Mental stress can be considered today as a global problem related to more than 23 million deaths worldwide every year (Fink, 2016; Go et al., 2004): a global epidemic that has further aggravated due to the crisis Covid19 healthcare. Chronic stress and anxiety are associated with cognitive disturbances in the hippocampal region of the brain that regulates memory and learning (Hains et al., 2009; Kooij et al., 2014) and has negative physiological effects including increased inflammation and reduced immunity (Marsland et al., 2017). Among the main psychological effects of stress we find: difficulty relaxing, low self-esteem, loneliness, depression, constant worry. It is therefore well understood that there is a growing interest in research on the possible positive effects of yoga and meditation (so-called "contemplative sciences") and on the benefits for overall health. Meditation is a conscious and complex cognitive process, which involves concentration and receptive attention (Tang et al., 2015), the result of which, measured by various neuropsychological researches, is a greater presence of brain waves of Alpha frequency (or even Theta) in our brain, electrical waves that are positively correlated with the reduction of stress: the result is therefore a greater general psychophysical well-being.
“Meditation is one of the greatest arts of life, perhaps the greatest, and it cannot be learned from anyone, this is its beauty. There is no technique and therefore there is no authority. When you get to know yourself, when you observe yourself, observe the way you walk, eat what you say, the chatter, the hatred, the jealousy, being aware of everything within you, without alternative, this is part of meditation"
Beyond what Master Krishnamurti said, it is clear that we all need someone to direct us so that we can find "our meditation", even though we will always remain our greatest teachers. The meditation techniques that have developed over the centuries are really many and most of them have their roots in Buddhism. However, it should also be borne in mind that there are different schools of Buddhism, each with its own currents of thought and styles of meditation; one thing they have in common: in the classical language of Buddhism, meditation is referred to as bhāvanā, which means "mental development", or dhyāna, which means "mental calm."
It is important to underline right away that there is no more correct or easier meditation technique: indicatively some may be more suitable for a beginner of Western culture, but it does not mean that it is absolutely the best to start with for everyone. As always, it is necessary to try, to experiment on oneself, with patience and above all with an open mind and heart to find one's way: as seen, they all lead to the same goal, but each is different and perfect for those who practice it.
Therefore, each geographical area, tradition, philosophy and current of thought has developed its own methods for immersing oneself in meditation, often very different from each other. If this variety of techniques, on the one hand, ensures that each of us can find the one that best suits their personality (or even invent their own), on the other hand we can often find ourselves confused and disoriented.
Below is a mention of meditation techniques with the use of mantras, in my opinion the easiest for those who are at the first approaches as they involve more senses (especially if you use a mala as a support) and act directly on our attention system, so easily distracted.
"Forgive, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace"(Anonimous)
Ho’oponopono literally translates into "putting things back in their place"; it is not a real meditation, but it is a Hawaiian technique of healing and improving the relationship with oneself from ancient origins, which over time has turned into a type of meditation. Similarly to transcendental meditation, it is practiced by reciting a mantra, which in this case is only one: "Sorry, forgive me, thank you, I love you"; the prayer is addressed to the "Higher Self" as it is a prayer for healing, to forgive oneself, and, in reflection, also allows the forgiveness of others (another or yourself). Forgiving ourselves therefore means forgiving the whole world and healing a collective wound.
A curiosity: the most representative story on Ho'oponopono is undoubtedly that of Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len, a Hawaiian psychotherapist who seems to have been able to treat an entire ward of psychiatric patients without even meeting them or spending a single minute in their own. room. Dr. Hew Len recently passed away on January 15, 2022. An important message he left us: “The only task in your life and mine is to restore our Identities ~ our minds ~ to their original state of emptiness or zero."
From the Vedic tradition, transcendental meditation, sometimes abbreviated to M.T., has as its purpose the development of human potential. It is an extremely widespread and apparently very simple meditation technique and is practiced through the recitation of a mantra that has the function of countering the electromagnetic fields of one's thoughts. In this way there is a decrease in mental confusion due to the continuous succession of different, superfluous, uncontrolled and often painful thoughts, to achieve pure awareness. It was "re-" codified in India in 1955 by the master Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, taxman Indian who introduced it to the West in the late 60's. To practice it, you need to find the most suitable mantra and recite it with your eyes closed for a certain amount of time every day. Transcendental meditation is one of the most suitable meditation techniques for beginners and also for our lifestyle.
"There are many systems that try to refine the mind by controlling it in one way or another. These attempts are difficult and tedious and instead of giving results they take you away from life. Due to the difficulty and inefficiency of these methods of mind control, the opinion has spread that the path to achieving pure consciousness is difficult." (Maharishi)
The method is technically very simple: you sit in a comfortable position, with your back straight. Thus we begin to meditate with our own mantra (for example the classic “Om”, repeated 21 times) focusing exclusively on the repetition in order to be more easily able to reach a state of perfect stillness and consciousness.
Transcendental Meditation is normally done in the morning upon waking, for at least 20 minutes, in order to calm the mind before starting the day. It can also be performed at other times, but it is important to always practice it before meals.
To help us in the repetition of the mantra, we can use a mala, traditionally used in japa meditation and in ajapa japa, two forms of transcendental meditation that involve repeating the mantra for a specific number of times. Mastering this simple exercise can take months (it is really difficult to manage thoughts and not be overwhelmed by them), but, once the method is thoroughly assimilated and performed regularly, the benefits are permanent and unmatched: a free mind she is invariably happier, healthier and more likely to follow the path to awakening.
Meditation with a mantra
Let's see together what are the suggestions if you choose to meditate with a mantra. It is these modalities that will work well for any meditation that involves the repetition of a phrase, a prayer or a mantra, whether it is a non-denominational meditation, as well as if you intend to recite prayers.
For "formal" meditation with mantras, adopt a sitting posture, making sure your back is straight. You can use a pillow, yogablock, or sit on a stool or chair if that's more comfortable.
For informal practice, you can repeat the mantra in the back of your mind, with your eyes open, during other daily activities.
!!! Buddha taught that one meditates in the four postures: sitting, standing, walking and lying down. This means that the attention and sensitivity of meditative practice must be developed at any time of the day and during all our activities.
Chanting the mantra quickly energizes. Scanning it with a certain cadence calms the mind, but if the repetition is too fast or too slow, it will become an automatic process and your mind will get bored and start wandering too much or fall prey to sleep - it is absolutely normal!
The speed with which the mantra is recited also varies according to the length of the mantra: short ones (from one to three syllables) are often repeated more slowly than long mantras. Since the speed varies depending on the technique you are using, the advice is to experiment with different repetition speeds and see which is the most effective. Whether by repeating the mantra rapidly or by saying it slowly, the mind could enter a state of silence, where any background noise or superfluous thought is canceled. However, the "taste" of that silence can be different depending on how fast I recite the mantra. When it is repeated slowly, it is more common to feel a type of depth typical of theta waves. By repeating this quickly, mental silence is more likely to flow more intensely as gamma waves are generated.
In any case, it is better to maintain a uniform repetition rate, rather than changing it several times during a session.
Strength and volume If your mind is very noisy or if you are just starting out, it may be useful to “increase the volume” in the repetition of the mantra, making it stronger and more incisive. On the other hand, if your mind is calmer or if you are already familiar with Japamala meditation, the mantra can become more subtle and be recited in a low voice, like a high-frequency sound that can barely be heard. The word itself is almost lost and the mantra is perceived more as sound vibrations than as a pronounced sentence. Some mantras can also be recited only mentally (eg the "so hum" breath mantra).
Breathing You may or may not be able to synchronize the mantra with your breath. Some options to do this better are:
Breathe in and out as you say the mantra. It is obviously almost impossible to pronounce a word while inhaling (try it!). If the mantra is very short, like om, you can repeat it as you exhale; it is also possible to increase the speed and repeat it three times for each exhalation. If the mantra is long, then you can recite half of it during the first exhalation and the second half during the second. If you are reciting the mantra only mentally then you can also divide the times with the inspiration.
Be independent of breathing. Just focus on the mantra, paying attention to your breathing. Over time, the breath tends to naturally synchronize with the rhythm of the mantra.
Whether you are reciting the mantra or just listening to it, your mind's job is to actively pay attention to each repetition. Let each repetition be fresh, new, full of life and awareness. Merge your mind with the mantra. Become one with it. Let every part of your attention be on the mantra. One way to facilitate this process is to let your emotions flow into the practice - such as desire, curiosity, reverence, gratitude, or whatever makes sense for that particular mantra.
Think of the mantra as a radio station and your mind as an antenna. After some time you will notice that, even if some thoughts still cross your head, the mantra is on a deeper level of your mind. Move your awareness to that deeper level and try to stay there as long as possible. Finally, don't force your mind. Doing so would only create tension, which is not conducive to meditation. Your job is to simply maintain awareness of the mantra, momentarily, without it weighing too much on your thoughts. It is a continuous and relaxed awareness.
Progress and Levels
The more we repeat our mantra, the more we energize it. A one-syllable mantra, it is said, after 125,000 repetitions "gets a life of its own". It is our repeated attention that works with the mantra and charges it. The mantra then becomes the most powerful thought in your mind, and then you can truly count on it to bring peace and focus into your life.
Once the mantra gains this momentum, the repetition becomes easier and easier. It is almost as if we simply "initiate" or "access" the mantra, and it continues on its own, bringing us into a state of inner silence.
This is the traditional progress of the practice:
Verbal recitation - repeat it out loud. This simple mechanism engages your senses, making it easier to keep your attention focused.
The whisper - the lips and tongue move, but they produce only a faint sound. This practice is more subtle and profound than verbal recitation.
Mental recitation - repeat the mantra only in your mind. At first, of course, there will be some movement in the tongue and throat, but over time these too will cease, and the practice will be purely mental. This phase is the most common in mantra meditation.
Spontaneous listening - at this point you are no longer repeating the mantra, but the mantra continues by itself in your mind, spontaneously, always. At this point there is no need to worry about volume, speed, etc. Just listen to it repeating it as it naturally wants to be repeated. This level is called ajapa japa.
A very common mistake in beginners is wanting to skip levels and start directly with mental repetition, or spontaneous repetition. While it is not impossible to get there right away, it is much easier to follow this ladder to master mantra meditation.
Wherever you are on this scale, if you realize that your mind is withdrawing from the mantra, distracted by other thoughts or sleep, pause for a few seconds and then put a more conscious effort into using the mantra, until you will arrive at an effective result.
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