself in every moment.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Meaning and Origin
“Kundalini” is an ancient Sanskrit word that literally translates to “coiled snake.” In the yogic tradition, it is believed that each individual possesses a divine energy at the base of the spine. This energy is something we are born with, but we must make an effort to “uncoil the snake,” thereby putting us in direct contact with the divine. Kundalini Yoga is the practice of awakening our Higher Self and turning potential energy into kinetic energy.
The exact origin of Kundalini Yoga is unknown, but the earliest known mention dates to the sacred Vedic collection of writings known as the Upanishads (c. 1,000 B.C. – 500 B.C.). Historical records indicate that Kundalini was a science of energy and spiritual philosophy before the physical practice was developed. The word “upanishads” literally translates to “sitting down to hear the teachings of the master.” The first Kundalini classes were just that. Masters sat down with students and gave oral recitation of spiritual visions. Over time, the body science of Kundalini Yoga was developed as a physical expression of the Upanishad visions.
How to Do It
Meditation in the Kundalini Yoga tradition contains specific, practical tools that carefully and precisely support the mind, and guide the body through the use of breath, mantra, mudra (hand position), and focus. The range and variety of meditation techniques in the Kundalini Yoga tradition is very large.
Breathing, stretching, moving, jumping, chanting, meditating, focusing… Any given Kundalini kriya contains a variety of activities. A typical class is focused on control of breath, expansion of energy and alignment of the chakras.
The typical class is 60-90 minutes, structured as follows:
- 5-10 minute warm-up (often including spiritual teachings from the instructor)
- 30-45 minute kriya (the moving meditation)
- 5-15 minute Savasana relaxation
- 11-31 minute seated meditation
According to 3HO, the following guidelines should be followed during each Kundalini Yoga class:
- Tune-in with the Adi Mantra: Chanting “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo” three times before beginning any warm-ups, kriyas, or meditation.
- Kundalini Yoga is the yoga of awareness. Listen to your body; do what works for you.
- Challenge yourself to extend just past whatever you think your limits are. For instance, if you think you can only do one more minute of an exercise, then try for one minute and ten seconds.
- Follow the directions! Keep the order and type of posture. Do not exceed the stated times. If you wish to shorten an exercise, shorten all exercises in the kriya proportionally (i.e., cut all times in half or quarter).
- In a class, feel free to ask for clarification on an exercise or other aspects of the practice.
- Drink water as needed between exercises.
The best way to experience Kundalini Yoga for the first time is in a classroom setting, with specific instruction from a trained teacher. Alternately, there are recorded classes available online at yogaglo.com or gaia.com for a small monthly membership fee.
- Wikipedia article on Kundalini Yoga
- Introduction to Kundalini: The Yoga of Awareness
- 13 Yoga Poses to Help You Break Bad Habits
- Yogi Bhajan’s Library of Teachings, Kriyas, Meditations and Lectures
- Visit a yoga studio near you that offers Kundalini Yoga classes
Touch your inner space, which is nothingness,
as silent and empty as the sky; it is your inner sky.
Once you settle down in your inner sky, you have come home,
and a great maturity arises in your actions, in your behavior.
Then whatever you do has grace in it. Then whatever you do is a poetry in itself.
You live poetry; your walking becomes dancing, your silence becomes music.
Meaning and Origin
Tonglen is a Tibetan word which means “giving and taking,” or “sending and receiving.”
Tonglen meditation is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation that is meant to connect you with suffering in an effort to help you overcome it. In the West, we are often taught to avoid suffering, sometimes through seeking pleasure, which is the exact opposite of how Tonglen teaches you to manage suffering and challenge.
The practice can be traced back to 11th century Tibet, and the Kadampa school of Buddhism founded by Dromton Rinpoche. Dromton credits his teacher, Atisha, with training him in Tonglen practice, and tradition holds that Atisha learned it from his teacher Serlingpa, in Sumatra.
In these meditations, you develop an attitude of openness toward suffering, let go of negativity, practice giving and receiving, and cultivate compassion and empathy through the breath, visualization, and intention—for ourselves and others.
How to Do It
Tonglen can be practiced either as a formal sitting meditation, or practiced anywhere, anytime, as you go about your daily life. For our purposes, we’ll first discuss the formal method, as that is the ideal way to learn the practice…
First, center yourself and become present in the here and now. Once you have fully “arrived,” call into your mind someone who is suffering. See them as vividly as possible, imagining how hard it is, and what they might be feeling. The aim here is to try and feel their pain like it is your own, so that you may allow compassion to crack open your own heart.
Next, imagine that you can relieve them of their pain, by taking it on yourself. Imagine their suffering as a dark cloud of ash and smoke, and breathe it in, welcoming it all and accepting it as your own. As you do so, you may say silently in your mind, “May you be free from suffering.”
Now take all of that pain and suffering you have invited into your being, and move it into your heart center. This is where pain and suffering is transmuted, purified and transformed. Witness the cloud of pain and anguish transform with the pure light of awareness, and recognize that the other person’s suffering is not all that is transformed… but so too are your own ignorance, selfishness, and egocentric perspectives.
As you exhale, send positive vibrations of pure white light and the energy of love, freedom and peace to the person. Visualize the energy moving into their bodymind to completely heal and rejuvenate them. As you exhale you may say, “May you have happiness.”
Repeat these steps for as long as you wish, with as many people as you wish.
- Pema Chodron’s brief introduction to the practice.
- Wikipedia’s Tonglen page
- A guided Tonglen meditation script
- Pema Chodron’s book, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living
Whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard.
What is soft is strong.
– Lao Tzu
ECSTATIC or TRANCE DANCE
Meaning and Origin
For as long as we can remember, and certainly throughout all of recorded history, music, dance and storytelling have been used as fundamental tools for healing and spiritual connection.
Spiritual dancing is a cross-cultural phenomenon, a testament to its power and authenticity. Cultures from every continent on this planet simultaneously embraced unique dance forms based on the animals and elements of nature present within their domain. Their purpose in dancing was to enter the consciousness of, or embody, the spirit of the sun, moon, and various animal and plant life. Through these dance rituals they believed that the spirits within nature could empower them with abilities such as courage and compassion, as well as reveal insights into the future.
Today, conscious dance can be seen as a doorway to the soul. Through absolute surrender to the body and the beat, we can free ourselves from the bondage of the mind, discover parts of ourselves we didn’t even know existed, and enter into ecstatic union with our spirit.
How to Do It
With eyes partly closed, allow your body to move as it wants to move to the music. Do not control your movements, or even be a witness of what is happening. Just be completely in the moment. Dance as if possessed. You are possessed by your own soul, fully inhabiting your body.
Let the dance flow in its own way – don’t force it. Follow your body. Allow it to unfold in its own time, on its own rhythm. You are not doing something very serious, you are simply playing! Playing with you body, playing with your life energy, playing with the universe. Allowing it to move you, and move through you.
Forget the dancer at the center of the ego, and become the dance. The division must disappear in order for it to become meditation. If you are standing aside, looking at and judging and planning your own dance, the division will remain. If the division is there, then it’s simply exercise – good, healthy, but it cannot be called meditation. The dancer must go until only the dance remains. Until it is not something you are doing, but something you are being.
- Read anything by Gabrielle Roth
- Search for an ecstatic dance event near you
- A personal story about discovering the magic of ecstatic dance
The fastest, cleanest, most joyful way to break out of your own box is by dancing.
I’m not talking about doing the stand-and-sway.
I’m talking about dancing so deep, so hard, so full of the beat
that you are nothing but the dance and the beat and the sweat and the heat.
Put your body in motion and your psyche will heal itself.
– Gabrielle Roth
Meaning and Origin
Candle meditation has been around since candles were invented; and before that, its origins must certainly date back to the first time a human being stared into a fire.
Fire is hypnotic, and can quickly create a state of trance – if you have a fireplace or wood stove at home, or if you have ever been camping, you know how mesmerizing a fire can be… or if you’ve ever sat in a room lit only by candles, you have experienced how peaceful and relaxing the warm glow of candlelight can be.
How to Do It
Candle staring meditation (also known as Trataka) is simple, gentle and totally accessible to anyone. The practice is incredibly simple. In essence, you simply stare at a candle (or fireplace or bonfire).
Here are some simple steps to create the most potent experience…
Create a quiet, dark space. If possible, place the firelight at eye level. Make yourself warm and comfortable, by wearing relaxed clothing and adjusting the temperature of the room (if possible). Remove any possible distractions or disturbances.
Sit on a chair, with your feet making flat contact on the earth beneath you, and rest your hands gently in your lap. Alternately, you can sit cross-legged on a floor cushion. Keep your back straight and centered throughout the practice.
Draw your attention to the flame. Focus on smoothing, lengthening and deepening your breath. As you continue to breathe, gaze softly at the flame, breaking eye contact only to blink occasionally. Allow your thoughts to come and go like clouds in the sky, and keep your entire awareness on the flame of light. Remain aware, focused, concentrated on the flame.
When you are ready (usually after 10-30 minutes), slowly begin to come back into the space surrounding you, first noticing the sounds, then the smells, and the finally begin to lift your gaze and re-familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Move slowly, and take a deep clearing breath. Give thanks for your practice, and all that it has offered you.
- Wikipedia’s Trataka page
- Article on the Amazing Benefits of Candle Gazing
- Candle color guide (to invoke further energy from color vibrations)
The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.
– Sogyal Rinpoche