Characteristics Common to All Techniques
There are plenty of meditation techniques one can use to induce the state of meditation. What most of these techniques have in common, is a tendency for the mind to focus on monotonous stimuli.
In normal conscious, the mind is constantly scanning the environment, attentive to new stimuli, things that could be of interest, things that could be dangerous. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Responding quickly to stimuli aids survival, ignoring new stimuli could threaten it. However, the mind processes momentous stimuli differently. Take for example listening to the sound of the sea. This sound focuses attention causes the mind to changed — it relaxes.
Mental and Physical Relaxation
The thoughts on the surface of the mind become less agitated, thoughts occur less frequently. It’s like the pond. If there are no waves, the mind is relaxed. If there are many waves, there is agitation and anxiety.
Physiological Evidence of Being in Meditation
If you use an induction technique properly, the are certain physical changes that will signal that state change. Benson’s research on those practicing transcendental meditation showed that:
Breathing Slows Down. The rate of your breathing is a dead give away regarding how much or how little stress you have in your life.
Heart Rate Decreases. Well, maybe not a lot compared to sitting but it is better than having your heart racing.
Stress Leaves the Voluntary Muscles. We hold stress in the muscles. No doubt about it. And if you can reduce muscle spasm, you can reduce the use of muscle relaxants or even reduce the visits to the chiropractor.
Brain waves Shifted from Beta to Alpha. Beta waves are associated with our waking consciousness. Alpha with deep relaxation or sleep.
Oxygen use Decreases. This is one of the more surprising signals associated with the state of meditation.
Four Types of Practice Techniques
Sitting whether in a chair, pillow or mat is unlikely by itself to induce meditation. However, sitting combined with an auditory or visual technique is likely to be successful.
a. Passive. Sitting. For someone who is just getting started, most teachers say it is important to find the right chair, the couch, the half-lotus, the full lotus and so on. What this positions have in common is a restriction of movement
b. Active. Movement. After one has developed a certain amount of practice skill, one can add movement while one is meditating. There are many types of movements. A simple one is a walking meditation. Another, is the 108 Prostrations in Korean Buddhism or the Whirling Dervishes in Sufism.
2. Visual Techniques
Putting the mind at rest can be done when the eyes are focused on a single point of concentration with a monotonous stimuli. Lets say you focus on the TV screen for five minutes. It unlikely that you will induces meditation since the scenes coming off the screen are anything but monotonous. However, staring at a blank wall will most certain calm the mind.
It’s common to learn to meditate with the eyes closed. This makes sense if you think about it. Minimizes that amount of stimuli hitting the mind causes the mind to become more relaxed.
One can begin to open the eyes, either while sitting oMost people start their mediation practices with their eyes closed. But one does not have to do this. One can focus attention on something such as the image above.
3. Access Through Auditory Techniques
While there is some benefit to creating a nice set of sounds to calm the, most commonly, novices are given a mantra. Many of these mantras consist of a single sound, that is repeated over and over again. Some of these syllabus are considered be sacred, a name of the divine.
Sounds are also widely used as on object of meditation and to access the state. Sounds can calm the mind or excite it. Think for a moment how most people wake up. There you are, just in a nice relaxed state of mind. But wait, what is that, a horrible sound, so noxious that you might get out of bed. It is of course, the alarm clock. Then, to make matters worse, one hears this same, terrible sound for two or three times because on engineer has developed something called the snooze button. Internal.
While today’s technology gives one more options in the use of sounds, classically the sounds that were the most valuable were that ones that one would generate. Some of these sounds have meaning, others do not . Some are very, very old going back thousands of years. To illustrate the difference, let’s look at affirmations and mantras.
An affirmation is typically a phrase repeated over, and over and over again. The act of repeating the phrase may or may not help one to enter the meditative state. For example, one could repeat the words, “I am happy.” Hundreds of time but still not be happy. The same goes for the affirmation, “I am meditating.”
A mantra is a sound or series of sound help one access or stay in a state of meditation. Often these phrases go back a long time, to a language such as Pali, Sanskrit, or a Chinese dialect, so when first heard, it may not seem to have any meaning at all.
Category 4: Using Mindfulness Techniques With Meditation
Over many thousands of years, a number of techniques have developed that center around the use of mind. For whether you can access meditation and stay depends on your use of awareness and attention.
Awareness in this case is defined as process that does not require thought, in fact one way to explore the meaning of awareness is to stop thinking.
Unlike awareness, attention has a focus. It is directed at something, commonly called the object of meditation, whether that is a thought, an image, a sound, movement and so on. Concentration and contemplation are focused attention that occur for a period of time.
Focus on Breath
Classically, many traditions start out with paying attention to breathing while sitting (the kinesthetic ) with the eyes closed. After an 20 minutes or so, many people realize that they did not change state and so give up. This actually happened to me. The first time I was sitting on a pillow, uncomforable as hell, with a pain in both my leg and back that I was trying to ignore thing, “This has got to be the greatest waste of my money ever,” “Will this never end,” “Focus on just breath is really stupid.” Fortunately, I didn’t give up, just tried another method, in this case transcendental meditation and the state change occurred.
Why Meditation May Not Work
Over the years, different traditions have developed a plethora of techniques to induce mediation. To achieve success, you have to:
- Find an effective induction technique,
- Find a good teacher, and
- Have a strong desire to learn and continue to practice.
In psychology, its long been known that techniques that reduce or cure mental illness depends on: a. The soundness of the theory, and b. The skill of the person using it. Unfortunately, many who want to learn mediation sometimes are exposed to the wrong technique or have a bad teacher.
Bad Teaching Examples:
You go to a retreat and the teacher says, “Now I want you to do a walking meditation, follow me.” You follow him, but outside of walking painfully slow, nothing changes.
You go to a retreat and the teacher tells you to, “Focus on your breathing,” The person then stays quiet for the next 30 minutes while you are sitting cross legged on a pillow, uncomfortable as hell. You keep thinking, “I have breathing all my life, what’s so magical about breathing on top of a pillow.”
In the walking meditation example, it is the wrong technique for the novice. However, for someone who has meditated for a while, walking while meditating is an interesting experience.
In the second example, the teacher was at fault for presenting a perfectly good technique, but not guiding people properly through it. In this case, the teacher did not do a guided meditation technique.
Good induction techniques help to access the meditative state. It’s important to understand that meditation induction techniques are different from techniques used during meditation. But not everyone responds equally well to the same technique. For example, many traditions give the beginner a mantra. This technique generally works pretty well, but not every beginner is able to reach a deep state of meditation using this technique the first time.
To summarize, there are many, many techniques to access and stay in the meditative state. It important to note that some people find certain methods to work better, others not so well. An auditory mantra while sitting may not work and so the person steps away thinking that meditation is not for them. But if a different techniques was used, they would have better luck.
However, like most things, if you persist you are bound to succeed.
Benson, Herbert & Klipper, Miriam (2000). The Relaxation Response. HarperTouch.