Get Your ‘Om’ On in the New Year: Meditation Techniques

Get happy, get healthy: These goals top many a New Year’s resolution list. This year, kill two birds with one stone with a practice that has been shown to build inner peace and mind-body health for millennia. Whether you’re a meditation master in need of a fresh challenge, or a curious newbie ready to take the plunge, the ancient technique is a great skill to pick up or develop in the new year, since it’s one you can rely on when life’s ups and downs prove challenging. These books demystify the practice and describe a variety of techniques—from Qi Gong, an exercise meditation, to Transcendental Meditation, the method of choice among of Hollywood’s elite.

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Mindfulness meditation: Develop self-awareness
Mindfulness meditation is often the first step for novice meditators, and for good reason: not only is it a valuable skill for any life situation, it’s also an elemental part of other, higher-level meditation techniques. Roughly defined, mindfulness is the formal practice of paying nonjudgmental attention to one’s own thoughts since, when we observe our perceptions and feelings with lucidity and honesty, we can begin to relax the grip they have on us. In “The Miracle of Mindfulness,” influential Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh explains the crucial role mindfulness plays in Eastern religions and the far-reaching effects the simple practice can have. Jon Kabat-Zinn‘s “Wherever You Go, There You Are” offers Western readers a step-by-step guide for practicing mindfulness, beginning with breathing exercises and moving on to techniques for specific life issues. A go-to handbook for any situation is Donald Altman’s “One Minute Mindfulness,” which delivers on the simplicity of the practice with exercises that take only moments out of your day.

Visualization meditation: See to believe
Creative visualization meditation gained popularity during New Thought movement of the 1960s and 1970s. A kind of meditative equivalent of Rhonda Byrne‘s “The Secret” or Wayne Dyer‘s “Wishes Fulfilled,” the practices’s central idea is that one can alter the reality of the outer world by changing one’s inner thoughts and emotions. The meditation work involves focusing intently on the image of one’s desired reality in order to manifest it in the external world. Shakti Gawain, an authority on the technique, lays out a step-by-step program for mastering the method in his book, “Creative Visualization.”

Qi Qong: Get physical
For those who find stationary meditation too physically passive, Qi Gong blends mental development with exercise. Comprised of body movements that aim to blast open psychosomatic blocks and restore health, the ancient Chinese practice is one of the most popular “movement meditation” techniques. Stanley D. Wilson’s “Qi Gong for Beginners” provides an easy-to-follow introduction, focusing on eight core movements. “The Way of Qigong,” by Ken Cohen, explores the history of the tradition and the spiritual and physical benefits that have helped to win devotees for millennia.

Zazen: Find your Zen
Zazen, or Zen meditation, resembles mindfulness meditation, but as the heart of Zen Buddhism, the practice involves a history, philosophy and purpose all its own. Zazen practitioners famously sit with legs folded, spine erect and hands folded together over the belly (no stock image of meditation is more pervasive in pop culture) and the meditation work typically consists of three parts: concentration, introspection via recitation of Zen koans and Shikantaza (sitting). “Zen Meditation in Plain English,” by John Daishin Buksbazen, with a foreword by novelist and Zen practitioner Peter Matthiessen, makes this more mysterious practice accessible to Western readers. Koun Yamada’s “The Gateless Gate” presents an authoritative collection of the riddle-like koans, which, independent of Zen practice, make for delectably mind-bending reading. And “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind,” Shunryu Suzuki‘s classic, explains the history and philosophy of Zen and Zazen, beginning with a famous line that evokes Zen’s paradoxical blend of expansive thinking and mental discipline: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Transcendental meditation: Expand your consciousness
Transcendental meditation (TM) is the most popular form of “mantra meditation” and is a technique of choice among celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld and David Lynch. For 15-20 minutes per day, TM practitioners sit in deep concentration, repeating an individual mantra (a word or phrase usually provided by an instructor). The aim of TM is to reduce anxiety as well to increase creativity, which accounts for its popularity among artists and entertainers. “Transcendence,” by psychiatrist Norman E. Rosenthal, provides an authoritative history and how-to, while David Lynch‘s book, “Catching the Big Fish,”captures the inspiring experience of TM—the wildly imaginative film director likens it to swimming in an “ocean of consciousness.”

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