Despite being an ancient practice that has existed for hundreds of years, meditation has caught the eye of the average person in only the last few years.
Meditation has its roots in the Vedic civilisation. The oldest documents are from approximately 5,000 BC to 3,500 BC. Specifically, it has a long tradition in Hinduism – the Upanishads discuss it as a way to 'remove ignorance' and 'acquire knowledge and oneness with the Absolute' (1). Later on, forms of meditation developed in Taoist China and Buddhism and Jainism in India. For example, the Gayatri Mantra is translated as:
"We meditate on that desirable light of the divine Savitri, who influences our pious rites"
Meditation was originally part of religious traditions – a vehicle for enlightenment and for those on the spiritual path. However, nowadays they have found applications in day-to-day life such as business and health, as Eastern traditions gain popularity in the West and research is pursued.
The wise ancients have always been aware of the powerful benefits meditation can bring to your life. Scientifically, it has been shown to:
'Strengthen and thicken the brain', which 'may allow the brain to process information faster' (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120314170647.htm)
'Thicken areas associated with attention and emotional integration.'
'Can promote creative thinking'
And its even 'linked to lower cardiovascular risk' according to survey data from more than 61,000 people
You may think that long durations of meditation are required for you to acquire such benefits. In reality, results like these are shown with around 10 minutes of meditation per day – the most important part is consistency, not quantity.
Forms and techniques
Meditation manifests itself in many forms and techniques, although they can be categorised in two main forms:
focused and open.
Focused methods include:
Following the breath – observing the breath, but not controlling it
Mantra meditation – repetition of a mantra in the mind
Loving-kindness (maitri) – meditation on generous and selfless love towards ourselves and others
Focusing on a single point – this is done with the eyes open, like with a candle flame
Open methods include:
Mindfulness – purposely bringing one's attention in the present moment, without judgment
Vipassana – practiced by Buddha himself, an ancient tradition that focuses on awareness and insight.
These are only a few examples – feel free to browse the web, you will find dozens of different styles! As you can see, there are options for everyone and room for experimentation to see which method you like the most. You can also cycle methods depending on how you feel every morning – its up to you!
Just to add, note that Vipassana is better understood as a course, and it is usually practiced as a 7-10 day retreat.
I recommend you use trusted and reputable organisations like Dhamma (https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/index).
Put into practice
So, how do we incorporate meditation into our hectic, busy, and stressful lives? I've collated a few resources, apps, and websites that could be useful.
https://www.oakmeditation.com – a simple meditation app with guided and unguided options
https://www.calm.com – a popular app with many different meditation tracks
https://www.dhamma.org/en/about/mobile-app – app contains a few Vipassana tracks for free
https://apps.apple.com/in/app/isha-chants/id1158670101 – app that contains dozens of chants for meditation
Meditation must be performed on an empty stomach – that is, the last meal should be over 3 hours prior. It is recommended that one meditates in the morning, as it is said to confer more benefits. Practically, doing it in the morning is useful as you can get it out of the way; many times in the evening we are too busy to consider practices like this. Before bed is another useful time, especially if you have trouble relaxing before bed.
Meditation is best performed after breathing exercises. Learn more about them in my article BREATH
Want to learn more?