Everybody seems to rave about meditation – its ancient wisdom, scientifically determined, and an important part of many wellness practices, especially yoga. Meditation is to the mind what exercise is to the body, a way of being at the top of your mental game.
But what really is meditation?
In simple terms, meditation refers to the conscious alteration of your state of mind to achieve calmness, stillness, and clarity. The word meditation comes from the Latin root meditari, which means to think or contemplate. The Hindi word for meditation, dhyai, also has similar meanings of contemplation. Thus, contrary to popular notion, mediation is not just about sitting there with eyes closed or even sneaking in a quick nap. It is a balance between the active and the passive state of mind; literally, a place of balance, where you can step back and view things from a broader perspective. In other words, instead of experiencing your thoughts and emotions, you observe them, and in doing so understand more about them. In true meditation, your mind is concentrated, and devoid of all other external noises.
Modern research has often lamented about how meditation seems to connote to many different practices and philosophical ideas, making research difficult. But where science continues to struggle in definition, ancient wisdom may have an answer. The Bhagavad Gita, part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, talks about a state of mind called the Stithpragya. Described as a state where both loss or gain do not affect the individual, a parasympathetic state of mind that frees the individual from attachment to the consequences of their action. The deity Krishna is said to extol the warrior Arjuna to maintain stithpragya at the time he was in the battle with his own family at Kurukshetra. Here, the god tells Arjuna to seek the path of true enlightenment, one where his mind is free from worldly attachments and emotions.
Hence, the roots of meditation are deeply connected to the Hindu philosophy, which states that the world is transient and everchanging, and humans and their reality too, is a manifestation of this transience – it will come, and it will go. In this changing world, humans need to meditate to remember their temporary nature and connect with the larger cosmic forces of which they are a part.
Of course, if the philosophical bend of meditation is not something that interests you, the proven benefits of meditation certainly make the practice worthwhile. Meditation can help in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, promote self-knowledge and emotional wellbeing, improve concentration and memory, and inculcates discipline that is useful in all aspects of life. In our quest for wellbeing, we often train our body with exercise, stretches, and outdoor activities, but continue to let our mind suffer. However, just ten to fifteen minutes of your daily time spent engaging in meditation can make a vast difference in your mental and emotional health.
As stated above, there are numerous types of meditation practices today – but you need not worry about the sheer number of choices you have. Consider all types of meditations are forking pathways, which all lead up to the same goal – clarity, rationality, and calmness. So you can take up a particular type (or even more than one type) of meditation as per your choice and see what works for you the best. Here are the major types of meditations –
A yogic mediation developed by Sadhguru, this simple practice involves twelve to fifteen minutes of honing the three basic elements of meditation – thought, breath, and awareness. The aim of Ishay Kirya is to move from untruth to truth and to make you aware of not just your body, but to the forces and facts beyond it.
In Hinduism, kundalini refers to the divine energy believed to be located at the base of the spine, and this meditation practice is meant to help you tap into this divine energy for your mental and physical wellness, along with spiritual insight. Mantras and chants are often used to center attention on awareness and breath.
If you want to focus your awareness on something mental instead of a physical aspect like breathing, visualization is there for you. The focus of this meditation is the construction of a vivid scene in your mind. Many usually go for something peaceful, such as a sunset beach or a forest scene. The idea is to hone your awareness, increase your imaginative capacity, and be attuned to your physical reactions to the visualizations.
If you want to cultivate gratitude and a greater appreciation for the things and people you have, reflections are the way to go. Ask yourself about what you are thankful for in your life. As your imagination and thoughts flow, concentrate on the memories and feelings generated. Reflections can also help you invest more in the things and people that make you happy.
Chakras are used to denote the various points of power throughout the body in yogic texts. The focus of this mediation is the alignment of these chakras, so that the energies of your body are in harmony, and work for your wellbeing. However, ancient texts do not denote any specific form of mediation for the alignment of chakras. But there is no reason why you cannot practice this mediation and see if it works for you.
If existential questions about who you are and what your place in the world is are significant sources of stress and anxiety to you, this meditation can help you out. Self-inquiry meditation allows you to focus awareness simply on the fact that you exist- that is enough. Free from analysis and future worries, this mediation can also help you shed unrealistic expectations and worries.
Just the word zen has become associated with peacefulness and control, which is what this meditation aims to provide. An ancient Buddhist practice, zen meditation focuses on breath flow, particularly its path out of the belly, and letting the mind simply exist with free flow of thoughts and emotions. The aim here is to foster alertness and presence of mind.
A more intense practice, vipassana mediation has ancient roots and was propagated by Buddha himself. Aimed at the total eradication of mental impurities and attainment of liberation, vipassana focuses on self-observation and subsequent self-transformation. Here, one contemplates heavy ontological ideas including suffering, permanence, and emptiness, etc.
Sound Bath Meditation
A more ‘active’ mediation so to say, this practice makes use of your sense of sound to help push the mind towards a more relaxed and passive state. A number of peaceful sounds such as bowls, gongs, etc. are used to create vibrations. Which helps in tuning your mind towards peacefulness.
Influenced by zen practice, mindfulness meditation focuses on existing in the present moment without judgment or experience, simply paying attention to the thoughts and sensations are arise and go. Hence you learn to become aware of thoughts and emotions instead of being lost inside them, which can help you insights and focus on what matters.
There are of course just a small number from the total variety of meditational practices that are present today. Do not be afraid of jumping into a few and trying them out – remember again that they are all different paths to the same destination. Mediation has the potential to vastly improve your mental and emotional well-being, and can also help physical help as well. It is also a great tool for you to get introduced into spirituality – detached from religion, meditation offers a platform for you to explore life and living beyond your frame of experience. So go ahead and give it a try, and see what you can gain from it for yourself.