If you’ve ever tried sitting and focusing on your breath for a few minutes only to have your meditation session interrupted by screaming thoughts, you know the frustration that many would-be meditators feel.
But there are different kinds of meditation, and just like certain types of exercise, every mind-training technique won’t be impactful for every person.
You’ve likely tried mindfulness meditation and even guided meditation, but what exactly is vipassana meditation?
Vipassana is an ancient meditation technique purportedly discovered and practiced by Buddha himself, and is considered the oldest of Buddhist meditation practices.
In vipassana, you give your complete attention to the sensations of the body—think sight, smell, sound and touch. In this type of meditation, you continuously connect with these sensations that form the experience of your physical body.
But perhaps the most important part of vipassana is focusing your attention on these experiences without judgement, or even without interpreting them. Some call it “the observation of truth from within, from moment to moment.”
While practicing vipassana, awareness of the body is designed to undo the previous conditioning of the mind and awaken your true self, which is, apparently, not the self that’s addicted to Instagram or avocado toast.
How Vipassana Is Different from Other Types of Meditation
There are essentially two main components of meditation, distinguished as Vipassana and Samatha. Samatha focuses on restoring calmness while vipassana is more about understanding.
In vipassana, you’re required to pay more attention to your own ever-changing life experience. Vipassana embodies both tranquility and insight, and is a type of mindfulness meditation.
Vipassana is different, however, from transcendental meditation. Transcendental meditation focuses on a phrase or mantra. It’s said that while transcendental meditation takes one out, vipassana is more grounding.
Here’s how vipassana works in a nutshell: whatever happens, whether it’s a leg cramp, steamy thoughts about your current flame or a bug landing on your nose, you experience it without arguing or labeling. You allow it to pass. Through this, you learn that everything is temporary and experience a direct connection with your body and, some would say, awakening or truth.
Vipassana teaches you not to make yourself miserable about temporary woes—and that everything is temporary.
Are There Benefits to Vipassana?
Vipassana creates an understanding of the true nature of life. That being said, there are some scientific benefits to practicing vipassana!
Vipassana has been shown to “significantly improve physical and psychological well-being”, including psychological distress.
At silent retreats where vipassana is practiced, it’s been shown to support calmness in participants.
Other research-based on retreats where vipassana is taught and practiced showed that the practitioners were better able to embody the three main Buddhist views, which include:
- Dissatisfaction, or suffering—accepting that to live is to suffer.
- Impermanence—understanding that everything comes to an end.
- Not-self, or no-self—you are something more than your body, your thoughts, your emotions and your mind-made self.
Through their experiences, participants were able to experience these principles and realize them as truth.
Vipassana has also been shown to play an important role in self-awareness. And, practicing vipassana meditation helped participants challenge the modern self, which is usually run by your mind-made self and not your true self.
How to Practice Vipassana Meditation
Traditionally, vipassana asks that you maintain a pose for at least an hour, and is typically taught at retreats where people can learn the technique.
Many vipassana retreats teach students to do a “full-body scan” where you use your mind to scan your body for sensations, therefore experiencing things as they happen.
However, this also means that even if your legs are spasming from sitting but you’re currently focusing on your arms, you must bring your mind back from the pain of your legs to continue paying attention your arms. The important thing here is not reacting to the sensations.
If you’re not up for signing up for a ten-day retreat to learn Vipassana, here’s how you can do a Vipassana session step by step at home:
- Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit.
- Close your eyes and draw your attention to your breathing—don’t control it, simply observe it, paying close attention to all the sensations associated with it.
- Your mind will wander; become aware of the break in concentration and gently redirect your focus back to your breathing.
- You can eventually move on to scanning your body for sensations from your senses.
- There’s no set time limit, but the goal is to carry this attention and focus with you throughout the day.
Can Vipassana Awaken You? If you’re looking for a different meditation practice to cultivate awareness and awaken your true self, vipassana can be a great practice to try. And, while you’re at it, realize that life, just like everything else, is fleeting—so experience it now!