Mindfulness is a keyword these days whose true meaning is often lost in today’s social media driven world. While it is a blessing to have access to so much data, the back-and-forth methodologies on YouTube and other platforms can be both confusing and daunting. Mindfulness is not meant to be stress inducing but rather a way to reign in our active minds and “re-wire” ourselves to enjoy more complete and satisfying lives.
This article is meant to both shed light on some of the methodologies and how, in the end, you are essentially attempting to achieve a similar result. Some paths are more winding, others more direct. Ultimately, it is your mind that is under consideration, and you need to utilize what feels most natural and comfortable.
Simple is often best but what is simple for one is not always the same for others. Finding multiple meditations is your best route as one any given day, one may not work. As odd as it may seem, it is often spoken by Buddhist monks that what we are experts on one day, can suddenly make us feel like novices the next. Don’t’ fret, this is the complexity of the human mind and one of fascinating aspects to be discovered on your journey.
Below I discuss the two primary sources for meditation in todays culture. This is not a complete list and although Zen, tai chi and other eastern religions are omitted, it is not because they lack value. However, in comparison to Yoga and Buddhism, they are either lesser known or just have slight variations from these two. Yoga is perhaps the original whose many roots including Tantra and Veda in turn gave birth to Buddhism and others.
It is unfortunate, but most people associate yoga with the western world’s interpretation involving stretching and breathing. While the physical postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama) are key aspects of the origins of yoga, it is the dyana or meditative side that has seemingly been buried under the millions of yoga mats manufactured each day.
If mindfulness is what you seek, dyana is a critical aspect that should be investigated. Once you learn more of the meditational side of yoga, you will see the connections between the other ancient practices such as tai-chi and Buddhism.
For the first two methodologies, these can be applied to nearly everyone. Yoga in the western world is helpful to alleviate back pain, high blood pressure, menopause symptoms, assist in smoking cessation and weight loss. These are verifiable physical ailments that many people can readily apply to their lives and see improvements.
However, for the well-being and mindful approach, you should research the traditional meditation practices of yoga. Learning aspects of the yoga-based meditations will open you to a new approach in achieving mindfulness. The teachings differ from other meditative practices and often the message behind the method is not to be the place of your focus. As I mentioned earlier, the result is mindfulness and how to achieve it can be yours to choose.
There are plenty of video’s online of popular Indian yoga teacher, Sadhguru. He is a wise and interesting listen and when comparing to most of the leading Buddhist monks, Sadguru speaks fluent English and has a strong command of both words, science and internal strife. He also directly addresses disorders such as anxiety and offers specific methodology that you can utilize.
Isha Krya is a method created by him that is performed in 3 steps and has very specific guidelines to follow. It combines mantras, chanting and focus in a meditation that takes less than 20 minutes.
This easily learned meditation can be used at night, to help induce sleep or during the day to again center yourself from the chaos of daily life. One aspect that will be unique and revealing for most is the idea of looking internally between your eyebrows. Situated between the two halves of the brain, the tiny pineal gland is quite mysterious but often comes up when discussing sleep disorders. The act of looking between the eyebrows is said to activate the pineal gland, stimulating melatonin production which helps induce and regulate sleep patterns. This is one of the keys to why Isha Krya is a valuable meditation before bed.
Beyond sleep regulation, the pineal gland is source of the mysterious “third eye” or “eye of the Shiva” taught in the Yoga and Tantra traditions, among others. It is often reported that focusing on this area can awaken the normally dormant third eye, providing light and insight that is otherwise impossible.
Being the mysticism of the third eye, the act of directing your attention to this area is an incredible way to achieve focus. This can often be utilized for those suffering from insomnia, anxiety or offer active minds. Anyone who has practiced meditation understands how difficult a busy mind can be difficult to tame. Using this location can induce great focus and be the foundation of any practice that can include, breathing, mantras and chanting. Even for the faithful Buddhist meditators, try using this technique. After the initial awkwardness, it becomes almost second nature. It should never feel straining and adding a slight upward tilt to your head makes it more natural.
One last note on taming busy minds before moving on. It is always key to remember that you cannot, nor should you try to stop thoughts from occurring. Our minds are incredible and miraculous but as with anything, using force is not beneficial. Instead, utilize a system where you simply recognize a wandering thought and return your focus. It is here that it is so important to have a central focus that is both natural and reliable whether it is your breath, visualization or perhaps your third eye.
Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama in India sometime around the 5th century B.C. Now referred to as the Buddha, he was a Yoga practitioner and teacher before separating over his displeasure with what seemed to be contradictions between the ancient teachings of Tantra and Vedic priesthood and the often-opulent palaces and excesses they enjoyed.
This break with the traditional practices did not completely isolate Buddha’s teachings with what he learned earlier in life. It was his desire to instruct followers that in order to achieve enlightenment, which he had already accomplished, one must understand 4 basic truths that tell us that suffering all comes from within one’s minds. Without getting into the specifics of each of these truths, Buddhism today is a path toward enlightenment using meditation that provides wisdom and inner peace from the suffering we create ourselves. Just on the periphery, you can see how the Buddha was in tune with how a wandering mind can bring a host of problems that we now recognize as anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
The idea of enlightenment is fascinating and would seem to be the goal of all meditators, however, with jobs needed to pay the bills and families to attend to, the goal for most is to find mindfulness amongst the chaotic day-to-day lives we live. This is where Buddhism has established itself as the most common mediative practices. After all, if our sufferings are self-created, why not eliminate them?
Well, it is easier said than done and why many people prefer to practice Buddhism that involves a focus point or mindfulness meditation. Using the breath is the most common point of concentration with it’s constant presence, influence on the central nervous system and is both automatic and controllable. These aspects are what make the breath a reliable focal point in eliminating our wandering mind.
Conversely, many monks spend years-on-end seeking enlightenment by clearing the mind of all thought. This second meditative approach is not only very challenging, but many monks feel eliminates the wisdom gained by focusing on one’s breath is lost but going directly for the clear mind. For any beginner, I will repeat my earlier message of not trying to force a thought to cease existing. Not only will you be discouraged when you fail to stop your thoughts, the act of abruptly stopping your mind from doing something it has been allowed to do for some time may not be beneficial. Following the teachings of most Buddhist teachers, the act of simply acknowledging a thought and then returning to your breath will achieve the mindfulness you seek.
As with most eastern religions, Buddhism shares common traits with others. Whether it is from Buddha’s original background as a yogi or later adaptations, meditative practices in Buddhism can often resemble others. For example, Zen monks often clean their monasteries endlessly. This act not only creates an ideal environment for seeking enlightenment but it also the practice of repetition can be utilized as a concentration point for the mind.
In my Home Office series, I wrote a blog called Breaking the Mindfulness Barrier which discusses the act of washing the dishes. I first learned this act from a Buddhist monk on YouTube and love it to this day. The soothing act of watching the bubbles clean and water rinse are a great method of enacting mindfulness in our daily lives. This is the third type of Buddhist meditation and is performed with your eyes open, active, or still.
A fourth meditation is often used by advanced users and involves visualization. This can be as simple as deeply focusing on a tranquil landscape in your mind or trying to solve and unsolvable riddle called a koan. Try this one: What is the sound of one hand clapping?
In one distinct way, Buddhism differentiated itself from yoga in that the idea that a fundamental “self” is merely a creation of the mind. Yoga, in its traditional form still allowed for the individual to believe in a God or their “self”. This idea is one area that makes westerners weary of breaking from deep seated traditions that make them uncomfortable to believe their individuality does not exit in normal context but is rather a manifestation of their minds. The beauty of Buddhism is that is not a traditional religion where the book is closed on what is and is not. This allows for any practitioner to take what they want as the goal in the end is to abide by the ethical codes and seek enlightenment.
Regardless of their differences, the similarities are there including the teaching of non-violence, and non-attachment along with the ultimate goal of liberating the mind from suffering through achieving a higher consciousness.
Types of Meditation
Although the roots of meditation and mindfulness come from distant origins and despite some fundamental difference in teachings, the surviving methodologies all give us a chance of seeking nirvana, enlightenment, or whichever term you chose to embrace. Below are some of the different methods you can utilize to attain your goals. Not all of them are classified as Buddhist, Yoga, Zen, and so on, so try them all and you pick what works for you.
- mindfulness meditation-The most common and easiest form based on the Buddhist teachings.
- spiritual mediation-Christian’s utilize contemplative prayer and Jewish kabbalistic practices are examples.
- focused meditation– Staring at a flame or other object, counting breaths or steps
- movement meditation-tai chi, gardening, walking
- progressive meditation-body scanning to reduce tensions throughout the body by progressively tensing and releasing muscle groups. This is very helpful if falling asleep is difficult.
- loving kindness meditation-opening oneself to love and compassion from oneself and others
- visualization meditation-uses all 5 senses to visualize a scene or figure that enhances calmness and relaxation. This is a more advanced method.
- mantra meditation-Utilizing repetitive sounds or sayings to elicit focus. A nice method for beginners and advanced meditators alike.
- transcendental meditation– A yoga based meditation that often requires a certified teacher. This method can provide an easier approach to achieve results from more traditional methods.
Benefits of Meditation
The benefits of meditation are plentiful and even if science has not yet caught up (or admitted) with what has been proven for centuries, you should not limit yourself to the power of the human mind. The overuse and prescribing of medications is a far reaching problem in our society and although often necessary, the first resource should be meditation. Below are some common ailments that can be relieved through regular meditation.
The origins of meditation are less important than the outcomes. Try them each and see what works best for you. The key to mindfulness is using or creating a method that you can rely on to allow you to focus. Whether it is your breath, direction of your stare or saying “Om” over and over, you need to find the base where you can return your thoughts when they run astray. Progress can be slow and as I mentioned earlier, sometimes goes backwards. However, with some dedication you will soon find your busy mind quieting down and self-inflicted suffering lessened. As the Buddha once taught, “Love in the past is only a memory. Love in the future is only a fantasy. True love lives in the here and now.”
Check out this blogs exclusive video below and for more reading on mindfulness: How and Why Meditation Works for Depression and Anxiety; Anxiety and Breathing-The Overlooked Connection;