Meditation: Importance of Meditation
1.0 What is meditation?
The basic idea generally associated with why people meditate is that during our day we are constantly subjected to sensory input and our minds are always active in the process of thinking. We read the newspaper, study books, write reports, engage in conversation, solve problems, etc . Typically, as we do these normal activities we engage in a constant mental commentary, sort of an inner “The Drama of Me.” Usually people aren’t fully aware of all the mental thought activity that we are constantly engaged in. Meditation allows all this activity to settle down, and often results in the mind becoming more peaceful, calm and focused. In essence, meditation allows the awareness to become ‘rejuvenated’.
Meditation can be considered a technique, or practice. It usually involves concentrating on an object, such as a flower, a candle, a sound or word, or the breath. Over time, the number of random thoughts occurring diminishes.
More importantly, your attachment to these thoughts, and your identification with them, progressively become less. The meditator may get caught up in a thought pattern, but once he/she becomes aware of this, attention is gently brought back to the object of concentration.
Meditation can also be objectless, for example consisting of just sitting. Experiences during meditation probably vary significantly from one individual to another, or at least if different techniques are involved. Relaxation, increased awareness, mental focus and clarity, and a sense of peace are the most common by-products of meditation. While much has been written about the benefits of meditation, the best attitude is not to have any expectations when practicing. Having a sense of expectation of (positive)results is likely to create unnecessary strain in the practice. As well, since meditation involves becoming more aware and more sensitive to what is within you, facing unpleasant parts of oneself may well be part of meditation.
Regardless of the experience, the meditator should try to be aware of the experience and of any attachment to it. Failure to experience silence, peace of mind, mental clarity, bliss, or other promoted benefit of meditation is not in itself a sign of incorrect practice or that one can’t concentrate properly or concentrate enough to be good at meditation. Whether one experiences peace or bliss is not what is important.
What is generally considered important in meditation is that one is regular with the meditation -every day- and that makes a reasonable effort, but not strain, to remain with the object of concentration during the practice. With regular practice one inevitably acquires an increased understanding of and proficiency with the particular meditation technique. Some people use the formal concentrative meditation as a preliminary step to practicing a mindfulness meditation during the day where one tries to maintain a calm but increased awareness of one’s thoughts and actions during the day. For some people, meditation is primarily a spiritual practice, and in some cases the meditation practice may be closely tied to the practice of a religion such as, for example, Hinduism or Buddhism.
2.How is meditation different from relaxation, thinking, concentration or self-hypnosis?
Relaxation: Relaxation is a common by-product of meditation. Relaxation itself can assume many forms, such as taking a hot bath or reclining in the Lazy-boy and watching TV, etc. Meditation is an active process where the meditator remains fully aware of what the awareness is doing. It also attempts to transcend the thought process whereas many forms of relaxation still engage the thought process. Meditation allows the body to relax and can offset the effects of stress both mentally and physically to a potentially much greater degree than passive relaxation.
Thinking: Thoughts generally consume energy in the process of their formation. Constant thought-activity, especially of random nature, can tire the mind and even bring on headache. Meditation attempts to transcend this crude level of thought activity. Through regular practice one becomes aware that they are not their thoughts but that there is an awareness that exists independent of thought. Descartes (“I think, therefore I am”) obviously was not a regular meditator!
Concentration: Meditation begins with concentration, but after an initial period of concentration, thought activity decreases and keeping the awareness focused becomes more spontaneous. At this point the person may or may not continue to employ the object of concentration.
Self-hypnosis: Self-hypnosis, like meditation, involves at least an initial period of concentration on an object. However in hypnosis one does not try to maintain an awareness of the here-and-now, or to stay conscious of the process. Instead one essentially enters a sort of semi-conscious trance.
3. What are the different meditation techniques?
Meditation involves concentrating on something to take our attention beyond the random thought activity that is usually going on in our heads. This can involve a solid object or picture, a mantra, breath, or guided visualisation. Typical objects employed include a candle flame or a flower. Some people use pictures, such as a mandala – a highly colored symmetric painting – or a picture of a spiritual teacher in a high meditative state. Mantras are sounds, which have a flowing, meditative quality and may be repeated out loud or inwardly. The breath is also a common focal point. Finally, guided visualisation is also considered by some to be a form of meditation. A guided visualisation can help to bring one into a meditative state; also, visualisation may be used once a meditative state has been reached to produce various results.
4.Which is right for me?
There is no “right” meditation technique for everybody. Some techniques work better for certain people while other techniques work better for other people. The important thing is to find what works for you.
5. What are the ABC’s of meditation?
There are a few recommended guidelines for meditation:
• It should be done every day, preferably at the same time.
• It should preferably be done before a meal rather than after a meal.
6. Is there any religious implication or affiliation with meditation?
Meditation has been and still is a central practice in eastern religions, for contacting “God” or one’s higher Self. Christianity also has semblance of meditation, such as the biblical statement “The kingdom of heaven is within you”. Churches have a meditative atmosphere. Meditation deals with contacting something within us that is peaceful, calm, rejuvenating, and meaningful. Whether one calls this something “God” or “soul” or ” the inner child” or “theta-wave activity” or “peace” or “silence” is not important. It is there and anyone can benefit from it regardless of what they believe. Most people in the world have already meditated. If you have relaxed looking at a beautiful sunset, allowing your thoughts to quiet down, this is close to meditation. If you have been reading a book for awhile, then put it down to take a break and just sat there quietly and peacefully for a few minutes without thinking, this is close to meditation.
7. Does meditation have any ethical implications?
In many traditions meditation practice is a means for reinforcing ethical qualities. In these traditions, calmness of mind, peacefulness and happiness are possible in meditation and in life generally only if they are accompanied by the observance of ethical norms of behaviour.
8. What is the best time of day to meditate?
While meditation is beneficial at any time, most people who meditate agree that early morning is the best time to meditate. Part of the reason is that it is said that in early morning the hustle-and-bustle of the world has not yet begun and so it is easier to establish a meditative atmosphere. Having an early morning meditation also lets us carry some of the energy and peace of the meditation into our daily activities. Many people also meditate either before dinner or later in the evening. Others also meditate at noon. A short meditation at these times allows one to throw off some of the accumulated stress of the work-day and become rejuvenated for further activity. An important consideration is when your schedule will allow you to meditate. Having a time of the day set aside for meditation helps in maintaining regularity.
9. Why do some people use music while meditating?
Meditative music (not rock-n-roll!) can help in establishing a meditative atmosphere. Also, some people find meditation relatively easy but find that the hard thing is to actually get them to sit down and start their meditation. Music can help make this easier. Some people use music quite often while others prefer silent meditation and never use it.
10. Should I meditate with my eyes open or with my eyes closed?
Different traditions give different answers. Closing your eyes may contribute to drowsiness and sleepiness–if that’s the case for you then try opening them a little. Opening your eyes may be distracting. If that’s the case, try closing your eyes or direct your gaze on a blank wall (Zen-style). Or try with the eyes open half way or a bit more, the gaze unfocussed and directed down ward, but keeping the head erect with the chin slightly tucked in. Sometimes meditators experience headaches from focussing on a spot too close to the eyes (perhaps closer than three feet). Whether focussed or unfocussed, the gaze should be relaxed in order to prevent eyestrain or headache. Experiment and see what works for you and then stick with your choice of technique. If you are using a candle, flower, or other visual object in your meditation then here the technique itself requires your eyes to be at least partly open.
11. What are the physiological effects of meditation?
The most common physiological effects of meditation are reduced blood pressure, lower pulse rate, decreased metabolic rate and changes in the concentration of serum levels of various substances.
12. When I meditate I experience physical pain in my body. What should I do?
Sensations (itching/aches/pains/etc.) can arise in the body when meditating for several reasons. Sometimes the cause is just an uncomfortable posture–make sure that your posture is comfortable under normal circumstances. Other times the cause is that sensation in the body are more noticeable in meditation. The body and mind are calmer and you are able to notice more details in your bodily experience. It is often interesting to simply observe these sensations in your body : to use them as the objects of meditation. Sometimes these sensations just go away without your having to move or change your posture. Remember that a quiet body contributes to a quiet mind.
13. How long should I meditate?
When first learning meditation it is usually not possible to meditate for more than 10-15 minutes. After regular practice for a while, one becomes able to meditate for longer periods of time. Many people meditate twice daily for 20-30 minutes each time, but the right duration and frequency is for each individual to decide.
14. Do I need a teacher?
It is theoretically possible to learn meditation from a book. However most people who teach and practice meditation agree that a teacher can be an invaluable aid in learning a meditation technique and making sure it is practiced correctly. The beginner will usually have several questions, which a teacher will be able to answer. Also, learning with a group of people, eg a meditation class, allows you to experience the benefit of meditating with a group of people. Most people find that they have some of their best meditations while meditating in a group, because there is a collective energy and focus present. Various individuals and groups teach meditation. Some charge and some do not. Many different techniques are taught, some more spirituals in nature and others mainly concerned with stress-reduction and gaining a little peace of mind. As always, the important thing is finding what works for you.
Everyone seeks peace and harmony, because these are what we lack in our lives. From time to time we all experience agitation, irritation, disharmony, suffering; and when one suffers from agitation, one does not keep this misery limited to oneself. One keeps distributing it to others as well. The agitation permeates the atmosphere around the miserable person. Everyone who comes into contact with him also becomes irritated and agitated. Certainly this is not the proper way to live.
One ought to live at peace with oneself and at peace with all others. After all, a human being is a social being. He has to live in society-to live and deal with others. How are we to live peacefully? How are we to remain harmonious with ourselves, and to maintain peace and harmony around us, so that others can also live peacefully and harmoniously?
Meditation is the path to achieve this goal of peace any harmony.
What is Mediation?
Meditation is a safe and simple way to balance a person’s physical, emotional, and mental states. It is simple; but can benefit everybody.
Types of Meditation:
1. Vipasana meditation: A type of meditation in which one see things as they really are and is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills.
2.Transcendental Meditation: The technique in this type of meditation is simple, natural, effortless and the procedure has to be practiced for 15-20 minutes in the morning and afternoon while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. During this technique the individual’s awareness settles down and experiences the simplest form of human awareness – Transcendental Consciousness-where consciousness is open to itself.
3. Concentrative meditation: This technique focuses the attention on the breath, or an image, or a sound (mantra), in order to still the mind and allow a greater awareness and clarity to emerge. This is like a zoom lens in a camera; we narrow our focus to a selected field.
4. Mindfulness meditation: According to Dr. Borysenko, this technique “involves opening the attention to become aware of the continuously passing parade of sensations and feelings, images, thoughts, sounds, smells, and so forth without becoming involved in thinking about them.” The person sits quietly and simply witnesses whatever goes through the mind, not reacting or becoming involved with thoughts, memories, worries, or images. This helps to gain a more calm, clear, and non-reactive state of mind. Mindfulness meditation can be likened to a wide-angle lens. Instead of narrowing your sight to a selected field as in concentrative meditation, here you will be aware of the entire field.
Steps to achieve Meditation:
The ageless tradition of wisdom teaches that in order to enter the state of meditation, certain definite steps are to be followed. Nobody can enter meditation without passing through these steps. The Eight-Limbs of Yoga are
Yama” has different meanings. It may mean “rein, curb, or bridle, discipline or restraints” In the present context, it is used to mean “self-control, forbearance, or any great rule or duty”. It can also be interpreted as “attitude” or “behaviour”. Certainly a particular attitude can be expressed as discipline, which then influences our behaviour. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra mentions five different yama that is, behaviour patterns or relationships between the individual and the outside world.
Niyama, a Sanskrit, word means rules or laws. These are the rules prescribed for personal observance. Like the five yamas, the niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied. They represent far more than an attitude. Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves.
3. Asanas (Yogic postures)
‘Asana’ means staying or abiding. Asana is one way in which a person can experience the unity of body and mind. Asana is defined as that which is comfortable and easy, as well as firm. In the west, asana is commonly called as “posture”. Yogic postures (asanas) are prescribed for the purpose of comfort and firmness during meditation and the practice of pranayama. An upright seated posture in which one can sit with comfort and no need to move is ideal for meditation.
Pranayama is the fourth limb of Ashtanga Yoga. Pranayama is measuring, controlling, and directing the breath. Pranayama controls the energy within the organism, in order to restore and maintain health and to promote evolution.
Pratyahara is the fifth limb of Ashtanga Yoga. Pratyahara means drawing back or retreat. The word ahara means “nourishment”; pratyahara can be translated as “to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses.” In yoga, the term pratyahara implies withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects.
In pratyahara we sever the link between mind and senses, and the senses withdraw. Each sense perception has a particular quality to which it relates: the eyes relate to the form of some visual object; the ears to the sound, the vibration it makes; the nose to its smell. In pratyahara it is as if things are spread out with all their attractions before our senses, but they are ignored; the senses remain unmoved and uninfluenced. In effect the brain will disregard all that is received by the various sensory organs and will only accept and process the signals sent by sensory organs at the command of the brain. Now we have control over our senses rather than being controlled by them.
6. Dharana – mental concentration
Dharana is the sixth limb of Ashtanga Yoga. Dhar means, “to hold.” Literally, the word dharana means ‘immovable concentration of the mind’. The essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in one direction. This is not the forced concentration. Example: solving a difficult mathematics problem. Rather dharana is a form of meditation, which could be called receptive concentration.
7. Dhyana – meditation
Dhyana is the seventh limb of Ashtanga Yoga. Dhyana means worship, or profound and abstract religious meditation. It is perfect contemplation. It involves concentration upon a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it.
8. Samadhi – blissful identification
The final step in Ashtanga Yoga is the attainment of Samadhi.
When we succeed in becoming so absorbed in something, our mind becomes completely one with it and we are supposed to be in a state of samadhi. Samadhi means “to bring together, to merge.” In samadhi our personal identity-name, profession, family history, etc. disappears completely. In the moment of samadhi none of that exists anymore. Nothing separates us from the object of our choice; instead we blend and become one with it.
Benefits of Meditation:
Improved Mental Abilities: Increased intelligence, increased creativity, improved learning ability, improved memory, improved reaction time, higher levels of moral reasoning, improved academic achievement, greater orderliness of brain functioning, increased self-actualization.
Improved Health: Reduced stress and anxiety, reduced hospitalisation, reduced incidence of disease, reduced health-care costs, reduced use of alcohol and drugs, improved cardio vascular health, reduced physical complaints, increased longevity.
Improved Social Behaviour: Improved self-confidence, reduced anxiety, improved family life, improved relationships at home and at work, increased tolerance, improved job performance, increased job satisfaction.
Postures to be adopted during Meditation
1. Padmasana: This is probably the most well known pose routinely used by Buddha and is a very popular meditation pose. It may take time for the ligaments to become extended so that the Lotus Pose is comfortable. If one cannot master the Lotus Pose, any of the other seated poses will do quite well for the purpose of meditation. Start slowly and acquire proficiency over a period of time. This is one of the basic yoga postures.
a. Keep the right foot on the left thigh
b. Start bouncing the right knee. If the bouncing knee easily touches the floor, then bend the left knee, take hold of the left foot with both hands, gently glide it over the crossed right leg and place it on the right thigh.
c. This will give symmetrical placement of the legs and you are in lotus position.
d. The hands should be kept on the knees with palms open, and the thumb and second finger of each hand should touch forming a letter O.
• This is an extremely good pose for meditation and concentration.
• It has a calming effect on the mind and the nerves.
• This pose keeps the spine erect.
• Helps to develop a good posture
• Helps to keep the joints in flexible condition.
2. Vajrasana: This is the only asana, which, if practiced immediately after meals, stimulates digestion. This is a very simple posture and one can hold this posture with ease for a longer time. An aspirant practicing this asana achieves a firm and strong posture. It is easy to remain motionless in this posture, hence it is named as Vajrasana.
Bend the legs at the knees. Place the heels at the sides of the anus in such a way that the thighs rest on the legs and the buttocks rest on the heels. Support the whole body on the knees and the ankles. Breathe normally while performing this asana. The knees and the ankles will perhaps ache in the beginning but this ache or pain will disappear by itself. Stretch the arms and place the hands on the knees. Keep the knees close by. Sit erect keeping the trunk, the neck and the head in a straight line.
• This asana helps in digestion and eliminates gas-trouble.
• The constant and systematic practice of this asana alleviates the pain of the knees, the legs, the feet and the thighs.
• Vajrasana energizes Kandasthana situated about thirty cms away from the anus. This Kandasthana is considered to be the centre of 72,000 nadis (tubular channels).
• The regular practice of this asana increases the secretion from the glands. It also increases the white blood corpuscles produced in the spleen, the tonsils, and the marrow and in other parts of the body. This is beneficial to health.
• One who practices this asana regularly does not suffer from fever, constipation, indigestion and other minor or major ailments.
Importance of Asanas and Pranayama:
Patanjali suggests that the asana and the pranayama practices will bring about the desired state of health; the control of breath and the bodily posture will harmonize the flow of energy in the organism, thus creating a fertile field for the evolution of the spirit.
The chakras and channels of energy:
Inside every human being there is a network of nerves and sensory organs that interprets the outside physical world. At the same time, within us resides a subtle system of channels (nadis) and centers of energy (chakras) which look after our physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual being.
Each of the seven chakras has several spiritual qualities. These qualities are intact within us, and even though they might not manifest always, they can never be destroyed. When the Kundalini is awakened, these qualities start manifesting spontaneously and express themselves in our life. Thus, through regular meditation, we become automatically very dynamic, creative, confident and at the same time very humble, loving and compassionate. It is a process, which starts to develop by itself when the Kundalini rises and starts to nourish our chakras.
Types of Asanas:
1. Ardha Kati Chakarasana
2. Parivritta Trikonasana
4. Ardha Chakarasana.
5. Padmasana(spinal cord)
6. Vajrasana (digestion constipation,seminal weakness)
8. Ushtrasana (toned liver, pancreas, kidney & bladder)
9. Shashankasana (arthritic pain)
10. Vakrasana (enlarged & congested liver & inactive kidney)
11. Ardha Matsyendrasana (obesity, diabetes, dyspepsia & urinary disorders)
12. Mayurasana (toned abdominal muscles).
13. Bhujangasana (cervical spondylysis )
14. Shalabhasana (arthritis, rheumatism, diabetes, bronchitis etc)
15. Dhanurasana (relieving flatulence, constipation & menstrual irregularities)
16. Naukasana (body stiffness & back pain)
17. Makarasana (hypertension, heart disease & mental disorders
18. Shavasana (arterial hypertension)
19. Sarvangasana (bronchitis, dyspepsia)
20. Matsyasana (chronic cough, bronchial asthma, congestion)
21. Suptavajrasana (ailments of back, neck & waist)
22. Halasana (asthma, diabetes, menstrual disorder & constipation)
23. Chakrasana (diabetes, asthma, constipation & obesity)
Surya Namaskar is a combination of few Yogasana postures. This is a well-balanced set of movements that will stretch all the muscles in the body and keep the body and mind healthy. There are 12 mantras, which are different names of Sun God. We should chant a mantra before each Surya Namaskar.
Introduction to Pranayama and Yogic Breathing
What is Pranayama?
Many people think of Pranayama as just breathing control, but it is much more. Ayama means dimension, not control. So pranayama is practiced in order to expand the dimensions of prana within the body. Pranayama is essentially a process by which prana is controlled by regulating the breathing voluntary.
Breathing is so simple and so obvious we often take it for granted, ignoring the power it has to affect body, mind and spirit. With each inhale we bring oxygen into the body and spark the transformation of nutrients into fuel. Each exhale purges the body of carbon dioxide, a toxic waste. Breathing also affects our state of mind. It can make us excited or calm, tense or relaxed. It can make our thinking confused or clear. What’s more, in the yogic tradition, air is the primary source of prana or life force, a psycho-physio-spiritual force that permeates the universe.
Pranayama is loosely translated as prana or breath control. The ancient yogis developed many breathing techniques to maximize the benefits of prana. Pranayama is used in yoga as a separate practice to help clear and cleanse the body and mind. It is also used in preparation for meditation, and in asana, the practice of postures, to help maximize the benefits of the practice, and focus the mind.
Below are several of the most commonly used forms of pranayama
Ujjayi is often called the “sounding” breath. It involves constricting the back of the throat while breathing to create an “ah” sound
• Focuses the mind
• Increases mindfulness
• Generates internal heat
How to do it
• Make yourself comfortable in a seated position with your spine erect, or lie down on your back. Begin taking long, slow, and deep breaths through the nostrils.
• Allow the breath to be gentle and relaxed as you slightly contract the back of your throat creating a steady hissing sound as you breathe in and out. The sound need not be forced, but it should be loud enough so that if someone came close to you they would hear it.
• Lengthen the inhalation and the exhalation as much as possible without creating tension anywhere in your body, and allow the sound of the breath to be continuous and smooth.
To help create the proper “ah” sound, hold your hand up to your mouth and exhale as if you are trying to fog a mirror. Inhale the same way. Notice how you constrict the back of the throat to create the fog effect. Now close your mouth and do the same thing while breathing through the nose.
When to do it
• During asana practice
• Before meditation
• Anytime you want to concentrate
Nadi Shodhana, or the sweet breath, is simple form of alternate nostril breathing suitable for beginning and advanced students. Nadi means channel and refers to the energy pathways through which prana flows. Shodhana means cleansing – so Nadi Shodhana means channel cleaning.
Calms the mind, soothes anxiety and stress, balances left and right hemispheres, promotes clear thinking
How to do it
Hold your right hand up and curl your index and middle fingers towards your palm. Place your thumb next to your right nostril and your ring finger by your left. Close the right nostril by pressing gently against it with your thumb, and inhale through the left nostril. The breath should be slow, steady and full. Now close the left nostril by pressing gently against it with your index and middle fingers, and open your right nostril by relaxing your thumb and exhale fully with a slow and steady breath. Inhale through the right nostril, close it, and then exhale through the left nostril.
That’s one complete round of Nadi Shodhana —
• Inhale through the left nostril
• Exhale through the right
• Inhale through the right
• Exhale through the left.
Begin with 5-10 rounds and add more as you feel ready. Remember to keep your breathing slow, easy and full.
When to do it
Just about any time and anywhere. Try it as a mental warm-up before meditation to help calm the mind and put you in a relaxed mood. You can also do it as part of your centering before beginning an asana or posture routine. Also try it at different times throughout the day. Nadi Shodhana helps control stress and anxiety. If you start to feel stressed out, 10 or 15 rounds will help to calm you down. It also helps to soothe anxiety caused by flying and other fearful or stressful situations.
TEN REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD LEARN MEDITATION
1. It’s Easy and Enjoyable: People of all ages, cultures, and educational backgrounds can practice this simple, natural, effortless technique while sitting comfortably for 20 minutes twice a day.
2. The Benefits Are Immediate: You’ll begin to notice positive changes within the first days or weeks, and the benefits add up as the years go by.
3. Clearer Thinking: Develop your full mental potential, improve your memory, enhance creativity, and sharpen your intellect.
4. Better Health: Become more rested and relaxed, increase immunity to disease, reverse the effects of aging, and enjoy greater energy and vitality.
5. More Fulfilling Relationships: Enjoy closer friendships, increased calmness, more self-confidence, and less anxiety and stress.
6. A Peaceful World: Contribute your share to world peace by reducing your own stress level and radiating an influence of harmony to your surroundings.
7. Personal Growth: Experience Transcendental Consciousness at the quietest level of your mind, and grow toward higher states of consciousness—enlightenment.
8. Success without Stress: Do less and accomplish more in your professional life by increasing your creativity and effectiveness.
9. Uniquely Valuable: No other technique of personal development has been verified by scientific research to reliably produce such a wide range of benefits.