Meditation is an intensely personal and spiritual experience. The desired purpose of each meditation technique is to channel our awareness into a more positive direction by totally transforming one’s state of mind.
To meditate is to turn inwards, to concentrate on the inner self. The entire process of meditation usually entails the three stages of concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and enlightenment or absorption (samadhi). The individual preparing to meditate usually starts off by harnessing his awareness, such as focussing his mind onto a certain object.
Once attention gets engaged, concentration turns into meditation or dhyana. And through continuous meditation, the meditator merges with the object of concentration, which might either be the present moment or the Divine Entity. In some branches of Indian philosophy, direct perception from the inner self (mana) together with perception that is filtered through the five senses (pancha indriya) form a part of their valid epistemology (pratyaksha jnana).
And this self-realization or self-awareness (as popularized by Paramahansa Yogananda), is nothing but the knowledge of the “pure being”—the Self. Humanity is increasingly turning towards various meditative techniques in order to cope with the increasing stress of modern-day lifestyles. Unable to locate stability in the outside world, people have directed their gaze inwards in a bid to attain peace of mind.
Modern psychotherapists have begun to discover various therapeutic benefits of meditation practices. The state of relaxation and the altered state of consciousness—both induced by meditation—are especially effective in psychotherapy. But more than anything else, meditation is being used as a personal growth device these days—for inculcating a more positive attitude towards life at large.
Meditation is not necessarily a religious practice, but because of its spiritual element it forms an integral part of most religions. And even though the basic objective of most meditation styles remain the same and are performed in a state of inner and outer stillness, they all vary according to the specific religious framework within which they are placed.
Preparation, posture, length of period of meditation, particular verbal or visual elements—all contribute to the various forms of meditation. Some of the more popular methods are, Transcendental Meditation, yoga nidra, vipassana and mindfulness meditation.