There are as many techniques of Buddhist meditation as there are ways to just sit and think. A Buddhist meditates to strengthen their concentration, to — send good vibes –, to clear their cluttered minds, or to be more aware of their surroundings; and these are just a few examples.
As a formal student of Buddhism, One will focus on the styles of posture and meditation that we use at the Center for Pragmatic Buddhism. Our credo of — sit and watch — reminds us that we mostly meditate to strengthen our awareness of the world around us and to remind us of the dependent origination of all things.
Posture is the most important element in any meditation. The body should be centered over the hips and a point of balance found for the upper body and the head. Ideally the alignment of the spine should allow the muscles of the back, shoulders and neck to relax. This will minimize the strain of long periods of sitting and keep the airway fully open from inhalation to exhalation. Four meditation postures are taught at the Center for Pragmatic Buddhism. These are the half lotus, Burmese, chair (for those with muscle and joint problems), and seiza positions. The full lotus is also used by those able to sit in that difficult position.
We practice five different styles of meditation. Each one is meant to bring us closer to recognizing what goes on in our consciousness as we sit and watch the arising of each thought. These techniques can be used singly or in tandem. A period of watching the breath followed by bell meditation, walking meditation followed by awareness cultivation, or other combinations. Different techniques bring the bodymind to focus on different aspects of the consciousness.
Watching the breath is a well-known meditative technique. It is simply being aware of each in-breath and out-breath. Breathing is an autonomic process that creates a rhythm that will draw the bodymind to a deep sense of calm. This is how most students begin their meditation practice, but most find it is not as easy as it sounds.
Bell meditation is a personal favorite. A bell bowl (ching) is used to create a vibrant tone. With eyes closed the practitioner follows the sound from its beginning until the last vibrations fade away. The bell is struck again, sometimes harder or softer to create different tones and each are followed the same way. The combination of tone and vibration can bring the bodymind to sharp focus.
Reciting a mantra, repeating a short syllable word like OM (Aum) is part of popular culture. That does not detract from the particular effectiveness of this form of meditation. The mantra sound resonates as the throat constricts through the end of each repetition. In martial arts training this technique is used to teach breath control that is essential for the student.
Walking meditation strengthens awareness of the body’s center of gravity and the muscles used in the simple act of taking a step. The body is held erect over the hips as each measured step is taken, the heel of the leading foot in line with the toes of the back foot. Hands are clasped with the thumbs just below the navel and the bodymind focus is on maintaining balance with each step. The leader taps a wooden block with each step to maintain a rhythmic walk.
The Japanese tradition of Zazen is easily described as Zen –i sit, i watch. This meditation technique is not meant to erase or clear the mind, instead it is meant to allow the practitioner to be more aware of their personal circumstance. It is not a way to not think. It is awareness cultivation that allows each thought to pass by without judgment. The thoughts are neither good or bad, they just are. It is the moment that is important, not the before or the after.
Regardless of the meditative technique a person uses, meditation is a proven way to strengthen the bodymind for neither can be separate from the other. Modern science has shown the undeniable benefits to the mind from regular meditative practice.