The purpose of meditation is to still your mind which constantly oscillates between the events of the past and worries of the future. And truly, there is a lot you can do with this stillness of mind. Some seek this stillness to search for higher meaning or a higher self and others enjoy the benefits of mental clarity, energy, enthusiasm, peace and higher productivity that come as a result of a regular and disciplined meditation practice. Various meditation techniques and paths to self-discovery came into being throughout different points in time. Some of them may seem totally opposite to each other in the principles or techniques they use, but the goal is really the same—to take your mind inwards towards your higher self. Some suggest that you focus or visualize, others are the opposite—focused on effortlessness, there are techniques that offer breath as a tool, and others that ask you to be present in the moment and integrate the meditative quality in everything you do. You have plenty of methods to choose from!
The next logical question is: How do I meditate? (Here’s your guide to all things meditation.)
The time-tested practice of meditation not only brings serenity to the mind, but also keeps you focused, keeps you stress-free, and improves the overall quality of your life by staving off risks related to lifestyle disorders like diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases.
Though each technique may have its own set of rules and instructions, following these simple guidelines can prepare you for a great meditative experience. At the end of the day, it is important to own the practice and see what works best for you. One helpful tip: be patient when it comes to looking for results. The benefits of meditation can be life-altering, but for these benefits to show up, one must be willing to put in the work, which is regular practice for a considerable period of time. Having said that, there are powerful meditation techniques like yoga nidra, and Sahaj Samadhi, Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, and certain pranayamas that will give you an instant taste of stillness of mind and fewer thoughts, a gush of prana (life force), and a state of total relaxation.
Meditation can be done in various postures—standing, sleeping, walking, and sitting. The most common is seated meditation.
Let’s take a look at the most commonly practiced meditation methods.
Sudarshan Kriya Yoga Meditation
If you are someone who has tried meditation and given it up because the thoughts would just not stop streaming in your head, then Sudarshan Kriya, or SKY, is for you.
SKY, offered as part of The Happiness Retreat, is a powerful rhythmic breathing technique being practiced by over 450 million world-wide. SKY uses the most potent tool that will never fail you in silencing your mind, which is breath. It uses specific cyclical, rhythmic patterns of breath to bring the mind and body into a relaxed yet wakeful state. No matter what your state of mind is, how many thoughts you have, or how restless your body is, 10 minutes of SKY breathing will instantly calm you down.
Cognized by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the practice is concluded with an effortless meditative state where practitioners report clarity of mind, prolonged moments of thoughtlessness, slower and steadier heart rate, and calmness of being.
The benefits of SKY are backed by more than 70 independent and credible studies carried out across four continents and published in peer-reviewed journals. But most significant of them is a ground-breaking study on the effects of the practice in increasing the fighter cells in the bodies of cancer patients and its efficacy in treating tobacco addiction. The practice works by reducing stress—a key factor that negatively affects the body’s immune neuro-endocrine axis.
According to a paper published by Dr. Vinoda Kochupillai from the Department of Medical Oncology, Institute Rotary Cancer Hospital, New Delhi, cancer patients who practiced SKY reported a significant increase in natural killer cells at the end of 12 and 24 weeks of practice respectively.
The paper also states that SKY helped control the tobacco habit in 21% of individuals after six months of practice.
Dr. Kochupillai writes, “We conclude that the inexpensive and easy-to-learn practice breathing processes (SK and Pranayama) in this study demonstrated an increase in NK cells and a reduction in tobacco consumption. When confirmed in large and randomized studies, this result could mean that the regular practice of SK and P might reduce the incidence and progression of cancer.”
Other Science-Backed Benefits of SKY
- Regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga has a similar effect to an activated vagus nerve, the key to depression treatment.
- Along with the activation of the “Rest and Digest” (Parasympathetic) Nervous system, this powerful breathing technique can improve Prolactin (well-being hormone) secretion by 50%.
- It increases time spent in deep sleep by 218% and has alleviated many around the world of depression, anxiety, and stress.
- Another study showed, with regular practice the blood lactate level reduced by 87.5% (indicator of deep relaxation) in a group of highly stressed individuals.
- EEG Alpha waves increase with practice of the technique showing relaxed state of mind.
It brings harmony between the body and mind. Sync between these two is the first basis for a healthy life.
- 73% response rate and 41% remission rate in patients with anxiety for whom medication and psychotherapy treatments had failed.
- Multiple studies showed that patients of depression who practiced SKY reported a 68–73% remission rate within a month.
- Recorded significant improvement in PTSD symptoms which sustained after six months of practice.
- Improvement in levels of optimism, well-being and overall quality of life.
- Reduction in biochemical markers of stress: cortisol, corticotropin, blood lactate, ACTH, and plasma MDA.
- Increased levels of antioxidant enzymes (glutathione, catalase, and superoxide dismutase) that delay aging.
- Improvement in immune cell counts in apparently healthy individuals in as little as three weeks.
- DNA improvement that supports longer lifespan of WBCs and immunity cells.
- Reduced heart rate in both healthy and health compromised individuals.
- Reduction in blood pressure in both healthy and health compromised individuals.
- Improved cholesterol and triglyceride (lipid) profile as early as three weeks, with no change in diet.
- Improved respiratory function, where respiration rate dropped by 5% in one week, and 15% in 12 weeks along with increase in lung capacity.
This meditation technique is practiced world over, having found many celebrity endorsements. This is a mantra based meditation which is practiced for 15–20 minutes every day. The vedic mantra or sound is used to go into a meditative state.
This meditation is done in a comfortable sitting position. Practitioner has to learn this in seven steps from a certified trainer. The introductory session is 60 minutes, followed by a 45-minute session which has more specific information. Interested people are further initiated into the technique in a few steps. The mantra given to each person is confidential.
Regular practice of the technique brings stillness in the mind which stays much longer.
Metta meditation is said to have come from Buddha himself. It is practiced in many Buddhist traditions now. The word Metta is from the Pali language and originated from the Sanskrit word maitri. This means friendliness and benevolence. Maitri was one of the important principles of Buddha’s preaching. Now it is taught as loving-kindness meditation by many yoga and meditation schools. The aim is to develop and wish for benevolence and friendliness in oneself and around. Unlike other meditation techniques where focus is on breath, here the focus is on thoughts of love and friendliness. Breath is only used as a tool to initially bring the mind to a still state and in the present moment. Metta meditation uses the belief that wherever you focus your mind to, that aspect in life grows. Try this practice:
- Sit in a comfortable position with eyes closed.
Focus on the natural flow of the breath for a few seconds, noticing its speed and temperature.
- In your mind, chant
May I be happy
May I be well
May I be safe
May I be peaceful and at ease
It is important to space out the chant with pauses.
- Next, think of those you want to send such thoughts to. Your thoughts will add value to their lives, especially if it’s done in a calm state of mind. Then repeat phrases of loving-kindness toward them:
May you be happy
May you be well
May you be safe
May you be peaceful and at ease
This not only ignites virtues like friendliness, love, kindness in you, but also spreads it around.
Sahaj Samadhi Meditation
The mantra meditation which takes one into meditation with a lot of ease is Sahaj. Sahaj means natural or effortless and Samadhi is the state of equanimity. With the help of the personalized mantra the practitioner can easily experience deep meditation. One is initiated into the practice by a trained instructor.
The meditation is done sitting straight with the spine erect. Regular practice releases stress, improves mental focus and cultures the mind for a qualitative pause every day. It brings about a pleasant state of being that spills over in our relationships at home and work, while also improving our verbal and non-verbal communication. Who doesn’t like a coworker that is pleasant, loving, and producing results!
Founder of the Art of Living and master of this technique Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “In Samadhi, that very deep state of meditation, you are given energy and long-lasting bliss. It carries you higher and higher until your very presence radiates love.”
Offered as part of The Meditation Retreat, this technique is a rare combination of simplicity and depth. Though it involves no effort, this ancient and rare meditation technique brings you profound restful awareness, which dissolves deep rooted stresses and gives you clearer thinking, more energy, enhanced performance, better physical and mental health, improved relationships, and greater peace of mind, among others.
Research on the effects of Sahaj Samadhi Meditation on cardiovascular health, nervous system and clinical depression received the award for best research at World Psychiatry Association in 2017. The research paper cited that adding this technique to traditional treatments for patients of late-life depression was five times more effective than traditional treatments. And, in contrast to traditional treatments, this was free and had zero side effects or withdrawal symptoms, unlike medications.
Sahaj is technically called an ASTM, that is automatic self-transcending meditation that does not require any external control or direction. The effects of Sahaj Samadhi meditation have been striking in the treatment of clinical depression symptoms. Where the remission rate for traditional treatments stood at 10%, the remission rate for patients who added Sahaj Samadhi meditation to traditional treatments was as high as 53%.
Sahaj Samadhi is also known to improve heart health. Studies showed a Sahaj practice significantly improved the high-frequency heart-rate variability, a key indicator of heart health in the long term and an overall indicator for longevity.
In Sanskrit, yoga means union. In yogic scriptures, it is referred to as the union of body, mind, and beyond. Yoga is usually considered a tool to keep the body healthy, a tool kit for living a happy and balanced life. Yoga meditation is when yogic postures are done in a meditative state. Complete attention is put on the breath and movement of the body. The breath continues to flow in through the nostrils to the stomach and out of the nostrils. As the body expands in any posture, the breath is taken in, and with every contraction breath is taken out.
While this cleanses and detoxifies the body, it also brings the mind to the moment leading one to meditation.
Ancient seers have sung glories about the wee hours of morning. Benefits of waking up early are manifold and well-publicized. When you wake up after a good night’s sleep, the mind is calm and fresh. Morning meditation is the biggest dose of energy one can give to the body and mind. It is also easier to meditate in the morning as the environment around lends itself to a peaceful meditative experience.
The mind is a clean slate in the morning, so the effects of meditation run deeper. Planning for the day can be done best if the mind is calm, so starting the day with meditation comes recommended by most spiritual teachers and gurus. It is the best head start ahead of a busy day.
Practicing some yogasanas before meditation can give your experience more depth as the rajas guna (restless activity) is calmed down in the body.
Can one really meditate while walking? At our Art of Silence Retreats, the walking meditation is a favorite among participants. They are encouraged to walk amidst nature in total silence with full awareness.
Mindfulness is the state when there is complete awareness of every thought, emotion, feeling, sensation of pain or pleasure, and surroundings.
In walking meditation, one walks mindfully. Normally, people tend to chat, listen to music, or keep looking around when walking—putting no attention on the body.
Walking meditation should begin with focus on a couple of breaths. This brings the mind to the present moment and it is easier to pursue since one is attentive to the body. One can inhale with one step and exhale with the next step. Refrain from indulging in chatting. Be completely with what is happening in the body.
Once you have understood what it means to walk mindfully, you can move to the next step. While walking with focus on the breath and the body, bring the focus on the soles of your feet. Just observe whatever is happening in the soles without analyzing it. Then, take your attention to the various body parts in this order—knees, hips, stomach, chest, back, arms, neck, then face and head. Do it gradually and without any force. You just need to become aware of what is happening in each of these areas without getting stuck there.
It may take a few weeks of practicing walking meditation to get it down. Be consistent! The results will be improved blood circulation, healthier joints, improved digestion, and a fresh and energized mind.
Believe it or not, an activity like reading can become a meditative experience if done with the right awareness. When you are totally in the moment, absorbed in the written word, you are already checking all the boxes of a good meditation. Meditation as we understand brings our focus to anything we do in the moment. Reading can be just as meditative. The correlation between the both is interesting. Reading requires you to pay attention to what is being read, without which you may just be glancing through the book without internalizing any of the information.
Ideally, for reading meditation you would pick up a book of spiritual wisdom. Something like Bhagvad Gita, the Bible, or Ashtavakra Gita (a spiritually rich conversation between a sage and a king)—something that houses the essential wisdom to help us lead peaceful and aware lives, taking us notch closer to our higher self. When you read such texts meditatively, the knowledge effortlessly becomes a part of your consciousness.
Sleeping Meditation or Yoga Nidra
Yoga nidra is a structured power nap, a meditative way of giving yourself deeper rest where you take restful awareness through different parts of the body based on soothing instructions given by a teacher.
Sleep is an essential source of energy. Recent surveys confirm that almost 40% of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep a night. Sleep deprivation causes a host of problems starting from low energy levels to poor concentration at work followed by the onset of lifestyle disorders like diabetes and heart diseases, among others.
Meditations like yoga nidra help reduce these risks by improving the quality of your rest. Meditation lowers the heart rate by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and slows breathing which in turn supports sound sleep.
- Sleeping meditation is done in the corpse pose, shavasana. The body is allowed to relax and just be.
- The focus is on the breath. Observe the natural flow of breath. Take a few deep breaths.
- Gentle attention is given to different body parts, starting from toes to head. This completely relaxes the system creating a ground for deep sleep.
Mudra signifies a ‘seal’, ‘gesture’, or ‘mark’. These are healing modalities that involve the tips of the fingers and placement of the fingers in a particular pattern to give the desired outcome which can be-balancing doshas, energizing the body and mind, pain reduction, increasing blood flow to particular parts of the body, improving digestion, mitigate migraine, among others. In yoga, mudras are believed to facilitate the flow of energy in a particular direction. When practiced along with pranayamas, mudras still the mind almost instantaneously. Ayurveda says, our body is made up of five elements and each finger is known to correspond to these:
Index finger—Air (vayu)
Middle finger—Space or ether (aakash)
Ring finger—Earth (prithvi)
Little Finger—Water (jal)
You can practice these mudras any time.
Sit in padmasana (lotus pose), sukhasana (easy pose), or vajrasana, keeping your spine erect and shoulders loose. Hold each mudra for 13–15 breaths and then move on to the next one.
Here are some mudras to practice:
When a chakra is blocked, it can cause both physical and mental disruptions. You may experience sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, stress, emotional disorders, lack of motivation, self-isolation, and an inability to get things done.
Chakra meditation is a specialized form of meditation that targets blocked chakras to cleanse, clear, and balance. There are hundreds of chakras throughout the body, but focus on the seven main chakras:
- Sahasrara Crown—connection to the infinite/divine
- Ajna Third Eye—wisdom/intuition
- Vishudda Throat—communication/truth
- Anahata Heart—love/compassion
- Manipura Solar Plexus—power/strength/leadership
- Swadhistahana Sacrum—passion/creativity/intimacy
- Muladhara Root—home/earth/security
To begin, find a peaceful place where you won’t be disturbed and sit comfortably, with your spine straight, and hands resting on your knees or in your lap.
- Breathe slow and deep.
- Visualize the root chakra. In your mind’s eye, imagine red energy flowing into and through the chakra.
- Focus on the root chakra for several minutes, until you can see vibrant energy passing through.
- Move to the next chakra and repeat.
Be sure to visualize each chakra and its energy as the color it is associate with. You may find that using a guided meditation until you’re familiar with the chakras and their colors can be helpful.
If you are more experienced and able to detect where imbalances are, you may focus on particular chakras individually.
Panic Attack Meditation
A panic attack is a sudden onset of fear that reflects in physiological symptoms like palpitations, faster heart rate, trembling and shortness of breath.
People who have panic attacks can start with easier meditation techniques that do not require too much focusing or visualization, as self-doubt or lack of clarity on what is to be visualized can again trigger panic or fear.
Meditation itself works wonders for people prone to panic attacks, since meditation is one of the few and effective ways to eliminate fear and stress from the system which is at the root of panic attacks. Here’s a protocol you can follow if you have been having panic attacks off late or have a tendency for it:
- Focus on the flow of the breath for 15 seconds. Continue taking long deep breaths, in and out.
- Try Sahaj Samadhi Meditation. A mantra meditation taught at The Art of Living Retreat Center, where you use a mantra to calm the mind.
- Pick a guided meditation where you are guided through the meditation by way of simple instructions rendered in a soothing voice. This is recommended for you if you are someone who struggles to keep your eyes shut for more than a few minutes.
Meditation is a complete tool that allows you to have any number of desired results by simply making you aware of the different levels of your existence from body, breath, intellect, memory, ego, and finally to the self. So if there is a habit you are trying to break and unable to (like smoking, drinking, drugs, substance addiction) or if there are certain qualities in your consciousness that you wish to manifest (loving-kindness, compassion, inner joy, openness, and acceptance) or even if you are trying it to heal an illness like cancer, heart disease, migraine, or diabetes, today you will find meditations customized for these specific goals.
You also have beach meditations, bed meditations, meditations for pain, and even laughter meditations that you can practice! In all of this, the key is to take the attention inwards from the outer sense objects and get established in oneself.
Art of Living Signature Meditation Retreats
The Meditation Retreat
Learn the simple, powerful technique of meditation to effortlessly calm the mind, boost immunity, and decrease the physical and psychological stressors you’re experiencing.
The Silent Retreat
A profound spiritual immersion that integrates our renowned Happiness Retreat and several days of silent contemplation with unique guided meditations, yoga, and advanced breathing techniques.
The Happiness Retreat
Learn to master practical techniques that will benefit you for the rest of your life, including Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful breathing technique proven to reduce stress, bolster immunity, relieve anxiety, and much more.