Meditation is simply the training of the mind. It has been used, primarily for spiritual practices, for thousands of years. The effects are numerous. In the same way training the body gives rise to numerous benefits, so does training the mind. From achieving incredible states of focus (now being recommended as self-therapy for ADHD) to having insights in the nature of reality and dealing with stress, anxiety and depression. Throughout history these practices gave rise to many men who were pure of heart, loving, compassionate, wise, patient and extremely disciplined.
Since everything you’ve ever experienced and know is in your awareness, the end goal is understanding That which is Aware. You can define yourself in a multitude of ways, looks, jobs, gender, race and everything else that words divide in our sensory world. And, at every moment of you playing one of these roles, there was this awareness. Are you the concept of I or are you that which is aware of the concept? This is the reason Eckhart Tolle recommends the following:
Once you’ve explored this concept long enough you slowly get a sense of what he is hinting at. You start to feel it instead of just knowing it conceptually. Many practices have been invented to show the practitioner that indeed the sensory world changes from moment to moment but the awareness stays the same. It’s like a mirror, it’s empty, it can not see itself, it’s luminous, blissful and perfect. It’s non-dual and doesn’t ask questions, it’s non-conditional, it is beginners mind, it does not know nor has to.
This is why staying in the Now is such a powerful practice. You will see that everything goes on by itself, you yourself have nothing to do with it. Awareness is ever-present. This insight will make you let go, relax and ‘lean into the sharp points of life’ as late Chogyam Trungpa used to say.
Here are the awesome variations on meditation, amongst which you will certainly find at least one that agrees with you.
Darkness Meditation – Intermediate – Min. 1 day
I don’t think anyone will actually go ahead and do this one (yes, that is a challenge!) but it’s worth mentioning. Pythagoras did it. Parmenides did it. Tibetans traditionally do it for 47 days in a row. There are whispers that some yogis do it for years. Why? It heightens the senses, it calms down the mind and once the waves of distraction settle down, it gives rise to insights into ones own nature, a profound tranquility and relaxation. And this is something many of us could use a spoon or two of. No one can deny that the 21st century is probably the most hyperactive century ever. We are constantly flooded with information, most of which is visual. This is why you’ll be sleeping a lot in the beginning as you do a darkness meditation. But at one point time, sleepiness and boredom will disappear and the true nature of your mind will shine forth.
You should have a space where there is complete darkness. Make it so you can sleep, eat, toilet and meditate in an easy manner. Have enough food to sustain you. Also try to reduce outward sounds to a minimum. Don’t try to exercise, except for yoga, since this will stir up the mental turbulence again. Tell your social circle what you are about to do and make sure you won’t get disturbed. Only break the time period you have set for yourself in emergencies. If you are afraid of the dark, just observe the fear!
Dancing Meditation – Beginner – Min. 1 minute
This is something everyone can do. While dancing we open ourselves up to the music. We drop our stories about how we should dance and instead we just feel the present moment and move our limbs spontaneous. It is effortless because we already have the knowledge of what to do. We totally tune into the vibe of nowness and experience the child, playful and curious, within us.
Breathing Meditation – Beginner – Min. 1 minute
The object of concentration meditation, shamatha, is often the breath. But there are also other ways you can use breathing as an exercise. There are four breathing meditations I’d like to mention here, long deep breathing, breath of fire, hara breathing and pranayama.
Long deep breathing is fairly simple. It’s the way baby’s breathe. You sit on a cushion or chair with your back straight and eyes closed. You breathe in and let the stomach expand first, then slowly you breathe into the rib cache and you finish with the upper chest. The focus should be placed on the abdomen, rising and falling. The outbreath should be the other way around, upper chest, rib cage and then at the end you pull in the navel and push all the remaining air out.
The breath of fire is explained in this video. Although the footage might raise an eyebrow, the explanation is very good.
Hara breathing is breathing from the core and keeping the ribcage and chest completely still. This takes a lot of practice because we are so used to breathe from our upper chest. People who are tense often breathe higher up in the chest while in Zen meditation the goal is to let everything rise up and dissolve from the navel area. Don’t force this exercise, breathe as a baby would do. (Baby’s are awesome). Focus on the expanding and contracting belly. You can do this all day long and is a great way to relieve some stress and tension. Especially useful if you sit behind a computer all day.
Pranayama is a yoga breathing exercise. It also strengthens the core. Extremely well explained in the video below.
Music Meditation – Beginner – Min. 1 song
We often listen to music while doing something else. Because of this some of the complete experience of hearing is lost. This is a fairly easy meditation to become aware of the effects sounds have on our psyche. Choose a song of your liking, lie down and just listen. It’s actually impossible to not listen. To not be aware. But our focus is lacking most of the time, so thoughts catch our attention and we actually miss a lot of the music. Bring your awareness back to the present, to the sound, every time you get distracted.
Tummo Meditation – Advanced – Until steam rises up
Tummo is an ancient practice of inner heat meditation. When body temperature drops blood is pumped to internal organs which provides the feeling of fire in the belly. Positive effects on skin conditions, exercise recovery and mood have been reported but the most bad ass effects come from Tibetan monks who can make ice-cold blankets (49 degrees Fahrenheit/9,4 degrees Celsius) go up in steam. Traditionally monks sat a whole night on freezing ice in meditation.
Herbert Banson, associate professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School, studied Tummo for twenty years. He developed the relaxation response which is a physiological state opposite to stress. It can help cure stress related diseases like skin conditions, high blood pressure, anger issues, moderate depression and even infertility.
I am not advocating going outside while it’s freezing. Rather I would start out with taking cold showers and once you’ve taken a liking to these and want to take it a step further, you can do cold shower meditations. Sit cross-legged on a blanket, set a period of time you’d like to practice and turn on the shower, as cold as it can go. Your heart and breathing rate might rise for a moment but this is nothing to worry about. Try to completely tune into the present moment. Your ego will find many excuses to run away from the present moment, just like every other moment of the day. But now the neurosis is increased. Don’t react to it, just stay and in the present moment, relax completely into the cold and observe. At one point your mind will ease into it and I must say, it’s rather pleasant.
Maybe after a few years training you can beat the Dutch world record holder, Wim Hof. His current record is 1 hour and 44 minutes in a tank full of ice.
Walking Meditation – Beginner – Min. 1 minute
This is one of my favorites. Besides that walking is the healthiest activity one can do, it is also very relaxing and if one can walk in a beautiful environment, it is an adventure in itself. It is quite simple, especially of one already has some experience with meditation. Just walk around, pay close attention to the breath and the locomotion of the feet and let your mind absorb the sights, sounds and smells around you. Don’t comment on them. Don’t distinguish between smells you like and dislike. Just be aware of everything around you. Normally people suffer from compulsive thinking syndrome, especially while walking. Tell yourself you don’t need to think for the period you decided to do walking meditation, just be as you are. Thoughts may come later.
Body Scan Meditation – Intermediate – Min. 10 minutes
I love to do this one before I go to sleep. And I have to confess I hardly ever finish it because you fall asleep quickly, and that is fine too. Trust your nervous system. You start out lying in your back, eyes closed and hand palms up. Breathe in deeply three times. Then focus on the sensation of the bottom of your feet. Do this for five slow breaths. Then add the whole feet and the ankles and do this for another five breaths. Add the knees and the upper legs. Add the groin, the navel area and the lower spine. Then add the stomach. Don’t forget to keep breathing. Add the chest and the shoulders. Try to relax into the sensations with every out breath. Add the arms and the hands. The neck, the jaw, the back of your head and the eye area. The last addition should be the top of your head. If you forget the count of the breath, that is alright. Just go back to one and to the sensations of the body. You will feel relaxed and probably very sleepy by now, which is fine. This one is also great to do if you just finished something stressful.
If you’ve never tried meditation before I hope you will try it out sometime. If you have experience with it, I hope you learned something new to try out. Please report your experiences and the questions you might have below in the comment section. Thank you!