An ordinary person may consider meditation as a worship or prayer. But it is not so. Meditation means awareness. Whatever you do with awareness is meditation. "Watching your breath" is meditation; listening to the birds is meditation. As long as these activities are free from any other distraction to the mind, it is effective meditation.
Meditation is not a technique but a way of life. Meditation means 'a cessation of the thought process' . It describes a state of consciousness, when the mind is free of scattered thoughts and various patterns . The observer (one who is doing meditation) realizes that all the activity of the mind is reduced to one.
A Tibetan Lama was being monitored on a brain scan machine by a scientist wishing to test physiological functions during deep meditation. The scientist said - "Very good Sir. The machine shows that you are able to go very deep in brain relaxation, and that validates your meditation". "No", said the Lama, "This (pointing to his brain) validates the machine!".
These days it is commonly understood to mean some form of spiritual practice where one sits down with eyes closed and empties the mind to attain inner peace, relaxation or even an experience of God. Some people use the term as "my gardening is my meditation" or for jogging or art or music, hence creating confusion or misunderstanding. The word meditation, is derived from two Latin words : meditari(to think, to dwell upon, to exercise the mind) and mederi (to heal). Its Sanskrit derivation 'medha' means wisdom.
Many years ago meditation was considered something just not meant for modern people, but now it has become very popular with all types of people. Published scientific and medical evidence has proved its benefits, but it still needs to be much understood. Traditionally, the classical yoga texts, describe that to attain true states of meditation one must go through several stages. After the necessary preparation of personal and social code, physical position, breath control, and relaxation come the more advanced stages of concentration, contemplation, and then ultimately absorption. But that does not mean that one must perfect any one stage before moving onto the next. The Integral yoga approach is simultaneous application of a little of all stages together.
Commonly today, people can mean any one of these stages when they refer to the term meditation. Some schools only teach concentration techniques, some relaxation, and others teach free form contemplative activities like just sitting and awaiting absorption. Some call it meditation without giving credence to yoga for fear of being branded 'eastern'. But yoga is not something eastern or western as it is universal in its approach and application.
With regular practice of a balanced series of techniques, the energy of the body and mind can be liberated and the quality of consciousness can be expanded. This is not a subjective claim but is now being investigated by the scientists and being shown by an empirical fact.
“Vipassana is an ancient Buddhist meditation technique discovered by Gautama Buddha 2,500 years ago. Vipassana – means seeing through or insight meditation. The main focus of Vipassana is to know thyself and to confront true reality.
Vipassana also means to see things as they are. Vipassana is an insight that cuts through conventional perception to perceive mind and matter as they actually are: impermanent, unsatisfactory, and impersonal. Insight meditation gradually purifies the mind, eliminating all forms of attachment. As attachment is cut away, desire and delusion are gradually diluted. The Buddha identified these two factors— desire and ignorance— as the roots of suffering. When they are finally removed, the mind will touch something permanent beyond the changing world. That “something” is the deathless, supramundane happiness, called “Nibbana” in Pali.” (Vipassana Dura Meditation Society) Vipassana meditation is not a religion, but a tool and can be used by everybody to free you from suffering and attain awakening. Insight meditation is not an escape from the reality and everyday life. Rather, it is an ultimate confrontation with the reality and fully awakening.”
Vipassana meditation isn't only popular with Indians. Many travelers like to take time out to study Vipassana in India. This style of meditation is derived from Theravada Buddhism, although the course is free of religious teachings. The introductory Vipassana meditation course is a 10 day silent residential program that focuses on observing the breath and bodily sensations. Days begin at 4.30 a.m., so it's not for the feint hearted. However, the course, food, and accommodation are all free of charge. These are the top centers for Vipassana meditation in India
The world's largest Vipassana meditation center, known as Dhamma Giri, is located at the Vipassana Research Institute at Igatpuri in Maharastra. It's around three hours from Mumbai. The center offered its first course to the public in 1976 and now tens of thousands study there every year. Over 400 "cells" are provided for individual meditation, which is appealing for those who want to undertake intensive practice in solitude away from other bodies. The 10 days courses are in high demand and are held twice a month
The Dhamma Pattana Vipassana meditation center is located on a hill overlooking the beach town of Gorai, in the outer norther suburbs of Mumbai . India's newest Vipassana center, it's part of the renowned Global Pagoda complex that opened in 2009. The building is modern, and all residential rooms are equipped with western facilities and air conditioning. The distinctive feature about the Vipassana taught here is that it's geared towards business executives and professionals. The technique is the same but the course contains additional talks specifically related to using Vipassana principles for dealing with stresses of the business world.
If you fancy meditating at the place where Lord Buddha became enlightened, head to the Dhamma Bodhi Vipassana meditation center in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. The recently renovated and expanded compound is located around four kilometers west of town, near Magadha University. 10 day courses generally start on the first and 16th of every month. November to February are the busiest months. There's space for around 80 students at a time. The beneficial thing about studying Vipassana meditation in Bodh Gaya is that courses in Buddhist philosophy are also available from other local organizations. This is convenient for those with an interest in Buddhism.
Meditating in the mountains, surrounded by fresh air and towering pine trees, makes for a particularly memorable experience. If the thought of this appeals to you, the Sikhara Dhamma Vipassana meditation center in Dharamasala is the place to go. It's one of the most picturesque centers in India. 10 day courses are offered fortnightly from April to November.
Situated amid paddy fields and open farmland on the outskirts of Chennai in south India, Dhamma Setu Vipassana meditation center is a peaceful, tropically landscaped paradise. It's another relatively new center that opened in 2005. The center's impressive golden pagoda has almost 300 individual meditation "cells" for students. Additional meditation halls also accommodate over 100 students. The popular 10 day course is held twice a month. Children's courses are also offered.