Meditation is the seventh of the eight limbs of yoga (Ashtanga Yoga) as given by sage Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. The eight limbs of yoga are:
- Yama (social restraints)
- Niyama (personal commitments)
- Asana (physical postures)
- Pranayama (breathing techniques)
- Pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (total absorption)
Yamas and Niyamas provide a moral and ethical base for the sadhaka (spiritual seeker – a yoga student).Asana, as defined by Patanjali, refers to a comfortable but firm seated posture in which the yogi can stay in perfect stillness for the duration of meditation. The yoga that is most commonly practiced today is what is called Hatha Yoga (HY). The basic guidelines for HY, as a physical culture, were given to us (around 1000 AD), by Swatmarama who wrote the Hatha Yoga Pradeepika (HYP). HYP is a complete treatise on the philosophy and practice of HY and includes discussion on asana, pranayama, mudra and bandhas. The goal of HY is to finally make progress toward Patanjali’s Raja Yoga (another name for Patanajali’s Ashtanga Yoga or the eight limbs of yoga). Pranayama involves manipulating the breath in a variety of ways. Breath is a gross manifestation of ‘prana’, the cosmic life energy which is the source of all life forms. In Pratyahara, we develop the ability to disengage the mind from the influence of the five senses. These five limbs – yama, niyama, asana, pranayama and pratyahara – are termed as the external limbs of yoga. The remaining three limbs – dharana, dhyana, and samadhi – are termed as ‘internal limbs’ and are generally presented together as each succeeding limb is an extension of the previous one.
In the practice of Dharana, some part of the body is usually picked to stay focused on. The most common points of focus suggested are the spot between the two eyebrows (‘third eye’ or ‘Ajna chakra’), the tip of the nose, or any one of the chakras. For the technique given below, we will pick the third eye as the focal point.
For meditation, a sound vibration called ‘mantra’ is usually used as the object of meditation. Usually a mantra is given by a guru to a disciple after the student has spent some time together with the teacher. The guru can then give a mantra that matches the aptitude and the energy pattern of the student. For your meditation, you can pick any sound as your mantra – a word or even a short phrase that you associate with peace, tranquility or any positive quality that you cherish. Once you pick a mantra you must stay with the same mantra for your meditation every day.
The normal guideline for the duration of meditation is at least 20 minutes each in the morning and evening.
In the meditation technique given below, we will use awareness of the body, breath and mind to help the mind stay focused on the object of meditation. So, here is the technique –
- Sit in a posture that feels comfortable, with the spine upright. Remember, Patanjali defines ‘asana’ as ‘firm and comfortable’. You need to make sure that you can remain in your sitting posture in a relaxed and comfortable position for the duration of meditation. If necessary, put a cushion under you. If you can’t sit on the floor, you may sit in a chair, keeping the spine straight. Close the eyes.
- Become aware of the body. Feel the weight of the body on the floor. Squeeze the fists tight and then relax the hands, arms and shoulders.Relax the facial muscles.
- Mentally recite the sound of OM three times.
- Bring your awareness to the breathing and take three deep breaths. Then just observe the flow of breath at the tip of the nose for a few breaths.
- Bring your awareness to the central spot between the two eyebrows (called the ‘Ajna’ chakra or the third eye). Become aware of the space that extends in front beyond that spot (called ‘chidakasha’ or the space of consciousness).
- At this point begin to recite your mantra mentally. We will endeavor to maintain focus on the mantra. However, the nature of the mind being what it is, it is going to start wandering around after a very short time. The key in meditation is not to fight with the mind but try to become friendly with it. So, accepting the fact that it is the nature of the mind to wander around, try simply to become a witness to the thoughts that come up.
- If, during the mental recitation of the mantra, you find that you are beginning to drift away with the thoughts, it is time to gently tell the mind to get back to the mantra. At this point, go back to step 2 and repeat the subsequent steps and finally once again try to get absorbed in chanting the mantra. This way, whenever you feel that you are getting carried away with your thought process, you can gently guide your mind back to recitation of the mantra through a repetition of the above steps.
- Continue the meditation for at least 20 minutes. After some practice, you will be able to extend the duration of meditation to up to 30 minutes or even longer.
- To close your meditation session, repeat the sound of OM three times.
I certainly hope that you will find these guidelines helpful in establishing your own meditation practice. I would love to receive your feedback and comments.
I have also recorded the above instructions in an mp3 audio file. You can use the audio instructions for a guided meditation session. If you would like to receive the audio recording of the above instructions, please contact me.