“Meditation”, is the buzz word of the wellness industry today. Discussing, or speaking about meditation is considered elite, and why not? When most of the celebrities are giving it its due credit for helping them manage the stress which is incidental to their efforts for keeping themselves sane in the insanely crazy environs of show business. Still maximum people don’t have an answer to the question ‘What is Meditation?
Its hard to choose from the the plethora of meditation techniques available today, like Sufi meditation, Buddhist meditation, and Christian meditation, each vying for the attention of the consumers of the highly advertised, commercialized health industry of the present world. Still, all are wondering, what exactly is meditation?
In order to make matters simply comprehensible there needs to be a common thread, the underlying principle which can define meditation in easy terms. The classical yoga of Patanjali defines meditation as the unbroken flow of concentration on a selected object.
The unbroken flow of the concentrated thought, single thought of the object, is compared to the continuous flow of oil, or honey as it is being poured from one vessel to another, not like the intermittent dripping of the water drops from the tap.
Next, this unbroken focus on the thoughts of the object of meditation must be maintained for a specific duration of time in order for it to qualify as meditation.
As per Patanjali, the ultimate goal of Yoga is to arrest the modifications of the mind, which keeps it embroiled in the smoke of the worldly affairs, so that one’s the smoke is dispersed off one can experience the real self ( pure consciousness) beyond it.
The experience of bliss as one realizes the unadulterated real consciousness or Purusha (each individual has its own Purusha) is the ultimate experience of “release” every one is hankering for.
The Mind, by virtue of its nature necessitates meditation as a tool to slow it down, so that one can see ahead of its machinations.
Thus, put in simple terms, the mind needs to be tied down to the single thought of a chosen object, or the mind needs to be diverted to a single object, and kept it fixed on only the thoughts of that object for a duration of time for it to eventually relax, or slow down.
What is Meditation in Ashtanga Yoga?
As per the Ashtanga yoga of Patanjali meditation is an organic process which involves step wise purification of the physical body, the vessel which holds the mind, in order to cleanse it off all agitations ( negativity) which have every chance to get transferred to the mind.
Mind and brain are different entities, Yamas and Niyamas of the classical yoga ensure a ethical life which only can beget the purity of the mind. Mastering the meditative asana like Padmasana is a pre requisite as it can facilitate long, easy, and comfortable sitting for the meditation practice, or abhyasa. These postures carry the future potential of meditative expansion.
Pranayama practice helps by aligning the psychosomatic apparatus ( lungs, nervous system, and the mind) to the process of meditation. As the flow of prana is regulated it becomes easy for the senses to withdraw from their objects at will.
The breath infused with fresh prana, during pranayama practice, enhances the sattvic content of the mind which is a necessity for it to slide into a tranquil state for meditation. The mind can also be an object of meditation. Certain techniques of reflection, reflecting over the days events being one of them, are recommended for understanding its structural weaknesses and rectifying them.
The distractions of the mind are reduced by the sustained practice of these early steps of Ashtanga yoga. A relaxed attitude ( Viragya) towards life, people, situations is recommended to instill tranquility and peace in the mind. Ones the mind is cleared of all obscurities ( thoughts which are nothing but imaginations of mind) the clear space in the head can spontaneously arouse meditative state. What meditation actually is expanding this clear space within the head, mind.
The classical yoga as revealed in the yoga sutras of Patanjali considers desires as another obscurity of the mind, giving up desires by concentrating sattvic thoughts in the mind infills it with peace unknown to the ones for whom life is nothing but a bling chase toward fulfilling the ever regenerating desires which keeps the mind obscured all the time.
Meditative state is a natural occurrence within a desire less mind. As the act of meditation transforms into a spontaneous occurrence from a mechanical one the mind breaks all its limits. In this state it is believed that the spacial extent of the individual consciousness of the practitioner of meditation merges with the universal consciousness which covers even the minutest atoms up to infinity; or he comes to know all about the universe and the spirit.
Thus, as an answer to the pertinent question ‘ What is meditation? one can say that as per Patanjali meditation is a sequential progress of purifying the mind, beginning from cultivating right attitudes towards others and onself. Good physical health is mandatory, as are the control of the senses ( pratyahara), and the mind.
Moderation in diet along with sticking to the principles of yogic diet is recommended, altering the life style to help cultivate a serious interest in knowing the spirit assist one in moving towards meditation.
Proper training from, and with complete submission to an experienced yoga teacher help one to succeed in meditation. Thus one needs to make an effort for preparing the mind for meditation instead of attempting to force shut it down in one go.
Dhayana in Yoga Sutras mean Meditation
The word Dhyana, the seventh step of the classical yoga means the state of meditation. Ones the practitioner has gained enough control of the mind by practicing concentration, Dharana – the previous step, the mind becomes ready for meditation or Dhyana. Now one is able to gain steadiness of the mind to be able to hold it on an object, long enough, to gain knowledge and wisdom.
Thus the fixing and holding of the personality complex – the Citta – at one place is meditation. The mind needs to be concentrated on an object for some time for it to be called meditation, the mind which is able to only momentarily focus on an object and then again experience fluctuations is not in meditation.
The measure of time duration to which the mind must be fixed on n object for meditation depends on the pranayama, or the duration to which one can control the biological activity of breathing.
Mind can only remain steady as far as the breathing process remains suspended ( as in kumbhaka and Shunyaka pranayamas), the moment one experiences the fluctuations of the breath ( the inhalation and exhalation) thoughts emerge within the mind causing disturbances.
The basic unit of time for meditative concentration is a minimum counts of 12 units, time duration of a pranayama is also known as matra, recommended for basic pranayam practice. If one is able to stop the breath till 12 counts ( while doing pranayama) and concentrate on Brahma, then it can be called as meditation without and object, but on a concept.
Otherwise, the objects on which one should meditate must be colorful, connected with beliefs, and sufficiently interesting to hold the mind on them. Dhyana is the continuous mental activity, is continuity of a particular modification of Citta on a given object, in a given area.
Holding the breath in Kumbhaka for 3 hours leads to meditation as per Hatha yoga texts, though Patanjali recommends the duration of 12 counts for the same. The essence of meditation is its continuity and prolongness.
In Bhakti yoga the object, concept of concentration is the love for the lover, the God, the love for the lover is the finest type of attention the mind can get into. Since such a love for God, with the exclusion of all other thoughts, is a continuous one this state of mind also qualifies as meditation.
The aim of all these techniques of meditation is to finally reach the thought less state of mind where one experiences absolute consciousness.
Morning Meditation Training practice for beginners
Sit with legs crossed in Sukhasana on a mat. Following the principles of alignment in yoga the hands must be placed on the knees keeping the arms and the shoulders. Keep the spine, the neck and the head vertically erect.
Spend a minute or two in relaxing the whole body, maintain a slight smile on the face for keeping the facial muscles relaxed, and then fix the attention on the tip of the nose, and observe the incoming and outgoing breath.
If other thoughts emerge in the mind do not stick to them nor forcibly try to stop them. Just become aware of the emerging thoughts and direct the attention back on to the incoming and outgoing breath.
To begin with you may experience chaos and not tranquility, but if u persevere to keep sitting for a few minutes, which should be gradually increased later, you will experience some tranquility setting in the mind.
Master this stage till you become capable of maintaining the attention on the breathing process for much longer. This will give you the first taste of meditation, ahead from here, you will be guided from within yourself. Once the concept of what meditation actually is clear one can begin exploring the guided steps towards meditation for the beginners.
Guide to Meditation, How to Meditate?
Meditation cannot be taught as sleep cannot be taught. For sleeping one has to gather the conditions for the sleep, a fluctuation of mind, to happen; proper space, bed, lighting etc. After this one has to get into the right posture for sleep and then use some techniques to calm the mind in preparation to fall asleep.
When we are asleep we are not aware that we are sleeping, same is the case with meditation. We prepare the conditions for meditation, change to a positive lifestyle, practice getting into a meditative posture daily, and then apply certain techniques to slow down the mental processes.
And, when meditation happens we are not aware of it. Here I am outlining the basic techniques and stages of meditation. Though the methods listed here are for the beginners, experienced meditation practitioners will also find it usable.
The Right Place for Transcendental Meditation
Reserve a part of the house, or the room just for doing meditation. Regularly clean it and keep it tidy of any possible distractions. In order to utilize the favorable magnetic vibrations of the Earth face towards North or East direction while meditating. Place a statue in a meditative posture, or some sacred item to create a focal point in this space.
The Best Time for Meditation
The best times for meditation are dawn and dusk. Though the most recommended time is the Brahmamuhurta ( between 4 am and 6 am). Or one can choose a time which is more conducive to retreat from daily activities to tranquilize the mind.
This is also the best time for meditation as both the mind and the ambiance are yet to be ruffled up by the activities of the day ahead. Practicing meditation at the same time and place each day helps condition the mind for it with least possible effort.
Form the Habit of Meditating Daily
Make it a habit of sitting for meditation at the same time, place everyday. Regularity trains the subconscious mind to easily settle down and focus effortlessly. One can begin with practicing for 15 – 20 mins and gradually build up to 30 mins. The habit once established firmly begins to generate the need to meditate every day on its own.
The Sitting Posture for Meditation
The posture for meditation should be comfortable, steady, erect, and relaxed. The psychic energy needs to travel unhindered from the base of the spine to the head in order to encourage concentration and steady the mind.
Any cross legged sitting posture provides the firm triangular base to the body. The crossing of the legs makes the closed path for the flow of the energy to stay within the body itself, and not to be lost in the external environment.
Regular practice of the meditative asana strengthens the back, a strong back can hold the sitting posture for longer meditation sessions later. As the concentration deepens metabolism, brain waves, and the breath will slow down.
Use the Breath for Meditation
Use the basic breathing exercises to relax the mind and for making the breathing rhythmic. Take a few deep breaths from the abdomen in order to flush the brain with oxygen. Next do equal breathing by inhaling for three seconds and exhaling for three seconds up till the breath becomes subtle on its own. This will steady the flow of prana which will calm the mind.
Mind as a Tool of Mindfulness
To begin with command the mind to stay quiet for some time. Keep it fixed on the present by aligning it with some activity happening in the present, like the breath. Develop the earnest desire, and will to keep the mind in the present, consciously turn the attention in the present in case any thought of past or future begins to surface.
Before every session take a resolve to stay in the reality of the present moment. This will keep the mind positive and turn it away from any destructive patterns in the long run. The distracting hopes and fears are all rooted in the past or the future, keeping the mind fixed on the present does away with their negative effects. Be patient and committed to your well being.
Choose a Point of Concentration
Choose a focal point in the body where the mind can rest. The mind need a resting point from daily distractions which keeps it away from the present. It needs to be grounded. The point of such focus can be the space between the eyebrows for the intellectually predisposed, and the heart for the more emotional ones. Ones the point of concentration is chosen stick to it without any changes.
Choose an Object of Meditation
The object of meditation must be a neutral and uplifting symbol. One can even choose a mantra to meditate upon, if so mentally coordinate its repetition with the breathing. Om can also be used. Mentally concentrating on the mantra is a more potent practice still one can chant it aloud in case feeling drowsy.
Do not change the mantra as the mind attunes to its sound and rhythm which helps focus easily. After some practice the sound of the mantra, the breath, and the point of concentration will merge with each other.
Give Space to the Mind
To begin with let the mind wander in all directions it want to, slowly as the prana becomes concentrated the mind gets steady as well. Slowly and gradually the mind will begin to free itself from various layers of emotional agitations. One must be both firm and gentle with one’s mind.
Dissociate from the Mind
Imagine you are watching the functioning of the mind objectively from the outside, as a third person witnessing its activities. Tell yourself that “I am not the mind am just watching it”. The mind will gradually slow down on it own.
The Meditative State
Persistent practice of concentration will increase the duration for which the mind can remain focused which will eventually lead to the meditative state of mind on its own. The state of meditation is described as a uninterrupted. steady flow of the energy similar to the flow of oil from one vessel to another.
If using mantra as an object of concentration repeating it constantly will lead to pure thought (positive thought) where the vibrations of the sound and the thought of the mantra will merge as one, and the awareness of its meaning disappears.
The mind now moves into the transcendental bliss, what remains is just the pure thought and the awareness of the self and the object. With further practice even this awareness is lost and a thoughtless stage of the awareness of super consciousness is attained.
Conclusion: Meditation is a state of mind and not a process. One has to create conditions in order to get into the meditative state. The Ashtanga yoga of Patanajali lays down sequentially the eight steps necessary for purifying the attitude, body, and prana of all agitations.
A mind held within a tranquil body can easily gravitate towards tranquility. Such a mind when concentrated on an chosen object slips into calmness as its range of fluctuations becomes limited to the object itself. Meditation is a state when the mind remains tied to the object for prolonged duration.
With further practice even the thoughts of the object disappear, leading to the complete dissolution of the mind which facilitates the merging of the individual consciousness to the universal consciousness called the state of Samadhi.