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Meditation: Breaking it Down

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Meditation: Breaking it Down

Nowadays, it’s no secret meditation is becoming ever so popular in the western world. It is not only a tool for self-healing but it is also said to help live life more mindfully. So what is meditation actually all about? What are the different types of techniques and what makes people more and more inclined to take part in this ancient practice?

While meditation seems to reduce stress and induce a relaxing state of mind, it can also have significant effects on how people perceive and process the world around them and alter the way they regulate attention and emotion.

Some people try meditating primarily as a way to relax and reduce stress but meditation remains difficult to define in general. This is primarily due to all the differences and variances found in many official or academic sources. Basically, meditation appears to be a mix of complex emotional and attentional methods which can be organized into three main categories depending on different attentional, cognitive monitoring or awareness processes.

Breaking it down into 3 main categories :

Meditation #1 : Focused Attention (FA) – Concentration

FA is described by Tibetan Buddhism as: “Reasoned deconstruction of the reality of objects experienced in meditation, as well as concentrative practices to create moods” It involves focusing one’s attention, and the control of one’s mind. It involves concentration.

In Focused Attention you continuously direct your attention to a chosen object (like your breath, the flame of a candle or an image/object/sound).

TRY IT! → Focus on the breath

This meditation is perfect if you are just beginning your meditation journey because the focus is on something extremely natural and flowy. In this case, the object of your attention is breathing.

Get started with this meditation!

As you keep your attention on that object, focus on the sensation of breath entering and leaving your nostrils. Nothing else. At some point or another your mind will wander off, distracted by thoughts or rising feelings. When you realize your attention is no longer focused on the object, simply recognize that your mind has wandered, release the distraction, and go back to focusing on this feeling of air coming in and out of your nose.

How does this meditation work?

While focusing on the breath, you get distracted by emotions, thoughts or whatever sensation that comes up. Every time a distraction occurs, redirect your focus back to the breath without getting irritated, reacting instead in a friendly manner. ”The more you practice this, the easier it will be to cope with stressors because you’re training your brain to avoid attachment and judgment to sensations and/or thoughts.” 

TRY IT → Focus on a sound

Frankly, it could be any sound or music but starting with a Mantra is one of the easiest way to stay focused.

What is a Mantra?

A mantra is a syllable or word(s) that is repeated for the purpose of focusing your mind. It is not an affirmation used to convince yourself of something . You will find that unlike the breath, which can flow in and out naturally without a conscious effort, a mantra easily keeps you in the present moment because it remains something that needs thought, pronunciation and repetition to keep going.

Some people call Mantra Meditation “Om Meditation”, but that is just one of the mantras that can be used.

Om “The sound of the universe

It’s the first, original vibration, representing the birth, death and re-birth process. Chanting the sound OM brings us into harmonic resonance with the universe – this is a scientific fact! OM is said to vibrate at 432 Hertz, which is the natural musical pitch of the Universe, as opposed to 440 Hertz, which is the frequency of most modern music.
Decreasing your frequency to coincide with that of the Universe stills the fluctuations of the mind, allowing you to practice yoga through sound.

Choose a mantra

Some teachers say that the choice of word, and its pronunciation is very important, due to the vibration associated to the sound and meaning of this word. On the other hand, some insist that the selected word isn’t all that important because the repetition of the mantra itself is only a way for the mind to find focus. That being said, choose whatever sound or word that resonates with you and stick to it!

Get started with this meditation!

First and for most, choose a specific amount of time during which you want to meditate. Start by sitting up straight and find a comfortable posture, then close your eyes and keep them closed for the entire duration of the session. Begin to say your mantra out loud and repeat it steadily. As the mantra sinks in, stop speaking it but keep repeating it quietly in your mind. As you know, your focus might drift to other thoughts, emotions or even discomfort.

How does this meditation work?

The idea is that, if you unaffectedly notice the sensations and bring your focus back on the mantra, it will enhance both relaxation and focus. ”It is also a way to become aware of deeper states of consciousness or awareness between thoughts.” Some people prefer mantra meditation over breathe because it’s kind of easier to focus on a repeated sound.

Meditation #2 : Open Monitoring (OM) – Mindfulness


By practicing OM, you will gradually become accustom to sustaining attentional focus on an object for a considerable amount of time. You can then progress to Open Monitoring Meditation. During OM ”the focus of the meditation becomes the monitoring of awareness itself”.Watching the watcher. Unlike FA meditation, you don’t need any long term internal or external object to focus on. The goal here is to just be an observer. To ”stay in the monitoring state, remaining attentive to any experience that might arise, without selecting, judging, or focusing on any particular object.” FA gives a narrow attentional focus due to the highly concentrative nature of the meditation, whereas OM expands attentional focus by allowing and acknowledging all the experiences that surface up while you meditate.

TRY IT → Passive, eyes closed

Vipassana

« Vipassana means to see things as they really are and is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It is a way of self-transformation through observation of the self. Focusing on deep interconnections between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by mastering attention to the physical sensations from which the life of the body consists of. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.

Get started with this meditation!

Just for the purpose of starting, you will focus on an object like the breath, but little by little reduce this focus, while accentuating¬ the monitoring of awareness. Learn to observe objectively all the sensations in the body whatever they may be, without reacting to them. As you sit there, ”you watch emotions come and go, you watch pain come and go, you watch pleasure come and go; and you realize, not intellectually, but through experience, that nothing is permanent”. Things like ”hatred, passion or greed are not abstract anymore. By watching the physical sensations accompanying these emotions and by understanding their impermanent nature, one can actually start changing the habit of blind reaction.”

How does this meditation work?

Meditation starts by being separate from the mind, by being a witness. That is the only way of separating yourself from anything. If you are looking at the light, naturally one thing is certain: you are not the light, you are the one who is looking at it. If you are watching the flowers, one thing is certain: you are not the flower, you are the watcher.” You get to see in a special way, like gaining insight.

Through the experience of watching pleasant and unpleasant sensations coming and going, you realize that whenever something is annoying you, you are not reacting to them. You are reacting to the unpleasant sensation it evokes on your body. You are becoming more mindful as you sit in silence observing whatever comes up in order to deal with it objectively and move on.

TRY IT → Active, eyes open

This meditation involves intention or directing of attention to physiological rhythms, inner thoughts, sensations or outer objects.

Walking meditation or Movement meditation

Movement meditation could be any mind-body action such as T’ai chi, Qi gong or even a good old session of mindful walking. In this meditation the focus is more physical : developing awareness of bodily sensations.

Get started with this meditation!

You don’t even have to sit with eyes closed to meditate! Practicing mindfulness while you’re waiting in traffic, walking the dog, cooking, eating or brushing your teeth is a great way to start your meditation initiation. As you breath, you mindfully watch whatever thoughts and emotions come and go. Remain open and attentive to whatever may arise and try practicing ”dispassionate observation of body, senses and environment.”

How does this meditation work?

This practice will help you become increasingly aware and non-reactive to your consciousness.

Meditation #3 : Effortless Transcending (ET) : Guided meditation

All forms of meditations can be guided, often practiced with recorded or in-person guidance at first. Being guided is definitely useful to beginners who might find it difficult to concentrate on a specific object for a long period of time. On the other hand, being guided doesn’t only help to keep focus but it can also guide you to a specific place or state of mind.

TRY IT → Guided imagery

Guided imagery meditation is a gentle but powerful technique that focuses and directs the imagination in proactive, positive ways. This meditation technique involves all of the senses, and almost anyone can do this.

Get started with this meditation!

You should choose a comfortable position either sitting up straight or preferably lying down in savasana. Close your eyes and follow the voice of a teacher or of a recording that elicits certain images, affirmations, states (such as peacefulness), or imagined desired experiences. Allow yourself to be guided wherever it leads you.

How does this meditation work?

When properly constructed, guided imagery meditation has the built-in capacity to deliver multiple layers of complex, encoded messages by way of simple symbols and metaphors.

TRY IT → Body scan meditation

Body scan meditation is a form of Vipassana meditation that is purported to help expand mind/body awareness, release tension and quiet the mind. Like most guided meditations, it can be practiced with a guided, or performed solo once you have a solid understanding of body scan techniques. Body scan meditation is a particularly effective meditation technique for strengthening concentration, focusing attention and relaxing the breath.

Get started with this meditation!

Usually done lying down, this meditation involves becoming aware of your body in a mindful way. Listen to the voice as it leads you to visualize different parts of your body. Again you will notice how easily your attention wanders off to other thoughts and how to be kind to yourself rather than self-critical when this happens.

How does this meditation work?

”The body scan makes the mind alternate between a wide and narrow focus of attention going from focusing on your little toe to the whole entire body. Training your mind to be able to move from detailed attention to a wider and more spacious awareness from one moment to the next.”

TRY IT → Loving Kindness Meditation

If you want to go a little deeper, not only with attention but also with intention, this is a good meditation to experiment with. Metta Bhavana or Loving-kindness meditation incorporates elements of both FM and OM. It is a method of developing benevolence and compassion. Brought to us from the Buddhist tradition, but it can be adapted and practiced by anyone, regardless of religious affiliation; loving-kindness meditation is essentially about cultivating love.

Get started with this meditation!

Take your time in finding a comfortable position. It is important because this meditation is a lot about feeling good, therefore being comfortable and relaxed will indeed be of help. Direct your focus around the solar plexus area, this is your heart center. Imagine you are breathing in and out from your heart center, as if all that you feel and experience was coming from there. Anchor your mindfulness only on the sensations at your heart center. Focus on developing love and compassion first towards yourself and extend this love to ever more “unlikeable” people. You can go from yourself, to a friend or family member, to a stranger and last but not least, send out your love to a foe. ” Any negative associations that might arise are supposed to be replaced by positive ones such as pro-social or empathic concern.

How does this meditation work?

Loving-kindness, or meta, is unconditional love. Without conditions, it does not depend on whether one “deserves” it or not; it is not restricted to friends and family; it extends out from personal categories to include all living beings. There are no expectations of anything in return. This is the ideal, pure love, which everyone has in potential.
We begin with loving ourselves, for unless we have a measure of this unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves, it is difficult to extend it to others. Then we include others who are special to us, and, ultimately, all living things. Gradually, both the visualization and the meditation phrases blend into the actual experience, the feeling of loving kindness.

Being Mindful

Whatever meditation you are more incline to practice doesn’t really matter because in the end, all roads lead to Rome : mindfulness. Find a way that suits you, whatever it may be, to detach from the mind’s chatter. Tune out the world to meet your true self or tune out the mind to find true presence in this world; however you want to see it meditation gives you the tool to finally become a witness. Meditation is witnessing. So watch your mind, don’t disturb it! Don’t even try to prevent stuff from happening, don’t repress whatever comes up, just be there and watch. By choosing to be a witness we find we are no longer victims of the ups and downs of life. They say nobody really changes, but with meditation it is our perception that changes. As human beings we can be so hard on ourselves, having impossible expectations to fulfill and trying to keep smiling while doing it! Seeing life through a new pair of eyes is maybe just what we need to start appreciating who we truly are and all that we have to offer.

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