Nowadays, practicing yoga is extremely trendy, and almost everyone who does so knows the 28 types of physical yoga exercises. However, almost no one knows about yoga meditation techniques like bhakti or trataka yoga.
People who perform these meditation techniques swear that it has heightened their awareness and has resulted in more than temporary stress relief.
But where exactly did the practice of meditation come from?
History of Meditation
No one really knows who practiced meditation the first time around. Historians and anthropologists believe that the practice of meditation arose thousands of years ago. Hieroglyphs and ancient texts suggest hunter-gatherers and early shamans practiced some form of meditation. The earliest records of the practice, dates back to 1,500 BCE.
In around 2,600 BCE, Buddha founded an experiential path that focused on mind awareness and breathing techniques that lead to ever lasting peace. According to the teachings of Buddha, meditative techniques, along with proper ethical conduct and the wisdom to see things in their true state, are the three disciplines that when practiced together, result in achieving enlightenment.
The disciples of Buddha taught these practices to others and knowledge seekers from lands far and wide who journeyed to learn from these great teachers. Buddhist meditation spread out to what are now territories of modern-day Afghanistan, Mongolia, Japan and Indonesia.
Knowledge of this art spread to the western society in the 19th century but it was only in the mid-1900s that yoga meditation became more mainstream. Yogi masters from the East were invited to spread their knowledge in the West and many students traveled to India, Japan, China, Burma, Thailand and other Asian countries to understand these mindfulness practices.
Types of Yoga Meditation
Spiritualists and yogis have developed dozens of types of meditation. Most people can explore the different methods of mindfulness but not all styles are suited to everyone.
With so many varieties of yoga meditation, it can become pretty confusing sorting through the various styles. Even in India, there is no single name for the practice. The best way for people to understand which meditation practice suits them the best is to try them all out and then figure out which one resonates with them.
Below are some of the most popular kinds of yoga meditation techniques.
If you are new to yoga meditation, it is best to start out with a basic technique to acclimatize yourself. This is not a “proper” yoga technique but a good way to initiate yourself, before you engage in the more difficult forms of meditation.
Beginners should focus on their breathing, learn to be hyper-aware of their senses and to empty their minds of judgment. You should sit down, close your eyes and breathe naturally. Then, focus on the ins and outs of your breath, be aware of the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen and the rush of air coming in and going out of the nostrils. If your thoughts start to go astray, return your mind gently back to your breath. Start by doing this for three minutes every day and then gradually increasing the time.
Nada Yoga Meditation
The first traditional meditation form in the list is nada yoga meditation. This is a type of sound meditation and can fit in well with modern-day music therapy.
This technique starts by the person assuming a comfortable meditative position. They should then close their eyes and focus their attention on the external sound. This could be the sound of a rushing stream, ambient music or any other type of gentle, soothing sound. They need to close their mind to all other external sounds.
This practice will have a calming effect on your mind and you will feel like you exist in a cosmic bubble, far removed from material things. If you continue on this path, practitioners say that you will hear the sound of “Om”, the universal sound with no vibration which is the perfect representation of the union of the mind, body and soul.
Mantra Yoga Meditation
Like nada, mantras are a form of sound meditation. Mantra is a sacred word that yogis believe produce physical, psychological and spiritual benefits to the person who says them. Mantras have no literal meanings but repeating them over and over can create vibrations that can put your brain in tune with the waves of the universe, e.g. sound waves, ocean waves, etc.
Mantras are commonly used in Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism. The most basic single-syllable mantra is “Om” but there are in total 108 Buddhist primordial sounds that can be used while meditating. All experts are in agreement that mantras have a rhythm, meter and melody that can create the echoes of nature in one’s body.
Those who chant mantras find the sound cultivates inner peace, yet an alert state of mind. It also fosters positive human qualities like forgiveness, compassion and acceptance.
Here’s how you can start practicing mantra meditation.
First choose a mantra that you would chant. Some seekers research in depth about what the word is used for, which deity it represents, how to properly pronounce it and what rhythm to use when reciting it. Then, do a basic meditation technique (explained above) to ready your mind for mantra meditation.
Then, you can start by reciting the mantra, either in your mind or in whispered chants. Repeat the mantra 108 times, as the number has spiritual significance in Hinduism and yoga. Your mind will eventually get rid of all thoughts except for the sound of the mantra.
After you have done this practice, sit still and relax for five to ten minutes. You can also do bhakti meditation with your mantra.
Bhakti Yoga Meditation
Bhakti yoga aims to make the meditator’s mind one with their god or deity. It is one of the most spiritual forms of yoga meditation which shows the person’s devotion to its object of worship. This is an advanced meditative technique and not ideal for beginners.
Many Buddhists focus on Buddha while performing bhakti to create oneness with the universe and foster inner peace.
You can start bhakti meditation by first relaxing your mind and body. Then choose a subject that contains traits that you would like in yourself. Some people meditate on Buddha while others can meditate on non-human objects like the sky, a tree or even a flower. Your goal is to become one with the object of your choosing
You can also start by creating a meditation space and having things that help you relax and connect to the deity, like therapy candles, incense or sculptures. Then proceed to sit down comfortably. Close your eyes and focus on the space between your eyebrows, also called the “third eye.” Keep focusing on your deity and invite it to become one with you by imagining there is no distance between your consciousness and the subject’s. Do this for 108 breaths. You will feel a buildup of energy between your eyebrows and sense a contact with your deity.
Chakra Yoga Meditation
Anybody who has seen “Naruto” (Japanese anime) may be familiar with the concept of chakra. The chakra is an ancient Sanskrit word which literally means “wheel”. These “wheels” are the center points of your spiritual energy. There are seven basic chakras located at seven different parts of the body:
- The root chakra, located in your tail bone directed by the principles of survival and grounding
- The sacral chakra, located in the navel, directed by sexuality and passion
- The manipura chakra, located in the solar plexus, directing confidence and intuition
- The heart/ anahata chakra, located in the chest, directing compassion and love
- The throat/ vishuddha chakra, located in the throat, directing communication and expression;
- The third eye/ ajna chakra, located in the forehead, directing psychic ability
- The crown chakra, situated above the head, directing wisdom and connection.
These chakras are the energy centers through which the life force (prana) flows. If these chakras become blocked, they can result in psychological as well as physical problems. However, if that happens, we can meditate to open up our chakras.
Chakra meditation seeks to bring balance, alignment and harmony in these chakras. Some people choose to burn incense, use crystals or visualize the corresponding colors of each chakra during meditation.
Here’s how you can do chakra meditation.
Breathe evenly and close your eyes. Concentrate on your root chakra by visualizing a red (the chakra’s corresponding color) wheel of energy. Concentrate on your tail bone as well, where the chakra is centered. Keep this up until you can see red energy flowing in a wheel shape. Then go to your sacral chakra and visualize a wheel of orange energy. Work your way up to the crown chakra.
Once you have sufficient chakra, you can realize which one of your chakra points are blocked and can spend individual time on them.
Third Eye Meditation
In the chakra meditation section, we mentioned the third eye chakra. This meditation technique is the very same but it is so much importance attributed to it that it has its own place in the various yoga meditation technique.
This eye meditation helps to awaken your ajna chakra, which gives you heightened levels of clairvoyance and insight from the universe. Hence, the third eye represents enlightenment. It is also located on your pineal gland, which is responsible for extrasensory perceptions or our “sixth sense.” When our mind is relaxed and at peace, we awaken the true powers of our mind, get higher consciousness and the ability to master yourself.
However, like all chakras, the third eye can also get blocked. One of the most prominent reasons is the work overload at our jobs. Fortunately, you can meditate to open your eye.Go to a peaceful and quite place. Close your eyes and start by relaxing your face. Hold your breath and release it slowly through the nostrils. Then let your entire body relax. Focus your attention to your third eye and feel it opening up. Let go of negative thoughts and emotions and imagine light flowing out of your forehead in 360 degrees. As you do, you will sense your body becoming lighter.
You can also request divine intervention from your deity and ask it to guide you to a message about opening your third eye. You will feel thoughts and visions arising in your mind. Focus on that and slowly bring yourself back to the present time. Take a deep breath and relax yourself. You will find your mind feels lighter and you see things in a much clearer perspective.
They say eyes are the windows to the soul and trataka meditation helps you gain access to your spirit through these organs. This meditation technique focuses on gazing on a single object to bring stillness and tranquility to your soul. This object can be anything that can help your mind achieve a state of awareness, like a candle, waterfall or a spiritual symbol.
Here is how you can practice the trataka meditation technique:
Place a candle or any other object on level with your eyes, about a meter or so in front of you. Sit in front of it and try to gaze at it without blinking for as long as you can. Keep your entire body relaxed and remove all thought from your mind.
Hold your gaze for the time it takes you to complete 25 breaths or until you begin to feel uncomfortable , or your eyes start to water. Then close your eyes but keep the afterimage of the object inside your mind. Meditate on this image for 25 seconds, then open your eyes and start focusing at the object again.
Once you are able to actually do this, you will feel a stillness in your mind.
Kundalini Yoga Meditation
Again, this meditation technique is not for beginners. Kundalini yoga is a big deal these days, what with everyone throwing out the word like it was the newest iPhone model. However, not many people know how to do kundalini meditation properly.
Kundalini meditation is part of kundalini yoga and it seeks to awaken the energy coiled at the base of your spine. This extremely primal and potent power is said to be coiled like a snake in the triangular sacrum at the base of your spine. When it is summoned, it travels from the lowest planes of your body, through all seven chakra points and is then unleashed at the top of your head, where the Sahasrara or crown chakra is.
Awakening this power will purify your mind and body, leading to gaining ultimate consciousness and getting rid of any mental or physical diseases in your body. This is accomplished by changing your brain waves and energy levels. It is also said to reduce pain, anxiety and depression while also leading to a healthier mind and body.
The Sanskrit word, tantra, literally translates to “expansion and liberation.” Contrary to popular beliefs, the practice of tantra is not all about sex. In fact, it is an extremely deep form of meditation and the text Vijnanabhairava Tantra prescribes 108 things that practitioners can meditate on. A lot of them are advanced meditations, so you need to be aware of the basic and intermediate meditative practices before you move on to these.
Tantra meditation is different from most yoga meditation practiced in Western culture, which focuses on relaxation. It stems from the belief that the body is made of divine light. Here’s how you can perform tantra meditation.
Get in a comfortable pose and pay attention to your breathing. Focus on your right foot and imagine it as a golden light. Then focus on your other foot and do the same. Work your way up your entire body, to your ankles, calves, thighs, pelvis, hip, lower abdomen and lower spine until you reach the crown of your head. Imagine your entire body as a golden light and then finally believe that you are entirely made up of this golden light.
Practicing this meditation regularly results in physical, emotional and psychological benefits. It reduces blood pressure, increases immunity, reactivates our chakra energy centers, creates emotional balance, helps in mastering your thoughts, improves memory, increases focus and concentration and result in realization of the inner atman (soul), higher consciousness and enlightenment.
Kriya Yoga Meditation
Kriya yoga meditation is part of a collection of meditation techniques that focuses on energy and breath control (pranayama). It also involves other meditation practices and living the right way.
This technique was shrouded in secrecy for centuries. Then in 1861, master yogi Mahavatar Babaji unveiled the technique to his disciple Lahiri Mahasaya. The technique was then passed down to generations of disciples and brought to Indian and western society.
It is one of the most effective techniques to achieve union with divine powers by drawing spiritual energy up and down one’s spine. According to experts, 30 seconds of Kriya is equal to one year of spiritual growth. This meditative practice eliminates negative karma and brings joy and serenity in to your life.
These are some of the most popular yoga techniques used today. However, there are dozens more. Whichever meditation technique you choose, they will move you closer to mindfulness, higher consciousness, enlightenment and transcendence.