Meditation is a form of discipline which involves focusing the mind on being in a heightened state of awareness or any object of contemplation. Generally, it involves turning ones attention to a single reference point, which results in attaining an elevated state of consciousness. Meditation has been around for more than 5000 years, and is practiced in some form or the other in practically all cultures and religions of the world.
Despite meditation being universal, various cultures have various techniques. For example, while some involve being mindful, like Vipassana, wherein the individual practicing it lets thoughts flow freely and observing them, others are concentrative, wherein the practitioner focuses his or her mind on something particular. These techniques can either lead to mental quietude or a high level of mental concentration.
Of late, the ancient meditation techniques of the East, from the cultures of India, China, Japan, etc., have become highly popular in the West, many of them being adapted to suit the requirements of western cultures. Given below are some of the effective techniques that have been practiced since centuries.
Mantra: A mantra is basically a word, or a phrase, that is chanted repeatedly either mentally or out aloud. When a mantra is uttered out aloud, the sound is said to create powerful vibrations, allowing the mind to focus as well as concentrate more fully on the sound, while clearing away other emotions, thoughts, and distractions that sap the energy. The mind becomes sharper, the senses more acute, thus resulting in heightened perceptiveness, with all the clutter being cleared away from the mind. In this heightened state of consciousness, one is able to connect with one's soul at a profound level, resulting in a state of universal consciousness. As practiced in Hinduism, the original source of the mantra meditation technique, Sanskrit words like 'Om', or 'Om Namah Shivaya', or 'Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya', etc., are chanted. However, any other words or sounds can be used, such as 'Peace be to all', or 'I surrender myself to you', and so on.
Vipassana: The term 'vipassana' literally means 'insight', or seeing things as they actually are. This can be done via a process involving self-observation. It means opening up one's mind and becoming aware of the constant passage of feelings and sensations, thoughts, images, smells, sounds, and so on, without getting in contemplating about them. The practitioner merely sits and witnesses everything going through his/her mind, without reacting or getting involved with the memories or feelings they may evoke. This is said to help to attain a clearer, calmer state of mind, which can remain non-reactive.
Chakra: According to this meditation technique there are several points along the spinal cord where charkas, or high energy points, are located. Each of these charkas has its unique properties and characteristics. Basically, these charkas are representative of various levels of consciousness development and energy manifestation. The chakra technique involves focusing one's mind on each of these charkas, which are seven in number, starting from the root chakra, known as the muladhara chakra located at the base of the spine, to the svadhistana chakra located at the navel, to the manipura chakra located just above the navel and below the chest, to the anahata chakra located at the heart, to the visshuda chakra located in the throat, to the ajna chakra located on the forehead, right up to the topmost, the sahasrara chakra or the crown chakra, staying on each chakra for 3-4 minutes. Then reverse the whole sequence, with spending about 30 seconds on each chakra. Then, just focusing on a single chakra, such as the anahata chakra, which is located in the breast, going into deep contemplative meditation for 15 minutes.
Apart from the above, there are a number of other effective techniques such as: Nada Yoga, Zazen, Raja Yoga, Trataka, Yoga Nidra or Transcendental Meditation, and so on.