Commonalities Among Types of Meditation
Meditation is an umbrella term, like “exercise.” Just as swimming, running and weightlifting all train your body in different ways, meditation encompasses hundreds of procedures, each training your mind in a slightly or completely different way.
The most popular traditional methods of meditation are Vipassana (a.k.a., Insight or Mindfulness), Zazen, Vedic (or Yogic), Transcendental Meditation (TM) and Dzogchen. Without getting into too much detail on each of these, suffice to say they have a lot in common. There are four key components to all of these meditation styles:
1) You’re calming down.
Meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system, a.k.a., the “rest-and-digest” system, bringing your body into physiological coherence. Coherence is defined as a "balanced state that is typically characterized by feeling content, happy, in control and in sync within [yourself] and with others.”
2) You’re honing your “attention muscles.”
Any form of meditation requires concentration, the ability to sustain single-pointed attention by focusing on the object of meditation. For example, in Vipassana and Zazen, this object is the breath, while in TM the meditator repeats a mantra.
3) You’re pacifying the narrating mind.
Meditation brings you into the present moment and works to shut down what I call your Virtual Simulator, the part of the brain that generates what-if scenarios in your head.
4) You’re getting to know your own mind.
When you sit down to meditate you’ll begin to see how your mind really works, like a car mechanic taking a look under the hood. Some techniques practice this more than others.
The myriad benefits of meditation come largely from these four mental shifts. If they sound simple enough, I can assure you that the untrained mind is completely out of your control, and you may not realize this until you begin to meditate. If you’ve meditated before, you know just how challenging all four components can be.