Two Things You Can Do to Improve Your Meditation Practice
Despite the fickle nature and changing whims of the 21st-century population, meditation seems to persistently remain in-vogue. To be fair, it’s not that much of a surprise when you consider the various health benefits that meditation has to offer.
But if you’re new to the process, it can be discouraging when you seem to be missing out on all those world-changing experiences that many of your friends are posting on their Instagram captions. So, what gives? Is there something wrong with how you meditate?
Well, the fact that you still care about those things tells us that there may be some room for improvement. After all, your meditation practice should leave you with a calmer mind, not give you more ruminations to keep you up at night. Though we may not be able to change how you feel about your situation, we can give you some ideas that you can try to improve your meditation practice.
#1: Try a different meditation technique
When you start your journey in learning how to meditate, most guides you encounter tend to give you the same starting point. Breathe deeply, calm your mind, sit in certain positions, and so on. Though learning how to breathe and center your inner thoughts are basic tenets in most meditation techniques, the process of how to go about it can differ depending on the school of thought that guides the meditation technique you’re practicing.
If no one has told you before, then let us tell you this now: You don’t have to be a devout follower of one meditation technique for the rest of your life. Each meditation technique is designed to deal with certain situations that may or may not apply to you. You should get the chance to try specific meditation techniques to see which one is suitable for you and in what conditions do they provide the best impact.
With that in mind, let us introduce you to several world-famous meditation techniques—and the transformation you should expect by practicing them:
Transcendental meditation is popularized by an Indian guru named Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This meditation technique is a form of mantra meditation—a style of meditation where you repeat certain words or phrases during your meditation practice. Unlike most of the meditation on this list, transcendental meditation is rooted in Hindu traditions. Thus, many of the mantras recommended tend to refer to concepts in Hindu scriptures.
According to the organization, the purpose of transcendental meditation is to increase inner peace and general well-being. Several studies have been done to measure how transcendental meditation affects individuals. One study in 2012 on the Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease in Adolescents and Adults through the Transcendental Meditation, found that transcendental meditation reduces stress in teenagers, and this effect can be seen from their bodily functions, from decreased blood pressure to decreasing the risk of future onset of cardiovascular diseases through decreasing ventricular mass. A long-term study done in 2003 on imprisoned criminals found that practicing transcendental meditation decreased certain behaviors such as aggressiveness, prison rule infractions, as well as substance abuse.
The meditation practice of transcendental meditation focuses on the repetition of mantras, which are tailored for each individual based on their gender and age. Each transcendental meditation session is around 15-20 minutes long. When practicing transcendental meditation, you don’t need to sit in certain positions. Transcendental meditation is also not a mindfulness meditation technique, so you don’t need to pay careful attention to your present thoughts.
Vipassana meditation is a meditation technique derived from the traditions of Theravada Buddhism, which is popular in several countries in Southeast Asia. You can categorize vipassana meditation as mindfulness meditation—although it is more similar to Zen meditation than most secular-based mindfulness meditation movements, owing to their Buddhist origins.
Several studies have been done to analyze the impact of vipassana meditation. One study in 2013 on people who participated in the vipassana meditation course found that compared to before attending the course, the participants reported better well-being. Another study in 2014 found that vipassana meditation practitioners had higher brain matter that plays a role in memory and intelligence. Read it more here about the vipassana meditation effects on the brain.
The goal of vipassana meditation is to achieve awareness and a balanced mind. The ideal way to learn how to do a vipassana meditation is by attending one of their free courses in their centers available worldwide since the meditation technique has a strict rule of not reacting to any physical or psychological sensation as you progress in the practice. To achieve this, during your attendance in their course, you will take a vow of silence and are not allowed to interact with any of the other students. You are also confined to certain areas inside the meditation center. Seems quite challenging, doesn’t it?
Zen meditation, also known as zazen meditation, is a meditation technique derived from Zen Buddhism practice. Zen Buddhism is a Buddhism school of thought that is popular in East Asia, specifically in China, Japan, and South Korea. The meditation technique that they developed is a type of mindfulness meditation technique that is used to regulate awareness.
Several research studies on Zen meditation have been done over the years. A neuroimaging study in 2008 that analyzed the brain of long-term Zen meditation practitioners found that they were better at regulating their focus. Read more on this about the Neural Correlates of Conceptual Processing during Zen Meditation. Another study in 2012 also found that Zen meditation helped decrease sensitivity to physical pains.
Unlike the other meditation techniques in this list, Zen meditation does not require you to start through the guidance of a Zen Buddhist monk, although you can do so if you wish. When you practice Zen meditation, you can choose to sit in one of these positions: lotus, cross-legged, or sitting on your knees. There are also three ways to choose how you should maintain your attention during a Zen meditation session. The first is by refining your concentration, starting from focusing on your breath and continues to centering your awareness into a single point. The second way is through Koan introspection, which is more complex and tends to require the guidance of a Zen Buddhist monk. The last method is shikantaza—where you are aware of the passing and coming of your thoughts but do not pass judgment on them, and is often described as ‘thinking of not thinking’.
#2: Use some meditation equipment to help your meditation practice
Meditation usually doesn’t require many tools to start with—just bring yourself to a place where you can remain undisturbed for a certain period of time. However, most people use at least a meditation cushion if they’re planning to make meditation an important part of their life. And, if you’re practicing Zen meditation, which requires sitting in positions that can be quite challenging if you’re new to the practice, your knees would thank you for your decision to purchase the item.
Are all meditation equipment meant to just alleviate you from the unnecessary suffering to your body? The answer is no. Many meditation equipment are also intended to help you with your meditation practice by helping you to maintain a calm state of mind or increase your focus. Although which equipment is best for you is usually determined by what meditation technique you are trying to practice, we think these three things would help you in general:
A biosensing headband is a type of electronic headband that measures your heart rate and provides information about your brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG) tests. The device is usually paired with a mobile application. The type of data that you can get from this device can help you get a deeper insight into your meditation process since it provides information on your brainwaves, breath rhythm, and several other biological indicators. Since research about how our brains are transformed during meditation sessions are quite widespread, you can easily use these findings to see whether you have correctly practiced a meditation technique. These devices usually have baseline measurements of when your brain is in a certain state, be it attentive or stressed, which can greatly help you in your meditation practice.
Singing bowls, also known as standing bells, are inverted bells that are used in several Buddhist meditation practices. The bowl has been used since around the 16th century BCE and is thought to have originated from China. The size and shape of the singing bowl can differ, depending on the style of the singing bowl. What are the effects of using a singing bowl during a meditation session?
Well, one research study about the Physiological and Psychological Effects of a Himalayan Singing Bowl in Meditation Practice, which took place in 2014, found that practicing meditation with singing bowls led to a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate. In addition, an analysis conducted in 2020 on the human health effects of singing bowls, concluded that meditating with singing bowls decreased negative feelings in the research participants, including anxiety, distress, and anger.
A mala is a type of prayer beads often used while meditating. At a glance, it looks similar to a rosary. The difference lies in the number of beads. Mala beads generally have 108 beads which consist of 107 smaller beads and one guru bead. Mala beads are most useful for meditation techniques that require the use of mantras since the beads can help you focus. As you count each bead during your meditation session, recite the mantra of your choice while inhaling and exhaling your breath.
If you've been feeling as if you're not gaining the full benefits of practicing meditation, these two tips may lead you to a better path of enlightenment. But above all else, remember to practice your meditation with meditation aids consistently to truly attain the inner peace you crave.