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Sitting cross-legged in silence or chanting a vowel is what most think of when they hear the word “meditation.”
While sitting and chanting are quite common, they are by no means the only types. That would be boring.
There are many more marvelous meditation techniques out there. These five are much less well-known in mainstream circles, but shouldn’t be because of the various health benefits they offer, in addition to the health benefits of more common meditations.
1) Hugging Meditation
Turns out, hugging isn’t just for greeting or saying goodbye to loved ones or friends. Hugging can be quite the morale and body booster, making it extremely powerful medicine for the soul.
“…new research out of Carnegie Mellon indicates that feeling connected to others, especially through physical touch, protects us from stress-induced sickness. This research adds to a large amount of evidence for the positive influence of social support on health.”
More studies are being done on the benefits of hugging. But before there was much, if any, research on this subject, the Zen Buddhist Thích Nhất Hạnh began developing hugging meditation back in the 1960s. Brain Pickings describes the practice of hugging meditation as,
“[having] to really hug the person you are holding. You have to make him or her very real in your arms, not just for the sake of appearances, patting him on the back to pretend you are there, but breathing consciously and hugging with all your body, spirit, and heart. Hugging meditation is a practice of mindfulness. ‘Breathing in, I know my dear one is in my arms, alive. Breathing out, she is so precious to me.’ If you breathe deeply like that, holding the person you love, the energy of your care and appreciation will penetrate into that person and she will be nourished and bloom like a flower.”
From my own experience, this type of meditation is definitely something that needs to be more prevalent in many Western cultures, thanks in part to the absence of physicality the internet inadvertently cultivates. Being embraced in this way is extremely soothing, and I find it immediately brings me back into the present moment no matter what is happening within or around me.
2) Laughter Yoga/Meditation
Another form of meditation that continues to rise in popularity is called Laughter Yoga. The whole concept behind this growing practice is about showing that laughter isn’t just good medicine, but also can be used in a meditative way.
Sometimes I find myself bursting with laughter in the middle of a meditation. In those moments, there is a powerful grounding effect that, while hard to describe, is akin to a puzzle piece falling into place. For me, it brings about a clarity of perspective.
The “healing power” of laughter has many proponents, like Patch Adams. All seem to inherently recognize the “healing power” of laughter and its many benefits. But, scientists are only scratching the surface in their research on laughter. According to The Daily Om,
“Humor may help temper intense pain. James Rotton, Ph.D., of Florida International University, reported that orthopedic surgery patients who watched comedic videos requested fewer aspirin and tranquilizers than the group that viewed dramas.”
3) Dancing and Shaking Meditation
While these two forms of meditation differ slightly in their practice and aim, they nonetheless go together due to their focus on movement. Unlike more popular and calm alternatives such as Qigong or Yoga, these forms of meditation are much more ecstatic.
First, there’s Shaking, also called Shaking Medicine. This tradition has been around for perhaps thousands of years. As Bradford Keeney describes in an 2007 issue of Spirituality & Health,
“Members of the world’s oldest living culture, the Bushman shamans—men and women—are probably descendants of the original custodians of shaking medicine. Their dance is based upon a disciplined way of arousing and orchestrating ecstatic body experience.”
According to various traditions, the most important part of Shaking is that one doesn’t consciously make a decision to start shaking, but rather it’s supposed to be a spontaneous shaking that erupts throughout the body. It also starts rather calmly, where one simply begins moving around, perhaps swaying gently to music while slowly increasing the rate of breathing and wiggling various muscles. Over time, the shaking will supposedly take hold, making it less like a dance and more like an explosion of movement. As Keeney also says in the article,
“In this spirited expression, the shake and the vibration are more important than the dance.”
But Dancing Meditation is a little bit different. Some call it conscious dancing, others might call it ecstatic dancing. Whatever we decide to call it, it’s no secret why dancing meditation is so wonderful.
Personally, I’ve found this type of dancing to be extremely healing. There’s something about a group of people coming together to dance for a higher (and sometimes spiritual) purpose. Not to mention, it’s a great form of exercise.
There are numerous health benefits to incorporating all kinds of movement into one’s life. It’s a working out of our hearts, muscles and metabolism.
Depending on the organizers of each event, talking might be discouraged as focus is placed on the dancing itself as a form of communication and means of connection. This is where magic is cultivated between people. I’ve found myself sharing a deep connection with various dance partners without saying a single word or even knowing their name.
As it so happens, one study has shown that dancing, especially with someone else, or in a group leads to bonding. These meditations are especially helpful to people who spend a lot of time sitting in one place for long periods.
4) Eating Meditation
So let’s say for a moment we don’t have time to do a little dancing, hug someone, and are definitely not in a space where we can laugh out loud. Maybe we’re the kind of person whose only break during the day is lunch.
Luckily, there is a meditation for people like that, too.
Eating and meditation might seem like they don’t go together; however, with a little bit of practice, this form of meditation could wind up being extremely beneficial. Eating meditation, sometimes called mindful eating, is a highly underrated practice that could help with the burgeoning obesity problem in the United States, not to mention help all of us slow down at perhaps one of the most important times of the day. The health benefits of an eating meditation are as bountiful as the food we chow down upon.
At first, this meditation can seem tedious, especially for Westerners like myself who often inhale their food in a frenzy. When practicing this meditation once in awhile, I’m often confronted by these fast-paced urges to stuff my face, despite the fact that I know my meal isn’t going to disappear in a puff of smoke. This type of meditation reveals just how much the act itself slows things down.
Thích Nhất Hạnh and Pema Chödrön, two well known advocates of meditation, make sure to include this meditation in their lives. In her book, No Time to Lose, Pema Chödrön describes what she calls the “Three-Bite Practice,”
“You can do this anytime you eat a meal. Before taking the first bite, just pause and think of those men and women of wisdom, and mentally offer them your food. In this way, you connect with the virtue of devotion.
Before taking the second bite, pause and offer your food to all those who’ve been kind to you. This nurtures the virtues of gratitude and appreciation. The third bite is offered to those who are suffering: all the people and animals who are starving, or being tortured or neglected, without comfort or friends. Think, too, of all of us who suffer from aggression, craving, and indifference. This simple gesture awakens the virtue of compassion.
In this way—by relying on our teachers, our benefactors, and those in need—we gather the virtues of devotion, gratitude, and kindness.”
5) Eye Gazing
So maybe some aren’t as comfortable practicing a hugging meditation. That’s totally cool. Maybe some are better suited for practicing eye gazing. Traditionally, there are many different kind of gazing meditations that fall into an umbrella term called Trāṭaka. A typical Trāṭaka meditation involves staring at some sort of flame, or perhaps running water in a natural setting, although it could be just about anything. However, eye gazing is a type of Trāṭaka meditation that has been gaining popularity, thanks in part to people all over the world emphasizing the power of sharing a moment with others.
What’s interesting about eye gazing isn’t just the fact that it creates a certain amount of bonding between individuals. To some extent, that seems obvious. What’s even more interesting about it, according to a recent study, is that it has the potential to alter your mind in the same way an LSD trip can.
As you can see, many of these meditations also create a sense of connection with others, making them an inspired choice for couples or friends.
But all of these meditations offer other byproducts that our more traditional sitting or walking meditations do not. This isn’t to say those are lesser forms of meditation by any means. This article also isn’t meant to imply that we should be practicing these forms of meditation all the time or that we should be meditating every waking hour of the day. This is simply to point out alternatives and how they can help us grow.