“Meditation does something no other technique can do. It introduces you to yourself on all levels, and finally leads you to the center of consciousness within.” Sri Swami Rama of the Himalayas
“You all want to know that reality or truth which is eternal; you want to experience that state of peace and equilibrium that is your essential nature. And yet the mind and personality prevent you from experiencing that finest level of yourself – the Center of Consciousness within. If you want to know your true Self, you should understand that it is neither your mind nor your personality. If you remove all the coverings and veils of your personality, one by one, you will find the real Light within. In meditation, you don’t eliminate any aspect of yourself or your ego. You learn to go inside to this Source and this Light. You are fully equipped to know yourself; you have all the means and tools to do so. You cannot honestly say, “I am not capable of knowing myself.” from The Art of Joyful Living by Swami Rama.
Swami Rama teaches that “meditation will give you the capacity to improve your health, your relationships and the skillfulness of all your activities”. His teachings are based on the system of Raja Yoga, of which meditation is the 7th of 8 limbs.
In the West, people have borrowed bits and pieces of Eastern teaching with the result that yoga and meditation are often misunderstood. “Meditation is a specific technique for completely resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different than the normal waking state. In meditation, you are fully awake and alert, but the mind is not focused on the external world or the events taking place around you… the mind is clear, relaxed and focused within”. Deeper than thinking, contemplating or fantasizing, it is ‘inner attention’. The difficulties we have meditating are because our minds are not trained in how to understand our own inner dimensions. Here we learn to pay attention to our body, breath and mind. The result is increased joyfulness, clarity and awareness as well as enhanced creativity and better health. Meditation is an enjoyable process which makes people self-reliant, with the inner strength to deal more effectively with life.
In meditation, we ask the mind to let go of its tendencies to think, analyze, remember, solve problems and focus on the events of the past or expectations of the future. Our minds have grooves or habit patterns and we don’t know how to be here in the present moment. In meditation, we relax into a quiet, effortless, one-pointed focus of awareness. We let go of mental distractions by focusing the mind on one object, such as the breath or a mantra. Common mantras include Om, Amen and Shalom or a universal mantra SoHam. According to Patanjali, the codifier of yoga science, mantra becomes a bridge between the mortal and immortal parts of life. It is a support and focal point given to the mind.
There are many types of meditation practices and all are valid as long as they have the goal of helping you attain inner stillness and focus. Meditation is not a religious ritual but is simply a method of exploring the inner dimensions of life and firmly establishing oneself in one’s own essential nature.
Consistent, systematic practice is needed to learn meditation and to reap its many benefits. We learn to relax the body, sit in a comfortable, steady position, allow the breathing process to become serene, witness objects in the mind, inspect the quality of thoughts and learn to not allow ourselves to become disturbed in any situation, whether we judge it to be bad or good. Preparation is essential to avoid obstacles which disturb meditation. Illness, a stiff tense body, being tired or agitated and being either hungry or having eaten too much get in the way. The person we bring to our meditation seat is the person we’ve been all day – the thoughts we think, the food we eat. Managing our lifestyle becomes part of our meditation practice.
A clean, quiet place is all you need for meditation. You can meditate any time but usually early morning or late at night are the times you are least likely to be disturbed. Meditating at the same time each day helps to build a mental habit and resist procrastination. The first step is to cleanse the body. Then use yoga postures to stretch and help ready the body for meditation. Relaxation of the body is followed by a focus on the breath. The breath is to be smooth and even with no pauses, breaks or jerks. Then we sit in meditation, following the breath with the universal mantra SoHam (pronounced so hum). Sit quietly and let your mind focus on the mantra. When you become uncomfortable or need to finish, bring your awareness back to the breath then the body. Make a gradual transition back to the external world.
The requirements for a good meditation posture are that it be still, steady, relaxed and comfortable. Some people think you have to be flexible enough to sit in the lotus position to ‘really’ meditate. The only important thing is to have your head, neck and trunk in alignment so you can breathe freely and diaphragmatically.
While sitting for meditation practice, bring the awareness to the breath and mentally hear ‘hum’ on the exhale and ‘so’ on the inhale. As thoughts come into the mind and you become aware of them, let them go, and bring your attention back to the sound of the mantra flowing with the breath. Do not create a war within by trying to stop your thoughts. Simply refocus your attention on the mantra. As you progress, you may want to consider receiving a personal mantra from a qualified teacher. Progress in meditation is shown by a deepening sense of quiet and stillness.
Meditation helps you to know and understand the mind – memory, concentration, emotion, reasoning and intuition. Meditators learn to coordinate, balance and enhance these capacities, using them to their fullest potential.
Breath awareness is essential in meditation and very misunderstood in the west. First, we establish diaphragmatic breath twenty-four hours a day, breathing through the nose in a pattern that is smooth and even with no pauses, jerks or breaks. Chronic stress can leave us with shallow, jerky breath and smoothing this out can give us dramatic benefits just on its own. More advanced breathing exercises (pranayama) are not imparted until the student has demonstrated stillness of body and serenity of breath. The breath is the link between the body and mind. Observing our breath pattern indicates the condition of the mind and body. Calming the breath also stabilizes the mind and body. Our breath is the vehicle by which life force/energy (prana) travels in the body.
Nadi shodanam, alternate nostril breathing, or Joyful Breath, is a powerful emotional stabilizer. Knowing ourselves and facing our fears is an essential part of getting to know ourselves. This can be accomplished through sincere, consistent meditation.
“Beyond body, breath and mind lies silence. From silence emanates peace, happiness and bliss. The meditator makes that silence his or her personal abode; that is the final goal of meditation.” Swami Rama of the Himalayas.
The Royal Path: The Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga
- Ahimsa – non-harming, non-violence. This includes working with compassion and kindness towards ourselves and others in thought, speech and action. Becoming our own best friend. Developing deep trust and patience with the process through direct experience of noticing and stopping aggression or harm towards ourselves and others.
- Satya – is truthfulness to ourselves and others in thought, word and deed. We cannot ‘see’ or let in what we judge, which makes Ahimsa and Satya a powerful pairing. Gently working with defense mechanisms and delusion or magical thinking are included.
- Asteya – is non-stealing, refraining from theft. Desiring what others have is based on jealousy and inadequacy, a sense of being cheated, and/or a desire for retribution. We can be haunted by the thought that someone else has what we feel we need to be complete and fulfilled. Cultivating asteya develops a sense of completeness and self-sufficiency and leads to freedom from the bondage of such cravings
- Brahmacharya – appropriate use of the senses. This becomes possible when sensory input and desires are enjoyed in a context permeated by kindness, truth and the other principles of yoga. Brahmacharya can include celibacy for some people, for others the focus is on conscious appreciation of all the senses and action that brings no harm.
- Aparigraha – non-grabbing, non-attachment, non-possessiveness. This is a mental attitude of not being addicted to or dependent on one’s possessions. Danger lies in attachment or in craving more, not in the objects themselves. This can include emotional attachment.
- Shaucha is purity of mind and body. Cultivate mindfulness and discrimination. Notice thoughts. Will this lead me to greater freedom or greater bondage and ignorance? Sincerity and perseverance are essential for this niyama.
- Santosha – contentment, is a state of mind not dependent on material status. Being happy with ‘what is’ leads to effort based on duty and service not discontent and/or anticipation of rewards.
- Tapas – ‘turning up the heat’, involves practices that lead to perfection of body, mind and senses. It is balanced, not excessive austerities. It involves pushing our edge, working at the limit of our capacity which generates heat. Tapas develops strength of body and mind and the blaze of spiritual fervor. Tapas must be practiced with ahimsa.
- Swadhyaya is study that leads to knowledge of the Self. It begins with understanding the scriptures intellectually. The rational acceptance of spiritual truths leads to intuitive insights and true understanding of these truths. Then knowledge of the Self dawns.
- Ishwara Pranidhana – is surrender to ultimate reality. You need infinite faith and dedication. Total surrender comes with time, sincerity and perseverance. The ego resists tenaciously but when ego is transcended, knowledge of Self is attained.
- Asana– physical postures of yoga. Meditative asana are for sitting for meditation and pranayama and cultural asana are for preparing the body for meditation as well as improved health and flexibility.
- Pranayama – working with breath and energy. It is control of prana, our vital energy that sustains body and mind. It’s grossest manifestation is the breath. Regulation of breath leads to regulation of mind. If the mind is disturbed, the breath will be also. Pranayama purifies and strengthens the nervous system.
- Pratyahara is withdrawal and control of the senses. Our mind contacts the world through the senses. We can voluntarily withdraw our mind from our senses and isolate ourselves from distractions. This control is a mental awareness process, not physical.
- Dharana– concentration. The dissipated powers of mind are gathered together and directed towards an object of concentration through continued voluntary attention (an act of will). The mind thus becomes more powerful and penetrative.
- Dhyana– meditation. A concentrated mind in meditation is a product of prolonged concentration practice (dharana). Concentration makes the mind one pointed. Meditation expands the one pointed mind to a superconscious state by piercing through the conscious and subconscious. The uninterrupted flow of our mind towards one object leads to the dawning of intuitive knowledge. Meditation can take one to this blissful state of mind beyond the conscious and unconscious.
- Samadhi – enlightenment comes after prolonged and intense meditation. You become one with Divine Self and transcend all imperfections and limitations. It is beyond the three states of waking, sleeping and dreaming in a fourth state called turiya, sleepless sleep. Your entire life becomes an expression of the unhindered flow of the Divine.