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Vipassana meditation and its benefits

Updated on December 19, 2014

Vipassana meditation (insight meditation) is one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques. It was rediscovered by Gautam Buddha 2500 years ago. Five centuries after the Buddha, the noble heritage of Vipassana had disappeared from India. The purity of the teaching was lost elsewhere as well. In the country of Myanmar, however, it was preserved by a chain of devoted teachers. From generation to generation, over two thousand years, this dedicated lineage transmitted the technique in its pristine purity. In our time, Vipassana has been reintroduced to India and to citizens from more than eighty other countries.

Vipassana means ‘to see things as they really are”. This is a logical process of mental purification through self-observation. The practice of Vipassana leads step by step to the highest spiritual goal of full liberation from all mental defilements.

Vipassana meditation involves mindfulness of breathing and of thoughts, feelings and actions to gain an insight into the true nature of reality. Due to the popularity of Vipassana-meditation, the mindfulness of breathing has gained further popularity in the west as mindfulness meditation.

How to perform Vipassana meditation?-

The technique of Vispassana is simple and practical way to achieve real peace. To practice it correctly, a meditator should strictly adhere to the following steps –

Preparation of meditation -

  • Find a place where you can sit comfortably without interruptions. The place should be free of obtrusive noises such as television, constantly-ringing phones, and nearby conversations.
  • Avoid meditating in the bedroom because meditating in the bed may cause sleepiness. However, if you are ill or disabled, it is fine to practice in bed.
  • Wear loose clothing if possible and remove your shoes. If you have to meditate away from the home, you can meditate in the same clothes in a comfortable place.
  • It may be done in a posture of crossed legs on the floor or sitting in a comfortable chair. But don't let your back slump too much and keep it straight without making it tense.
  • Put your hands in your lap, one on top of the other, with the palms facing upward. Traditionally, the back of the right hand rests on top of the left palm.
  • Your eyes can be either open or closed. The beginners should close their eyes to allow easier concentration.
  • Occasionally, a meditator may experience disturbing mental images, in which case it may help to open the eyes.

Observation of movements of abdomen –

  • After choosing a suitable position, you should focus your attention to the abdomen. Don't actually look at it but just place your mind there.
  • As you breathe in, the abdomen expands; as you breathe out, it contracts. In Vipassana meditation, these movements are called, respectively, "rising" and "falling" of abdomen.
  • As the abdomen rises and falls, observe the motion from beginning to end. In the beginning, your mind will often wander during meditation, creating thoughts about the past and future. Be assured that this is normal.
  • When you catch yourself thinking, silently think for some seconds, and then gently return your attention to the rising-falling movements or whatever primary meditation object you were observing.
  • After gaining some experience you will notice that thoughts are very faint or stay in the background of awareness and don't engage your attention.
  • Actually, if you are aware that the mind has wandered, it means you are being mindfully present in the moment.
  • When observing a rising or a falling motion, ignore other objects. But if a sound or another object pulls your attention away from the abdominal movements, switch your attention to the sound or the object for some seconds. For those few seconds, ignore everything else, including the rising-falling motions.
  • Then return it to the primary meditation object and forget about the other object. The same applies to anything else you might observe like thoughts, emotions, itches, smells, and feelings, and so on.
  • When two or more objects such as a movement of abdomen and a sound occur simultaneously, observe the one that makes the strongest impact on the mind, or the one that triggers more desire or aversion.

Mental visions –

  • Some meditators see vivid mental images when reaching a certain stage of insight. Others never see such visions.
  • The images might be of anything such as people, animals, gardens, colors, decaying bodies, abstract shapes, or even the Buddha. These visions can range from exquisitely beautiful to very frightening.
  • But no matter how vivid they seem, these images are not real. They are neither good nor bad. The meditator should neither desire nor fear them.
  • If an image occurs, try to focus on the primary meditation object again such as the rising-falling motions, ignoring the image. Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, try to note the image impartially just as you would any other object without liking or disliking it.

Arousal of strong emotions –

  • It is natural during meditation that strong emotions may sometimes arise, which are created by the thoughts about various events of the past and the present.
  • Emotions are valid meditation objects of mindfulness. When an unpleasant emotion such as anger arises, don't get upset or try to suppress it. Nor should you try to look for a better object.
  • Just observe the emotion impartially for a few seconds. It will dissipate but if it persists, keep on observing it till it dissipates because you are not feeding it with your thoughts and reactions. You are just observing it.

Benefits of Vipassana meditation –

  • It reduces stress – It reduces stress in general as it lowers the stress hormone cortisol in the body.
  • It improves memory – Studies have shown that if performed regularly, it improves cognitive function with widespread consequences. Therefore, it improves working memory in those, who practice it regularly.
  • It introduces us to our true selves – It helps us conquer our blind spots, which amplify our own flaws beyond reality. It helps us view things beyond our rose-colored glasses and we start viewing things more objectively.
  • It protects the brain – Its practice is linked with increased axonal density and protective tissue (myelin) around the axons in the anterior cingulate brain region. These changes in the brain protect against some mental illnesses.
  • It improves control over pain and emotions – It helps brain to have better control over processing of pain and emotions specifically through the control of cortical alpha rhythms, which play a role in what senses our mind are attentive to.
  • It improves emotional processing in general – It has been shown that the response of amgdala region of the brain to emotional stimuli is changed by it. This effect occurs even when a person is not actively meditating.
  • It decreases emotional reactivity – The research suggests that its regular practice helped people disengage easily from the emotionally upsetting situations and enabled them to focus better on a cognitive task.
  • It makes music sound better – It improves our focus in music helping us to enjoy the experience of what we are listening to.
  • It makes us more compassionate – It makes us more compassionate and, therefore, it improves our interaction with people. It enhances our virtues and do-good behavior.
  • It promotes empathy – It promotes empathy in experienced meditators.
  • It improves general health – It improves general health in many ways including improvement in general immunity of the body so that it lowers yearly doctor’s costs.
  • It reduces loneliness in elderly – It decreases feeling of loneliness in elderly and boost their health by reducing the expression of genes linked with inflammation.
  • It reduces severity of colds – The researchers have shown that it shortens the duration and severity of symptoms of cold and respiratory diseases.
  • It decreases depression risk in pregnant women – This effect is limited but encouraging. Its regular practice leads to an empowered and positive feeling toward pregnancy.
  • It reduces ruminations – It reduces ruminative thoughts in the mind by developing the ability of letting go the unpleasant events of the past.
  • It promotes good sleep – It promotes good sleep by reducing anxiety and tension.

Conclusion - The technique of Vipassana meditation is quite simple and can be practiced by any one. A regular practice of Vipassana meditation confers many advantages on the meditator. It enhances the awareness of the individual, which extends to so many daily activities. The individual will start doing day-today activities with awareness in a state of flow, causing the individual to enjoy the particular activity. Another significant change a person will notice is that the person will have an altered reaction to a thing, person or situation than normally what the person has. The person will respond proactively to a thing, person or situation instead of an automatic reaction to it. Moreover, the person will view the situation in a detached way, which will enable him or her to have a better understanding of it. Vipassana meditation cultivates a new general perspective of viewing the events of life more dispassionately and, therefore, greatly reduces the negativity in life.

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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      2 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      There are many techniques of meditation and one has to find out what works best for oneself after trying different techniques. Vipassana meditation is a very old technique of Indian tradition.

      Thanks for appreciating my hub.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 

      2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      That was a very helpful post on meditation. What works for me is a silent meditation and focusing on a grey kind of TV screen so no images penetrate me. If they do I make them go back to the nothingness, or sometimes a burning flame works to keep my visions at bay. Great post.

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks a lot manatita44 and Dana Tate. Your comments encourage me.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 

      3 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      Great tips here I would always try meditating but somehow always got distracted.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      3 years ago from london

      Well presented and I'm sure a great help to many. Yes, Mindfulness have surely caught on in the West. All the best for 2015, Dr Pran.

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Pran Rangan 

      3 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for finding my hub helpful.

    • Deborah Demander profile image

      Deborah Demander 

      3 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      Thank you for writing this very helpful and informative hub. I appreciate your clear direction.

      Namaste

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