What is Vipassana Meditation? A Guide to Learning the Practice

Amber Murphy
Amber Murphy

When it comes to meditation, the traditions and types of meditation are numerous. Recently, however, there’s been an increased interest in meditation. Most of the forms of meditation being practiced and taught in the west are based on or a form of what is known as Vipassana meditation.

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What is vipassana meditation?

Vipassana meditation is a traditional Buddhist practice to gain insight or clear awareness of what is happening as it happens. This meditation uses concentration as a vehicle to remove the illusionary wall and enable you to see reality clearly. It is a gradual process that increases your awareness of the inner workings of reality, and after years of practice, you will go into a permanent state of liberation. This liberation is the liberation of desires and suffering, which is the goal of all Buddhist systems.

The word “Vipassana” itself translates literally to “insight.” The origins of this practice date back to over 2,500 years when it was practiced in India. Buddha is said to have rediscovered this ancient meditative practice. After he became enlightened, he spent the remainder of his life teaching many of the principles and wisdom of Vipassana, including cultivating a deep understanding of desire and suffering, making it the oldest Buddhist meditation practice.

Centuries later, Vipassana, and how commonly it was practiced, vanished in India. Only through generations of teachers in Burma, passing this knowledge down, did it survive. Today, Vipassana has seen a resurgence in interest and practice all over the world, including in India. It’s also practiced in a variety of ways through different interpretations.

How to learn Vipassana meditation

Buddhist statue

The following sections give you a brief overview of nine Vipassana meditations and methods to practice them. You can learn with a teacher, at a meditation retreat, or learn meditation on your own at home. They’re not sorted in any order, and you can do one or some or all of them.

Practicing one or two meditations is enough if it is practiced consistently. Beginners can practice one or two necessary steps daily before they take on other advanced meditation practices. Though the concrete steps are straightforward to do in these meditations, the actual power lies in bringing your concentration as described in each of the practices.

While meditating, your mind may wander, or you may feel some strong emotions such as anger, which are all valid. You need to acknowledge it and watch your mind without resisting or reacting to it.

Suitable place for meditation

First, you need to find a place where you can sit comfortably without distractions like music or your phone. There can be any background noises, and these shouldn’t be considered as things preventing you from meditating. You shouldn’t use earplugs to block noise, as sounds should be and can be incorporated into the practice. It’s always better to sit on the floor or on the ground without your back leaning on to any wall or a chair.

Clothing

You should wear loose clothes without tight belts, jackets or footwear. You should be able to sit comfortably and able to freely move your body for meditation, irrespective of what you wear. If your clothing is a distraction, change it!

Sitting Position

Sit in the half lotus pose on the ground with legs crossed and right foot on the left thigh. Experienced meditators can sit in full lotus pose where the right foot is placed on your left thigh, and the left foot is placed on your right thigh. You can also sit in Burmese posture where you sit with knees bent but both your legs lying on the ground without touching each other.

Alternatively, you can simply sit in a chair with your back upright but comfortable.

There are many meditation postures, find and use the one that’s most comfortable for you when starting a Vipassana meditation practice.

Place your palms of hands facing up on your lap on one another so that the back of your right palm rests on the top of the left palm. You can keep your eyes either open or closed. Beginners are advised to keep their eyes closed, which allows them to concentrate easily. When you feel that your concentration is high, you can open your eyes for a moment and close it back. This allows your balance between concentration and mindfulness. At this position, you’re ready to do the meditation.

Resolution

You may make a wish or resolution before practicing each meditation, which helps you to strengthen your determination. In your own words, you can make any good wish for your health, free from suffering, attain peace, happiness, or any other goals of goodwill. You need to heavily focus on these resolutions before starting your meditation for a moment or two to attain them.

Forms and variations of vipassana meditation

Let’s dig into the variations of a Vipassana practice as well as the various forms of meditation that can be practiced.

1. Rising and falling

Concentrate on your abdomen an inch above navel point, which is clear to you feel it. You don’t have to look at this spot but focus your mind on it. Slowly breathe in, pause for a moment, and breathe out slowly. Observe and concentrate on the expansion and contraction of the abdomen from the start until the end of the process. This is called rising and falling. Restrict your concentration to the rise and fall of your stomach and not on any other object of distraction for an extended period.

2. Walking meditation

Walking meditation is a basic exercise that is the same as regular walking, with the difference being it’s done mindfully. To start, you need to walk slowly by the first lifting your heel, then your entire foot, and slowly put your front portion of the foot and lower the heel down.

You need to deliberately focus your attention on all the minute actions during this slow walking. You need to concentrate on the movements and their actions, even on your foot muscles or any pains.

3. Hand movement

Hand movements in vipassana meditation

In a sitting position, place your hands on your knees with palms facing down without any gaps between the fingers. Rotate your wrist until the palm is perpendicular to the knee. Raise your right hand up to eight inches above, and lower it back one inch above the knee. Turn your palm to face it down and lower it on the knees. Pause for a moment between these steps while focusing your attention on the movement of your hands.

Repeat the same for the left hand. During each of these exercises, concentrate on each of the movements without focusing or looking at the hands, or its muscles.

4. Sitting meditation

In this Vipassana meditation, start sitting in a comfortable position and concentrate on the sitting posture. Feel the moment while noting in your mind as sitting. You can do this meditation a few minutes before the rising and falling meditation. You should visualize your entire sitting posture rather than examining individual parts of your body or sensations.

5. Sitting and touching

In this meditation style, focus your attention alternatively on two objects, sitting and touching. You need to sit on the ground and focus your attention on the sitting posture and the point on your left or right buttock that touches the ground. You can focus your concentration on one side for touch for one session and the other side in the next practice.

6. Rising-falling and sitting

Once you are comfortable with rising and falling and sitting exercises individually, you can combine them into one single meditation practice.

Sit in a comfortable position and start with the rising and falling exercise. Before you begin the rising and falling exercise, focus on your sitting posture for a moment, then proceed to start the rising and falling position. All three steps should have an equal duration of time. Repeat the three steps and make a mental note of rising, falling, and sitting in a sequence.

7. Rising-falling, sitting and touching

Sitting posture for a vipassana practice

In this meditation, you add the touching as the fourth object to concentrate apart from the three objects mentioned in the rising-falling and sitting exercise.

Sitting in a comfortable position, concentrate on sitting, start the rising and falling and concentrate on the movement, then focus on your sitting posture and then focus your attention on the touching point of your left or right buttock. Finally, repeat the sequence with equal duration for each of the four steps, and ensure you make a mental note of the steps.

8. Lying down meditation

In this exercise, you need to lie on the floor on either your right or left side with your head supported on a pillow. The arm near the floor should be placed under your head or near your chest and the other arm placed on your body. Concentrate on the entire body within this lying posture and make a mental note as “lying down.”

When you practice Vipassana the entire day, you also should practice lying down meditation along with sitting, walking, and standing exercises. You should practice the sitting and walking meditations between 30-60 minutes in duration while standing and lying down meditations are to be done in 5-15 minutes.

9. Standing meditation

In the standing meditation, the object of focus is the standing posture itself. You can do this standing meditation before starting the walking meditation. You should stand straight with arms held in front or clasped at the back.

Pay attention to the aesthetic feel of the posture and focus on the entire body. You need to take a mental snapshot of the posture and make a mental note as “standing.”

Practice Vipassana meditation

Buddhist statues seated next to one another

Practicing Vipassana for a long time may enable you to experience a strong feeling of bliss or peace. In this state of bliss, you shouldn’t get excited nor avoid it but rather allow the feeling to pass on and go away.

It’s the nature of all good things to pass away, and trying to hold them to last longer will not only disturb you, as well as prevent you from reaching high levels of insight.

The pleasant feeling of bliss during Vipassana meditation does not mean that you have been practicing it correctly. These feelings are not the guides of insight meditation. Your success in Vipassana comes from your ability to be aware of the reality, the equanimity, the current happenings, which are all the yardstick to measure your practice.

The point here is not to make you practice every meditation mentioned here but to make you honest with yourself and be your guide of your decisions based on intelligence rather than your desires and mood. That is the power of Vipassana.

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