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Spiritual meditation is used across the globe in countless religions and cultures.
Some use it for stress and relaxation, others use it to clear their minds, and some use it to awaken and deepen their connection to something greater than themselves.
While many scientific studies have looked closely at how meditation can provide relaxation benefits, fewer have looked at its spiritual effects.
This is likely because spirituality isn’t easily measured.
Still, there’s a significant body of scientific literature that discusses spiritual meditation in many of its different forms.
Traditions worldwide employ spiritual meditation as a way to connect to the divine.
There are thousands, if not millions, of religious and spiritual traditions that include spiritual meditation in many different forms. Just a few examples of spiritual meditation in major religious traditions include:
- Hindu japa mala and mantra meditation
- Sufi dhikr or remembrance of God
- Jewish kabbalistic practices
- loving-kindness or metta meditation in Buddhism
- Marananussati bhavana or reflection on one’s mortality in Theravada Buddhism
- Zazen meditation in Zen Buddhism
- trance states in Shamanistic traditions
- Christian contemplative prayer
“A spiritual meditation is a meditation practice you partake in with the desire to connect with a higher power, the Universe, God, your Highest Self, etc.,” says Jen Alico, a certified meditation coach.
According to a 2017 study, spiritual meditation focuses on developing a deeper understanding of spiritual/religious meaning and connection with a higher power.
Unlike other forms of meditation, spiritual meditation is about more than stress reduction or relaxation.
“The intention to connect to something greater than yourself is what makes this practice spiritual,” says Alico.
Shaman Nisha, a sixth-generation shaman of Southern African and South-East Asian lineage, agrees with Alico.
“From my perspective and experience of spiritual meditation, the element of spirituality comes from the connection to one’s soul,” says Nisha.
Spiritual meditation is a highly individual experience that can feel vastly different for each person.
An important work on the topic in Western thought is “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” written by philosopher, psychologist, physiologist, and Harvard professor William James in 1902.
According to a 2019 study, qualities of spiritual experience can include:
- absorption or loss of a sense of separateness
- hearing voices or seeing visions
- feeling a spiritual “presence”
- a sense of transcendence
- a sense of awe
This list is by no means exhaustive, and reportings of spiritual experiences are incredibly diverse and varied.
Whether you feel an automatic connection to something deeper or feel nothing at all, experts agree you shouldn’t try to force it.
“With any type of meditation, the more you try the harder it will be to achieve a meditative state,” says Alico. “If you are just getting into spiritual meditations, I recommend staying away from conversations where other people talk about their spiritual meditation practice experience.”
This can prevent unrealistic expectations about what your practice “should” be.
“Everyone’s experiences will feel different because we are all beautifully unique individuals,” says Alico.
“In my opinion, this is a practice that cannot be forced nor should any attempt be made to rush into it,” he says.
Some people have reported experiencing what is known as “awakening.”
In Nisha’s opinion, an awakening experience is “an activation of higher consciousness or an increase in our awareness as souls.”
Nisha says these events can be triggered by life changing experiences or the conscious choice to make a lifestyle change to “become more aligned with the soul’s energy.”
While there is some research dedicated to the study of spiritual awakening, there is no scientific proof that it exists.
Based on his own experience, Nisha shares an extensive list of what he believes are the benefits of spiritual meditation:
- a more balanced sense of being
- inner stillness and peace
- less reactivity
- a sense of inner bliss that isn’t dependent on outer circumstances
- a strong and authentic sense of who you are on a soul level
- a reduction in unhealthy stress
- an increase in creativity
- a strong sense of belonging
- increased self-esteem, self-trust, and self-acceptance
- clarity in your life purpose
“Your practice will bring you realizations and then the awareness that you can choose how you experience each moment of your life,” says Nisha.
In Alico’s opinion, it strengthens the mind-body connection.
“Meditation encourages you to do everything with intention. When consistently meditating, you will be able to better listen to what your body needs,” she says. “When you choose to listen to your body, you’re naturally living a more mindful life.”
Importantly, Nisha emphasizes that spiritual meditation isn’t a quick fix.
“The benefits it brings come from dedication to daily practice and the willingness to grow,” he says.
- substance use disorders, including opioid, methamphetamine, and stimulant use
- pain management
A 2019 study noted that spiritual meditation can offer complementary support for children who don’t have consistent or reliable access to medical and mental healthcare.
For both Alico and Nisha, the benefits of spiritual meditation are deep and expansive.
“I think that the greatest benefit of spiritual meditation is the pure sense of bliss and confidence in who you are. You feel so blissfully confident in the fact that you are doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing in life,” Alico says of her experience.
Spiritual meditation may also provide benefits for sleep. A 2019 study found that the use of mind-body medicine, including spiritual meditation, may be an effective modality to ease sleep problems for cancer survivors.
Nisha provides a spiritual explanation for the potential sleep benefits of meditation.
“Your sleep improves because you are no longer experiencing unhealthy stress and your awareness of your daily experiences is of a higher understanding,” he says.
“Many of my clients feel a decrease in stress and anxiety from meditating, which is usually what is keeping them up at night,” she says.
If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, Alico recommends simply focusing on the breath as in step two of her meditation above.
“Place your hands on your body and start to connect with the breath the same way you do during your meditation practice,” she says. “This will help relax the body and release whatever is keeping you up.”
Body scan meditation and guided meditation are also recommended strategies to encourage sleep.
As mentioned above, there’s no one way to practice spiritual meditation. Below, Alico and Nisha share two methods.
Alico’s spiritual meditation
“I recommend putting a pillow or cushion under your bottom, it’s much more comfortable!” Alico says.
- Place your right hand over your heart center, your left hand just underneath your belly button, and gently close your eyes.
- Start to listen to and connect with your breath. Listen to what it sounds like. Feel it as your body moves with every breath. Allow your breath to flow at a comfortable pace.
- Imagine a light inside of you. Visualize the color and brightness. Feel the temperature of it. This light is yours and guides you to a greater power.
- Once you feel comfortable with this light, start to follow it as it moves out of your body and into the sky. Follow it as it moves through the clouds and into the heavens.
- Allow yourself to feel safe and connected in the heavens, even looking around and exploring. Spend as much time there as you would like, being open to whatever may come to you.
- When you’re ready, bring your light back down into your body. Start to come back to the present moment and your surroundings, wiggling your fingers and your toes.
To close the practice, gently open your eyes and move slowly as you come out of your meditation.
Nisha’s spiritual meditation
According to Nisha, this practice is rooted in Southern African and Southeast Asian heritage.
Start by getting into a comfortable seated position, so that your wrists and ankles are not crossed and your back is upright and not leaning on anything.
Make sure you won’t be disturbed and there are no distractions such as phones or music, and give yourself permission to be there for as long as you need.
- Begin by observing the rhythm of your breathing.
- As you become more tuned in to your breathing, allow your awareness to tune into your heart rate. Feel the rhythm of your heartbeats. It’s OK if your mind gets busy. Simply thank your ego for its input and then let it know this is a time it can use to rest.
- Now let your awareness move into your heart space and simply observe how you feel within this space. Is it a welcoming space? Do you feel safe and happy being there? Is there any resistance to being there?
- When you have spent the time you need to in your heart space, allow your awareness to focus back on your heartbeat, then your breathing, then come back into the room and open your eyes.
After your practice, Nisha recommends journaling your experiences and drinking plenty of water.
You can meditate at any time of the day, but Alico believes the morning and evening are best.
“These are the times when our body is naturally more open to connecting and receiving,” she says. “However, if you feel your best doing your meditation at some other point during the day, by all means, do what feels right.”
Nisha agrees with this sentiment.
“Personally, I think it’s important that each individual knows themselves well enough to decide their own best time, as then they are likely to commit to a daily practice,” he says.
If you’re meditating in the morning, Alico suggests journaling beforehand.
“Use this time to write out anything your heart desires, some days it may be lengthy. Other days just a paragraph or two will do. This will help clear your mind before your morning meditation,” she says.
At night, Alico advises practicing spiritual meditation right before you sleep.
“Put your phone on Do Not Disturb mode before meditating and leave it that way until morning. After your meditation, limit your screen exposure and allow yourself to fall to sleep naturally,” she says.
Spiritual meditation is a highly individual experience. There is some scientific research to support its benefits, and it’s practiced in many cultures and traditions around the world.
While spiritual meditation won’t give you superpowers, it may help you connect to something that feels bigger than yourself.
Victoria Stokes is a writer from the United Kingdom. When she’s not writing about her favorite topics, personal development, and well-being, she usually has her nose stuck in a good book. Victoria lists coffee, cocktails, and the color pink among some of her favorite things. Find her on Instagram.