Suvarna, a 30 year old woman was going through a period of emotional turmoil. Her friends advised her to meditate regularly. Suvarna religiously followed the advice, but each time she would try to focus on something, her mind would get even more active and think everything possible to worsen her state, till the time she reached a day she couldn’t even get up from her sitting position. She just sat there crying unremittingly.
Like Suvarna, there are many people who take meditation lightly. The most common connotation of the word is to sit quietly and watch your thoughts. Few people know that just sitting quietly, where you are not troubled by your thoughts comes after a lot of dedicated practice. Yet, there exists a considerable chunk of population which feels it is difficult to sit still, or just be with yourself. They may also feel restless, sleepy, heavy or even irritated.
Here comes the role of right kind of meditation. Different meditative techniques work for different people, so before one tries hands at meditation as an amateur, it would be worthwhile to get some information on the kinds of meditation one can choose from.
Mariam Webster dictionary defines meditation as a process “in which we engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of heightened level of spiritual awareness”. However, even if we do not look at spiritual awareness, In the words of Ajahn Brah, a spiritual Buddhist advisor, we can view meditation like a ‘gym in which you develop the powerful mental muscles of calm and insight.’
The doctrine of the mind, according to Buddhism teaches three things:
To know the mind – that is near to us and yet unknown
To shape the mind – that is so unwieldly and obstinate and yet may turn so plaint
To free the mind – that is in bondage all over, and yet may win freedom here and now.
Meditation is broadly classified into two viz Concentrative Meditation Practices where we identify an object and place our entire focus on that, with an aim to achieve stillness of body and mind; and Contemplative meditation where you contemplate upon a thought with so much of concentration that you almost start living it. One can successfully practice contemplative meditation only after one masters the art of concentrative meditation.
However, there are various styles of meditation that have become prevalent over a period of time. These are:
- Mantra Meditation is where you focus on a mantra, or a sound / syllable, or any phrase. It helps a person take away their mind from their incessant thoughts to what they are chanting. One can start with chanting the mantra slowly for 10 to 11 times and gradually increase the number as per their comfort.
- Who benefits: Good for those who cannot control the mind’s chatter and feel anxious.
- Mindfulness is a meditation where one trains the mind to be completely aware of the surroundings. Focus can be maintained on the external as well as internal environment, just becoming aware of what is, and not holding onto any specific aspect or thought.
- Who benefits: People who find it hard to focus or have short attention spans.
- Guided Meditation is an exercise where a trained person keeps instructing the steps and the meditator is supposed to follow them in their mind.
- Who benefits All those who find it difficult to sit still and focus on something on their own, respond well to this meditation.
- Transcendental Meditation is a silent mantra meditation. Mostly there is a trained instructor who teaches the process and gives a mantra on which the person meditates. This mantra is not supposed to be disclosed to anybody. It is considered as one of the best forms of meditation to relax a stressful mind.
- Who benefits Keepers of stressful lifestyle / profession.
- Spiritual Meditation is what in practiced in many religions worldwide. Sufi Zikr, Meta Meditation in Buddhism, Japa mala in Hinduism, Kabbalistic practices in Jewism are some examples. Here one allows the thoughts to come and go, not reacting to any of them, and then gradually takes the focus on a prayer.
- Who benefits Works well to tame the ego when one realizes that all belongs to a higher power.
- Movement Meditation involves paying attention to the body while it is moving in a specific manner. For example Tai Chi and walking barefoot on grass. This kind of meditation is good for people who find it difficult to sit still. With gentle movements, the body stays in action and one can keep watching and observing those actions to develop focus.
- Who benefits People who are action oriented and cannot sit in one place for long.
- Loving Kindness/ Forgiveness Meditation is practiced when one needs to let go of any feelings of suppressed anger, revenge, hatred etc. Guiding one towards that ‘let go’ state, it helps in making a person more accepting of what is, rather than trying to control everything around. It helps in healing and giving as well as accepting feelings of love and kindness.
- Who benefits All those who are angry inside [and this anger may also be precipitating in terms of aches and pains]; and people who want to be more love full.
- Visualization Meditation can be done by imagining a person or any other thing and channelizing your entire attention on that. One is required to sit in a peaceful place so that the inward connect and focus of the what is being visualized can be maintained well.
- Who benefits Anyone who finds it hard to focus on ‘now’; people trying to achieve specific goals, facing issues with confidence, fear etc.
- Progressive Relaxation can happen when one consciously relaxes the muscles of our entire body. It starts from taking the awareness from head and moving towards the toes, covering every muscle group in between. The relaxation can be done either by just letting the muscle set loose or tensing them, holding for 5 to 10 secs, and then letting them loose simultaneously with exhalation.
- Who benefits: People suffering from anxiety, fatigue, stress.
‘Your calm mind is the ultimate weapon against your challenges’ is what the wise say. When one starts understanding the dissatisfaction of the mind, he starts walking the path of meditation, the path of introspection, the journey inwards and thus he is able to reach a point where all problems can be faced fearlessly.