Meditation isn’t a “new fad”, “a waste of time” or as the West commonly misinterprets, a way to “shut off thought”. It has been around indefinitely since the mind has had the ability to be aware of a “self” and is used to strengthen focus, awareness and mindfulness amongst other reasons.
- Origin of meditation
- Uses of meditation in different religions
- 4 Methods of meditation to improve your life
Where did meditation come from?
Nobody knows how long meditation has been around for or where it truly originated from. Some of the earliest mentions can be traced back to the 5th or 6th century in Confucian, Taoist China, and Buddhist India. Our most common familiarity with modern meditation however comes from Hinduism, dating back 5,000 years.
The West adopted Eastern spiritual practices in the mid 20th century after “Self-Realization” was initially brought over from India by Hindu guru Paramahansa Yogananda in the 1920s . Later popularized by researchers and doctors in the 50s and 60s when they began to study the benefits of meditation and yoga.
What was it used for?
Keep in mind each religion used many different forms of meditation to achieve different results. This is a general idea for a few:
In Hinduism, they used meditation to get closer to Brahman (“God”, “Divine Creator”). They practiced and believed that focusing within brought you closer to understanding your true-self (beyond the ego) by meeting and bringing awareness to the existence of the “Great Maker” residing within our superconscious, cells, dreams and spirit.
Don’t let that throw you off if you’re not religious, meditation is a practice that you can try for yourself. It’s not blind acceptance. And anybody who practices it correctly can confirm its benefits.
In Buddhism, they saw a oneness, a cause and effect, with thought and reality. Though some things may appear to be out of our control in life, they believed, from practice, that observing and training our thoughts for the better could ultimately help us find “the only real antidote to our own personal sorrows, and to the anxieties, fears, hatreds, and general confusions that beset the human condition.”
In Taoist meditation, they used similar methods to Buddhist meditation, however focusing more on energy flow, healing, breathing techniques and visualizations.
4 Different Methods of Meditation That I Use
These are some practices that I do that help me whenever I am dealing with difficult decisions, bad habits, anxiety or anger.
The biggest misconception of thought is this: we do the thinking, when in reality, the thinking does us.
Try not to think. Just for a minute. Did it work? Probably not. We don’t control our blinking, breathing, heartbeat or whatever else the body is subconsciously doing at all hours of the day. However, we can bring our focus to our subconscious blinking, become more aware of it and then we are able to consciously blink.
In the same sense, we don’t decide whether or not to think, but we can become more aware of our mind’s subconscious habits and take conscious action to change them for the better.
Imagine the flow of our thoughts like a stream, you can either get sucked under its current or stay on the shore to observe how the water flows.
If you allow yourself to stay on shore, you can no longer thrash and drown under the waves of anxious future or regretful past. You sit still on the peaceful, relaxed, enlightened shore of ‘now’.
(There are a dozen more practices, this is just a personal list)
This is great for creating a sense of peace and relaxation.
This is a certain type of Buddhist meditation that observes the connection between mind and body by focusing on sensations and enhancing them through the power of your mind’s focus. “A way of self-transformation through self-observation.”
Sit down on a mat or a blanket in lotus (or half-lotus) position, whatever feels most natural. You can even sit on the edge of a chair, feet placed flat on the ground and the back of your hands resting on your thighs. Straighten your spine by rolling your shoulders back. Make sure your body doesn’t feel stressed or stiff, it should feel natural and relaxed to sit with a straightened spine.
Close your eyes. Take a couple of deep breaths through your nose, fully inflate your lungs, hold it for a couple seconds then exhale completely through your mouth. Do this until you feel a sense of relaxation.
This is where the awareness and peace comes in. This is how you get to observe the flow of your mind from the shore, and wherever you watch your mind rushing to, is a main reason for the mood you are in.
With your eyes closed and back straight, begin to breathe through your nose as you would normally.
Bring your entire focus to the sensation of the cool air wafting up your nostrils, down the back of your throat to the inflation of your chest. Keep your focus here.
You will begin to notice your mind drift away from the sensation of breath to some random mind chatter. Don’t push it away. Gently observe where your mind wandered to, take note of it, then bring your focus back to the sensation of the breath up your nose.
Do this for 20-30 minutes.
Once you become a little more experienced with this practice, you can begin to bring your focus to different areas on your body. Every time your mind drifts away, see where it wanders off to and gently guide your awareness back to the area you are focusing on.
For example, if you catch your mind drift from the breath up your nose to a thought such as, “I’ll never pass that test” “I felt so ugly today” “I’ll never get the job” “I need to get all this done…” Gently observe these thoughts, exhale them out of your mind, and re-focus your attention on the sensations of the inward and outward breath.
Focusing on the breath is how you stay on the still shore of ‘now’. The only thing that truly exists in that very moment. When you catch your focus going from the breath to your thoughts, this is how you get swept away into their anxious current. Gently step out of the water, bring your focus to the breath, and find yourself back on the relaxing shore to observe.
You can do this practice anytime and anywhere. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your thought, just bring your focus to your breath.
This really helps you to see the root of whatever it is you’re feeling. It’s extremely relaxing, simple and honestly such a beautiful resolve.
Remember, a thought provokes emotion, and if you’re thoughts are negative, so will the correlating emotion, and so will your reality.
Be the captain of your focus. Sail the ship from negative seas to positive shores.
Positive thoughts. Positive feelings. Positive reality.
If you are are stressed out about making a difficult decision in your life, this is a great method to use.
I call it the ‘believing game’.
You can also use the power of visualization to imagine relaxing and positive experiences/situations in the brain. The body will respond by releasing chemicals of positivity. It makes you feel good.
It can also be used to imagine the things you want in life. Imagine yourself getting whatever it is you desire. Sometimes this visual will inspire your subconscious to send an idea to the forefront of your mind to help you manifest your visualization into reality.
Sit on a mat or a blanket in lotus (half-lotus, cross-legged) or whatever is comfortable. Or again, on the edge of chair, roll the shoulders and straighten the back.
Take some deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Until you feel fully relaxed. Close your eyes.
You might be having a difficult time choosing between a fork in the road. This is where the ‘believing game’ comes into play.
Remember, we are in the safety of your mind, so there are no repercussions here, you are free to choose.
Here’s an example:
Not sure if you want to leave job A for job B? Visualize yourself making the decision of staying in job A. Fully believe it. Fully see it. Visualize yourself going into work for job A every morning. Fully believe you made this decision, see it as real. Observe what emotions come flooding in. These emotions are your intuition. Your inner compass. Are you flooded with negative emotions? Positive emotions? Now do the same with job B.
Which emotions presented themselves this time? Now compare the two.
For this to really work, you need to fully believe and visualize in your mind’s eye that this is your choice. Create the visualization as if it were as clear as a memory.
You will immediately see which path you truly want to go down without the interference of worry or fear.
I recommend this if you are trying to decide on your future, investments, relationships or anything else that’s tied to fulfilling your desires or difficult decisions.
#3- Mindful Meditation
If you’re trying to stop those bad habits, this is a great practice for doing so.
Before I elaborate on the practice, I want to ask:
How do habits form?
Why are bad habits so difficult to break?
Aware decision making occurs in the prefrontal cortex, whereas the powerful impulse that you get from habit occurs in the basal ganglia.
I know, I know. What the hell does that mean?
When you try something new, whether it’s learning a new language, a new route, a new study, it takes a lot of time to understand the information (prefrontal cortex works here), but overtime, it becomes easier (and basal ganglia here). Why?
Every time you make a decision, it creates a signal of information between those two regions of the brain, and every time your prefrontal cortex (aware decision-making) sends the signal to the basal ganglia (automatic habit) that the same decision is occurring, the basal ganglia is told by the prefrontal cortex, “Alright, I figured out the hard stuff. You keep it going, I’m off to sleep.” An autopilot action is then formed and you will do it without having to be fully conscious of it.
For example, the first time you walk around a new city, it takes a lot of focus and effort to find your way around. After a while, walking to the store becomes automatic and you don’t have to use your prefrontal focus to get there. You can listen to music or talk on the phone without it feeling like a distraction and getting you lost, all thanks to the basal ganglia (autopilot).
And this ‘autopilot’ signal can be sent out and triggered when you’re in the same environment. The brain recognizes the familiar surroundings, you then act with familiar action because of it.
That’s why it’s said if you travel or change your surrounding environment, you’ll break out of habits. New surroundings means your brain has to become more aware (prefrontal cortex) in order to decipher the new information its receiving. But eventually, it won’t take as much effort to find your way through the city, thanks to that good ol’ autopilot basal ganglia.
This function of the brain can be an advantage, as well as a huge disadvantage, if you’re not aware of how it works.
It’s an advantage because this allows you to perform complex behaviors without it remaining difficult. This is why we can speak or learn different languages over time with less effort. This is why jobs become easier over time. This is why anything that is done with practice, which is just doing things over and over, makes things easier.
It’s a disadvantage once you begin doing bad habits, whether it’s binge-eating, smoking, drinking or whatever else. You tell the pilot (prefrontal cortex) it can go to sleep because it has done this route before, it responds by sending chemical activity away from itself to the autopilot (basal ganglia) in order to use less effort (less consciousness) on fulfilling its job. We like to take the shortcut, because well, our brain likes to take the shortcut as well.
Plus, with bad habits, you are not only telling your conscious brain that it can go to sleep, but other stimulants, like sugar, are telling your mind that these habits feel ‘good’, causing dopamine to shoot through the pleasure centers of your brain. And every time your eyes see a package of cigarettes, people eating or drinking alcohol, it sends the images to your brain saying, “Hey, there’s that thing that makes you feel good!” causing the dopamine to rush through your mind, and since the brain wants to give you what you want, you feel an impulse you can barely control in order to get that fix, that pleasure.
Keep in mind, the brain isn’t working against you. You tell it that these bad-habits are something that you want by doing it over and over, so it tries to perform its job with the least amount of effort and focus while at the same time giving you your momentary pleasure.
Sound familiar? You’re trying to control bad eating habits. You see a commercial about cookies. Your mouth waters. Maybe your stomach grumbles. You begin to crave it. Your brain is shooting off dopamine saying, “Hey there’s that thing you told me made you feel good! Here’s a little taste of that pleasure you like, go get more from the fridge!”, the idea of the fridge comes to your mind, this isn’t the first time this happened so the basal ganglia is being activated from recognition, the prefrontal cortex falls asleep, next thing you know you’re face first in the fridge on autopilot. And every time this happens, your telling the brain it did its job. So it’ll do it again, and again.
So how does mindful meditation help?
Mindful meditation redirects brain activity from the basal ganglia to the prefrontal cortex. Telling the pilot, “Hey, wake up, we need to focus here.” The pilot then takes control and the autopilot goes into remission. This allows a hiatus between impulse, response and stimuli.
Every time you feel an impulse
- Remember, this isn’t what “you” want, it’s the brain trying to fulfill its programmed duties
- Bring your focus away from the thing your craving, focus on your breath
- Your mind will do everything in its power to get your focus back
- Don’t fight it with frustration, gently observe the mind working with the feeling of gratitude
- Inhale the craving, close your eyes if it helps, keep your focus on your breath
- Gently tell the cravings good job but no thank you, exhale
- Show your brain how good it feels to breathe, focus here
- Do this for a few seconds, the initial impulse will leave
- Within this gap, do a positive habit instead
- Do this every time you feel an impulse from the brain
- The key is to bring focus and awareness to our senses and remembering to feel good about it
- This shoots off dopamine and tells your brain this is what you like instead
- This rewires your brain over time, and eventually you will drop your bad habits if you keep practicing this
Every time you feel an impulse, bring your focus to your breath, fill your mind with every little sensation the breath plays upon your nose, this causes hiatus between impulse and reaction, now do a small good habit within this hiatus ( 5 pushups, drawing, feeling the grass beneath your bare feet), focus on feeling good about it and repeat with every impulse.
#4- Loving-Kindness “Metta” meditation
This is great for letting go of anger, hurt or depression by creating an overwhelming sense of love and kindness towards those that have upset you, and even towards you yourself, through mantras. This results in overall forgiveness, overall peace.
“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting somebody else to die.”
First sit in a comfortable position, straighten your back naturally, close your eyes.
Metta begins by focusing on oneself first. We tend to have difficulty loving others until we learn to love ourself, so with your eyes closed, take a few deep breaths through your nose and when your chest inflates, imagine the oxygen touching your heart. Exhale. Do this for a few breaths until you’re in deep relaxation.
Next, repeat, either out loud or in your mind, (I’d recommend out loud first, the vibration that is sent from your voice makes the mantra more resonating and powerful)
“I am loved. I am part of an amazing creation. I love myself exactly as I am even as I get better. I am worthy of divine happiness. May I be healthy. May I be abundant. May I be grateful. ”
When you say this, or a variety of it, focus and sink into the heartfelt emotions that this mantra will evoke. Once you begin to feel loving-kindness towards yourself, connect the feeling with the mantra as you repeat it, this makes the emotion stronger and powerful. You can begin to slowly lower your voice to a whisper until you’re no longer speaking.
To make it stronger, envision yourself in the mind’s eye. Continue with the mantra. You should begin to feel a total gratitude for your life, now extend this loving-kindness to friends, strangers, animals or whomever may have hurt you.
By visualizing their faces in your mind, feeling the power of loving-kindness in your heart, you will naturally find forgiveness if you are struggling with anger.
Imagine the person that has hurt you, keep repeating the mantra, if you feel pain or anger towards the person you envision, think “May you be loved. May you be forgiven. May you find peace and wellbeing. May we be free of pain. I let go of this pain because I love myself. May you find guidance. May you find self-love. I forgive you. I forgive the situation. And if I’m not ready, I forgive myself for that.”
Continue repeating this, by now you should feel overwhelmed by loving-kindness and forgiveness. If not, keep repeating a mantra that creates positive emotions.
This helped me forgive the people that have abandoned, abused, neglected and hurt me. Even if they never said sorry.
I was forgiving. I was then freed. And I am now happy.
I can guarantee the same for you if this is practiced.