What is meditation? This is a question that's been asked thousands of times. And for good reason. From breathing to transcendental to zazen, there are a mind-boggling amount of meditations types out there. For the newcomer, this can not only be confusing, but probably leaves you wondering, “What possibly could all these meditation styles have in common?”
One way to figure out what meditation is, is by looking at the single thing that connects all types of meditation. For many, this can be just as confusing as trying to choose which type of meditation to practice. You may think, “How can walking meditation, breathing meditation and mantra meditation possibly share any commonalities?”
Well, even these three very different types of meditation share one common goal. And by understanding this goal, you’ll have a better idea of what meditation really is and how practicing it reduces stress. So what’s the secret?
One common goal of all types of meditation can be summed up in four words: withdrawing attention from thought. In any type of meditation you perform, you will always withdraw attention from thought. What does that mean? The best way to explain is with some examples.
How you withdraw attention from thought
Walking Meditation - Let’s say you had a long day at the office. As you leave the building and walk home, you’re bombarded with stressful thoughts from your workday. You suddenly become aware of these stressful thoughts and now decide to alleviate them with walking meditation. Here’s what you do.
When you perform walking meditation, you will focus all your attention on the physical process of walking. As you take one step after another, you focus on your heel touching the ground, then your weight shifting to the ball of your foot and finally pushing off with your toes. When you walk and meditate, you are giving your complete attention to this entire process. And in the process, you withdraw attention from your stressful thoughts and instead focus on walking.
Breathing Meditation - Same idea here. Instead of focusing on thoughts about your stressful workday, you focus your attention on the process of breathing—as your breath moves in and out, you give all your attention to it.
Many beginners to breathing meditation will count their breaths, which can help them focus. For example, you breathe in and out, and then count “one”. You breathe in and out again, and then count “two”. When you finally get to 10, you start over.
So what happens if you get distracted and lose count? Simple. Just start over at “one” and try again.
Mantra Meditation - This one might seem like a bit of an oxymoron because, essentially, when you focus on a mantra, you’re focusing on a thought. The difference, however, is that a mantra is only one thought/idea you consciously choose to focus on, instead of the random thoughts that clutter and bounce around the typical person’s brains on a daily basis.
Here’s how mantra meditation works. Choose a thought you like, or something you want to manifest in your life. Some typical mantras people choose are “I am one with all the universe. I live my purpose everyday” or “Love is the force that drives me. I treat all beings with love and kindness.”
Once you’ve chosen your mantra (or thought) to focus on, repeat it over and over again in your mind. Now don’t rush through it. Instead, repeat the words in your mind slowly with confidence. By doing this, you’re withdrawing attention from your normal thinking and instead focusing on the mantra.
Negative thoughts will undoubtedly have a negative impact in your life and make you feel physically stressed. And by learning to withdraw your attention from thought, you can help combat these negative emotions. Meditation, whichever type you choose, can help you do exactly this.