• Juan Jose Reyes M.D.

What is meditation?

An easy answer to clarify what is this practice called meditation and what style is better for you.

There are so many different apps offering thousands of meditations that most people get confused about exactly what meditation is and how to practice it.. In this post I will answer the question with clear and concise terms so you will know exactly what Meditation is and what are the different styles so you can better decide which one is more appropriate for you.

Many people have the wrong concept of meditation and believe that meditating is actually just clearing the mind and achieving some altered mental state. Other people believe the opposite , and believe meditating is thinking deeply about a certain issue. Some people believe meditation is just a way to relax. None of these concepts are correct.

Meditation is simply the process of training the mind to develop positive human qualities. This positive human qualities could be awareness of the present moment , kindness, compassion , gratitude and many others.

"Meditation is simply the process of training the mind to cultivate positive human qualities."

World renowned buddhist monk and teacher, Matthieu Ricard, states that " The aim of meditation is to transform the mind. It does not have to be associated with any particular religion. Every one of us has a mind and every one of us can work on it. This mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy". He also says that we spend a lot time trying to change the external conditions of our lives , but in the end, it is always the mind that creates our experience of the world and translates this experience into either well-being or suffering. If we transform our way of perceiving things, we transform the quality of our lives."

Based on this definiton of meditation, I think is important to know or have a clear understanding of what is the positive quality we are trying to cultivate when we sit in a particular type of meditation. This framework can be used also to differentiate all the different styles of meditation. In other words we can classify the different styles based on the quality they cultivate.

Mindfulness meditation cultivates awareness of the present moment, and this is a key element that differentiates it with all other types of meditation. It is based on an old buddhist style of meditation called Vipassana and is said to be the type of meditation that the Buddha practiced and what he used to achieve enlightenment. In mindfulness meditation we simply observe the activity of mind and train our attention to focus on the present moment.

"Mindfulness meditation cultivates awareness of the present moment, and this is the key element that differentiates mindfulness from all other types of meditation."

All other types of meditations cultivate different human qualities or have different objectives. For example, repeating mantras or focusing on a specific object are aimed primarily at cultivating concentration. Loving-kindness meditation helps cultivate kindness and compassion to self and others. Some meditations use affirmations or visualizations to create transient positive emotions. What differentiates all these other type of meditations with mindfulness meditation is that they use the mind instead of observing the mind. Also, they don't focus on staying in the present moment, and in some of them, like visualizations (of a place or a light, the mind actually moves away from the present moment . Chakra meditations, commonly used by yoga teachers focus on energy centers.

Here is an easy ( probably over simplistic) way of classifying the different styles of meditation: On one side I would put mindfulness meditation and on the the other side All others. Why?

First because mindfulness meditation is the only that focuses on awareness of the present moment , which is a key element in developing many other positive qualities and second , because is the type of meditation that thousands of scientific research studies have proven that it can actually changes the brain. And third, because in mindfulness meditation we are observing the mind and not using the mind to do anything in particular

In closing, by training the mind we can change our habitual way of being. And with mindfulness meditation we can actually change our brain to be more resilient in times of stress and also more emotionally stable and connected. This a way of being and not a quick fix. It takes time and effort but is time well spent.