Meditation is a state of thoughtless awareness; watching your thoughts go by without an attachment.
Meditation is often paired with thoughts of orange-clad monks high upon Tibetan mountaintops, or those people lucky enough to find enough quiet time in their day to practice good posture while making the “om” sound. While it is true that meditation is a founding principle of Buddhism and other worldwide religions, it is also a way to get in touch with your inner self and find peace in life.
By definition, meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or as an end in itself.*
The term is loosely used to encompass a whole suite of activities, much like the word “food” is a broad-reaching noun without touching on many types. As previously mentioned, meditation is also closely related to the practice of some religions throughout the world, most notably Buddhism.
The ancient Hindu books of wisdom, the Vedas, were some of the first texts to mention meditation over five thousand years ago. Philo of Alexandria introduced meditation to the West around 20 B.C. He wrote about spiritual exercises that were centred on concentration and attention. By the 3rd century, Plotinus, a major philosopher in Greece around 204 A.D, defined techniques for meditative practice.
Types of Meditation
Just as there are different types of sports, there are various types of meditation that can be used to achieve different results. Ayurvedic principles are based on finding a healthy balance between the Doshas, or life energies. Meditation can also help you find that precious middle ground with enough practice and willpower.
To get started, here are four states of human awareness as dictated by Indian scripture:
- Jagruti – the waking state of consciousness
- Swapna – the dreaming state of consciousness
- Sushupti – a state of deep sleep in which the ego and mind are at rest
- Turya – the state of thoughtful awareness that goes beyond the mind
As humans, we experience the first three stages of consciousness on a daily basis – as we are awake, when we sleep and the deep sleep cycle known as REM (rapid eye movement). The fourth state, turya, is when we enter into a state of thoughtful awareness, also known as nirvichara samadhi in Sanskrit. In essence, it is a state of mind that is pure and uncluttered by thought; when we’re at peace and yet aware at the same time. Meditation helps us to achieve this state of peace, and daily practice can calm our mind of racing thoughts and emotions.
The types of meditation to help you reach a state of thoughtful awareness are as follows:
- Transcendental – This the most popular form of meditation, and aims to use a mantra to help clear the mind of unnecessary thoughts. A mantra can be a word or phrase that is chanted out loud or internally and can be a Vedic hymn or positive statement. As you are clearing your mind during the meditation, replace any incoming thoughts with the mantra to help centre and focus your attention. Practicing transcendental meditation twenty minutes in the morning and again at night can significantly lower blood pressure and high cortisol levels.
- Vipissana – This type of meditation relies on the practice of mindfulness and uses focused attention to calm your mind. Bringing one sensation into focus, such as breathing, helps you to observe your thoughts and enhance you own personal understanding of yourself. It is meant for you to see things how they really are, and with regular practice can help reduce chronic pain, fear and anxiety.
- Sahaja Yoga – This is the practice of obtaining self-awareness spontaneously, without a lot of concentrated effort, and is one of the easiest forms of mediation to learn. Starting with legs crossed and your left hand turned palm up, let go of all negative feelings and infuse yourself with awareness of the present. Practicing for 15 minutes a day, twice a day, will help lead you to states of relaxation and decreased anxiety.
- Kundalini Yoga – The Kundalini is said to be a latent female energy that lies coiled at the base of your spine and can generate the power to evolve and become one with your spirit. The Kundalini is what gives you love and compassion, and this form of meditation helps release her from the coil, piercing your chakras on the way up your body. Once awakened, the Kundalini takes away all physical and mental diseases, purifying your whole body. It is a true state of meditation that has tremendous benefits.
Understanding Your Chakras
Your body is comprised of seven different chakras, or energies. At the centre of it all is the Kundalini. In order to achieve a pure state of mind and body, each chakra needs to be balanced. When the Kundalini awakens in your body, she also enlivens each chakra to its fullest potential.
- Root Chakra – our foundation or the first of our energies that provides us with a sense of loyalty to family and is connected to physical pain, pleasure and survival instincts.
- Sacral Chakra – this is linked to feelings of innocence, childlike wonder, creativity and spontaneity.
- Solar Plexus – this chakra directly affects how we react to criticism and our concept of ourselves as individuals; our self-esteem.
- Heart Chakra – this fourth chakra is linked to love, compassion, trust and confidence.
- Throat Chakra – this is linked to personal authority, decision-making and making our creative impulses a reality.
- Brow Chakra – this is the second to last chakra and directly affects inner vision, wisdom, intelligence and intuition.
- Crown Chakra – aligning this chakra allows us to live in the now and promotes a sense of being one with the world, giving us inspiration and devotion.
Chakra meditation is perhaps the most deeply satisfying meditation of all, as it allows for total harmony of mind, body and spirit. It shifts the focus from the outside causes of our pain, whether they are physical or emotional, to inside reflection, and centres on life as a whole. Daily practice of 15-30 minutes per session will help you to achieve a higher state of self-awareness and inner peace, and help alleviate the physical symptoms that can cause discomfort.
Benefits of Meditation
Going back to the sports analogy in reference to meditation, there is a right and a wrong way to play football, even if you aren’t aware of it. Like everything that has subtle nuances, there is a right way to successfully practice meditation for the maximum benefits possible.
If you are new to the practice of daily meditation it can be confusing and hard to understand, which is why having a qualified practitioner to walk you through the steps is the best way to go. This can be done with a live personal guide or through a series of audio recordings; both have the same effect on achieving your desired state of higher consciousness.
We’ve talked a lot about how meditation can calm stressful nerves, alleviate physical pain and open your mind to a broader range of abilities, but there is also strong scientific proof to back up the claims of relief which meditation can provide. Most recently, findings from a neuroscience student were presented at the International Scientific Conference of the Centre for Mindfulness that showed how mindful meditation could actually change a person’s brain activity in the posterior cingulate cortex. Certain mental illnesses are linked to different areas of the brain, and using mindful mediation to target the issue has been shown to be more effective than medication alone. Read more about these findings here. Also see our post Can Meditation Prolong Your Life for more info.
Meditation is not only good for mental disorders and a better frame of mind, but can clearly help you relax into a good night’s sleep without mental interruption. Studies have shown that regular meditation activates your parasympathetic nervous system to help you repair, rebuild and rejuvenate your entire body. It also slows the production of the stress hormone cortisol, elevating your immune system to better fight off infections.
The thought of meditation may be daunting to some people simply due to a lack of understanding and personal experience with it. However, if we can take a “leap of faith” and start the journey with an open mind, it can change our lives multi-dimensionally and broaden our sense of self and personal understanding. Although it requires patience and discipline of daily practice to achieve the desired state, your body will thank you for the rest of your life.