Vipassana meditation is a special kind of mindfulness practice. In this article, we will explain to you exactly how it works, where it comes from and how it works.
Vipassana Meditation: Meaning and Origin
Vipassana meditation originally comes from India and is one of the oldest types of meditation. In Buddhism, Vipassana means ” insight “. This insight relates to the three characteristics of existence: “impermanence”, “not-self” and “suffering”.
If you translate the word from Sanskrit into German, you can paraphrase it as “seeing apart”. You can imagine this kind of seeing as a profound understanding of external and internal processes that is completely free of illusions. So the idea is that you get rid of so-called mental impurities. In this way, you learn to recognize exactly how and why your thoughts and feelings come about and what causes progress or regression in your life.
Meditation should help to recognize things that remain hidden from you in everyday life due to stress and inattention and thus cause suffering. The goal of vipassana meditation is to get rid of this suffering. In addition, the practice should make you aware of the common origin of the mind and body so that your mind can become clearer and more alert. Even if Vipassana meditation is practiced especially in Buddhism, it is not tied to any particular religion.
Different approaches to vipassana meditation
Depending on which Buddhist scholar you follow, you can practice Vipassana meditation in different ways. All approaches have in common that they are based on the ancient scriptures of the Buddha and that breathing movements and the perception of the entire body play a central role. This can be done in the following ways, for example:
- In some approaches, you sense breathing by just focusing on your nostrils and watching them widen and contract with each breath. In this sense, “observation” is not to be understood as visual activity, but rather means the conscious and judgment-free perception of your breaths.
- Sometimes you also consciously breathe into your stomach and concentrate on raising and lowering your abdominal wall.
- With other forms, attention is focused on the entire course of a breath. You perceive the movement of the nostrils as well as the chest or abdominal wall.
- A type of body scan often follows breath perceptions. So you wander through your body in your mind and direct your attention one after the other to all parts of your organism.
- The attitude with which you carry out these processes also depends on the views of the respective scholar. However, a central instruction of all approaches is that you should only observe without judging or reacting in any other way.
- In the course of the vipassana meditation, thoughts will arise again and again that will distract you. The aim is not to suppress these thoughts but to consciously give them only a small part of your attention. Therefore only perceive it as a short snapshot and then carefully direct your consciousness back to the meditation.
- Some approaches to vipassana meditation focus, particularly on our physical impermanence. You should become aware of this when you perceive your body and meet it with serenity and acceptance.
Vipassana Instruction: The Perception of the Breath
You can learn a Vipassana meditation, for example, as part of a course lasting several days or with the help of an audio file. This is particularly suitable for beginners, as a voice gently guides you through the meditation process. The best way to find out about courses is at yoga or meditation centers in your city. If this is not possible for you, you can alternatively follow the instructions below:
- For the vipassana meditation, you should wear comfortable clothes and stay in an undisturbed environment. So it is best to turn off your cell phone and inform your family or roommates that you will not be available for the next 20 to 60 minutes.
- Now get into a sitting position. You can sit cross-legged or kneel down for this. You can use a pillow or yoga mat as a base. Make sure to sit up straight and not lean against anything.
- Now close your eyes and focus your attention on your breathing. You don’t have to breathe in any special way now. Just let your breath flow naturally and watch. You may feel your rib cage or your stomach thinking rise and fall, or your nostrils changing.
- Now try to expand your awareness of the movement of your breath with each breath. For this, feel how the air rushes into your nose and at the same time lift your stomach and chest. When the breath goes, you in turn watch the stomach and chest sag and the airflow out through your nose. Repeat for a few breaths.
- Now imagine how the oxygen you breathe in replenishes all of your cells and gives you new energy. Think of the exhalation as a process in which everything used and unnecessary flows out of your body and imagine how you let go of everything old.
Vipassana meditation: The body awareness
If you want to go one step further, you can now also promote your mindfulness with a kind of body scan:
- To do this, you clench one hand into a fist and only stretch out your index finger. For example, place your hand on your leg.
- Take a deep breath in and out and now direct all of your attention to the outstretched index finger. Observe which thoughts and feelings arise in you and accept them without reacting actively.
- Perhaps the concentration on your finger is now noticeable through a tingling sensation. Maybe the finger also feels warm or cold. Notice all of these sensations.
- You can now repeat this exercise with your remaining fingers. You can then focus your attention on your toes, feet, legs, and upper body one at a time until you get to the head.
- If the exercise is still difficult for you, however, it is sufficient if you only concentrate on one finger and keep adding another body part over the next few days.
- When you want to end the meditation, you begin to gently move your fingers and toes. Then you circle your wrists and stretch out your body once. Then gently open your eyes again.
What does meditation bring you?
Like other mindfulness practices, vipassana meditation is also particularly intended to reduce stress, relieve tension, and train resilience. Meditation has played a bigger role in scientific circles for some time now. However, previous studies usually only refer to the generic term meditation. There is no scientific knowledge about vipassana meditation as such.
According to the science magazine Research and Teaching, meditation is not just a thought and relaxation exercise, it also has a positive effect on our emotional world and our interpersonal relationships. The exact effects vary depending on the type of meditation. As a therapeutic measure for psychological problems, meditation should only be used as a supplement. It cannot replace psychotherapy. In addition, in this case, it does not work more effectively than conventional relaxation training.
Regular meditations may also affect the structure of our brain. A Havard study from 2011 examined this connection. According to the results, an eight-week meditation program led not only to stress reduction but also to a measurable change in brain regions. This affects the regions that control our ability to learn and remember, as well as empathy and self-awareness, among other things.