By now you’ve probably heard about the benefits of meditation. But have you heard about the Vipassana technique?
Meditation has been quite popular for some time and isn’t just a fad. There’s plenty of research on how it affects the human body and mind.
It’s been shown to reduces stress levels and can increase immunity and has even been said to help with migraines and sleep.*
But learning how to do it properly and making a habit out of it can be a challenge. You can take a class here and there, but there are so many different styles that it can be hard to choose which one to focus on. Not to mention, some classes and retreats are costly and last from only a couple hours to a few days.
They might be a good option for those with the finances who are wanting to gain exposure to meditation, but not very helpful when trying to develop and maintain a habit, while also trying to master a technique. Also, not all are affordable for everyone. But there is an option that is open to all, one that is donation based.
Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat
Vipassana ten day courses are silent meditation retreats that are accessible to anyone willing to put in the time, energy and effort required to learn the technique. There are centers all around the world that teach people how to meditate and provide them with a quiet place to practice. They also provide a clean place to stay and healthy meals for those who attend. And get this: they don’t charge anyone a dime. It’s donation based and run with the help of volunteers who themselves have also taken the meditation courses.
Personal experience with Vipassana
Just recently I decided to jump all in and attend my first silent meditation retreat for ten days. I was hesitant to do it earlier as I thought I wouldn’t be able to find the time, but through the recommendation of family members I decided it would be worth trying.
Having a daily yoga practice, I wanted to develop the habit of daily meditation and while I would meditate regularly off and on, the quality of my meditation was never where I wanted it to be. However, after taking the course and meditating every single day, several hours a day, I learned a few things I wanted to share with you.
What is Vipassana?
Vipassana is described as one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques. It focuses on self-observation and aims to help one see things as they really are rather than what they are perceived to be in their minds or that of others. It aims to sharpens one’s awareness through observing the changing nature of the mind and body.
It addresses what are described as the universal truths of suffering, impermanence and egolessness and aims to help individuals reach happiness by understanding them, through understanding the technique and applying the principles to daily life. The goal of the practice is to reach a state of Equanimity or mental balance, where one is able to deal with the difficulties in life and what arises by cultivating it, reaching a greater state of harmony. Moving away from craving and aversion, wanting things to be a certain way or not wanting them to be, and moving towards compassion and kindness.
Vipassana has been described as having nothing to do with organized religion or sectarianism and can be practiced by anyone at any time.
Vipassana is not a fancy retreat or vacation
Though a fair warning, a ten day silent Vipassana meditation retreat is not actually a ‘retreat’ in the sense of the word. It can be pretty intense. It requires mental strength or the willingness to develop it and it requires determination and discipline to stay the entire period and work on one’s meditation practice. However, if done right and with an open mind, it can yield positive and for some, even dramatic results both for meditating and daily life.
Recommendations for your first Vipassana meditation course
If you are planning to take a ten day Vipassana course there are some things to consider. If your child or kids are still little, it’s best to wait until they are at least 3 years or older before going on such a retreat.**
You’re required to wake up at 4am every day and bedtime is 9pm. Though only seven hours of sleep, you may realize it is quite enough considering your main focus during the day will be meditation with rest periods, meal times, tea time and a discourse every night. However, if you are already exhausted upon arriving, you might need a few days to adjust.
During the retreat you wont be using your cell phone or the internet, so it would be best if you plan ahead and make sure you have everything in order as best as you can before you leave. Have backup, and backup for your backup, depending on the work you do and/or the childcare you will need. Also, write down the center’s phone number for any emergencies.
Comfy Clothing, Meditation Cushions & Daily Routine
Take super comfy clothing, nothing too clingy or tight…not only because of the centers’ policies but also because you want to try to make yourself as comfortable as possible while meditating and won’t want clothing that starts to feel restrictive after sitting for a while.
The centres generally provide meditation cushions and some even offer regular chairs or meditation chairs, but if you want to bring your own cushion you can.
– Get your PJs on and teeth brushed during the last break, before the final meditation and discourse so you can go directly to bed at 9pm and not waste a minute of sleep.
Avoiding back pain
You will be sitting for the group meditations and since you’ll be meditating several hours a day, you might develop some back pain. However there are several ways to avoid or alleviate this:
– Make sure to find the most comfortable position to meditate in. I f this means arriving to the meditation hall a few minutes early just to adjust yourself…do so and try different ways of placing the cushions you have and adding or removing any. If there is any difference in your initial position, this will get magnified as time passes so make sure you are initially comfortable.
– Get up and walk during the breaks even during the 5 minute ones between sessions. After meal times, rest periods are allowed where you can also go out walking in nature .
– Practice yoga postures for alleviating back pain during longer break and rest periods. Yoga is compatible with Vipassana and you can practice it in your room and on your bed if there is not much space. Yoga is discouraged in the meditation hall and hallways though so be mindful of that and trying to use what space you have.
– Stretch every day. If you are unfamiliar with yoga you can also stretch during break periods to help.
– Meditate on your bed some sessions. If you find you are getting back pain, you can meditate lying down on your bed in your room for meditation sessions allowed. There are several mandatory group meditation sessions where you must be in the meditation hall but there are also additional sessions after where you are allowed the option to meditate in your room or in the meditation hall. If your back hurts after an hour long meditation session and the pain lingers, meditating lying down can help, just make sure you are alert enough, otherwise you may fall asleep (this is okay if you are exhausted, but not if it happens every time as you will miss out on properly learning the technique).
How to stay disciplined enough to stay the entire period
Ask yourself why you are doing this and have a clear purpose, but also release expectations about the outcome. If your purpose is to really truly learn how to meditate, a ten day Vipassana course will definitely help. If you want to get in the habit of sleeping earlier and waking up earlier, this will also help greatly, especially if you try your best to keep up with the practice after you’ve returned home. If you want to learn more about Vipassana as a way a living, the evening discourses address the principles.
Practice presence. Take it day by day and hour by hour. If you are having difficulty initially it’s okay, others are learning too. Don’t worry about perfection and try your best. The first few day can be hard for some and for others it’s the fourth day that is the most difficult because that is when you take a deep dive into the Vipassana technique, but if you make it after those initial days it gets better and you start realizing you can focus better. The last day is when you can break your silence and everyone can share their experiences with one another.
In general being at the Vipassana retreat can help you practice presence and you’ll get the most out of it if you really try to. If you keep thinking about what’s going on everywhere else or how much work you have to do when you get home, how you’d rather be on vacation or how many days are left till the end of the course, you’ll have a tough time. If you can really truly be present and appreciate the experience you’ll greatly benefit from it.
Vipassana & Metta Meditation
On the last couple days, after you’ve been practicing the Vipassana technique you are also introduced to Metta meditation. Metta is a Pali term meaning loving-kindness. It is a form of meditation that focuses on cultivating compassion and forgiveness for yourself and others. Metta mediation can also be pretty powerful in increasing ones personal happiness if practiced properly and applied in daily life. You can read more about it here (18 Science-Based Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation).
Can you go with a partner, friend or family?
The ten day courses are for adults and while you can go with your spouse, friend or family member, note that you will still be expected to observe what they describe as Noble Silence and also be aware that men and women are separated. If there is an issue or problem you can speak with the volunteer staff and if you have questions about the technique, that you want to ask the teacher, there are sessions each day reserved for this, but overall you have to observe silence during the period you are there. It’s for good reason too. Imagine if everyone was talking in the halls or in their rooms when you were trying to meditate… it probably wouldn’t be very effective would it?
There are 1 day Vipassana meditation courses for kids between the ages of 8-17 where they are taught how to meditate using the Anapana technique which is the first step in Vipassana. But they also include creative activities for the kids which are alternated with the meditation sessions. The meditation sessions for kids are for shorter periods lasting 30 minutes rather than a full hour. The kids course is said to help them do the following:
- Cultivate a sharper memory and better concentration
- Increase self-confidence
- Develop mind consciousness and attention
- Improve their ability to focus, work and study
- Increase their mindfulness towards others
Overall I found the Vipassana Meditation course to be very beneficial. I was able to focus on improving my meditation practice and have developed a daily habit I hope to stick to. I personally did not find it hard to stay the entire period as I was ready for it. Had I gone earlier or at a time where I was hesitant, I might have found it much harder to stay. I was also pleasantly surprised by the tasty food, beautiful environment (near a lush forest) and the warm, friendly and welcoming people I met there. Also as a mom who tends to the daily needs of my family, the meals, household chores etc. it was nice to have everything fully taken care of by the staff of the centre so I had the time to focus on my meditation practice and allow myself time to rest in between.
I’ll definitely continue with the Vipassana technique, but on various days I might use other meditation techniques if needed. I still think for days my daughter wants to meditate we will use a “guided meditation for kids” program as discussed in an earlier post One Simple Way To Introduce Meditation To Your Child. The reason being is she is still too young to attend the children’s Vipassana course, but I’d love for her to have the opportunity to take it when she’s older.
If you are considering the course
If you are considering a Vipassana silent meditation retreat, it can be a great way to develop a daily habit of meditation, if you make a conscious choice to stick with it. It can also improve your current practice if you already have one. If you want to be able to learn to focus your mind it is really effective. The teachings and the stories in the discourse are also nice and the teachings can help increase and foster a sense of love and compassion for yourself and others. Learning to meditate properly, though it might initially seem so, is not easy. A full Vipassana course can help get you started on the path to mastering the technique so you can experience the benefits from doing so.
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