Meditation: History, Benefits, Types, Techniques, Quotes, Myths, Misconceptions & How to Meditate
According to the His Holiness Dalai Lama, meditation is your “natural state of your consciousness”. It is a way to train the mind to achieve a state of mental and emotional calm. It is done using various meditation techniques. Some of the techniques work for some people while a different set will work for others. In the end, they all have the same end goal; to calm the mind. This has the ability to lead them to a happier life; mentally, physically and emotionally.
There are many benefits to meditation, including reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), meditation is also effective in treating:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- High blood pressure
There is no denying that meditation will have a positive impact on everyone, no matter what age. So much so, that some schools are even bringing it into their regular curriculum to help kids improve their attention span as well as their memory. This helps them achieve more academically. In short, meditation improves mental health and self-awareness and allows us to respect all things around us.
What is Meditation?
The actual word meditation comes from the Latin verb meditari, which translates into English,“to think, contemplate, devise and ponder”. Meditation is also one of the four steps in the ancient Lectio Divina and is the seventh (dhyana) of the eight limbs of yoga in the Yoga Sutras of Pantajali. It is the mental state that is attained through practicing yoga. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it means to “engage in contemplation or reflection”, “to engage in mental exercise for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness” or “to focus one’s thoughts on: reflect on or ponder over”.
Meditation is about training the mind to achieve more awareness and perspective on life. It is the ability to be present in the here and now, without dwelling in the past or living for the future. It is about living in the moment and taking life’s hits as they come, one moment at a time. Essentially, it is about taking responsibility for our own state of mind and changing it for the better. It helps us to conquer fears, anxieties, confusion, and hatred by changing the way the mind reacts and thinks.
Practicing meditation will help develop such skills as concentration, emotional positivity, clarity and seeing things in a calm way. It helps to develop a more positive way of thinking, both inside yourself and for people and things around you. This then results in patience, understanding and overall happiness. A regular practice also strengthens the brain, because the cerebral cortex expands. This then helps the brain to process information faster.
Meditation is a science that has proven results in silencing the mind. It is not a religion, although it has been practiced historically in many religions around the world, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Judaism, and Islam. It is personal growth, it is spirituality and it is science. Meditation improves personal wellness, focus, memory, performance, and self-control. It is also a helpful form of therapy. Meditation is whatever you need it to be to help you get through everyday stresses.
What is the History of Meditation?
There is written history of meditation in the Hindu traditions of Vedantism that dates back to around 1500 BCD, but it had been developed many centuries before that. It is unknown exactly when meditation started, as there is no written proof, but it is believed to have started around 5,000 years ago. Between 500 and 600 BCE, it was developed into Taoism China and Buddhist India, as influenced by the Hindu school of Vendata. A few hundred years later, the philosophy of meditation, yoga and how to live a more spiritual life was written about in the Bhagavad Gita. The Yoga Sutras of Pantajali – which was written in 400 CE – lists meditation (dhyana) as one of the nine steps of yoga.
Meditation came to the west in 20 BCE when Philo of Alexandria wrote about spiritual exercises that involved mind concentration. In the 3rd century, Greek philosopher Plotinus developed meditation techniques, although few followed them. There is also evidence that meditative practices were conducted in Judaism during the Bronze Era and that there are indications of it in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible).
As Buddhism grew in the East, so did meditation, especially in Japan. In the 8th century, Japanese monk Dosho opened up the country’s very first meditation hall. In 1227, Japanese priest Dogen wrote instructions for Zazen, which is a form of seated meditation practiced in Zen Buddhism. In the Middle Ages, Jewish meditation was rampant and involved Kabbalistic practices and different approaches to praying and Torah studies. In the 12th century Islam, meditation was an important aspect of Sufism (Islamic mysticism) that was practiced by breathing heavily and repeating holy words. In Christianity, meditation can be traced back to the Byzantine period, while on Mount Athos in Greece meditation was introduced between the 10th and 14th centuries.
Meditation came to the west in the 18th century through the study of Buddhism. In 1927 an English translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead was published, furthering the interest and practice of meditation in English speaking countries even more. A few years prior to that, German poet and novelist Hermann Hesse wrote the well-known book Siddhartha, which is the story of a man’s spiritual journey of self-discovery. Rather than focusing on the religious side of meditation, its emphasis in the west was more focused on stress reduction, relaxation, and self-improvement.
By the mid-20th century, meditation was widespread throughout the west and professors and researchers started to study the effects and benefits that it possessed. Dr. Herbert Benson is one of the pioneers of these studies that were conducted through his research at Harvard University. He was one of the first ever Western physicians to bring spirituality into medicine. Benson became a Mind-Body Medicine Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Leading quickly behind him was Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The professor was the creator of the university’s Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, and the Stress Reduction Clinic.
More recently, Indian-born American Deepak Chopra opened the Chopra Centre for Wellbeing and today he is pegged as one of the great masters of Eastern philosophy in the Western world. Since opening the centre in 1996, his popularity has grown and so has meditation in the west. Today, you will see many meditation practices and inspirational quotes posted from Chopra all over the internet. He has also written over 80 books on the subject, 21 of which have been New York Times bestsellers, including The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.
What are the Benefits of Meditation?
There have been over 3,000 studies conducted on the benefits of meditation, each of which were based on different types of meditation. Even practicing meditation for less than 30 minutes a day will have an enormous impact on your life and your brain. In short, it will affect your mind, your body and your emotional well-being in beneficial ways.
Brain & Your Mood
Meditation is like vitamins for your brain, as it helps with things like anxiety, depression, self-acceptance, optimism, and loneliness. It changes your brain for the better, giving you a more positive outlook on yourself and your life. It also helps with things like focus, memory and sensory processing. There are many studies to prove this.
In 2011, Anthony Zanesco, a psychologist at the University of California conducted a study that involved adults ranging in age from 22 to 69 years old. The participants attended a three-month retreat at the Shambhala Mountain Centre in Colorado and were taught a variety of different meditation techniques. Once the retreat was completed, he found that it enhanced the participant’s emotional well-being. It also helped them to have better focus and attention on everyday tasks.
In 2005 a study was conducted, proving that meditation actually changes the brain, expanding the areas of it that are associated with focus and attention. There were 20 participants involved in the study, all of which had extensive experience with meditation, yoga or a method of focusing the brain. Magnetic resonance images were used to assess the cortical thickness of the participants. They showed that the regions of the brain associated with attention, sensory processing and interception were thicker than the 15 participants that had no meditation or yoga experience. The thickness was more prominent in older participants, implying that meditation may equipoise age-related cortical thinning.
A 2007 study led by Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, further proves that meditation changes the brain and how it focuses. The professor also stated that people who meditate are better at detecting a change in stimuli, like emotional facial expressions.
More recently, an article was published in the New York Times that highlighted how meditation changes the brain and the body. It talks about how meditation rewires the brain to help deal with things like stress, well-being, and various diseases. This was demonstrated through a study that involved 35 unemployed men and women who were actively seeking work and were under tremendous stress due to their unemployment. Half of them learned meditation techniques at a retreat centre, while the others were taught fake techniques. At the end of the three-day trial, brain scans showed that those that practiced proper techniques had more activity in the portion of the brain that controls stress, focus, and calmness.
Cognitive neuroscientist Amishi Jha conducted a study in 2012 at the University of Miami with 48 US Marines that were heading to Iraq. She practiced mindful meditation with them, which helped them to improve their memory. During her eight week study, 31 participants spent two hours a week in meditation training, while 17 Marines had no training at all. All of them were to practice a 30-minute mindfulness exercise every day. Jha found that their stress decreased, but also that those who did their ‘homework’ also saw an increase in their working memory capacity. They also stated that they seemed to be in a more positive mood.
Body & Health
Meditation is great for overall health, reducing the risk of heart attacks, strokes, blood pressure and Alzheimer’s. It is also helpful for people suffering from diabetes, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and inflammatory disorders. In short, meditation will have a positive outcome on your body and your health. Doctors are even prescribing meditation to their patients as a way to treat many of these ailments.
Meditation can actually change the brain so that the immune system functions better. This was proven in a study done in 2003 where a group of professors monitored the brain activity before and after an 8-week meditation program. They measure participants again 4 months later. There were a total of 25 participants in the study and they all showed a significant increase on the left side anterior activation, as well as an increase in antibodies. The findings showed that meditation produced positive effects on immune function.
A study published in 2012 spoke about a group of over 200 men and women with coronary heart disease. Some of them were involved in a Transcendental Meditation program, while others were given general health education (diet, exercise, etc). After 5 years, the participants that took the meditation classes had reduced their risk of a heart attack by 48 percent. There were also significant reductions in blood pressure and stress factors.
In 2009, the International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology published an article based on findings that meditation helps to modulate stress and the diseases that are caused by stress. The study examined the effect of meditation on immune and behavioural responses in regards to stress, evaluating what a regular meditation practice had on stress. The study was done using 61 healthy adults, half of which did a 6-week compassion meditation course. The other half participated in health discussions. The group that participated in meditation had decreased stress scores. The conclusion was that meditation can, in fact, reduce stress-induced immune responses, as well as behavioural ones.
There is also clinical research to show that practicing meditation reduces high blood pressure. Two researchers at Kent State Universities conducted a two-year study with 56 adults. Participants that practiced meditation and other mindfulness techniques had significantly lower blood pressure than those that received other types of therapy. Both groups agreed that meditation was a great complimentary treatment for those suffering from high blood pressure or stress.
People that suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions may also greatly benefit from mindfulness meditation techniques. According to a study that was done by the University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists in conjunction with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center found scientific proof. Medical News Today published an article about their study in 2013, which compared two methods of reducing stress and chronic inflammatory conditions. This included mindfulness meditation and exercises that were unrelated to mindfulness. Both groups had the same amount of practice with teachers that had the same level of expertise. They then used the Trier Social Stress Test and a cream for inflammation of the skin. Immune and endochrome measurements were taken before and after training. Those that participated in mindfulness meditation had reduced rates of stress-induced inflammation. The studies proved that Therefore, meditation is an effective way to relieve inflammatory symptoms.
Along with all of the body and mind health benefits of meditation, there are also plenty of emotional benefits. It is no surprise that meditation has a positive impact on the following:
- Emotional wellbeing.
- Helping to decrease things like low self-esteem.
- Worry and fear.
- Anxiety and stress.
It helps to develop:
- Social skills.
- Improve awareness.
- Help fights emotional eating.
- Centering so life situations can be better managed.
- Compassion for self and others.
As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “The quality of our life depends on the quality of our mind”.
B. L. Fredrickson published an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in November 2008 that talks about increasing positive emotions as a direct result of loving-kindness meditation. It is called the broaden-and-build theory, as it broadens the mind and builds positive emotions. He tested his theory in an experiment with 139 working adults, half of whom practiced loving-kindness meditation. It showed that a regular meditation practice increases positive emotions, which then increased things like mindfulness, social support, and purpose. He also predicted that over time, the participants that participated in loving-kindness meditation would have a more positive outlook on life.
An article that was published by the American Psychological Association in October 2008 discusses how loving-kindness meditation also increases social connectedness. In today’s day and age, people are becoming less connected due to social media and the internet, which has caused alienation in some. The study that this article refers to entails authors using a loving-kindness meditation to examine whether or not it would increase social connections towards strangers in a controlled environment. This was compared to another group that did other tasks. The findings were astounding, as they proved that practicing just a few minutes of loving-kindness meditation did, in fact, increase social connections between participants, as well as positivity towards others. This suggests that meditation does increase positive social emotions and decrease isolation.
According to The Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, meditation effects mindfulness and emotional regulation. Their trial consisted of a 9-week program of 100 adults from the community, half of which did compassion cultivation training (CCT), which included daily meditation. At the end of the trial, those that did CCT had increased mindfulness and happiness. They were also less worried or emotionally suppressed, suggesting that meditation effects mindfulness and emotional regulation.
Meditation improves overall psychological well-being, as shown in a study that was published in the Journal of Religion and Health in June 2014. Three professors from the Division of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University in Nottingham, UK conducted the study to see if meditation was an effective treatment for certain psychological and somatic conditions. They used an approach that follows a traditional Buddhist approach to meditation and found that participants experienced great improvements in their psychological well-being.
How does one Meditate?
There is no real answer to this, other than to just start. Though it is as simple as that, there are also a few things to do to prepare for meditation.
Choose a Place to Sit
Find a place that is quiet and peaceful, and where you won’t be disturbed. A tranquil environmental will allow you to focus on what you are doing and help your mind from wandering. It’s not necessary to sit cross-legged on the floor, or in a lotus position, so long as you are comfortable. This could mean you are on a bed, a chair or the floor. You can lean against a wall or use cushions or blankets. Use whatever you need to in order to make yourself as comfortable as possible. It should be somewhere where you can easily avoid distractions.
Choose the Time and Length
Meditating every day is ideal, even if it is just for 5 minutes. Many people do it first thing in the morning before they start their day. Decide what time of each day you will set aside for meditating and how long you wish to do it. Set a quiet alarm to let you know when your time is up, or time it with something such as meditation music.
Close Your Eyes
Although it is possible to meditate with your eyes open, having your eyes closed will help you to move deeper into the practice. This will also ensure that you are not visually distracted. Still, some find that closing their eyes makes them fall asleep. If this is the case, keep them soft so that they are not focusing on anything. Instead, gaze at a spot in front of you.
There are many different meditation techniques which we will go through later. The base to all of them is the breath. Breathing is an important part of meditation and the breath also allows you to have something to focus on. Focusing on the breath is a great technique for beginners. If your mind wanders, just bring it back into the breath and start focusing on it again. Diaphragmatic breathing is best and is often recommended by doctors to patients as a form of relaxation.
Have No Expectations
Yes, meditation has many benefits but it is best not to focus on this and to just focus on what you are doing. If you go in with expectations you may be disappointed. Instead, go in with an open mind and hopefully, in time, you will reap all of its benefits. Some people have immediate results, while others don’t see results for days or weeks.
Can Meditation Help with Depression, Anxiety & Stress?
As we have already learned, meditation has a positive effect on the mind, mood, health, and emotional well-being. In short, it will help relieve depression, anxiety, and stress when practiced regularly. In some cases, people that take medication for these disorders may find that by practicing meditation these prescribed medications are no longer needed. Various studies have been conducted to prove this, and many people have found that meditation does work as an alternative to taking potentially addictive medication.
Teresa M Edenfield at the Department of Psychiatric Medicine at Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, did a study to verify that mindfulness meditation works as a self-help treatment for anxiety and depression. In April 2006, the American Journal of Psychiatry published a study on the effectiveness of meditation for treating anxiety disorders. The study had 22 participants, each of whom suffered from an anxiety disorder or panic disorder. Participants were taught meditation and were assessed by a therapist every week before and during the meditation program, as well as monthly for 3-months afterward. There were significant reductions in anxiety and depression for 20 of the 22 participants both during and after the meditation program.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland examined nearly 19,000 meditation studies and found that mindful meditation can help those suffering from psychological stresses like anxiety and depression. They concluded through their findings that anxiety and depression were both reduced even after just an 8-week meditation program, and even more so after 3-6 months. As well, the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital has conducted plenty of research to find ways to improve the lives of people suffering from anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, one of the centre’s psychiatrists, said in a Harvard Medical School article that “People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power”. She also added that “They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.” Through meditation, they can train themselves to experience these thoughts in a different way.
The benefits of meditation can even start at an early age to reduce the likeliness of depression in adolescents. Secondary schools that offer in-class mindfulness programs have fewer students that develop depression, anxiety, and stress, and are less likely to develop them at a later age. This was the case at five middle schools in Flanders, Belgium. There were approximately 400 students that were part of the study ranging in age from 13 to 20. The students were divided into 2 groups; a test group and a control group. The test group received meditation training, while the control group did not. Before the study, there were a similar amount of students that showed evidence of depression. After the training, this number decreased in the test group, while it went up in the control group. The same was true even 6 months after the program was completed. This suggests that meditation can, in fact, decrease the symptoms of depression in children and protect them from developing it later in life.
Meditation Types & Techniques
There are so many great benefits to practicing meditation, so much so that even doctors are recommending it to their patients. There are also a plethora of different meditation techniques, though the key is finding the one that is right for you. Here are a few of the most popular meditation types and techniques.
Vipassana is a Buddhist meditation technique that is part of the Theravada-tradition. It is a Pali word that translates to ‘insight’ or ‘clear-seeing’, with the ‘vi’ meaning to ‘see into’. The Tibetan word for vipassana is Ihagthong, which means ‘great vision’ or ‘superior seeing’. Vipassana became known in the west thanks to Buddhist teachers like Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, and Jack Kornfield, who were the founders of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. Many people today participate in a 10-day vipassana retreat. This was popularised by Burmese-Indian teacher S.N. Goenka. Vipassana courses in this tradition are taught in 94 countries around the world. This includes Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Poland, Singapore, Thailand and the UK, as well as at 78 centres throughout India.
Vipassana focuses on the connection between mind and body, with attention to the physical sensations of the body, and their connections to the mind. It is said to remove mental impurities, resulting in a mind that is balanced and full of compassion. This form of meditation focuses on the breath, forcing your attention on it to develop mastery over the mind. As you do this, you should notice how your abdomen rises and falls, or how the air passes through your nostrils. You will also notice that sounds, emotions, and feelings in the body will appear. The idea is to keep your attention focused on breathing, with everything else in the background. Basically, you are letting feelings and thoughts arise, but then letting them fade away by focusing your concentration on your breath.
Mantra meditation is a Hindu meditation technique that involves repeating a word or a phrase. In Sanskrit, mantra means “instrument of the mind”. This is because it is used as an instrument to create vibrations in the mind and allows you to disconnect from your thoughts. The most popular type of mantra meditation is the Om meditation. You will repeat the word Om over and over again, feeling the vibration of it through your body. More experienced devotees use the japa technique, which consists of repeating a sacred sound with love; i.e. the name of God. Other words or phrases that are often used are om mani padme hum (wisdom, compassion, body, speech and mind, bliss, compassion), so-ham (I am that/here) and Sat Chit Ananda (existence, consciousness, bliss). Traditionally, it is repeated 108 or 1008 times, with beads often being used to keep count.
Many people find mantra meditation to be much easier than vipassana because it is easier to stay focused and not let your mind wander. This is especially true for people whose minds tend to be easily distracted, or for those with racing thoughts. Chanting the mantra slowly calms the mind while chanting it quickly creates energy. The ideal is to chant somewhere in the middle, causing both calmness and energy throughout the body. Experiment chanting at different speeds to see what works best for you. Regardless, pay attention to it and to each repetition, uniting your mind completely with the mantra.
Qigong is a Chinese word that means “life energy cultivation”. It is a Taoist practice that encompasses numerous techniques to help balance the body and promote health. It is a body-mind form of exercise that involves slow body movements, regulated breathing, and meditation. Qigong dates back more than 4,000 years and was said to be developed to improve moral character, promote longevity and enhance health.
Qigong commonly has two categories; dynamic qigong and meditative qigong.
- Dynamic practice – involves fluid movements that are coordinated with the breath. These movements are repeated to strengthen and stretch the body, as well as increase the movement of fluids throughout the body. It also promotes awareness on how the body moves and balances. Sometimes it involves holding postures, like in Yoga.
- Meditative practice – focuses on the breath, visualisation, sound, and mantra. It centers on creating energy and the path in which the qi (life-energy) flows. Mind control is still the focus, but it is done through focusing on something (breathe, visual, sound, mantra) or on an external agent, like, for example, a place.
This meditation technique is excellent for people that have a hard time sitting and would prefer to be active in their meditation practice. There are several styles of Qigong so it’s likely you’ll find one that works best for you.
This is an alternative form of meditation that focuses on the movement of each step and the awareness of your body’s connection to the earth. It is more than just going for a stroll in a park or along a beach, as it involves coordination with the breath or focusing on a point. It is of course done with your eyes open, but the mind is cleared of outside distractions. Walking meditation allows you to be mindful of your body sensations in the present moment. It is done at a slower pace than a normal walk in the park. This type of meditation allows you to focus and teaches you to carry this into your daily life. It is great for overcoming fatigue and lethargy and is often done right after a meal or after a long seated meditation practice.
It is important to do walking meditation properly, or it is just everyday walking without the benefits of meditation. Choosing a place to do it is one of the most important things, as it should be secluded and quiet. A walking path works best, though it can even be done in your backyard. It should be done for at least 15 minutes, walking at a slow pace that is even and steady. Walk so that you can stay in the present moment and focused on each step. There are different types of walking meditation, including Theravada Walking meditation, Kinhin (Japanese Walking Meditation), Thich Nhat Hanh and Mindful Walking Meditation.
Mindfulness is the process of bringing your attention to the present moment. In Buddhist teachings, it is used to develop self-knowledge that will eventually result in enlightenment or the complete freedom from suffering. In terms of meditation, it involves developing the skills needed to bring your attention to what is happening in the moment, letting go of the past or worries of the future. It focuses on the breath as it’s used as a focus point. You do not control your breathing, but instead just try to be aware of it and its natural rhythm. If the mind starts to wander, return your focus to your breathing.
Yoga is a form of mindfulness meditation, as it involves focusing on the breath while moving; moving to your breath. Walking meditation is also a form of mindfulness meditation. Still, in most cases, it is done sitting down, giving you the opportunity to be more present with where you are. It can be done in a chair or on the floor, whichever is more comfortable. The attempt is to not add anything else to your present moment but to be aware of what is going on around you. It is not about not thinking, but rather about not losing yourself in anything that may distract you.
This is commonly known as Loving Kindness Meditation, as Metta is Pali word that actually means loving kindness, goodwill and having an interest in others. Metta meditation consists of silent repetitions of phrases that promote happiness or other things directed at a person that you visualise. This could be a good friend, a person that is suffering, a difficult person or even yourself. Basically, it starts with the practitioner focusing on themselves, then loved ones, neutral people, difficult people and finally all living beings.
Metta meditation is said to improve positive emotions and compassion, as well as helping to treat psychological disorders like depression and anxiety. It is also thought to help with things like chronic pain, PTSD, and schizophrenia, as it enhances feelings of love and compassion for oneself. It is done sitting down with your eyes closed. You start by fostering loving-kindness feelings for yourself, then gradually towards others. Basically, in your mind you are wishing happiness to all beings by repeating phrases in your head that evoke a sensation of positive feelings, sending love to those that suffer or to anyone else you feel needs some joy and peace in their life.
The 10 Stages of Meditation
In the Anapanasatti Sutta, Buddha describes meditation as a progressive practice of mindfulness consisting of in-and-out breathing. Around 1,200 years after it was written, Indian Buddhist and meditation master Kamalasila elaborated on Buddha’s teachings by using the same process, but broken up into nine stages; the Kamalashila Bhavanakrama. This step-by-step process is an extremely easy and effective method for mastering the art of meditation and achieving its highest goals. Plus, it can be used in all meditation types and techniques. Although there were originally nine stages, a tenth was added at the beginning as the first stage; establishing a practice. The ten stages of meditation are separated into four major achievement levels that serve as milestones while developing meditation skills.
The four milestone achievements:
- Uninterrupted continuity of attention to the meditation object.
- Sustained single-pointed attention to the meditation object, with exclusive focus.
- Effortless stability of the attention, also known as mental pliancy; the compliant mind.
- Stability of attention and mindful awareness are fully developed, accompanied by meditative joy, tranquillity, and equanimity, qualities which persist between meditation sessions.
The first three steps are not part of the four milestones, as they are the stages for the novice meditator. Steps four, five and six are the first milestone, step seven is the second milestone, steps eight and nine are the third milestone, while step ten is the fourth and final milestone.
The Novice – Stages One Through Three
Stage One: Establishing a Practice
This is the first stage, which focuses on developing a consistent and disciplined practice. This means practicing at the same time each day and overcoming obstacles like procrastination, lack of motivation, fatigue, boredom, and doubt. It also means connecting wholeheartedly in the practice, creating a routine or routines to develop a regular practice. This stage is mastered when you don’t miss a daily practice except when there are unavoidable circumstances that prevent it. Also, when you are not procrastinating and waiting for the practice to come to an end.
Stage Two: Interrupted Attention and Overcoming Mind-Wandering
Stage Two is the practice of keeping your attention on an object, like the breath and keeping it there without allowing your mind to wander. A mind that is untrained is naturally restless, and your attention can easily wander to other things, making you forget to aim your attention on your breath. This could impact the entire practice, so this stage teaches us to direct our attention back to the meditation object. Once you can meditation for a longer period of time without the mind wandering and attention waining, then you have made it past Stage Two.
Stage Three: Extended Attention to the Meditation Object
This stage is almost the same as Stage Two, except that the periods of mind wandering is relatively shorter than the time spent focusing on the meditation object. One problem that some people find when getting to the stage is staying awake, so this is what you must overcome in Stage Three. This stage is conquered when your attention to the meditation object is rarely lost through mind wandering or falling asleep.
Milestone One: Uninterrupted Continuity of Attention to the Meditation Object
The first three stages are for beginners. Once you have mastered the novice stages you are ready to build on these abilities and become a skilled meditator.
The Skilled Meditator—Stages Four Through Six
Stage Four: Uninterrupted Continuous Attention
You are now able to stay focused on the object or the breath continuously, but not exclusively. What this means is that your attention may still shift due to distractions, with the distraction then becoming the primary focus. When this occurs, it is called a gross distraction. The challenge of Stage Four is finding the right balance and tolerating gross distractions when needed. Instead, you develop continuous introspective awareness so that you can overcome these distractions. This stage is mastered when you no longer have gross distractions and the meditation object doesn’t fade or become distorted.
Stage Five: Overcoming Subtle Dullness and Sustaining Full-minded Awareness
Stage Five is the ability to overcome subtle dullness and develop continuous introspective awareness. You should have the ability to keep subtle distractions from becoming gross distractions that will take your focus away from the meditation object. In this stage, you should overcome subtle dullness and instead be able to increase your level of fully conscious mindful awareness throughout your daily practice. A technique used to achieve this goal is ‘Experiencing the Whole Body with the Breath’.
Stage Six: Subduing Subtle Distraction
Stage Six is when your attention of the meditation object is fairly stable, with subtle distractions being completely gone. You will have single-pointed attention. The obstacle here is being able to draw your attention 100 percent to the object without any thoughts distracting or fogging up your mind. Things in the background start to fade away, and any thought processes become less apparent. You are still able to detect the presence of these distractions, but you don’t allow them to disturb your mind.
Milestone Two: Sustained Exclusive Focus
Your attention is no longer alternating back and forth, and you are able to focus on the meditation object exclusively. You should now be aware of your state of mind and can stabilise your attention and achieve mindfulness. You are considered a skilled meditator and can enter the transition stage.
The Transition—Stage Seven
Stage Seven: Single-Pointed Attention and Unifying the Mind
This stage is the ability to direct and maintain attention on the meditation object exclusively and to be able to investigate that object no matter how extensive or narrow a focus you choose. In short, single-pointedness. This refers to how tightly focused your attention is, without subtle distractions or dullness interfering. A consistent experience of exclusive, single-pointed attention is what is needed to get past the second milestone or stage seven. You have mastered this stage when it no longer takes you any effort to keep your attention on the meditation object and you have complete mindful awareness. It will be automatic, with no more effort needed, which is called mental pliancy.
Milestone Three: Effortless Stability of Attention or Mental Pliancy
You have received the third milestone when there is no more effort made and your attention is exclusively combined with powerful mindfulness. You have reached mental pliancy; the compliant mind. Mental chatter and other distractions have stopped and your mind is not preoccupied with other things. You have transitioned from a skilled meditator to an adept one.
The Adept Meditator—Stages Eight and Nine
Stage Eight: Mental Pliancy and Pacifying the Senses
With mental pliancy, you are able to effortlessly maintain exclusive focus and full-minded awareness (mindfulness). This can only be achieved through a dedicated practice and will be greeted with feelings of meditative joy, happiness and pleasurable feelings in the body. The mind is now flexible and able to be shaped to our wishes. Meaning you can direct it wherever you would like and keep it focused there without being easily shifted. You can also freely move it from one object to another without losing steadiness. The goal of Stage Eight is to pacify the senses so that they temporarily become quiet while you meditate. The body becomes as undistracted as the mind, ignoring such things as physical pain or comfort due to prolonged sitting. Mastery is achieved when the senses are in a state of pacification and your mental state receives intense joy.
Stage Nine: Physical Pliancy and Meditative Joy
With mental pliancy and the pacifying of the senses comes meditative joy. In Stage Nine there are such intense feelings of happiness that can create a mental energy that is distracting, disturbing your practice. The goal is to become familiar with the feelings involved in mental and physical pliancy and to replace the meditative joy with tranquillity and equanimity. When you can consistently raise mental and physical pliancy and accompany them with deep tranquility and equanimity, then you have mastered the ninth stage and milestone three.
Milestone Four: Stability of Attention and Mindful Awareness are Fully Developed, Accompanied by Meditative Joy, Tranquillity, and Equanimity
You are now ready to master the final milestone and the final stage of meditation. At this point you are able to bring your meditation experience into your everyday life, creating a mind that is clear of distractions which creates a constant state of happiness, tranquility, and mindfulness.
Stage Ten: Stability of Attention and Awareness Persisting Beyond the Sitting Practice
This is the final stage and the last milestone achievement in the 10 Stages of Meditation. It has all of the same characteristics of mental and physical pliancy, but with peacefulness and calmness, profound equanimity, joy, and happiness that cannot be flustered. At the beginning, these qualities may disappear when you end your meditation practice, but in time they will become a normal part of your everyday life. Negative mental reactions will rarely exist, anger will disappear and others will notice that you are much happier. As well, physical pain will no longer bother you. This stage is known as the ‘unsurpassable’ or ‘unexcelled’ mind. This does not mean that you will be unaffected by the things that cause suffering, it just means that you will be able to deal with them in a more calm way.
Meditation Myths & Misconceptions
Although it is an ancient practice, meditation has become widely popular around the world, and people are becoming more and more interested in its benefits and what it is all about. Still, there are people that won’t practice because they believe it is only for religious people, it is of no practical use or it is difficult. These are just a few meditation myths and misconceptions, but there are plenty more.
Myths & Misconceptions of Context
Meditation is a Religious Practice
Yes, many religions do practice meditation, but it is not a religious practice. It was created within religious contexts with the purpose of becoming enlightened or achieving spiritual goals, but we now also know that it has many other benefits as well. It can be practiced by anyone of any religion. Even atheists can practice meditation. This is especially true with mindful meditation, where the goal is to free ourselves from views and see everyone as equal. Today, people meditate to experience an inner quiet and/or to help with physical and mental health ailments.
Meditation is Escapism
Actually, the opposite is true. Meditation is not done to escape, but rather to get in touch with your true self and open your eyes to the world. It teaches you to be prepared for anything that life throws your way and to be more in control of your mind/moods. It allows you to let go of anything that may be limiting your potential or deepest feelings about yourself. It allows you to really see, as opposed to escape your true you. Meditation removes all distractions, which are essentially forms of escape. It calms our minds so that we can see things more objectively.
Meditation is Selfish
It is no more selfish than any other daily routine we practice such as eating, sleeping and brushing our teeth. When meditation becomes a part of our everyday life that is exactly what it is; a normal daily activity. There is nothing selfish about it. In fact, the results are the exact opposite. Meditation has a positive effect on your life and anyone that interacts with you. It releases you from ego and from selfishness. Yes, the practice of meditation is done alone, but the results have a great impact on everyone around us.
It Takes Years of Dedicated Practice to Receive Any Benefits
As we have already learned, meditation has many amazing physical and mental health benefits that can be seen in just a few weeks of regular practice. In fact, you may experience benefits the very first time that you meditate, and each and every time after that. Plus, these benefits are long-term. Of course, a Buddhist monk will benefit much more than a novice meditator, but there are different levels of benefits, as stated in the 10 stages of meditation. Attaining enlightenment will take years of dedicated practice. But for better physical and mental health, the results are almost immediate.
Myths & Misconceptions of Method
Meditation is All About Calming the Mind
This is just a myth, as calming the mind is actually just one result of meditation. Many people get frustrated because they think that they need a quiet mind in order to meditate, causing frustration. Meditation isn’t about stopping thoughts in your mind, but learning how much attention to give to these thoughts. If you consciously try to calm the mind, it won’t work. It will have the opposite effect and may even cause stress. Meditation is about focusing the mind and finding the calmness or quiet that already exists. Even if your mind hasn’t been calm during your practice – you were thinking throughout it – you will still be getting benefits from it. In fact, you may have thoughts that you didn’t even know you had. Noticing thoughts themselves is a breakthrough because it shifts your ego mind to an aware mind.
All Meditation is the Same
We have already discovered that there are many different meditation types and techniques, so we know that this is a misconception. Still, it is one that many people have. Meditation is also very different to mindfulness, although they are often put together (mindfulness meditation). Mindfulness on its own is an exercise that helps to improve health by having an attitude of being in the present moment. The results of meditation are the same, though there are also many more benefits.
Meditation is All About Being in the Present Moment
Being in the present moment is one of the aspects of meditation, but it is not the only one. There is much more to meditation than that. Meditation also provides mental tranquillity, one-pointed attention, relaxation and heightened awareness, amongst other things. Still, it is necessary to be in the present moment in order to deepen your practice, but this takes time to develop. Meditation takes you even deeper than the present moment, as it also stops your mind from wandering.
Myths & Misconceptions of Hardship
Meditation is Difficult
If you have high expectations, meditation can be difficult. Alternatively, having no expectations is an important aspect of how to meditate. It is not a thing, but a process and one that you should have no romantic view about or you may find yourself disappointed. If your goal is to improve your life and feel happier, then meditation will be easy to learn. The technique involved in different types of meditation are simple to follow. The only time it becomes difficult is when you try too hard to concentrate or to find an end result.
Meditation Takes Too Much Time
There are many people with powerful jobs that find the time to meditate, so saying it takes too much time is ridiculous. No one’s schedule is too full to find even 5 minutes to meditate, it is just about good time management. Think about all of the time you spend looking at a screen whether it be a TV, a computer or a phone. If you set aside, 20 percent of that time then you will have the time to meditate. Make it a priority and you will find the time to do it. Even just a few minutes a day is enough time to enjoy the benefits of a regular meditation practice. Plus some people find that once they bring meditation into their life they actually have more time because they become clear on what is important and don’t waste their time on things that are meaningless.
I’m Supposed to have Transcendent Experiences
Although this can happen, it is not a certainty and it surely does not happen to everyone. There is no need to be disappointed if you don’t experience visions, develop psychic powers or obtain enlightenment. If you consciously seek these things, your mind will then be distracted. The purpose of meditation is not what happens to us during our practice, but how it affects our daily lives. When we finish our daily meditation session we should already feel some of its benefits.
Meditation is Boring
This depends on your attitude towards it. If you go into it with an open mind then you will not find it boring. There is a reason why millions of people all over the world practice meditation daily, and it is not because it is boring. If you start meditation with strong expectations then it may become boring. It takes time to develop a regular practice, but as soon as you do you will probably find that it is the exact opposite of boring. The key is starting a practice for the right reasons.
Inspirational Meditation Quotes
There are hundreds of meditation quotes to inspire a meditation practice and integrate it into your life. Some of them are quotes by meditation masters, others are from authors, scientists, philosophers and even celebrities. Hopefully, these quotes will inspire you.
You should not be carried away by the dictation of the mind, but the mind should be carried by your dictation. – A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami
If you have time to breathe you have time to meditate. You breathe when you walk. You breathe when you stand. You breathe when you lie down. – Ajahn Amaro
So what is a good meditator? The one who meditates. – Allan Lokos
If you can’t meditate in a boiler room, you can’t meditate. – Alan Watts
Life is a mystery – mystery of beauty, bliss and divinity. Meditation is the art of unfolding that mystery. – Amit Ray
Meditation is a way for nourishing and blossoming the divine within you. – Amit Ray
Looking at beauty in the world, is the first step of purifying the mind.― Amit Ray
Meditation is a way for nourishing and blossoming the divinity within you. – Amit Ray
Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end. – Jiddu Krishnamurti
Through meditation, the Higher Self is experienced. – Bhagavad Gita
When meditation is mastered, the mind is unwavering like the flame of a candle in a windless place. – Bhagavad Gita
Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. – Buddha
Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded. – Buddha
Meditation brings wisdom; lack of mediation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom. – Buddha
Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten. – Buddha
You cannot travel on the path until you become the path itself. – Buddha
If you are quiet enough, you will hear the flow of the universe. You will feel its rhythm. Go with this flow. Happiness lies ahead. Meditation is key. – Buddha
The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind. – Caroline Myss
To earn the trust of your meditation, you have to visit it every day. It’s like having a puppy. – Chelsea Richer
Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace. – Dalai Lama
Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that’s very important for good health. – Dalai Lama
More compassionate mind, more sense of concern for other’s well-being, is source of happiness. – Dalai Lama
The thing about meditation is that you become more and more YOU. – David Lynch
If you can resist the impulse to claim each and every thought as your own, you will come to a startling conclusion: you will discover that you are the consciousness in which the thoughts appear and disappear. – Annamalai Swami
Be conscious of yourself as consciousness alone, watch all the thoughts come and go. Come to the conclusion, by direct experience, that you are really consciousness itself, not its ephemeral contents. – Annamalai Swami
Mental problems feed on the attention that you give them. The more you worry about them, the stronger they become. If you ignore them, they lose their power and finally vanish. – Annamalai Swami
Meditation must be continuous. The current of meditation must be present in all your activities. – Annamalai Swami
Don’t worry about whether you are making progress or not. Just keep your attention on the Self twenty-four hours a day. Meditation is not something that should be done in a particular position at a particular time. It is an awareness and an attitude that must persist through the day. – Annamalai Swami
If you can be continuously aware of each thought as it rises, and if you can be so indifferent to it that it doesn’t sprout or flourish, you are well on the way to escaping from the entanglements of mind. – Annamalai Swami
Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated? – David M. Bader
Meditation makes the entire nervous system go into a field of coherence. – Deepak Chopra
Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day. – Deepak Chopra
Prayer is when you talk to God; meditation is when you listen to God. – Diana Robinson
One conscious breathe in and out is a meditation. – Eckhart Tolle
Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. – Eckhart Tolle
It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up. – Eckhart Tolle
Don’t wait to be successful at some future point. Have a successful relationship with the present moment and be fully present in whatever you are doing. That is success. – Eckhart Tolle
Your entire life only happens in this moment. The present moment is life itself. – Eckhart Tolle
It feels good. Kinda like when you have to shut your computer down, just sometimes when it goes crazy, you just shut it down and when you turn it on, it’s okay again. That’s what meditation is to me. – Ellen DeGeneres
It’s tapping into something so deep that when I reap the rewards, I do not even know I’m reaping them. – Eva Mendes
Something is aware of even the energy of confusion inside of you. There is no need to get unconfused. Leave it – it will pass. – Mooji
There is no need to believe or disbelieve your thoughts – just don’t enter anything. They don’t distract you – you get distracted. Nothing exists in itself as a distraction – it is you who get distracted. Why? – Mooji
Meditation is the signpost directing the steps to the main highway of realization. – Guy Bogart
The spirit of meditation is the combating against the weight of one’s feelings. – Hakuin Ekaku
Inner stillness is the key to outer strength. – Jared Brock
If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, “As one thinks, so one becomes”. – Ashtavakra Gita
Desire and anger are objects of the mind, but the mind is not yours, nor ever has been. You are choiceless awareness itself and unchanging – so live happily. – Ashtavakra Gita
It’s like having a charger for your whole body and mind. That’s what Meditation is! – Jerry Seinfeld
Meditation is to the mind what exercise is to the body – it warms and invigorates. – John Thornton
Meditation provides a way of learning how to let go. As we sit, the self we’ve been trying to construct and make into a nice, neat package continues to unravel. – John Welwood
The way to relax, or rest the mind in nowness, is through the practice of meditation. In meditation you take an unbiased approach. You let things be as they are, without judgment, and in that way you yourself learn to be. —Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
The principle of nowness is very important to any effort to establish an enlightened society. – Pema Chodron
In meditation, you are moving closer and closer to yourself, and you begin to understand yourself so much more clearly. – Pema Chodron
Meditation helps us to clearly see ourselves and the habitual patterns that limit our life. – Pema Chodron
Meditation helps you to meet your edge; it’s where you actually come up against it and you start to lose it. – Pema Chodron
The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime. – Sogyal Rinpoche
The act of meditation is being spacious. – Sogyal Rinpoche
Don’t worry about anything. Even if you find your attention wandering, there is no particular ‘thing’ you have to hold onto. Just let go, and drift in the awareness of the blessing. Don’t let small, niggling questions distract. – Sogyal Rinpoche
Meditation allows us to directly participate in our lives instead of living life as an afterthought. – Stephen Levine
When you reach a calm and quiet meditative state, that is when you can hear the sound of silence. – Stephen Richards
Your goal is not to battle with the mind, but to witness the mind. – Swami Muktananda
Meditation is offering your genuine presence to yourself in every moment. – Thich Nhat Hanh
There is only one meditation – the rigorous refusal to harbor thoughts. – Nisargadatta Maharaj
The main factor in meditation is to keep the mind active in its own pursuit without taking in external impressions or thinking of other matters. – Ramana Maharshi
Meditation applies the brakes to the mind. – Ramana Maharshi
Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in eternal awareness or pure consciousness without objectification. Knowing without thinking; merging finitude in infinity. – Swami Sivananda
Meditation is not spacing-out or running away. In fact, it is being totally honest with ourselves. – Kathleen McDonald
Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak. – Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati
Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul. – Marcus Aurelius
Meditation stills the wandering mind and establishes us forever in a state of peace. – Muktananda
It is better to meditate a little bit with depth than to mediate long with the mind running here and there. If you do not make an effort to control the mind it will go on doing as it pleases, no matter how long you sit to meditate. – Paramahansa Yogananda
Meditation is a lifelong gift. It’s something you can call on at any time. – Paul McCartney
Meditation is the ultimate mobile device; you can use it anywhere, anytime, unobtrusively. – Sharon Salzberg
Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it. – Sharon Salzberg
When an idea exclusively occupies the mind, it is transformed into an actual physical or mental state. – Swami Vivekananda
There is no limit to the power of the human mind. The more concentrated it is, the more power is brought to bear on one point. – Swami Vivekananda
Meditation connects you with your soul, and this connection gives you access to your intuition, your heartfelt desires, your integrity, and the inspiration to create a life you love. – Sarah McLean
It should now be clear that meditation is great on mental, physical and emotional levels. It is a fantastic practice to bring into your everyday life to achieve calm, happiness and an overall feeling of wellbeing. Meditation can be learned on your own or you can seek out a teacher to teach you how to do it. They can help you get through the 10 stages of meditation. You can also read articles on meditation and breathing techniques, or watch videos on YouTube like How to Breath Yogic Way – by Yogi Sandeep.
Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, Yoganonymous, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga International, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur).