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What is your favorite meditation technique?

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Povilas S
Povilas S Oct 02, 2020
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Meditation is getting increasingly popular and the benefits of it would be hard to deny. A lot of people have at least tried some kind of meditation in their lives, some tried many of them and/or are practicing regularly. There are many techniques of meditation and different people find different techniques to be more suitable /effective for them. What is your experience with meditation? Have you tried it, do you find it to be useful? Do you have a favorite technique or maybe a few of them? Why is it your favorite?
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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Oct 02, 2020
Rediscovered 2500 years ago by Gautama the Buddha, Vipassana is a secular, non-sectarian meditation technique that I am regularly practising for the past two years. Vipassana is the form of meditation that has been preserved in its authentic form, and it does not involve any kind of religious and theistic demands. It is a simple yet powerful method of observing your own mind and body as a tool for liberation from the sufferings of life.
Back in the summer of 2018, I signed up for a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat camp (note that there are 30 and 60 days long retreat as well) near my hometown of Pokhara, Nepal. For the ten days, I uttered virtually not a single word, I restricted my diet to strictly to vegetarian and I learned how to meditate the right way, at taught by Buddha. Each day, starting from 5 in the morning, I meditated (with other meditators that also had signed up for the same) up until 9 in the evening, marked by occasional breaks for food and nature calls. The first three days, we were taught (there is a meditation mentor for assisting in learning the techniques) to pay attention to our breath. Not forcing, not regulating in any way, we simply learned to remain aware of the air coming in and leaving our nostrils. The purpose of this act was to make our minds sharp and attentive to the sensations of our body. Fourth day onwards, we learned to shift our attention from the top of our body to the tips of our toes. The idea behind paying attention to our body and its sensation is that when we are aware of our bodily sensations, we are automatically in control of our thoughts. The human mind (or brain), by the very nature of it, is a wandering machine. No matter how hard we try, it is practically impossible to NOT THINK. Either we are ruminating over the past, or we are imagining the future. The root of all suffering, all craving, dissatisfaction and anxiety, as Budhha observed comes from this wandering of the mind. When we are acutely paying attention to the bodily sensations at the PRESENT moment, we are de facto training our mind to be here and now at the moment. Here is the catch: when we observe the sensations, we realise that the feelings and emotions are impermanent, just like every other material thing in this world. Hence, we grow humility and a sense of compassion. This makes all the difference. After the course, I was feeling as light as a feather. There were a lot of realisations, both emotional and psychological. Since then, I have been practising Vipassana daily (an hour on average) where I sit cross-legged each day in the morning and pay attention to my breath and the sensations of my body. It relieves my mind from any stress and gives an equanimous sense of feeling towards the incidents of my life. Happiness, hence, comes not as a goal, but as a byproduct of Vipassana meditation. To give reasons as to why this technique is my favourite:
  • Vipassana doesn't involve any theistic notions.
  • This technique is not forcible and hence is very natural. Observation of the mind and body is seamless as compared to other meditations that tell you to either chant mantras or regulate your breath hence making them a bit artificial and swayed away from the objective reality.
  • Vipassana is not a cult or a sectarian practice. No money is demanded, and the mentors are voluntary, devoid of any material enumeration
  • Once learned in the Vipassana centres, it is very easy to continue at home. It practically needs nothing than your will.
  • The effects are simply astounding. As a result of me being more aware of my thoughts, I have grown to be more mindful, more observant, compassionate and more importantly less anxious about the things that are not in my immediate control. In a way, vipassana has taught me to enjoy each and every moment rather than worrying over the lost past or the unseen future.
If you are not convinced with my contribution, you can see these videos where the celebrity historian Yuval Noah Harrari talks about the technique. Also, read here the philosopher-neuroscientist Sam Harris's take on Vipassana.



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Observing your breath

Povilas S
Povilas S Oct 02, 2020
I find this technique to be very good for a few reasons. First - because it's so simple and easy to understand. You can explain it simply even to a child - just keep your attention on your own breathing and if it wanders off, keep bringing it back again. Second - it's always with you. It's an essential physiological process leading you from your birth to the last breath, so you don't have to look for it. Third - it's a natural and neutral "object". It's physical and concrete enough to be easy to focus on, but at the same time intangible, making it hard to have an attitude of like or dislike towards it that would ignite a chain of thoughts. Fourth - it's dynamic. It's not solid or fixed, it's always moving, so you have to be vigilant to watch it.

I first came to know about this technique when I heard about Vipassana meditation and later learned and practiced it in a Vipassana meditation course. Although you obviously don't need a course to learn it, clarification on specific details might be useful. In Vipassana, it's considered a preparation stage for deeper meditation. It helps to train your mind to focus and remain observing instead of being constantly wandering and reactive, but it might very well serve as a meditation technique on its own.
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Mindfulness meditation

Martina Pesce
Martina Pesce Oct 21, 2020
I have embraced mindfulness meditation almost a year ago by now. I try to keep it as a daily routine activity, but of course, sometimes I fail. When I do manage to practice it continuously, its effects are incredible. Just after the practice, it gives you an immense sense of peace and mental space which is given not from emptying your mind, but from accepting it and, as a natural consequence, calming the storm in it. And when the storm is not there it is so easy to explore the beauty of what is around, isn't it?
Apart from my personal impressions and beliefs, I really like this description of what mindfulness meditation practice consists of, from Bishop et al. :
"The client maintains an upright sitting posture, either in a chair or cross-legged on the floor, and attempts to maintain attention on a particular focus, most commonly the somatic sensations of his or her own breathing. Whenever attention wanders from the breath to inevitable thoughts and feelings that arise, the client will simply take notice of them and then let them go as attention is returned to the breath. This process is repeated each time that attention wanders away from the breath. As sitting meditation is practiced, there is an emphasis on simply taking notice of whatever the mind happens to wander to and accepting each object without making judgments about it or elaborating on its implications, additional meanings, or need for action . The client is further encouraged to use the same general approach outside of his or her formal meditation practice as much as possible by bringing awareness back to the here-and-now during the course of the day, using the breath as an anchor, whenever he or she notices a general lack of awareness or that attention has become focused on streams of thoughts, worries, or ruminations."
I think that mindfulness by itself is already a very compassionate way to look at your mind, but I know there is more specific compassionate mindfulness meditation which I really want to explore. I hope I will be back with my personal experience feedback on it soon.
In the meantime, here is a list of the investigated benefits of mindfulness meditation:
  • better conflicts monitoring already in the early phases
  • lowered intensity and frequency of negative affect
  • improved positive mood states
  • reduced attentional blink
  • stress reduction
  • alerting improvements in later phases
  • easier emotion regulation
  • less emotional interference by unpleasant stimuli
  • easier return to emotional baseline after response to a stressor trigger

[1]S. R. Bishop et al., “Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition,” Clin. Psychol. Sci. Pract., 2004.

[2]M. Deyo, K. A. Wilson, J. Ong, and C. Koopman, “Mindfulness and Rumination: Does Mindfulness Training Lead to Reductions in the Ruminative Thinking Associated With Depression?,” Explor. J. Sci. Heal., 2009.

[3]Z. V Segal, J. M. G. Williams, and J. D. Teasdale, “Review of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression.,” Psychother. Psychosom., 2002.

[4]A. Chiesa, R. Calati, and A. Serretti, “Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological findings,” Clinical Psychology Review. 2011.

[5]Y. Y. Tang et al., “Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., 2007.

[6]R. Chambers, B. C. Y. Lo, and N. B. Allen, “The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect,” Cognit. Ther. Res., 2008.

[7]X. Ding, Y. Y. Tang, R. Tang, and M. I. Posner, “Improving creativity performance by short-term meditation,” Behav. Brain Funct., 2014.

[8]S. Jain et al., “A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation training: Effects on distress, positive states of mind, rumination, and distraction,” Ann. Behav. Med., 2007.

[9]H. A. Slagter et al., “Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources,” PLoS Biol., 2007.

[10]H. R. Evensmoen et al., “Metric and chronological time in human episodic memory,” bioRxiv, 2020.

[11]N. D. Anderson, M. A. Lau, Z. V. Segal, and S. R. Bishop, “Mindfulness-based stress reduction and attentional control,” Clin. Psychol. Psychother., 2007.

[12]A. P. Jha, J. Krompinger, and M. J. Baime, “Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention,” Cogn. Affect. Behav. Neurosci., 2007.

[13]Y. Y. Tang, L. Yang, L. D. Leve, and G. T. Harold, “Improving Executive Function and Its Neurobiological Mechanisms Through a Mindfulness-Based Intervention: Advances Within the Field of Developmental Neuroscience,” Child Dev. Perspect., 2012.

[14]K. A. MacLean et al., “Intensive meditation training improves perceptual discrimination and sustained attention.,” Psychol. Sci. a J. Am. Psychol. Soc. / APS, 2010.

[15]G. Pagnoni and M. Cekic, “Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation,” Neurobiol. Aging, 2007.

[16]C. J. Robins, S. L. Keng, A. G. Ekblad, and J. G. Brantley, “Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on emotional experience and expression: A randomized controlled trial,” J. Clin. Psychol., 2012.

[17]C. N. M. Ortner, S. J. Kilner, and P. D. Zelazo, “Mindfulness meditation and reduced emotional interference on a cognitive task,” Motiv. Emot., 2007.

[18]D. J. Goleman and G. E. Schwartz, “Meditation as an intervention in stress reactivity,” in Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives, 2017.

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