Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is becoming more popular in our Western society appealing to an always growing public. The benefits of meditations are:
- It helps managing the stress of a frantic life;
- It often generates insights helping us to tune-in our inner self
- It can purify the mind creating the conditions for creativity and new possibility.
We often make a distinction between two types of meditations: Vipassana and Zazen. Other forms are often described starting with these two. Often guided visualizations and body-scans are also referred to as ‘meditation’, even if they often are more of a cognitive exercise than a meditative practice
For a beginner it is essential to make this basic distinction, then you can explore more in depth the type that most interests you.
Guided visualizations and body scans
This is when you try to picture in your head a mental image of a real or constructed situation or place. Guided visualizations are used for examples to manage sleep in certain types of therapies, when the client is
A body scan is the practice to draw attention to different parts of your body, sometimes with a guide, to relax each muscle and feel more embodied.
Qigong visualization is a Taoist practice utilizes several techniques to help restore health and balance to the body, including the Inner Smile, visualizing “smile-energy” penetrating your internal organs; Moon on Lake, visualizing the moon’s reflection on a lake; and Holding Heaven in the Palm of Your Hand, imagining the energy of the galaxy in the palm of your hand. Other simpler techniques, such as those used in the study, involve imagining a beam of light running along the spine.
The cultural aspect
Meditation is a practice that can take different forms, according to the culture. For example another form of Asian meditation consists in repeating a sentence or a sound over and over, concentrating on the deeper meaning. This word or sentence is referred to as ‘Mantra’. In our Western society, a similar thing happens in religious practice when people repeat prayers. Reciting prayers, in this sense, is a form of meditation.
Vipassana translates as ‘seeing deeply’. It’s a form of meditation that involves complete concentration on the body. Regardless of the position in which it’s practiced, Vipassana is always body-focussed. The person focusses on the sensations they feel within to gain a deeper insight on themselves.
Vipassana offers insight through introspection, contemplation, analytic meditation, and observation of bodily sensations as well as life experiences.
Zazen is a Zen form of meditation that is usually performed sitting in the lotus position. A seated meditative practice, it calms the mind and body and allows a person to concentrate and focus. The ‘task’ is to concentrate on nothingness, but, since this is almost impossible, the zazen practitioner usually refers to the practice of ‘labelling and moving on’.
If you try to concentrate on nothingness, all sorts of thoughts and images will pop into your head (e.g. self-doubt and self-critical thoughts). During Zazen, we catch ourselves having these thoughts and learn to let go of them.
Zen is similar to mindfulness in its focus on presence of mind, but it involves a more general awareness, rather than a focus on something specific. The practice typically asks you to silently focus on breathing and posture with eyes open in a quiet place and to dismiss any thoughts that pop into your head, essentially “thinking nothing.”