Health & Fitness

How Does Meditation Work?

Discover mindfulness and inner peace with this ultimate guide to meditation! Dive into a blend of ancient wisdom and modern practices and learn how meditation works and what meditation actually is.

Meditation has become very popular in the western world in recent years, as it has been scientifically proven to have significant positive effects on our mind and body, our general well-being and our ability to concentrate. However, this seemingly simple exercise can be quite difficult for beginners. In this article we will explain how exactly meditation works and what options are available. 

What is meditation?

It is important to understand that there is no such thing as "the meditation". There are a variety of different types of meditation that have evolved over time. The earliest references to meditation come from India about 5000 years ago, after which the practice of meditation spread early in various forms, especially in Asia, and later even found its place in all world religions. 

The practices known to us today as meditation originated primarily in Buddhism and were designed as an exercise in what is called immersion. Immersion is a state in which we consciously control our attention, freed from judgment and the conscious avoidance of projections. 

There are hundreds of types of meditation, but there can never be "the best type of meditation", because it can be very different for each person. What is easier for one person is harder for another. In order to really enjoy the benefits of mediation, it should be practiced regularly, that is, it should become a habit. So in order to achieve this, as with building all habits, we need to find a form that we can incorporate into our daily lives as easily as possible from the start. Once we have integrated the habit, we can then gradually expand it at will and move on to more difficult forms. 

Types of meditation

We distinguish between guided and unguided meditation. So in guided meditation, we receive guidance from an experienced meditation teacher who helps us direct our attention. Guided meditation is done alone, either sitting in silence, or the practice taught by a meditation teacher can now be done by oneself in silence. 

For people who are starting meditation, we recommend a guided meditation to get used to it slowly and to get to know the different types. This can be on the spot or with a recording or app. 

We distinguish here again in passive and active types of meditation, which may suit you better depending on your personality:

Passive meditation types

Focus meditation or concentration meditation

The conscious concentration on an object, usually the breath. To do this, you sit in an upright and comfortable position and consciously breathe deeply in and out. In doing so, you concentrate on nothing but your breath. If a new thought comes to your mind and you stray, let it go and consciously focus on your breath again. 

Body Scan Meditation

In this type of meditation you sit still and upright and scan your body from the top of your head down to the tips of your toes very slowly over and over again. In doing so, you do not go into a particular story about a part of your body or stop at a spot. Your task is simply to do this scan slowly and in a controlled manner, and if you digress, always return to it.

Thought Observation

This technique seems quite simple at first, but in the course of the exercise it turns out to be more difficult than expected. During the thought observation you sit upright and in silence. After a short time, thoughts come to your mind again. Your task now is not to suppress them compulsively, but to perceive them consciously. However, you do not respond to them in any way and continue them, nor do you evaluate them. After you have perceived a thought, you simply let it go again, because the next one is usually already on the horizon. This exercise can be easier for you if you imagine the thoughts visually and let them simply move away from you.

Visualization meditation

In visualization meditation, you sit upright in silence and imagine a certain object or person. In doing so, we observe not only the thoughts that come to mind, but also physical perceptions without trying to fathom them. In this way, we subconsciously learn to refrain from evaluation and thereby in turn sharpen our senses, since we can now perceive things and persons as they actually are, without pressing them into a fixed image that corresponds to our imagination.

Power Waves

In this type of meditation, while sitting upright, we first build up a certain feeling within ourselves, mostly goodwill and positive energy. Now we imagine a group of people, these can be people known to you and send the previously built up energy in waves to them and let them be taken by the energy. The groups of people become bigger and bigger and can include, for example, a whole city, a country, a continent and later the whole world. 

Compassion Meditation

Compassion meditation focuses on a specific person. To do this, we imagine a person we know while sitting upright in silence. Now the task is to observe the feelings that arise and pay close attention to how they change. By being able to notice how our own feelings change in the face of another person, we can feel deeper compassion and find more happiness within ourselves rather than seeking it in external circumstances.

 

Resting Consciousness

This meditation technique is what most people think of as meditation. It involves letting the consciousness rest in a state and letting thoughts that arise simply pass without paying attention to them.

Reflective Meditation

In reflective meditation, we ask ourselves a question in the second person, such as "What are you grateful for today?" In doing so, it is important to ask in the second person so that we have to answer now, as in an interview, noticing the feelings rather than producing a rationalized "best" answer to the question. 

Safe Place Meditation

The safe place place meditation is a guided meditation where you are guided to visualize a completely imaginary retreat place. This type of meditation can also be done lying down and covered up so that you experience the complete feeling of security and safety. This technique can especially help you steer yourself out of anxiety and support you in moments of uncertainty. 

Zen Meditation (Zazen)

There are a variety of meditative practices in the Zen tradition, but the best known is zazen. You can use aids such as a meditation cushion, but it is important that the knees touch the floor and the posture is very upright, with the body not leaning anywhere. The hands are placed one inside the other, with one hand resting with its back in the plane of the other and the tips of the thumbs touching above it. Zazen involves keeping the body and mind still and being in complete mindfulness. Traditionally, zazen is practiced in two sections of 30-50 minutes, interrupted by a short break, a ten-minute "kinhin." Traditionally this is practiced twice a day, morning and evening by Zen Buddhists. 

Mantra Meditation 

Mantra meditation involves repeating (reciting) a word, phrase, or sequence of phrases. This constant repetition works much like focusing on an object. By keeping the mind occupied with the mantra, no other thoughts are allowed and an even deeper stage of meditation can be reached. At the same time, mantras often have a specific background and are designed to fulfill a specific purpose, such as greater self-awareness, forbearance, or freedom from judgment.

Transcendental Meditation (TM)

Transcendental Meditation is taught exclusively by certified teachers of the Maharishi Foundation and is trademarked. In TM, the student is given a mantra to repeat in a meditative state without effort, which, according to the organization, achieves a state of deep stillness with heightened alertness. Traditionally, the meditation takes place for a duration of 20 minutes and is performed twice a day, in the morning and early evening.

Mindfulness Meditation (Vipassana)

Vipassana is a meditation technique originating in Buddhism for the attainment of self-knowledge. Through repeated meditation practice, a deeper and deeper meditative state is achieved. Meditation is performed in an upright posture and silence, and begins with concentration on the breath and the associated raising and lowering of the abdominal wall. 

Active meditation types

Walking meditation

Walking meditation is one of the most popular active meditation types, especially because of its simplicity. There are different forms of walking meditation with different strict instructions. Basically, it is about engaging the body in the simplest and most effortless movements possible, and focusing the mind completely on this execution. Most walking meditations begin with consciously perceiving the gait - completely without judgment. The rolling of the feet, the posture and the whole body is perceived in the movement. This conscious occupation is easier for many people to start with than the silent meditation in a seated position. 

Yoga

Although yoga is known as a physical practice, especially in the Western world, it aims to strengthen the nervous system so that we are better able to deal with everyday stress and problems. However, in various types of yoga, the physical exercises are especially considered a precursor to the meditation (shavasana) that follows. In many cases, the execution of the postures (asanas) themselves have a meditative quality, if they are performed with care and calmness.

Martial arts

As the son of the founder of the well-known karate direction Shitō-Ryū said "Karate is Zen in motion". Meditation plays a major role in many of the martial arts of Asia, as conscious awareness of the movements as well as awareness of the opponent and his intentions requires a high level of concentration. In many martial arts there is also a short meditation practice at the beginning and end of each training session. 

Qigong and Falun Gong

Qigong is a collection of Chinese practices (from which Falun Gong later sprang) that include exercises to open our energy pathways, called "meridians," to restore a full flow of energy through our bodies that are blocked by everyday stresses of our minds. Falun Gong has been banned in China since the late 1990s due to the large number of followers and related political tensions with the government, but is still practiced in more than 70 countries today.

General misconceptions about meditation

So meditation is not about sitting still and thinking about nothing. Meditation is a state in which, by directing the attention, we reach a state of being completely in the here and now, without goal, without intention, without wanting to achieve anything, letting go of our "reality" for a moment and offering a place to this silence. 

In many cases, meditation is practiced in a sitting position in order to stay awake and in the moment and not to fall asleep, for example, during longer meditations, which can happen in lying positions. 

If you don't like passive meditation or if you are just starting to meditate, you can try active meditation, e.g. a short walking meditation during your next walk - this is also meditation. 

How do I start meditation?

To start meditating, we recommend that you try a technique that is as easy for you as possible. For example, if you find it difficult to sit still, you can try walking meditation. If you want to try a silent form of meditation, we recommend you start with a short focus meditation, where you keep the focus on your breath, or a body scan meditation. 

Generally, we recommend a guided meditation at the beginning so you can get used to it and get your bearings. To get started, we recommend that you meditate for a maximum of 5 minutes. 

If thoughts keep coming into your mind while meditating, this is perfectly normal and you should not try to obsessively block them out, as you will achieve exactly the opposite. Instead, simply contemplate your thoughts and let them move on - after all, you have the rest of the day to pursue them, but in these 5 minutes you may let them go.  

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I am Adriana, Entrepreneur, freethinker and digital enthusiast with a love for marketing, business models and new technologies in Zurich.
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