- During the pandemic, Michelle Gross has been practicing voice meditation as a way to help relieve stress and combat anxiety.
- After being introduced to Zen meditation with a Buddhist monk in Japan and taking online virtual sessions throughout the pandemic, Gross says she’s found that voice meditation is the most effective practice for her.
- Therapeutic voice meditation, called Arigato Zen, can be practiced from anywhere through chanting and repeating a simple mantra or word.
- For those new to Zen voice meditation, Gross says it’s easy to get started by practicing just a few minutes each day.
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Between Harry Styles’ recently released late-night lullaby and Iceland’s new #letitout campaign that has people screaming into a literal abyss, it seems there’s nothing we won’t do to add a little something lighthearted to our lives.
We all have to channel our anxiety somehow during the pandemic.
Personally, after all the virtual wine tastings, Bravo binging, and downloading every mindfulness app imaginable while drinking said wine, I’ve been spending more time focusing inward and seeking the things that sparked joy in my life pre-COVID-19.
The first stop on this journey emerged through a mix of luck and boredom when I discovered an online Zen meditation session quite literally called “Meditation With A Japanese Buddhist Monk,” on Airbnb’s Experiences page. The hour-long session was only $15, and I eagerly signed up. Hosted by Kuniatsu Suzuki, a freelance Buddhist monk based in Osaka, Japan, it’s a Zen meditation practice that starts and ends with a conversation that connects people from all over the world.
In a recent session, I met Stephanie with the silver earrings and turquoise necklace in Sweden, Zoe in her gorgeous light-filled loft in Dusseldorf, and Paul in his 80s-style button up in Minnesota. Everyone was there to meditate individually, but it still felt nice to share something with other humans outside of my quarantine bubble, even for an hour.
Our instructor, Kuniatsu Suzuki, has been a Buddhist monk for nearly two decades, during which he spent 12 years doing zen meditation at Shitennoji Temple in Osaka. He also trained at a music school in Kyoto and has a background in music therapy. Suzuki says he’s had around 3,000 people sign up for online meditation with him since April alone.
The meditation session began slowly
Suzuki explained what led him to teach Zen meditation and the importance of breathing exercises (fun fact: Did you know you breathe in and out an average of 25,000 times in a given day?). Then, over the 40 or so minutes of chanting and breathing with my newfound virtual Zen friends, I experienced something I haven’t felt since before the pandemic started: hope.
I wasn’t alone. After the practice we each described how we were feeling, and the general consensus was a sense of feeling “at peace,” which one of us described as “floating” and “drifting away.”
I’d first learned about the power of Zen meditation earlier this year on a trip to Japan
In February, I met Dr. Soho Machida, a professor emeritus at Hiroshima University, Japan, in a glass-encased temple overlooking Mount Fuji. My friend Emily and I spent time practicing what he’s coined as “Arigato Zen.” Arigato, the Japanese word for “thank you,” is based on a non-religious mantra designed not only for psychological relaxation, but to help deal with negative emotions as well.
“Arigato Zen does not require expertise, even first-comers can have substantial experiences including mystic experiences and visualizations,” said Dr. Machida in a recent email. “Voice-meditation is designed not simply for psychological relaxation, but also for clearing up those negative memories in the subconscious. As a result, some participants, even beginners, demonstrate dramatic improvements from manic depression after one-hour of meditation.”
Dr. Machida practiced as a Zen monk for 20 years at a cloistered monastery in Kyoto
He did this before emigrating to the US where he received an MA in theology from Harvard University and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. He’s been teaching Arigato Zen meditation in cities around the world ever since.
“Though many people inside and outside of Japan practice Zen, I know how hard it can be for them to reach the depth of Samadhi (concentration) through silence,” Dr. Machida said. “At the same time, most people suffer from some kind of mental symptoms in this stressful, hectic society and I wanted to create a therapeutically effective method of meditation.”
While clinical studies on the efficacy of voice meditation remain preliminary, Dr. Machida says it can be practiced a number of ways.
Voice meditation can be done by humming, singing, chanting, or repeating a word of your choosing
If you’re a Zen meditation newbie, it might be worth your while to join a guided meditation to get started. I highly recommend either Kuniatsu Suzuki’s practice via Airbnb Experiences or Dr. Machida’s Arigato Zen 2.0 seminars, which cost $35.
Here’s a few pointers to help get you started.
A little Zen everyday can go a long way
Like any form of exercise, mindfulness uses a muscle — your brain — that you have to flex regularly to make stronger.
“Meditation is a type of sport,” Dr. Machida said. “If you want to be good at it, it is better to practice on a daily basis. However, (time spent practicing) should not be too long that you get bored.”
Machida recommends practicing between 15-30 minutes of mindfulness each day. “My motto is ‘be physical when you want to change your mentality.’ When you exercise, do yoga or aerobics regularly, you are going to be in a good shape.”
Not all meditation is created equal
There are many types of practices besides Zen meditation, so it’s important to find what speaks to you. Arigato Zen is only one type of voice meditation, developed by Dr. Machida’s lifetime of experience and expertise in theology and time spent as a practicing monk.
He describes it as “a therapeutic mediation based on the brain’s physiological effect of the human voice.”
There are six types of Arigato Zen meditation
Dr. Machida’s Arigato Zen includes six types of meditations: Gratitude Zen, Humming Zen, Arigato Nembutsu, Nirvana Zen, Silent Meditation, and Arigato Walking.
The baseline is what Machida refers to as Gratitude Zen. This meditation is an out-loud invocation of the Japanese word for thank you, “Arigato,” and can be practiced anywhere, even on your drive to work. As you recite the word arigato, think of the people who have been supportive of you. Keep them in your thoughts throughout the entire chant.
The second type of Arigato Zen meditation is Humming Zen. This Zen is a recitation of “Arigato” in humming form. Dr. Machida says this helps people to concentrate better than silent meditation and can be done from anywhere.
The third type of voice meditation is Arigato Nembutsu and is a speed recitation of the word arigato for 20 minutes. This method, according to Dr. Machida, can help people wipe out negative thoughts that pop up in your mind.
Next is what Dr. Machida calls Nirvana Zen. In this practice, you lie down while reciting arigato or your favorite word, as a personal mantra, in silence. Typically, in the Arigato Temple in Gotemba, Japan, crystal bowls are also played. If you’re on your own or don’t have a crystal bowl handy, you can imagine this visual as you practice. This meditation is meant to totally relax both body and mind.
Finally, Arigato Walking is a form of on-the-go meditation. As you walk, Machida says simply saying arigato can help relax and destress your mind.
If you’re new to Zen meditation, don’t be afraid to get started. Even 10 or 15 minutes of mindfulness a day can make a big difference during this time. It’s definitely it’s helped me.