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Six Basic Meditation Techniques

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If you count every little variation in how people choose to meditate, there are perhaps an unlimited number of ways. Most, however, can be put into one of about a dozen or so classifications. Here, for example, are six of those basic meditation techniques and some notes on the advantages of each one.

Emptying Your Mind

Encouraging or developing awareness without an object is the goal with this type of meditation practice. The goal is to empty your mind of all thoughts, generally by sitting still and letting the mind go silent of its own accord. Some people consider this to be one of the most difficult of the various ways to meditate. To start with, it’s often done in a "full lotus" or cross-legged position, which is tough enough. In addition there is the challenge of quieting of the mind. Any particular effort toward this just seems to cause more thoughts and feelings to arise. As a result many meditators find that it is easier to start with one of the other techniques first. But this simple and, perhaps, most difficult form of meditating does calm you and allows for a clearer mind -- even when done imperfectly.

Watching Your Breath

Pay attention to your breath for a few minutes and you have the essence of this method. Relax in whatever position is comfortable, close your eyes, and pay attention to each breath coming and going. Breathing through your nose is best, because it gets your diaphragm involved and so brings oxygen deeper into your lungs. Your mind will wander, but just re-focus your attention on the air going in and out of your nose whenever that happens. This is done for several minutes or longer. This is a quick way to reduce stress and better prepare yourself for focusing on the tasks of the day.

Using a Mantra

You might be more able to keep your mind from wandering if you concentrate on something. A mantra can help with this. They are often chosen for you by an experienced master in some traditions. If you are working on this by yourself use any word or phrase or sound that helps you focus and feels right. Repeat the mantra aloud or in your head as you sit anf meditate. This type of practice is easier to maintain for some, because of the repetitious nature.

Being Mindful

Buddhists vipassana or insight meditation is the origin of modern mindfulness practices. You might call this the art of becoming deeply aware of what is here in this moment. You can start with a simple breath-watching meditation, but then you’ll focus on what’s happening in and around you at this very moment. You’ll become aware of all the thoughts and feelings that are taking your energy, and then move your attention from the thoughts going through your mind to the feelings in your body. Eventually you expand that awareness out to the sounds and sights around you (open your eyes at some point. There should be no judging or analyzing, just observation. This is a good way to feel more at peace in your body and life.

Meditating on an Idea

The point here is to contemplate an idea or scene, but there are many subtle variations. For example, in some practices people meditate on impermanence. To do this you focus on the impermanent nature of all things, starting with your thoughts and feelings; noting how they come and go as you watch them. The "meditation on the corpse," a Buddhist tradition, has you think about a body in the ground as it is fed on by worms and rots away. The idea or mental imagery focused on is meant to guide you to an understanding that your rationalizing mind might not have (in the case of the corpse meditation you are helped to understand impermanence).

Walking Meditations

A basic walking meditation can be done outside or simply as a back and forth pacing inside. Pay attention to the movement of your legs and your breathing. Of course your mind will wander, especially when you are new to the practice. Just keep bringing attention back to the process of walking and your inhaling and exhaling. Outside there can be distractions, so find a quiet place. It should also be on level ground, so you will not need to focus on stepping over or around things. Go back and forth over a stretch that is thirty to forty feet long. You can also try a variation using a brain wave entrainment MP3, which is explained here.

Other meditations include meditating on loving-kindness (really a type of “idea meditation,” but with repeated phrases) and object meditation (watching a flame or flower). The various techniques each have their own effects and advantages, and you may find that at different times and for different purposes you want to use several different types.


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