This week (12 Weeks to Calm – Week Five) I wanted to talk about meditation – the art of transforming the mind. As the mind is what we are trying to work on during the 12 Weeks to Calm, I think it is a really important subject to cover. It is believed that the art of meditation has been around for approximately 5000 years. It has origins in ancient India, and later in Taoist China and Buddhist India. Translations of meditation teachings arrived in the West in the 18th century, and it has become a popular practice for many. It is a part of religious practice, but you don’t need to be religious to meditate.
The practice also has many health benefits, including decreasing anxiety. While I could list them all for you, I thought I would share this info graphic from Mind Body Green and Prevention magazine.
There are many different types of meditation. World-renowned teacher Charlie Knoles acknowledges the indecision that some people face when they begin meditation. He recommends relaxing and breathing, and states that through practice you will find the right type of meditation for your purpose. What is your purpose? What do you want to achieve through meditation? Knoles describes meditation as having four categories – cultivating awareness, bringing your mind into sharp focus, transcending your ego, and controlling your breath. One form of meditation will not be able to help every problem, so it is important to practice the type that is right for you.
According to the Institute for Applied Meditation, there are eight main types of practice.
1. Mindfullness, or Vipassana. This is a Buddhist tradition that is becoming very popular in the West. It focusses on being present, letting your mind run, accepting the thoughts that come and then practicing detachment from each thought. A psychologist taught me this technique a few years ago. I found it helpful as I could acknowledge what my body was feeling and mind was telling me, and then re-frame the thought into something more positive.
2. Zazen. Another form of Buddhist meditation, Zazen refers to basic sitting meditation. It is practiced for long periods of time, but comes with little instruction beyond ‘sit with a straight back’. No particular attention is paid to the breath. The Institute for Applied Meditation believes that this is one of the most difficult types of meditation to perfect, as it comes with next to no guidance. While it is difficult to clear your mind without help, there is something to be said for sitting still and just being at one with yourself from time to time.
3. Transcendental Meditation. This form of meditation comes from a Hindu tradition called Vedanta. It involves sitting in the lotus or half lotus position, and using a mantra that is repeated. Once the practice is very advanced, people believe that they can leave their bodies.
4. Kundalini. This also stems from Vedanta, and focuses on the energy that flows through the body. Breathing helps to move the energy through each of the centres in the body, finishing just above the head. Both Kundalini and Transcendental Meditation are thought to be egoist practices, and are not ‘heart-based’ methods.
5. Qi Gong. This is a form of Taoist meditation that uses breath to circulate energy through the body. It does not have a set of teachings to work with emotions, but instead circulates energy to the body and spirit.
6. Guided visualisation. This has become a very popular form of meditation, and involves concentrating on an imagined image or environment. It does not come from a religious tradition like Buddhism or Hinduism, and does not always focus on the breath.
7. Trance-based practice. This practice requires an absence of control, where there is no or little rational thinking. Through my limited reading, it’s not a practice I would recommend for everyday, but if you are interested you can read more at the above link.
8. Heart Rhythm Meditation. This form focuses on the breath and heartbeat. It also allows you to concentrate on the pulse around the body, and eventually you will be able to direct energy to various parts of the body.
How Can I Learn to Meditate?
There are many courses, both through meditation centres and online. We really are spoilt for choice!
If you are in Sydney or it’s surrounds, you might like to try a meditation course at the Nan Tien Buddhist Temple just south of Wollongong. It is just off a freeway, but is one of the most peaceful places I know. I have been meaning to book into a meditation course for about two years now, but this year I am actually going to do it! The course costs $50 and includes a vegetarian lunch.
A quick Google search will show many meditation classes and retreats in your city, if you choose to do a class in person.
There are so many choices when it comes to online classes. I first heard about Charlie Knoles on the Rich Roll Podcast, and subsequently looking him up on MindBodyGreen. He’s an expat-Australian living in the United States, and has been practising meditation since he was four years of age. He has a variety of online classes that you can see here. Again, Google will be your friend if these do not suit you.
I have talked about the meditation apps that I use before. My favourite is by Andrew Johnson, called Don’t Panic. He has a wide variety of apps to download (free and paid). You can set them to either wake you up at the end, or to go to sleep, which is what I do.
You can also download free apps through Smiling Mind, which is a fantastic Australian initiative for both children and adults. I have used it myself and with my school students. You can read all about the science behind the program here. The body scan is a fantastic way to help if you’re feeling off kilter and need to refresh yourself.
If you have one aim this week, try meditating. All you need is between 5 and 20 minutes for a short session, and a quiet room. If you’re going to use an app, try using headphones as it will limit distractions for you.
If you don’t do it, will you try it?