It was not till the 20th century that a need for the creation of secular forms of popular meditative techniques began to be felt. But for the most part these New Age meditative systems were little more than rehashed versions of older techniques, which had been extracted from their religious contexts. Transcendental Meditation (TM), as propagated by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, is one such version, which grew out of the Hindu practice of `naam japa` or `yoga japa` during the 1960`s.
Existent techniques of meditation can be categorized under two fairly broad sections
—Zen-based forms, which are more 'insight'-oriented and Hinduism-based forms, which are largely 'concentration'-oriented. Most New Age techniques fall into either of these categories.
Concentrative meditation focuses the attention on the breath, an image, or a sound (mantra), in order to still the mind and allow a greater awareness and clarity to emerge.
The simplest form of concentrative meditation is to sit quietly and focus the attention on the breath. Yoga and meditation practitioners believe that there is a direct correlation between one`s breath and one`s state of the mind. For example, when a person is anxious, frightened, agitated, or distracted, the breath tends to get shallow, rapid, and uneven. On the other hand, when the mind is calm, focused, and composed, the breath is slow, deep, and regular. Focusing the mind on the continuous rhythm of inhalation and exhalation provides a natural object of meditation. As you focus your awareness on the breath, your mind becomes absorbed in the rhythm of inhalation and exhalation. As a result, your breathing will become slower and deeper, and the mind becomes more tranquil and aware.
Transcendental Meditation or yoga nidra (popularized by the Bihar School of Yoga), which owe its origin to ancient Hindu meditative techniques, aim towards a totally detached frame of mind. These forms encourage the practitioner to retreat within the inner-self, into the 'real' world, away from the 'illusions' (maya) of outside influences. Meditative practices like Mantra yoga, for example, induces the mind to concentrate on a sacred sound by ritualistic chanting, until it attains the trance-like state of samadhi (a state of mind, where it is only responsive to subjective impressions).
ZEN BASED MEDITATION
Mindfulness meditation involves opening the attention to become aware of the continuously passing parade of sensations and feelings, images, thoughts, sounds, smells, and so forth without becoming involved in thinking about them. The meditator sits quietly and simply witnesses whatever goes through the mind, not reacting or becoming involved with thoughts, memories, worries, or images. This helps to gain a more calm, clear, and non-reactive state of mind. Zen-based forms like Thich Nhat Hanh`s (the France-based Vietnamese Zen master) mindfulness meditation or vipassana, which was promoted by S.N. Goenka, concentrate more on the present, the here and now. This is accomplished by non-judgmentally observing the breath and the sensations in the body very keenly. The objective is to attain perfect concentration without blocking out outside distractions. To reach an ideal state of equanimity and objectivity. But whether one adopts the method of the yogi, oblivious to the external world, or that of the Zen meditator, keenly attuned to his environment—the idea is to tap those vast resources of energy and enlightenment inherent in all of us. To effortlessly find within, what we had been unsuccessfully trying to discover without. That, in essence, is both the art and the science of meditation.
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