Meditation is a concept that is well-integrated in modern life style. It cuts across religious, cultural, and geographical boundaries and is beneficial for all levels of human existence. Meditation is a word that is equally used and abused in the modern world. Several meditation methods have evolved so as to satisfy the taste and style of meditators; but not all of them are authentic methods. The ancient scriptures are the only reliable source of knowledge as far as meditation is concerned. Here we will discuss the theoretical and practical aspects of meditation in the light of the knowledge provided in the ancient scriptures. Viewers, who want to learn meditation in its classical form or are facing any obstacles in their meditative journey, can contact our team of experts; their queries will be answered. They can learn meditation free of cost.
Relaxation: An effective tool for meditation
In this age of long working hours and assignments and deadlines, it is but obvious that stress levels have reached an all-time high. Thus, there is a great need for relaxation. People have their own ways of relaxing. Some listen to music, some simply sleep, some open their hearts to someone close and feel relaxed. These are all ways to divert the mind’s attention from within the body or mind and point it to something that is taking place outside. Some seek help from psychologists, who suggest visualizing something. This too, however, is a way to block the thoughts; one absorbs oneself in that fantasy to such an extent that the mind is diverted from whatever is taking place within.
These methods, however helpful they may prove to be on a short-term basis, they are unable to provide long term relief.
Yogic relaxation, on the other hand, is generated from within the consciousness. It is a method of preparation for meditation, a way to calm down the mind so that it can dwell in the depth of consciousness while meditating.
The yogic concept of relaxation is that of something that can’t be induced from without, and is something, as said before, generated from within the consciousness, for we do, after all, desire to explore within the consciousness.
The mind’s nature is restless, and therefore the mind must be trained to relax. In yogic relaxation, nothing from outside is being given to the mind; instead, it is being made to concentrate upon that which is already within. It is the process of surveying the mind mentally.
These practices provide mental peace and one feels energetic after just few seconds of practice. One may practice this at the beginning, middle and or at the end of any asanas. These exercises seem very easy at first, but if followed rigorously, are quite difficult for the tension in all the muscles of the body must be consciously released. The muscles often appear completely relaxed but, in fact, tightness still remains. Even when one sleeps, the comfort is elusive. Constant postural abnormalities exert strain on the back muscles, providing them little solace in the traditional supine pose. That is why these exercises prove very relaxing to the spine and related structures. The primary aim of such practices is to relax the every bit of muscle and provide it a deep repose. Generally all asanas follow a certain fixed time period, but one can perform these practices any time.
Relaxation can be done as a practice of its own when the time available is less and one just wishes to let go by turning within, or it can be done before yogic postures so as to turn the consciousness inward.
It is most effective if practiced after some yogic postures or stretching exercises. In this sequence it makes the platform for breathing exercises and meditation.
The key principle in learning to directly relax is in moving the attention through different aspects of one's own being. This might be attention on aspects of the physical body, the breath, or the mental process. This principle is intertwined in the practical explanations. Relaxation exercises are most commonly practiced either in shavasan (corpse posture) or in makrasan (crocodile posture).
Attention and breath are the key features in yogic relaxation .The importance of attention and breath in relaxation cannot be overstated. Again, the key principles for relaxation are:
1. Attention to the various aspects of your being
2. Breath awareness
These two work together naturally in allowing the relaxation of the physical body, as well as the mind. It is extremely useful for a practitioner of Yoga Meditation to remember these two simple principles.
There are several methods of relaxation, which serve different purposes. Some of them are extremely beneficial in soothing the nervous system, while others are good for muscular relaxation. We will describe a few of them in this column from time to time.
Preparing for meditation
As does any other important task, meditation needs preparation. Meditation is a process of going inside, being in touch with our souls or the “Atman”. In this process, environmental and physical factors may create many disturbances. It is best to minimize them before one starts practicing meditation. Here we will discuss first the environmental factors then the physical factors-
Environmental factors- For a serious student of meditation it is must to set aside a time and place for his/her meditation practice. An accomplished practitioner of meditation can meditate anywhere, anytime, but a student must practice meditation at a fixed time and place. This is very important for the conditioning of the untamed and unruly mind of a new student. When we sit at a fixed time and place for meditation, our mind automatically starts to be quiet at that very time and place. Apart from conditioning, there is one more reason for keeping one place separate for meditation; accumulation of meditative vibrations in that place. This makes it easier to meditate in that place.
Although every time is a good time for meditation, early morning and late evening are times, which are best for meditative practices. It is so because these are the times when nature is quieter and the practitioner is in a relaxed mood. This is a general rule but still the best time to meditate for a person is when he/she can meditate without causing inconvenience to others, being disturbed or feeling rushed. It has been said in the Patanjali Yogsutra that for a person who has strong yearning for salvation and for a woman practitioner every time is suitable. Keeping a fixed time for meditation is also important because this way mind becomes conditioned and quiets easily at that time.
Similarly, one can meditate anywhere, but it is helpful to assign a separate place for meditation. It also helps in the practice of meditation. In the Hathyoga Pradipika, it is stated that the yogi should do his/her practices in a small room, situated in a solitary place, being four cubic squares, free from stones, fire, water and disturbances of all kinds. It should have a small door, and should be free from holes, hollows. It should be neither too high nor too low, and free from dirt, filth and insects. In today’s circumstances, for a householder it can be a separate meditation room or a quiet and separate corner in a room. Ideally, this should be a place that is not suffocated, damp, stuffy or noisy. If it is not possible to have a separate room, it is a good idea to mark that place with a curtain or screen. That area should not be used for any other work so that one does not get distracted. Whatever you are using for sitting while meditating, a mat, a blanket, a chair, should not be used by any other person or for any other purpose.
Physical Factors- Physical discomfort is a main cause of disturbance while meditating. It may be lack of sleep, wrong posture; overeating, less eating etc. It is said in the Srimad Bhagvad Gita that a person who eats too much or who eats too little; who sleeps too much or sleeps too little cannot be Yogi. Therefore, in this context, moderation is the key. In the Hathyoga Pradipika, six causes are described as destroyers of Yoga- overeating, exertion, talkativeness, unreasonable adherence to rules, company of men and unsteadiness. A person
who wants to meditate should not sit for meditation just after a big meal, nor should he/she be hungry. One who wants to meditate should always eat light and fresh food.
The same principle applies to the context of sleep. Lack of sleep causes drowsiness during meditation and too much of sleep leads to sloth and inertia. Here again, balance is the key.
If there is any physical pain or discomfort in body, it should be treated first or the practitioner will end up meditating on that body part only.
While meditating, the practitioner’s body should be rested properly. To sit for a comfortable meditation session, one must train his/her body to sit straight and in the right posture.
Before starting to meditate, it is very beneficial to do some light stretching exercises or Yogic postures. Then one should do some relaxation to calm the energy. It should be followed by some breathing exercises or simple Pranayam practices. It helps in balancing the internal energy and calms the mind.
Obstacles in meditative life
The journey for self realisation is not an easy and smooth one; it is a journey on a bumpy road. Everyone who gathers the courage to tread this path has to go through a whale of obstacles - some as deep as a sea and some as big as a mountain. A real voyager on the path of spirituality avoids the potholes and conquers the mountains with the same zeal, faith, and skill. Such a person completes his journey with his/her tireless efforts and the grace of his/her master and lord. Nothing is unachievable for a person who is persistent and devoted.
What are the main causes of those bumps on the road of spirituality? There are several factors that create obstacles in this path. Some of them are external and some of them are internal. It is the internal causes that are more effective and difficult to avoid.
According to the Hath Yog Pradipika (1:15) over eating, exertion, talkativeness, unreasonable adherence to rules, company of men and unsteadiness are the main causes of disturbance in sadhna. Lord Krishna has stated in the Bhagwadgita that a person who doesn’t maintain moderation in his/her life style can not be a yogi. In Yoga Sutra (1: 30) Maharshi Patanjali has stated disease, mental laziness, doubt, lack of enthusiasm, lethargy, clinging to sense enjoyments, false perception, and non-attainment of concentration to be the main hindrances in the path of sadhna. In Aparokshanubhuti (verse 128), Adi Shankaracharya has listed lack of inquiry, idleness, tasting of sensual pleasure and the sense of blankness as obstacles in the path of meditative life.
First, we will discuss the external causes of hindrances in the path of meditation, because external disturbances cause the internal disturbances. The main cause of these disturbances is an imbalanced approach towards life. Although we try to practice meditation, and some of us are sincere towards our practice too, but we don’t want to change our lifestyle. We get a false feeling of security by clinging to our old pattern of life. In our lives, spiritual practices and overindulgence in the satisfaction of senses go hand-in-hand. As a result, our efforts for spiritual progress and upliftment do not fructify. Late night activities, over eating and over sleeping increase the amount of Tamas in our Chitta and this makes us full of inertia and sloth. Exposure to worldly objects in the initial levels of practice awakens dormant desires and as a result, deviates us from the path of sadhna. In this context we should not take examples from the lives of great accomplished Yogis and saints and should always remember a simile given by Sri Ramakrishna. He used to say that a practitioner is like a tender plant that should be protected from outer influences so that it can grow and mature safely, while an accomplished saint is like a strong banyan tree that can survive any storm. Influence of the company of non spiritual persons is another main cause of hindrance in our progress in meditative life. Another very important and very complicated factor that hampers our spiritual growth is an imbalanced approach toward rules laid down for the spiritual practices. Not following these rules makes difficult for us to stick to our practice. On the other hand, being rigid in following them, somewhere we loose their essence. In that case, adherence to them becomes more important for us than any other thing and in the long run it
boosts our false ego
Apart from these external causes that are created by us there are a few internal causes, too. One of these causes is the eruption of dormant desires and vrittis. Meditation is a mental process that works at the deepest level of our conscious. When meditative effects stir our subconscious mind, our deepest desires and emotions start emerging to the surface. Some of us get entangled in those negative thought patterns while others get scared of them and abandon their practice. A very few fortunate ones conquer this stage by the grace and kind guidance of their masters. Meditative journey is not like a steep ride on a mountain…it is like a roller coaster ride. Ups and downs are part and parcel of this journey. Very often practitioners get discouraged by this pattern and abandon their practice due to the lack of faith.
To avoid these stumbling blocks, aspirants should be constantly vigilant. There are a few precautionary measures that we can take to avoid the above said obstacles or to minimize their impact. Swadhyay (study of spiritual literature), Satsang (company of spiritually evolved persons), and Sanyam (self control) can be our primary gears while trying to overcome these obstacles. Above all our efforts the most decisive and ultimate factor that makes us successful in leading a true meditative life is grace of the Guru and God.
A true spiritual Guru is an ocean of grace and compassion. The only prerequisite to get it is to become a vessel that is empty so that the stream of grace and love flowing from the Guru can fill us. Meditative life is not a life to be lead by weaklings, it is meant for brave hearts. Surrender in the lotus feet of Guru gives us tremendous courage to overcome all obstacles.
A basic Meditation method
There are four essential steps in a basic method of meditation as taught by the Gurus of the Himalayan tradition of Raja Yoga
1- Proper sitting,
2- Proper breathing
3- Breath awareness
4- Use of a mantra or sound
Before beginning meditation, one should understand that meditation is not
1-Blanking the mind (A blow of brick on your head can do it better)
2- Holding the breath
3- Exerting the body
4- Day dreaming
5- Sitting in sloth or inertia
Conditions for taking up a practice of meditation:
1- One can start the practice of meditation at any stage of life, it is never too late
2- People suffering from terminal illnesses can also meditate
3- People who can not sit because of physical problems can also start meditation.
Prerequisites for meditation:
1-One should be neither hungry nor overfed at the time of meditation
2-One should not be very tired or sleepy at the time of meditation
3-One should not be preoccupied at the time of meditation
4-One should try to sit at a fixed time, place and a separate seat for meditation, so that an energy field can develop there
5- The place for meditation should be silent, airy, semi-dark, dry and clutter-free.
1- Proper sitting implies a comfortable sitting posture, in which one feels easy to keep the head, neck and trunk properly aligned (here proper alignment means that the spinal cord should be in its natural shape of ‘S’ )
2- To attain this position, it is advisable to keep a folded blanket beneath the buttocks
3- It is advisable to sit in a cross legged position, but if it is not possible due to some physical problem (not discomfort, because discomfort can be conquered with constant practice), any posture in which the spine remains erect (allowing the prana to flow) may be adopted.
4- Sukhasan and swastikasan are the easiest sitting postures for meditation, but people who can not sit on floor can take up maitri asana, using a chair.
1-Proper breathing means jerk free and even diaphragmatic breathing (to practice diaphragmatic breathing, one should practice makrasan and sand bag exercise).
2- It is advisable to practice a few rounds of NADI SHODHAN PRANAYAM before the meditation session; it calms the mind and makes the pranvayu SUSHUMNAVAHI.
Starting the meditation
1 – Sit in a proper place, maintaining a proper posture and try to keep your awareness limited as if there is no place beyond the space your body is occupying. Draw an imaginary circle of light surrounding you; that is the light of the grace of the Almighty.
2- Keep yourself aware of your body and do systematic relaxation
2- Now simply inhale and exhale through your diaphragm and concentrate on your breath; inhale and exhale in equal duration, feel the flow of your breath at the tip of your nose
3- Your breath should be rhythmic and obstruction free; there should be no jerk or pause in between inhaling and exhaling.
4- Now let the sound of ‘SOHAM’ emerge from within. SO with inhalation and HAM with exhalation. Remember, you don’t have to repeat this sound using your tongue, throat or any other vocal organs. Just let it emerge from within.
5- Gradually you will feel your existence filled with this very sound of SOHAM.
6- If you find your mind wandering, again do a quick relaxation and re-start mental repetition of SOHAM.
7- You can continue this process for as long as you enjoy.
8- When you have finished it, don’t rush to get back to your routine. Make cups of your palms, cover your eyes with them, and sit for few minutes breathing evenly. Assimilate the peace and tranquility generated by this process for few minutes, preferably remembering your favorite deity, and then slowly leave your meditation seat.
9- This is the basic process of meditation; that will lead you towards a thoughtless state. Remember, meditation is not a state or a result, it is a process. You don’t have to reach anywhere, the process itself is the result; there is no destination, and the journey itself is the destination.
Sitting for the meditation
It is true that meditation is not a physical process, but meditating in a proper physical position helps one attain a sound meditative state. The aim of sitting in a proper meditative posture is not making any statement; you don’t have to adopt any complicated posture. The aim of sitting in a proper meditative posture is just keeping the head, neck and trunk straight. For this, it is necessary to make a habit of sitting in a comfortable and strain-free state in a chosen posture for a considerable amount of time.
Although for an adept or siddh, any posture is a good meditative posture, but for a practitioner or sadhak, things are a bit different. After a person reaches an intermediate stage of meditation, a surge of energy starts emerging from the root of the spinal chord. To let this energy flow properly, it is necessary to maintain a steady sitting posture so one can keep his/her spine straight. Apart from this, applying different locks during advanced practices of meditation is not possible if the practitioner has not adopted a proper meditative posture.
For this, you must choose a posture that is comfortable for your state of physical fitness and flexibility. Initially, if you are not used to sitting in that particular style, you may have some problem. In that case, first do a few simple yogic postures to make your body supple and flexible. Persistence makes one perfect in a posture.
There are a few very common problems faced in long sittings of meditation, such as numbness in the legs, stiffness in the shoulder and the neck, pain in the back muscles. There are simple remedies for them. The first and foremost remedy for these types of problems is practice. For numbness in legs during sessions, straighten your leg in between and massage them. For pain in the back muscles, practice some yogic postures to strengthen the back muscles. For stiffness in the neck and the shoulders, apart from yogic practices, try to relax your body and make it tension free while sitting. Sometimes beginners go beyond their capacity to keep their body straight and hurt themselves in the attempt. Here again the rule is moderation. One should never overdo, because it is a two way process, as one improves the posture, the meditation deepens, and at the same as the meditation deepens, the posture improves. Vital energy or Prana Shakti, ascending from the root of spinal chord, unblocks the energy stuck in different centers. This flow helps in the straightening of the spine.
Postures suitable for meditation are sukhasan (easy posture), swastikasan (auspicious posture) , siddhasan(accomplished posture).Apart from these there are several ways to sit in for meditation, but it is said by experienced and accomplished yogis that these are the postures best suitable for long sessions of meditation.