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We all have our unique differences and it’s important to celebrate those even when choosing a meditation technique. What works for one person may not work for another. We each have predispositions and lifestyle habits that make choosing a meditation technique an important process.

As long as we are living and breathing, the mind will be in motion

A young man sitting next to me on the plane asked, “what do you do?” “ I teach meditation ” I replied. “I know I need that but honestly I can’t stop my mind,” he said.

With a twinkle in my eye I said, “that’s a good thing because stopping the mind is not even possible.” He looked at me a bit confused and relieved.

As long as we are living and breathing, the mind will be in motion. Our mind even moves during sleep. And when we try to stop the mind, the waves of thought continue. Yet with practice and patience we can begin to steady and calm those waves. This requires us to gather and focus the mind and give it somewhere to rest.

At the core, most meditation techniques share the goal of bringing the mind to rest on one thing or what is called an object for meditation. Asking the mind to rest on anything can be a tall order, however, since the mind has an infinite number of directions it can travel through free association. In some meditative traditions they say the mind is like a drunken monkey. A great yoga master named Vivenanda said the mind is like a drunken monkey stung by a thousand scorpions.

The mind never stops. For example, if we start thinking about the word love, in a matter of just a few minutes we have thought of everyone who loves us, everyone we love, and those who don’t love us. Along with those thoughts we may feel a deep sense of joy when we think of those we love and then a profound sadness when thinking of those who don’t love us. When the mind is left unfocused it will wander endlessly taking us on a turbulent ride much like a roller coaster. The great yogis and meditators knew this and understood the need for gathering and focusing in order to gain mastery of the mind. Most of the great meditation techniques talk about using some kind of object to focus the attention.

How do we choose an object for meditation?

There are two choices when looking for a place to let the mind rest in meditation. One is something outside of you, or an external object, and another is something within, or an internal object.

Meditation Techniques that Use External Objects For Meditation

Meditation on a Candle Flame or Image

An example of an external object might be a candle flame, a flower, or a beautiful image like a landscape. This practice involves bringing the mind to connect with this external object and then focusing attention on it until you feel the urge to close your eyes and draw that image into your heart or mind. Once the image fades, gently open your eyes again and rest on the external object. Here you are straddling both the external world and internal world as you practice. This practice can be very calming and soothing.

This practice may best fit those who …

  • Prefer keeping the eyes open or who feel fear when closing the eyes
  • Tend to fall asleep in meditation with their eyes closed
  • Require a tangible transition from the activities of the day
  • Feel uplifted and inspired by the beauty around them

See Ornish Living article, Quieting the Mind With Open Eyes

Walking Meditation

In walking meditation the focus is on the slow movement of your footsteps connecting to the earth each time you take a step. It is done with your eyes open and your attention resting with each step you take. The breath and mind begin to slow down and come into a rhythm.

This practice may best fit those who …

  • Have a hard time sitting still
  • Don’t want to close their eyes to meditate
  • Need a physical practice to help them settle down
  • Are inspired by taking in their surroundings in a contemplative way (see Ornish Living article, Take a Walk in the Woods)

Mindfulness

Bringing your full attention to what you are doing while you are doing it is called mindfulness. When eating food (See Ornish Living, article How Mindful Eating Makes Us Happier and More Fulfilled) or doing daily tasks this involves bringing one-pointed awareness to your every action.

This practice may best fit those who …

  • Find multi tasking causes the mind to be overwhelmed.
  • Need the transition from work or activities.
  • Want to bridge the tasks of everyday life with the internal practice of meditation. (Listen to Ornish Eating Meditation practice.)
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Meditation Techniques that use Internal Objects for Meditation

Breath Centered Meditation

The breath flows in two directions. By letting our attention rest on this rhythmic flow of breath as it comes and goes, we can gather and focus our attention. When we slow the breath it soothes and calms the nervous system. We always have our breath with us and for this reason it makes it an easy choice for a meditation technique.

This practice may best fit those who …

  • Find the rhythm of breath soothing and grounding.
  • Are overworked or under a lot of stress.
  • Experience too much stimulation.
  • Are prone to anxiety.

Note: In some cases of anxiety or for those who have asthma or other breathing issues this may be too unsettling to let the attention rest on an irregular breath rhythm. In this case choosing one of the other meditation techniques may be a better place to start.

Meditation on a Word, Prayer, or Mantra

This involves letting the mind rest on a word, short prayer, or mantra. The word is repeated in the mind or heart. This technique is interwoven with mindfulness so that when thoughts and feelings arise they are held and observed without judgment. As we observe thoughts without judging we can begin to let go of them. It is then that the mind can gently return to its focus/object and rest.

This practice may best fit those who …

  • Feel connected to their religious/spiritual tradition and want to bridge meditation with their spiritual life.
  • Need the support of a sound to hold the attention inward.

Meditation on a Feeling

This is a practice that calls us inward using a feeling to anchor the attention. We recall a feeling that is uplifting and creates a sense of deep joy or peace. We hold that feeling in the heart and rest in it. When it fades, we return to that feeling and let it fill the heart again.

This practice may best fit those who …

  • Want to access emotions
  • Who easily access feelings and want to transcend them
  • Who spend a lot of time in the mind and would like to balance the thinking with feeling 

Every technique has value and one may work for you and not for someone else. Some people find that blending the techniques works best. So they might use a candle gazing meditation, and as the mind calms down they transition to a breath-centered mediation. While others start with following the breath and use a prayer or mantra once the breath has come into a quiet rhythm. There are no rules, yet once you find a technique that works, its important to stay with it so it can take you deeper. In time your practice will lead you to the depths of your own being in profound and powerful ways.

 

What meditation techniques have you tried, and found most helpful?

 

 

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

Better Health Begins With You...

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