Humans crave spiritual experience, and true spirituality is embedded in practice.
Over millennia, this led to the development of dozens of spiritual disciplines and practices.
The purpose of this article is to give you a glimpse of each without going into too much detail. After reading it, you’ll know what’s “out there,” and investigate further if you wish to do so.
We define discipline as “the ability to control your own behavior” or “a strict set of rules that controls an activity or situation.” Building on that, a spiritual discipline pertains to some spiritual activity or practice – it’s not idle. It’s usually a process in which performing a certain type of activity leads to the achievement of further levels of spiritual growth.
The reason for undertaking a spiritual discipline may vary per person. It may be based on your religious inclinations, but you can also practice in a secular context.
People look for certain benefits when engaging in such practices:
- Developing feelings of love and compassion towards all beings
- Feeling one with God or the Universe (Nondualism)
- Seeking the ultimate understanding of reality
- Nirvana (spiritual awakening)
- Developing feelings of ecstasy and boundless love
- Feeling more balanced and mentally fit in everyday life
- Getting intimations of the afterlife or contacting spirits of the dead
- Awakening the divine imagination
- Preparing for a peaceful death
- Improving physical and mental health
I drew from many different spiritual, religious, and mystical traditions to give a balanced overview, and to introduce you to esoteric methods. The purpose of this article is not to provide you with scientific facts, but to give you an overview of different disciplines developed over millennia.
Below I also suggest a selected book or article you may want to read to learn more about each method.
“However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act upon them?” ― Buddha Siddhartha Guatama Shakyamuni
Now let’s take a look at each of these disciplines more closely:
Understood as the act of speaking to God, some form of prayer exists in nearly all religions of the world. It’s especially prevalent in the Judeo-Christian traditions and Islam (where strict practitioners pray five times a day – Salat).
Prayer may allow you to forget about the mundane and let you connect with deeper parts of yourself. It’s good for reminding you of a higher reality on a daily basis. In Catholic Christianity, there are four basic forms of prayer: Blessing and Adoration, Petition, Intercession, and Prayer of Thanksgiving.
Learn more about it by reading: Change Me Prayers: The Hidden Power of Spiritual Surrender
Firewalking is not something you would want to do every day. It comes from an old tradition developed in the north of Greece, and the south of Bulgaria, which is still performed on an annual basis. The practice is connected to the Greek Orthodox tradition, as it celebrates some of the most prominent saints of the faith.
Learn more about it by reading: The Fire-Walking Foot Doctor: One Man’s Spiritual Journey
I twice witnessed the Sema ceremony while on my stay four-month stay in Turkey. The development of the practice is credited to Rumi himself, the originator of the Mevlevi Sufi order, and one of the greatest Persian poets of all time.
It involves spiritual music played on ney (a Turkish flute), and drums. The practitioners whirl to entrancing music and according to Rumi, go on a symbolic journey towards love and spiritual awakening. Along with the deep meditation, this kind of practice can make Fana (“ annihilation of the self”) or (“ dying before one dies”) possible.
Learn more about it by reading: Whirling Dervishes, Sema
Also known as Dhikr, it’s a Sufi discipline where you repeat specific phrases over and over again in your mind or out loud. For example, Alhamdulillah – الحمد لله means “All praise is due to God,” or Bi-smi llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm – means “In the name of God, the gracious, the merciful.” The practice may also include citing hadiths or Qur’anic suras. When engaged in Zikr, your mind goes silent, and you contemplate the nature of God.
Learn more about it by reading: Dhikr – Awakening from Illusion
“Knock, And He’ll open the door
Vanish, And He’ll make you shine like the sun
Fall, And He’ll raise you to the heavens
Become nothing, And He’ll turn you into everything.” – Rumi
According to the Temptation of Christ narrative, Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the Judea Desert. At the end of this arduous chapter, he’s ministered to by angels. It’s not entirely clear what it means, but it may be interpreted as gaining new spiritual insight.
Fasting is a staple of Christian spiritual tradition, but it’s also widespread in Islam. On the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, falls Ramadan during which you refrain from food, drink, and sexual relations.
Nowadays, fasting is proven to be beneficial to your health. But a regular 16-8 fast won’t give you much benefit in terms of spirituality. To achieve altered states of consciousness associated with the practice (like disassociation of ego from reality), you would need a 36-hour “monk fast.”
Learn more about it by reading: Fasting: Rediscovering the Ancient Pathway
The basis of this dance is the age-old circle dance, and its purpose is to reunite the souls of the dead with those of the living. It also has a political connotation. It was developed in the 19th century when the dance was also an act of unity against the white colonialists.
Since then, it spread among various tribes which all adapted it to their unique beliefs. Nowadays, the practice is mostly conducted during private ceremonies.
Learn more about it by reading: The Ghost Dance – A Promise of Fulfillment
This is something I’ve experienced and it was life-changing. Ayahuasca is a brew made of indigenous Amazonian plants. You drink it during a group-ceremony administered by a shaman.
The spiritual journey, which lasts around six hours, teaches you spiritual lessons, heals your soul, and shows you what love is about. It’s a profoundly touching experience, that you shouldn’t take lightly.
Learn more about it by reading: The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience
I’ve been practicing the Vipassana meditation method for around ten years now. It’s been a great journey of self-discovery. At some point, I even attended a ten-day silent meditation retreat in the hills north of Barcelona, near to Costa Brava.
The goal of this method is to improve your mental focus and let you look at the world more clearly. It allows you to be more present and live a life without too many mental distractions.
Learn more about it by reading: The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation
This practice was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and taught to thousands of people in the 1950’s and 60’s, first in India, and then around the world. Many celebrities adopted it, and it became even more popular over time. It consists of silent mantra meditation that you practice for 15-20 minutes twice per day.
There’s more research needed to prove or disprove the effectiveness of this technique. But many practitioners claim it brings peace and relaxation into their lives.
Learn more about it by reading: Transcendental Meditation: Meditation for Busy Minds
Yoga is one of the oldest spiritual traditions in the world. You can find a yoga pose in a relief dating back to around 5,000 BCE. It encompasses a broad spectrum of physical, mental, and spiritual practices that now belong to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. However, the techniques have been adopted around the world, as they’re clearly effective.
The Western understanding of yoga is of Hatha Yoga, a series of exercises comprised of postures called asanas. But here we’ll take a look at more styles of practice to get a better understanding of the whole system.
This is the type of yoga you most commonly see on YouTube and in your local yoga studio. The tradition has a long history (textual references trace back to first century CE), and it has many different variations (at least 10).
To be a Yogi means to oblige by specific moral standards, follow a proper diet, cultivate deep breathing, engage in body cleansing, meditation, and of course working on your posture by practicing with poses. You have around common 60 poses to choose from.
This type of yoga places emphasis on synchronizing your movements with your breath and making clear transitions between different poses (asanas). The “Vinyasa Flow” means that you keep changing the poses, and link each pose to an inhale and exhale.
That’s a modern take on classical Indian yoga. It’s a sister to vinyasa, as you also need to concentrate on rhythmical breathing. The difference here is that the exercise is more intense, and you’ll sweat hard at the end of your session.
It’s yoga system derived from the traditional Hatha Yoga. It’s more formalized in its approach as the preliminary classes run for 90 minutes and consist of the same 26 postures, as well as two breathing exercises.
It’s a form of hot yoga, meaning that the temperature in the room will be up to 35–42 °C (95–108 °F) with a lot of humidity (40%). In other words, it’s a serious workout.
Created by David Life and Cheryl Gannon in 1984, this is a combination of spiritual practice and yoga as exercise (vinyasa style).
To be a practitioner, except for performing yogic postures, you need to observe five central tenants: shastra (scripture), bhakti (devotion), ahimsā (nonviolence, non-harming), nāda (music), and dhyana (meditation).
It’s named after B.K.S. Iyengar and elaborated in 1966 book Light on Yoga. The focus here is on performing yoga postures (asanas) with perfect alignment and precision.
The style is also known for making use of yoga blocks, belts and blankets as tools for practice. This makes it so much easier for injured or older people to enjoy the benefits of yoga.
It’s a modern take on hatha and vinyasa yoga founded by John Friend. It’s all about “flowing with grace” through different postures and observing the “universal principles of alignment” that will realign your spiritual center. There are over 250 poses in it, but there are no postural routines (so it’s more freestyle).
This is a system founded by Vishnudevananda Saraswati. There’s a whole organization behind it, and its message is to “spread the teachings of yoga and the message of world peace.”
It consists of five main principles: proper exercise (12 basic asanas), breathing, relaxation, diet (vegetarian) and meditation.
Also known as Vinyasa Krama Yoga, it’s a modern system based on asanas, pranayama (breathing), sound, chanting, meditation, ritual, and study of sacred texts. The goal of this discipline is to adapt the spiritual tools of the yogic toolbox to your own unique needs.
This is a unique style of yoga as it’s influenced by Shaktism and Tantra. The focus here is on awakening the kundalini energy. According to the teachings, there are seven chakras (energy centers) with the 7th chakra being the crown (which leads to spiritual awakening). To get your energy centers in alignment, you need to practice breathing exercises (pranayama), meditation, as well as postures centered around the navel and spine.
It’s a style of exercise yoga based on slow movements and postures (asanas). Here you hold the postures for longer (45 seconds to 2 minutes for beginners and up to five minutes for advanced practitioners). The goal here is not to sweat, but to contemplate your body and connect with your breath in a more meditative way. The discipline was developed by Paulie Zink.
This is a modern take on yoga where you walk around in a group and laugh uncontrollably for no particular reason. Laughter is known to be therapeutic and stress-diminishing.
The practice lasts for around 20 minutes and may be followed by a short meditation or a traditional yoga session.
Learn more about yoga by reading: Light on Yoga: The Bible of Modern Yoga
Pranayama is derived from hatha yoga practices. It consists of rhythmical breathing exercises (breath control) that will put you in a relaxed state of mind and awaken your bodily energy centers (chakras). In Bhagavad Gītā (4.29) it’s described as “trance induced by stopping all breathing,” but it can be most accurately translated as (prāṇa), “breath”, + āyāma “suspension of breath”.
There are a couple of foundational techniques:
- Kumbhaka Pranayama (Breath Retention)
- Bandha – a “body lock” mudra (Holding a particular posture)
- Ujjayi Pranayama – “Victorious Breath”
- Bhastrika – (“Bellows Breath”)
- Kapalabhat -i (“Skull-shining Breath” or “Breath of Fire”)
- Surya Bhedana – (“Sun-piercing Breath”)
- Bhramari – (“Humming Bee Breath”)
- Nadhi Sodhana – (“Alternate Nostril Breathing”)
- Sitali Pranayama – (“Cooling Breath”)
- Dirga Pranayama – (Practiced when lying down)
- Viloma Pranayama – (Paused inhalation and exhalation)
- Anuloma Pranayama – (Similar to alternate nostril breathing)
- Bhamri Pranayama – (With eyes and ears closed)
- Sheetli Pranayama – (A strange practice where you breathe with your tongue rolled)
- Moorchha Pranayama – (Advanced technique – continuous exhaling without any inhaling)
- Palwani Pranayama – (Performed in water – proceed with caution).
- Learning how to control your breath when practicing asanas.
Learn more about it by reading: Pranayama: A Path to Healing and Freedom
As the name suggests, mindfulness meditation is about improving your mental focus and being present in the moment. The key is paying attention to your breath until you can keep it is as the only object of your attention.
This leads to the development of powerful mindfulness, which will change the way you perceive the world. Start with a 10 or 20-minute session, just to see how distracted your mind really is.
According to Culadasa, author of a great book called The Mind Illuminated, there are ten stages of meditative practice:
1) Establishing a Practice
2) Interrupted Attention and Overcoming Mind-Wandering
3) Extended Attention and Overcoming Forgetting
4) Continuous Attention and Overcoming Gross Distraction and Strong Dullness
5) Overcoming Subtle Dullness and Increasing Mindfulness
6) Subduing Subtle Distraction
7) Exclusive Attention and Unifying the Mind
8) Mental Pliancy and Pacifying the Senses
9) Mental and Physical Pliancy
10) Tranquility and Equanimity
It may take up to 7 years of continuous diligent daily practice (1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening) to reach the last stage.
Related content: 12 Top Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
Learn more about it by reading: The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide
Lojong comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It’s based on repeating a set of aphorisms (memorable expressions). There are 59 slogans that contain timeless wisdom. If you repeat them over time, you’ll eliminate bad mental habits that cause suffering. Here are two examples: “Find the consciousness you had before you were born” or “Always maintain only a joyful mind.” The practice is also designed to help you generate bodhicitta, the awakened mind.
The practice was developed between 900 and 1200 CE as a part of the Mahāyāna school of Buddhism.
Learn more about it by reading: Practice of Lojong: Cultivating Compassion Through Training the Mind
I wrote a whole article about active imagination, so feel free to check it out below. It’s a technique developed by the Swiss psychologist Carl Young. It consists of relaxing your ego-mind so it’s more susceptible to the whispers of intuition and the unconscious. Then you let the ideas and imagination flow freely in your mind’s eye. It’s like free writing or painting, but for the imagination.
Active imagination helps you to communicate with your deeper self and see the process as a piece of art generated by your mind.
Learn more about it by reading: Active imagination in practice
OBE may be a spontaneous experience, but you can also learn how to achieve it on purpose. You’ll have a feeling that you separate your material body and operate as a “celestial body.”
The assumption here is that reality exists on many different levels. Our regular 3D realm is a place of hard things. But other “astral realms” operate at a higher frequency and you can explore them if you know how to leave your body.
The basic technique is that lie on your back as if to take a nap. Then, as you fall asleep, repeat affirmations like “I leave my body now.” Then, at the moment just before falling asleep, you may experience strong vibrations and leave your body. You need lots of practice to learn this technique, but many people claim you can master it in a couple of months.
Learn more about it by reading: Journeys Out of the Body
DMT is the most potent hallucinogen on earth. Strangely enough, it’s found in the human body as well as thousands of species of animals and plants. They call it the “spirit molecule”. It’s generated in the pineal gland and secreted to the organism during NDE’s (near-death experiences).
However, there’s a tradition of smoking a synthesized dose of DMT. The effects last for around 5-10 minutes during which you may have a profound spiritual experience.
Related content: Entities From The DMT Experience
Learn more about it by reading: DMT: The Spirit Molecule
This discipline requires you to think profoundly about your life, its meaning, and God (if you’re religious). In the Christian tradition, it means to have a Vision of God (or Union with God, known from Greek as theoria). In the Eastern Orthodox tradition it’s called Theosis (similar to Apotheosis – making divine).
It’s a transformative state you can achieve through catharsis (purification of mind and body) and theoria (illumination). According to the religious dogma, getting closer to this state is very much the meaning of human life.
Learn more about it by reading: Contemplation: Finding Ourselves, Finding God
This is an excellent contemplative discipline because it combines meditation with your regular walk. The most popular form is known as Kinhin, coming from the Japanese Zen tradition. It’s practiced as a break between intensive sitting meditation sessions.
Usually, you take each step after each breath with an uninterrupted focus. This means you’ll walk slowly, but there are other forms where you can walk faster. It’s recommended to practice it for 20 minutes a day for maximum results.
Learn more about it by reading: How to Walk (Mindfulness Essentials)
This is the primary practice of the Zen Buddhist tradition. The technique helps you to gain insight into the nature of existence. You sit in a seiza, lotus, or semi-lotus position, on a cushion called zafu, in a group gathered in a meditation hall, zendo.
The regular session may last up to an hour. It’s announced by ringing a bell three times and finalized by ringing the bell once or twice. During the practice, you keep a straight posture, concentrate your mind on a single object of attention, practice with koans (spiritual riddles) and do Shikantaza (“silent illumination) – meditate without any specific object of attention.
To further your practice, you can go on Ango (“dwelling in peace”) – three months of intensive study and practice. You may even become a monk and perform Sesshin – an intense meditation period.
Learn more about it by reading: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
Practicing with a mantra means repeating a certain spiritually-charged phrase or sound. You may either recite it in your mind, out loud or listen to the sounds coming from another source. You may connect it with meditation, energy work (chakras), visualization, and getting in touch with your feelings.
The purpose of repeating the mantra is to quiet the “monkey mind” and become more centered. The phrase becomes an object of mental focus. But it can also be used to change your state of mind through the vibrations it produces.
Learn more about it by reading: The Ancient Science of Mantras: Wisdom of the Sages
In this technique, you use your breath the get into an altered state of consciousness. The practice comes from the New Age movement, and it was developed by psychiatrists Stanislav and Cristina Grof. You can even become certified at it after completing a 600-hour training course. But don’t try it at home – it’s better to work with a certified professional and in a group setting. One session may last from 2 to 3 hours in total.
Learn more about it by reading: Holotropic Breathwork: Healing Through Psychedelic States
The literal translation of Dzogchen is “Great Perfection”. It’s a tradition coming from Tibetan Buddhism, and its primary aim is to help practitioner discover their primordial state of being.
The teaching is central to Nyingma and Bon, two of the oldest spiritual traditions of Tibet. According to many, it gives you the shortest and most straightforward path to liberation.
It consists of an anthology of practices. These include standard meditation, tantra practices, and many other more esoteric activities like recognizing the nature of your mind through sudden awakening (in this respect, it’s similar to Zen). Working with a teacher is especially important in this tradition as it will help you to make progress much faster.
Learn more about it by reading: Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State
This practice can be found in Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Shinto. Like with other mantra practices, you repeat the phrase (for example “om namah shivaya”) or a sacred syllable (for example “OM”) out loud or in your own mind.
You need to perform this practice in a seated meditation posture. But you can also do it when performing other activities or when you have a spare moment.
Repeating a mantra is training your mind to get rid of harmful mental patterns. According to Kularnava Tantra: “Japa is so-called because it removes the sin accumulated in thousands of lives and because it reveals the Supreme Deity.”
The most popular mantras are: “Om,” “So hum,” “Om Namah Shivayah,” and “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.”
Learn more about it by reading: Japa Yoga A Comprehensive Treatise on Mantra-Sastra
Retreats have been a staple of every spiritual discipline in history. There’s a three-month Ango retreat in Zen tradition. But there’s also a Chilla (otherwise known as Khalwa) coming from the Sufi tradition, and known across Persia and India.
To complete the spiritual ordeal, you will need to sit for 40 days without food (chilla means ‘forty’) and practice meditation throughout the whole time. The task was completed by the Sufi poet Hafiz of Shiraz (14th century), among others.
Learn more about it by reading: Wilderness Time: A Guide for Spiritual Retreat
The vast majority of the world’s religions have a sacred text which lays down the foundations of the faith. There are texts such as The Old and New Testament, The Quran, The Book of the Dead, Vedas, Torah, and dozens of others.
The primary tenets of each religion can be found on the pages of each text. That’s why practitioners read it over and over again to become better at understanding it and remembering the core concepts. In many religions, there is even a tradition of memorizing the whole text.
Learn more about it by reading: A list of all major religious texts from around the world.
Dancing is one of the best ways to awaken your spirituality because it’s engaging and changes your physiology and emotional state. Emotion follows motion, so by dancing, you can reach an ecstatic state and get closer to your spiritual core.
It’s been present primarily in the Hindu religion with formalized styles such as Bharatanatyam. But there are also the Whirling Dervishes of the Sufi tradition, the Afro-American tradition of Candomblé, as well as liturgical worship dance of Christianity. These dances are usually performed in a temple or other sacred places.
Related content: Spirituality Through The Movement of The Human Body
Learn more about it by reading: Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance: Awakening Spirituality Through Movement and Ritual
This is a form of prayer encountered in Islam where the worshipers need to pray five times a day. It’s one of the five pillars of Islam, and the discipline requires praying at prescribed times.
The faithful need to face towards Qibla in Mecca. The practice consists of standing up, bowing, prostrating oneself, and then sitting on the ground. With each posture, one recites certain parts of the holy scripture (or other phrases and prayers).
Salat (or Salah) can be best translated as communication with the divine. It’s different from a Christian form of prayer where you usually make a petition to God. Here it’s more about “connection” and “communication.”
Learn more about it by reading: How to Pray: A Step-by-Step Guide to Prayer in Islam
Travel has major significance, especially in the world of Islam. Traveling to Mecca, the holy city is a religious duty that all Muslims must complete at least once in their lifetime. In the tradition of Islam, there’s also the concept of Rihla, a journey, especially within Morocco. The purpose of this journey is to meet other pilgrims, travel to Hejaz (Saudi Arabia) or other foreign lands.
But a form of a spiritual journey is present in the majority of the world’s religions. In fact, undertaking such a journey doesn’t require a religious context at all. For example, you may decide to embark on a self-guided tour in the footsteps of the wandering Japanese poet Basho who traveled the forests while composing his famous haikus.
Learn more about it by reading: Hajj & Umrah: Journey of Life Time – A Complete Guide
You may think that dreams only fall into the domain of psychology and psychiatry. But there is also a profound spiritual meaning to some of your dreams. Usually, you realize the significance of your dream right after waking up.
Dreams are a way of your subconscious to communicate with your conscious mind. It’s worth your time to learn the discipline of dream interpretation as this can lead to many realizations and healing of your mental wounds. I recommend reading books on Jungian psychology to get started. Dreams are full of symbols, hidden meanings, and can even be premonitory.
Learn more about it by reading: The Dream and the Underworld
Samyama means “holding together,” “binding,” or “integration.” It’s based on a combination of three primary practices Dhāraṇā (concentration), Dhyāna (meditation), and Samādhi (union).
It’s an advanced spiritual path that you can only start when you’ve first mastered Ashtanga Yoga. The goal of the practice is to awaken your intuition by “listening/studying, investigation/contemplation, realization/meditation.” To attain spiritual awakening, you would need to go through various ‘perfections’ or ‘successes’ (siddhi).
Learn more about it by reading: Samyama – Cultivating Stillness in Action, Siddhis, and Miracles
Tai Chi is a holistic practice encompassing exercises related to mind, body, and spirit. It originated in ancient China, and it’s easy to learn, giving the disciples many health benefits. There are a couple of different styles of Tai Chi (Chen, Yang, Wu, and Sun).
The basic practice consists of controlled body movements and breathing, generating internal energy (chi), song (listening exercises), jing (serenity exercises), and mindfulness. With Tai Chi you would learn about different sequences of movements, coordination, body alignment, and protection of your joints.
By practicing Tai Chi, you awaken the inner energy of your body, which will then give you a host of health benefits. Tai Chi is usually practiced in groups.
Learn more about it by reading: The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan: A Comprehensive Guide to the Principles and Practice
This is a form of exercise with a spiritual connotation first developed in ancient China over 4000 years ago but now practiced worldwide. Qigong means “life energy cultivation,” and it’s a holistic system consisting of coordinated body movements, breathing, and meditation.
It helps you to balance your life energy (chi), and achieve overall health. It’s a part of traditional Chinese medicine, Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.
Learn more about it by reading: The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing
It’s a system of meditation developed by Eknath Easwaran. It was first described in 1978 book titled “Meditation” and then taught throughout California. It’s an eight-point system aiming to improve one’s spiritual growth.
It’s called passage meditation because the first step consists of meditating on a text passage (which you should practice for around 30 minutes a day after waking up). The repeated passages come from many different spiritual traditions, and they aim to transform one’s “character, conduct, and consciousness.”
The other seven points of the system are to be practiced throughout different days of the week:
- Repetition of a mantram (mantra, or prayer word)
- Slowing down
- One-pointed attention
- Training the senses
- Putting others first
- Spiritual fellowship
- Spiritual reading
Learn more about it by reading: Passage Meditation – A Complete Spiritual Practice: Train Your Mind and Find a Life That Fulfills
It’s an ancient practice of setting aside one day per week for rest and worship. In the Book of Exodus, sabbath is the seventh day commanded by God as a holy day. It originates from the biblical commandment, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
A holy day is also observed in religions other than Christianity, including Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism.
The practice is also present in secular traditions, as a way to promote health, safety, spirituality, recreation, and general well-being.
Learn more about it by reading: Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World
Aboriginal Australians developed this practice. It involves burning different native plants believed to have cleansing properties and ability to ward off evil spirits. Usually, the leaves of Eremophila longifolia (dogwood) are heated, which produces a strong antimicrobial effect.
There are other smoking-related spiritual practices throughout the world, especially in the Native American religions, where smoking a sacred pipe is practiced to this day.
There is also a broad tradition surrounding cannabis and spiritual practice, especially in Hinduism where sacred cannabis drink bhang is present. The cannabis plant is also used in the Rastafari culture.
Learn more about it by reading: Secrets of Aboriginal Healing: A Physicist’s Journey with a Remote Australian Tribe
Also known as Metta Bhavana, this discipline comes from the Tibetan Buddhism tradition. It consists of awakening emotions of love and friendliness towards all beings on earth and in the whole universe.
There are five stages, each of which should last for around five minutes. First, you focus on feelings of peace, calm, and tranquility. Then you think of your good friend and wish them well. After that, you think about someone who you don’t particularly like and still wish them well. Then you think about your enemy or someone you have difficulties with and wish them well too. In the final stage, you think about humanity as a whole and extend feelings of love towards everyone and everything.
Learn more about it by reading: Heart of Unconditional Love: A Powerful New Approach to Loving-Kindness Meditation
This is similar to a spiritual retreat, but it can be more like a spiritual way of life, leading to the life of a hermit. By going into silence for extended periods, you will become attuned to an inner voice that will reveal your true self.
Solitude was practiced by all founders of major world religions, as well as great minds throughout history, including Plato, Goethe, Seneca, and Abraham Lincoln.
It involves going into a secluded place for a minimum of 30 minutes and contemplating your life and the nature of the universe. This can lead to gaining profound insights into the nature of reality and the awakening of creativity.
Learn more about it by reading: The Spiritual Disciplines: Solitude and Silence
Music and different forms of sacred sounds have been present in spiritual traditions for millennia. This involves repeating mantras, chanting, singing, and playing musical instruments.
In the Hindustani classical music tradition, there’s a concept of chilla katna. It involves spending 40 days in isolation from the outside world and committing oneself to musical practice. It’s not only about music but also about transforming one’s life.
In the Japanese Zen tradition, there’s a practice called Suizen. It consists of playing shakuhachi (a traditional bamboo flute) with the purpose of attaining self-realization.
There’s also Nada Yoga, an Indian metaphysical system in which music is treated as a means of achieving Nirvana (spiritual awakening).
But you can also practice in a secular setting by grabbing your favorite instrument and playing from the bottom of your heart. This is a part of musical therapy, which is excellent for managing your emotions.
Related content: Music In My Life – A Poem
Learn more about it by reading: Sacred Sound: Experiencing Music in World Religions
The purpose of Karmamudrā (“action seal”) is to transform sexual activity (usually associated with lust and desire) into a spiritually liberating practice.
There are three main elements of practice to look at here. The first is a visualization of sexual union. The second is a generation of internal heat and awakening of internal energy channels. The third is the so-called sexual yoga, which could be a topic of a whole book.
The fundamental goal is to be present and enjoy each other’s bodies without thinking about orgasm all the time. It’s a slow-food type of sexual experience where you take your time and in the end, even abstain from orgasm to preserve sexual energy.
Learn more about it by reading: The Heart of Tantric Sex: A Unique Guide to Love and Sexual Fulfillment
This is a particular type of meditation coming from the Sufi tradition. It’s about observing your own spiritual heart and getting insight into your relationship with your creator. The great Sufi mystics practiced it, and its primary purpose is to purify your character and develop yourself spiritually.
It’s also about behaving morally and living a pure life. This includes having humility, modesty, standing up for the truth, and doing the best you can in each action.
There are a couple of different stages of the practice. These include entering somnolence (the state between sleep and wakefulness), receiving messages from your subconscious mind, activating your spiritual eye, and melting away from your ego.
Learn more about it by reading: Sufi Meditation and Contemplation
This is a precept of many spiritual doctrines. Altruism is one of the highest virtues any person can practice as it teaches you to share your goods with others. This usually brings more good things into your life.
“The words ‘genius’ and ‘generous’ come from the Latin root ‘genere’ meaning ‘to beget.’ To have a genius for life is to possess the ability to generate warmth and well-being in others. Largess literally enlarges our lives.” – Wendy Lustbader
Learn more about it by reading: The Generosity Path: Finding the Richness in Giving
It’s a practice coming from the Christian tradition. By fasting, abstinence, or kneeling for a long time, one can foster the process of sanctification (becoming holy). A more extreme form of the practice includes self-flagellation (not recommended).
Learn more about it by reading: Mortification of the flesh (Wikipedia Article)
There is a big “no-fap” movement around the world. It started as a group of young men who tried to battle porn addiction. Then it transformed into a way of living where you stop ejaculating to preserve sexual energy. The modern version of the idea comes from the famous book “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. But in reality, abstinence from sexual activity and “preserving the seed” has been present in different spiritual traditions for ages.
Learn more about it by reading: The Coiled Serpent: A Philosophy Of Conservation And Transmutation Of Reproductive Energy
Many spiritual traditions recommend eating only certain types of food that are considered pure (or kosher). For example, in the Jewish tradition, you’re not allowed to eat a whole range of foods (including different types of meat, grain, and fruit). Similar practices are present in Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.
The purpose of following these dietary laws is to keep your spirit pure and ready for spiritual development.
Learn more about it by reading: The Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World
Composing poetry can be treated as a spiritual discipline. It allows you to connect with deeper parts of yourself and express your innermost feelings.
The Japanese short-form poems called haiku are a great example of that. Another branch of deeply spiritual poetry comes from the Sufi tradition, originating in Persia.
Sometimes, even reciting poetry (especially out loud) from masters such as Hafiz, Saadi, Ferdowsi, Nizami, or Omar Khayyam may help you achieve a higher state of mind.
Learn more about it by reading: The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry
Do not confuse divination with divinization. The latter is a concept is coming from Christian theology. It refers to apotheosis (“making divine”), and it’s a transformative effect of divine grace. To achieve it was the goal of the so-called Desert Fathers who used different forms of praxis (practice), for example, hesychasm (contemplative prayer), a never-ending “prayer of the heart,” and asceticism.
Divination, on the other hand, is a practice that enables you to foresee the future by being inspired by God. This is done mainly by shamans, prophets, and oracles. In many cultures around the world, it’s a standardized ritual that includes reading signs, omens, events, and consulting supernatural powers to gain insight. Methods used in divination may consist of astrology, geomancy, numerology, feng shui, reading tarot cards, and consulting the I Ching.
Learn more about it by reading: The Ultimate Guide to Divination
This is one of the most beautiful spiritual rituals included in this list. It’s also called the Way of Tea, and it involves drinking the traditional Japanese green tea called matcha (or, more rarely sencha).
The Japanese Zen tradition has deeply influenced the ceremony. To start the ceremony, you may invite guests, sit on a traditional mat called tatami, and get your equipment ready. It includes a white linen cloth, tea bowl, tea caddy, tea scoop, and a tea whisk. Then you would need to follow an elaborate procedure that varies from school to school.
The Way of Tea started with Buddhist monks coming from China to Japan in the middle ages. The ceremony emphasizes simplicity and naturalness. It also focuses on the inner experience of impermanence and the outer experience of material life.
Learn more about it by reading: The Book of Tea
Calligraphy is known as the geometry of the spirit. It plays a vital role in the many different traditions, especially Sufism, Buddhism, and the practice of Zen.
It may take you a lifetime to learn how to do it properly, but it’s worth the effort. In a way, it’s a merger between arts and language, which can also be a meditative practice. The practitioners focus on copying sacred texts or phrases in an aesthetically pleasing way.
If you treat it as an art, you’ll make sure to pay close attention to every step of the process. This includes breathing, mindfulness, and concentration.
This reminds me of the miniaturists I once read about in Orhan Pamuk’s book “My Name is Red”. Their ultimate goal was to become blind by producing miniatures. This would let them see the inner light of God. If they didn’t achieve blindness at an old age, they would pierce their eyes with a large needle to finally see the inner light.
Learn more about it by reading: Sacred Scripts: A Meditative Journey Through Tibetan Calligraphy
This is probably the oldest spiritual discipline known to humanity. Different forms of music existed thousands of years before the first formal religions were developed. You can find the first traces of shamanic drumming in Mongolia and West Africa.
The music was always a part of a ceremony performed by a Shaman, and it put the practitioners in a state of ecstasy and spiritual connection. Psychedelic drugs and sacred dance are often combined with drumming to create an even stronger effect.
It’s been proven that if you listen to a drumbeat frequency of 180 bpm for around 15 minutes, you’ll naturally achieve an altered state of consciousness.
Nowadays drumming is known to produce many therapeutic effects as well. These include boosting your immune system, synchronizing your brain hemispheres, and release of emotional trauma.
Learn more about it by reading: The Shamanic Drum: A Guide To Sacred Drumming
Gardening can be considered a spiritual practice primarily in the Zen Buddhist context. If you ever enter a Japanese garden, you will realize that it puts your mind in a state of calm awareness and lets you appreciate nature at a deeper level.
It also lets you reconnect with nature and bring new life into existence. It enables you to imagine different forms, plants, and see great potential in a bare plot of land (or even your apartment). It also teaches you discipline as you need to tend to your garden to keep it flourishing.
“Gardening is active participation in the deepest mysteries of the universe.” – Thomas Berry
Learn more about it by reading: Spiritual Gardening: Creating Sacred Space Outdoors
This is a practice that includes drumming, but it’s much more than that. First, you shouldn’t eat at least a couple of hours before starting the (inner) journey. You should also avoid alcohol tobacco or any other psychoactive substances for at least 24 hours before starting.
Instead, you should focus on meditating and getting in touch with your mind and body. When you start, you form a firm intention of what you expect from the experience. The goal of the practice is to arrive in the spirit world to retrieve information, connect with your ancestors, and re-energize your soul. As you can imagine, this is not easy, so you would need to practice with an experienced shaman to learn how to do it properly.
Learn more about it by reading: The Shamanic Journey: A Practical Guide to Therapeutic Shamanism
Forgiveness is a huge element of the Christian and Buddhist spiritual tradition. But to practice it, you don’t need to subscribe to any religion. Vast swaths of the population hold a grudge towards someone or something, and this prevents their spiritual growth.
Perhaps you’ve been maltreated as a child, molested, or even survived a terrorist attack. All of these things can derail your life for months and years to come. But one of the most important things you can do to heal yourself is to forgive everything truly.
Recognize that in the state of the universe you find yourself in, the events couldn’t have unfolded differently. So stop the hate and “love your enemies.” This will heal your psyche like nothing else.
Learn more about it by reading: Forgiveness: 21 Days to Forgive Everyone for Everything
Art is known to produce feelings of deep appreciation of life and the universe. In this context, it can be treated as a spiritual practice. For example, if you decide to go into one of the best art museums in the world and indeed pay attention, you’ll come out transformed. You’ll forget about the mundane and elevate your consciousness to a higher level.
It’s not only about art appreciation but about art production too. For example, one of the oldest spiritual disciplines consists of drawing mandalas. A mandala is an abstract design which usually comes in a circle form. Each mandala is different, and it will reflect your current state of mind and even reveal more profound truths to you.
But you can engage in other forms of spiritual art like sung mystical poetry, playing a musical instrument, or painting.
Learn more about it by reading: Concerning the Spiritual in Art
It can be translated as “sitting in silence.” The practice was developed by Zhu Xi and Wang Yang-ming and comes from the Neo-Confucian tradition.
In ancient times, meditation was not a big part of Confucianism, but as Buddhism spread into China, it started influencing the culture in a big way. Contrary to Buddhist meditation, which focuses on developing powerful abilities of concentration, Jing Zuo is about paying attention to your current life situation and being present while attending to your daily affairs.
Another difference between the Buddhist practice and Jing Zuo is that in the Neo-Confucian meditation, you focus on this world, and perfecting yourself, and not on getting free of your ego. Also, Jing Zuo is a part of a more extensive Confucian system which “starts with individual meditation and goes through personal enhancement, self-discipline, personality integrity, family integration, state governance, and reaches the excellence of universal commonwealth.”
Learn more about it by reading: Jing Zuo (a Wikipedia article)
This practice comes from China from the Daoist tradition. It was first developed during the times of the Tang dynasty (618-907). It’s an advanced technique, and its purpose is to let you achieve a state of deep trance and meditative absorption. This, in turn, allows you to completely let go of your ego identity and only perceive the cosmic current of the Dao.
It’s challenging to translate zuowang, but it can be understood as “being in a state of mental absorption” or “being oblivious to oneself and one’s surroundings.”
Learn more about it by reading: A Daoist Practice Journal: Come Laugh With Me
How to integrate spiritual practice into your day-to-day life?
It’s all a matter of habit, you see. Many holy men (or women) wake up at 4:00 AM to 5:00 AM to engage in meditation or prayer before the day starts.
This may seem too extreme for a layperson like you and I. But the rule is the same – we need regular practice to make progress in any spiritual discipline.
Every morning, right after taking a cold shower, I meditate for 45 minutes. This is the foundation of my spiritual progress. The morning is best because your mind is fresh and you’re setting yourself up for success for the rest of the day.
Then, in the evening, I may still sit for 20 minutes or practice yoga or pranayama.
Whatever time you choose, keep track of your commitment and consistency. You can do it by downloading a habit tracking app like “Habits.”