So you want to meditate, but how do you do it? And does it matter what kind of meditation you do?
There are some basic, fundamental differences among the kinds of meditation that most people practice, and these differences ought to be considered while you’re deciding what is right for you. Meditation is like food for the spirit: any kind of food is better than nothing and though everyone must to some extent find out what is right for their own life style, there are some constant features of meditation that will have much the same effect on everyone.
So here are the most popular Seven Meditations:
1. First in our Seven Meditations is Vipassana’ or Mindfulness which comes from the Buddhist tradition and is the most popular form of meditation in the western world. It’s all about ‘being present in the now moment’, letting the mind run, and accepting whatever thoughts come up, while practicing detachment from each thought. Mindfulness is taught along with an awareness of the breath, though the breathing is often considered to be just one sensation among many others, not a particular focus. There is no attempt to change the breathing pattern, which limits this practice and makes it observational rather than active awareness.
2. Zazen (literally “seated meditation”) is the generic term for meditation in the Zen Buddhist tradition; it is a minimal kind of meditation, done for long periods of time and could be described as the ‘anti-method’ approach to meditation. Very generally speaking, zazen practice is taught in one of three ways: Concentration, Koan Introspection, Shikantaza (just sitting), Koan practice is usually associated with the Rinzai school and Shikantaza with the Soto school. In reality many Zen communities use both methods depending on the teacher and students.
- Concentration method, the initial stages of training in zazen usually emphasize concentration, by focusing on the breath at the hara, often aided by counting. This counting meditation is called susokukan, and has several variations. Through this practice one builds up the power of concentration, or joriki. At some Zen centers, the practice of mentally repeating a mantra with the breath is used in place of counting breaths for beginners.
- Koan Introspection, Having developed awareness, the practitioner can now focus his or her consciousness on a koan as an object of meditation. Since koans are, ostensibly, not solvable by intellectual reasoning, koan introspection is designed to shortcut the intellectual process leading to direct realization of a reality beyond thought.
- Shikantaza is a form of meditation, in which the practitioner does not use any specific object of meditation; rather, practitioners remain as much as possible in the present moment, aware of and observing what passes through their minds and around them.
3. Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a simplified meditation practice that is derived from Vedanta, but it is not strictly bound by Vedantic principles. In TM, there is no formal posture: one can sit (no lying down), in any which way one likes, as long as the person is comfortable. Although at the higher levels of the practice the lotus (padmasana) is encouraged in the more advanced techniques but is by no means absolutely necessary. There is absolutely no focus on the breath! A small neutral or meaningless syllable is used as a mantra to reach the meditative state. What mantra is used is immaterial. The method is more important. One has to practice it for 20 minutes twice a day. TM’s focus not for what happens while meditating but for the benefits that accrue outside of meditating in the everyday environment of our lives and in the advance level stresses transcendence (through this interpretation of transcendence does differ from traditional understanding to the word) The greatest drawback to TM is the ridiculously inflated cost for learning the technique so consequently it tends to attach only a certain kind of personality.
4. Kundalini meditation is a practice that comes Tantric Yoga which uses a method of drawing up Shakti (called “Kundalini Shakti”) by building up Shakti in the Base Chakra and then rising it up the Sushumna (called the central channel or Sushumnanadi) of the subtle body until it peaks at the Crown Chakra and then crashes down onto the Bindu point in an orgasmic delight, and creating a temporal state of bliss and euphoria.
Kundalini meditation focuses on developing the flow of Shakti through the subtle body lines, which in turn frees blocked lines and simulates the autonomic nervous system. It should be noted that most modern forms of Tantric use only Pranic energy (sexual energy), this confusion is because of the name Kundalini Shakti. The original forms of Tantric used Shakti as the serpent energy but to practice advanced Tantric one needs first to awaken the Sri Chakra Yantra.
- The Bindu bridges the gulf between the two worlds of the physical and metaphysical, effecting mystical visions and lucid dream experiences. And although Tantric may seem to be a difficult yoga to master, raising the Pranic form of Kundalini is relatively easy if one follows the basic rules of abstaining from sexual release so as to build up the sexual energies.
- Stimulating the Kundalini, Kundalini is stimulated by contracting the anal muscles in time with the breath in a rhythmic pattern. The exercise is most effectively performed seated in a meditation position, using visualization and a light muscular effort to lift the energy up the spinal column to the crown of the head.
- Focus the attention on the base of the spine or base plexus, which is in the proximity of the spinal and sexual nerve endings. Breathe into the abdomen and relax the anus, then breathe out from the abdomen and contract the anus; feel the energy starting to stir and concentrate on this feeling until it becomes stronger, more real. Then visualize the energy stirring and lifting from the base of the spin up to the crown of the head; repeat this process in a rhythmic manner. One will feel warmth first at the base of the spine, which will rise up the spine sometimes in a tight beam and sometimes as a wave that tingles like a warm shiver or orgasm.
5. Qi gong is a form of Taoist meditation that circulates energy through the organs and energy centers of the body in a oval pattern called the ‘microcosmic orbit’. Attention is focused on the circulation of energy (called ‘qi’ or ‘chi’), and is also focused on the three major centers used in Taoist meditation: a point about two inches below the navel, the center of the chest, and the center of the forehead. Qi gong uses the mind to direct energy, and circulate energy in the body and spirit. There are many breathing methods in Qi-gong with most borrowed from Yoga and slightly modified. However for Qi circulation Taoist masters do not believe in moving Qi with breath, since it is believed that Qi moves much faster than the speed of breath and hence it is circulated and moved with the help of mind. In fact many Taoist masters advice one to directly focus on Qi through the mind and consider breathing exercises as a distraction from the original path./p>
In the Taoist system, there are three dantiens (energy centers): the upper (center of the forehead), middle (center of the chest), and lower (below the navel). These three dantiens are not the same as the chakras in the Hindu system.
6. Guided visualization is a popular form of meditation that involves concentration upon an image or imaginary environment. It is usually done while listening to a recording. An example would be to imagine you are in a grassy field, with a clear sky overhead. There is sometimes a focus on the breath, but generally no attempt to use or control the breath, and because the sensation is imaginary, and the impetus for it comes from outside, the practice tends to be rather passive. This kind of meditation does not come from an established meditative tradition like the others listed above, and so it is untested as a method of spiritual development. Not every recorded meditation is an example of guided visualization; the key is whether it contains elements of hypnotic suggestion or the creation of fantasies under the guidance of someone else. If you are listening to a recording where the guide lays out a method for you to do yourself, or calls attention to sensation and energy already occurring within you, that is not guided visualization, but rather meditation instruction. The key is whether you are practicing a method that will enable you to do a practice by yourself or not.
7. Last in our seven meditations is a Trance-based practices are part of the shamanic tradition and reflective a whole set of practices that are basically the same as, and produce the same effects as meditation. The distinguishing hallmarks of trance areits intended effect on self-awareness and the external environment.Conscious control of the experience is absent, rational thinking is absent, and memory of the experience can also be limited and often a form of hypnotic suggestion is used to help deepen the trance (this is really a modern form of the mantra). Because self-control is so limited, and because of the passivity involved, some would claim that this is not a form of meditation. Yet trance is really much closer to Zazen and its ‘anti-method’ approach to meditation. Trance can be divided into four basic depths. Hypnodial, Light, Medium, and Deep Trance states:
Hypnodial Trance is where you progress from ordinary consciousness through the following steps: feeling physically relaxed, drowsy, your mind becomes relaxed and you may feel apathetic or indifferent, your arms and legs start to feel heavy, you may have a tendency to stare blankly, and have a disinclination to move your limbs.
- In Light Trance you progress to a reluctance to move, speak, think or act. You may experience some involuntary twitching of your mouth or jaw, and sometimes of the eyes. You will feel a heaviness throughout your entire body and a partial feeling of detachment.
- In Medium Trance you definitely recognize that you are in a trance and may experience partial amnesia; this state gives greater control over parts of the body and can be used to create an insensitive to pain, one can also experience the illusions of touching, tasting, and smelling. You will be more sensitive to variations in atmospheric pressure and temperature changes. As you border this and the Deep Trance you may experience complete catalepsy of your limbs or body. In other words, if your limbs or body positions are changed you will leave them in the new position until they are changed again.
- And in Deep Trance you can have the ability to open your eyes without affecting the trance. You will also have the ability to control such body functions as heartbeat, blood pressure and body temperature.You may as be able to recall lost memories and experience age regression. You will also vividly experience the sensation of lightness, floating, or flying. You can also experience both positive and negative visual and auditory hallucinations and while in this state you can also stimulate dreams and visions.
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References: Scientific studies of meditation and other forms of contemplative experience
- Image Source, ancient meditation architecture, By sasint (Sasin Tipchai), Source pixabay, License No Rights Reserved
- Lutz et. al; Slagter, HA; Dunne, JD; Davidson, RJ (2008). “Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation”. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 12 (4): 163–9. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2008.01.005. PMC 2693206free to read. PMID 18329323
- Murphy, Michael. “1”. The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation: Scientific Studies of Contemplative Experience: An Overview. Archived from the original on June 15, 2010.