“Regular meditation opens the avenues of intuitional knowledge, makes the mind calm and steady, awakens an ecstatic feeling, and brings the practitioner in contact with the source of his/her very being.” - Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati
Meditation is a practice that has been praised by saints and sages, great artists, renowned scientists and athletes and many other sentient beings since the beginning of time.
The purpose of meditation varies from person to person. For some, it is a method to relax their mind, evacuate mental tensions and reduce stress. For others, it is to get insight into the nature of things and understand their true Self, their Buddha or God nature. For others, it is just to experience the moment the way it seems to express itself at the present moment. And for many others. it is just to get healthier and happier.
But what is certain is that meditation is something one must experience by himself or herself.
The benefits of meditation are numerous, but trying to list them would be like trying to fit an ocean into a small aquarium. Imagine if meditation is a method, like many said, to make you realise your infinite nature - then how would it be possible to define infinity?
It is important to understand that if we have expectations for our practice, we bring disturbance and interference into our mind.
Meditation is usually defined as a state of relaxed concentration on the reality of the present moment, a state that is experienced when the mind dissolves and is free of all thoughts.
But before reaching such a state of meditation, one needs to go through some important preliminary practices.
One of those practices is concentration. Without concentration, your practice often resigns itself to thinking and daydreaming. Like you have probably noticed, our mind is like a monkey always moving here and there; it never stops. As long as we don’t bring an effort to end its continuous chaos, we are under its control.
Many have understood this fact, and they have found ways to use the mind as a tool, instead of being used by it.
When we start to understand this, we bring a whole new perspective into our life. We start to gain control over it. We open the door to a happier and healthier way of being.
To get closer to our goal, many techniques have been developed to learn how to observe and direct our mind.
We will give a few techniques; they are not the only ones that exist. Many others are just as good, so your choice depends on our inclinations.
IMPORTANT: Meditation is not advised for all. For example, if you are going through depressive moments, it isn’t advised to go deeper inside yourself unless you have been advised otherwise by your teacher or doctor. Instead, it will be more advisable to be active with your outer environment, to get together with friends, family, or community.
It is very important to get good guidance when we first start our meditation practice, and let your teacher know about your mental condition, especially if it is unstable.
When to practice:
The best time to practice meditation is early morning just before sunrise. In the morning the air is fresher, quieter, and your mind is more relaxed. Any other time is also fine - nighttime before bed is also interesting.
It is better to practice before having a meal. Avoid doing practice directly after a meal (wait two hours) because your stomach is digesting and you risk falling asleep easily.
Try to do meditation at the same time every day.
Where to practice:
Have a quiet, well-ventilated place. This space should be used for meditation and yoga practices only. That will be your sacred space.
How long should I practice?:
At first, start with 15 to 20 minutes, then move up to 30 to 40 minutes. Do it according to your feeling, but not just five minutes! Later on, when you feel comfortable with your practice, you can increase to one hour or more.
One of our goals in meditation practice is to try to bring stillness to the mind.
Without stopping the incessant activity of the mind, it is impossible to achieve the connection, or union, we yogis are aiming for.
Our mind is constantly chattering - thinking about what happened yesterday, what our colleagues at work are doing, what the movie we just saw was about, when is the dentist appointment for the kids, why does the red color attract more my sight more than brown, etc. etc. We are in a constant dreaming state without really being aware about it.
Our practice is to try to stop this incessant chatting to see what is beyond it, to experience the silence underneath it. It is in this silence that yoga will reveal its essence.
To bring our mind to a state of stillness, we need to understand it; we need to tame it. It is like a horse: if we don't tame it, we won't be able to ride it. We have to befriend it; we have to learn to communicate with it. This way we will be able to direct it and we will be able to go where we are aiming to.
The Mind likes to be busy. It likes to do things and, when we understand this, we can get a lot from it.
In order to still the mind, we will need to first make it busy. We will need to stay with it and keep on directing it. At first, it won't listen, but by repeating consistent steps, it will begin following your guidance.
When those first steps are achieved, we will engage the mind in a subtler practice. It is like our horse: first we need to make contact with it, and slowly, we will learn to sit on it, and then we will start to learn together how we both can work together.
It is with the help of our mind that we will discover what lies beyond it. We should not deny our mind; we have to work with it and understand it. This way we will find how to silence it. In this silence it will reveal its higher nature; its true Self.
Stillness of Body for Meditation Practice: KAYA STHAIRYAM
To be able to isolate our mind, we will first need to detach it from sensory impulses from the body. To do so, the first practice we will implement is called Kaya Sthairyam, which means in sanskirt, “stillness of body.”
The first step we will need to achieve for our practice is to immobilize our body. We have to find a proper sitting posture in which we will be able to stay for a certain amount of time without moving.
The use of a cushion is important to help you keep your back straight.
Your hands should be on your knee or on your thighs, depending on the duration of your practice.
Your shoulders should be slightly back and relaxed. Tuck in your chin slightly.
Body Awareness and Relaxation
Here we will keep our mind busy by bringing the focus of our mind to each part of the body by feeling it and relaxing it, starting with the right foot:
Right foot, right foot toes, top of foot, sole and heel of the right foot. Feel and relax…
Right ankle, calf muscle, knee, right thigh. Feel and relax.
The whole right leg - feel and relax.
Left foot, left foot toes, top of foot, sole and heel of the left foot - feel and relax….
Left ankle, calf muscle, knee, left thigh - feel and relax.
The whole left leg - feel and relax...
The right and left buttocks - feel and relax...
The lower part of the body is grounding itself to the earth, becoming steady and comfortable.
Now bring your awareness to the right hand: fingers, top of the hand, palm, wirst, lower arm, elbow, upper arm, right shoulder - feel and relax…
Now bring your awareness to the left hand: fingers, top of the hand, palm, wirst, lower arm, elbow, upper arm, left shoulder - feel and relax…
Now bring awareness to the back: right side of the back, left side of the back - feel and relax the unnecessary tension...
Now bring awareness to the front of the body: stomach, chest right side and left side - feel and relax...
Now feel that the middle part and lower part of the body are connecting and become one steady solid structure, like a statue. There is no distinction between your hands and knee or thighs - they are connected.
Now bring your attention to your neck, your head, your face - feel and relax...
The head and the rest of the body become a unified structure, steady and comfortable.
Now feel the vibrations in your whole body - tingling, heat, any sensation.
(At a more advanced stage, there is no more distinction between ground, sky and body; they are all merging together. We have detached from body sensory impulses…)
(To help us detach from the outer sensory impulses, now we bring our attention to the sounds.)
Bring your attention to the outside sounds.
Listen to the sounds as just sounds; don't try to identify the source of the sound.
The furthest sound…the closest sounds...the sharpest sounds...the most subtle sounds…
Now bring you attention to the breath.
Feel the air coming in and out of your nostrils: cool air in, warm air out. Feel the hair in your nose moving the breath…
(The first phase of practice is complete. Now we direct our meditation practice to the second step.)
Now bring your awareness to the forehead at the place between the eyes, or at the heart space.
Japa is an exact science yet it is simple to practice. It is just a matter of repeating a mantra while maintaining an attentive awareness of its sound. Japa is not connected to Sanskrit and Hinduism only. Many spiritual traditions use the practice of repeating songs and prayers, such as the Hebrew Shalom, Aramaic Maranatha, or Christian Ave Maria.
Japa is a Sanskrit word derived from the root jap, meaning "to repeat quietly and internally." Likewise, Japa yoga can be practiced verbally or mentally. Repeating the mantra out loud has the advantage of shutting out external wordly sounds. This is called vaikhari japa. The next stage, as the mind becomes more focused, is a whispering or humming repetition, called upamsu japa. Finally, the practitioner reaches silent mental repetition, or manasika japa. This is the most powerful form. Another type of japa is likhita japa, which is writing of the mantra.
When practicing Japa yoga, all the mantra repetitions are considered moments of connection with the true Self. When the mind adjusts to the vibration of a mantra, it awakens and becomes thoughtful. Practicing Japa yoga can also help improve concentration, problem solving, and overall health
SWAMI SATYANANDA ON JAPA YOGA
How to hold your Mala
Three fingers are used for holding and rotating the mala: the thumb, third finger, and fourth finger. The second and fifth fingers are not used at all. Hold the mala in the fingers as shown in the diagram above. It is very simple. Join the tips of the thumb and ring finger. In the small groove formed between the thumb and finger, rest the mala. Now, with the third finger, you should begin to rotate each bead one after the other. Remember, you should rotate the mala towards the palm of the hand.
Two fingers are used for holding and rotating the mala: The thumb and the third finger. The mala rests on the third finger and you should begin to rotate each bead one after another with the thumb pulling the bead toward the palm.
Position of the right arm
The mala is always held in the right hand. Traditionally, japa is done while holding the right hand near the heart, with the right forearm resting lightly against the body. The left hand is cupped and placed in the lap facing upwards. It can be used to catch the lower end of the mala to prevent it from swinging to and fro and becoming entangled.
Those people who practice a large number of rounds of the mala every day will find that their arm gets very tired. The position is not suitable. Something must be used to support the arm, but you should not use the other arm to support it. Instead, take a piece of cloth and make it into a sling. Use that to support your right arm. This is essential for those who do hundreds of malas every day.
Besides the 108 beads of the mala, there is also one extra bead called the meru, sumeru, or guru bead. When practicing your Japa you should never cross over the meru bead. If you want to do more than one mala, you will need to turn the mala around and start the opposite way.
Ajapa Japa Dhyana(So-Ham meditation)
Ajapa japa Dhyana, is a meditation on spontaneous repetition of a mantra.
Like we already know, concentration is a very important, if not the most important, practice to help us reach meditation. Ajapa Japa is, in this sense, a very simple and effective practice to reach this goal. To be able to concentrate the mind, we need an object on which we bring our attention on. Ajapa japa uses many different objects for this purpose.
Japa means repetition of a mantra. When the suffix “a” is added to “japa” it means that the repetition of the mantra becomes spontaneous. Yogis have discovered that our breath was having a particular sound, while breathing in the sound created was like the sound “SO” and while breathing out the sound created was like “HAM.” So they realized that we are unconsciously repeating the mantra “SO-HAM” all day long.
With Ajapa japa practice, we’ll be consciously repeating the mantra So-Ham using the breath and the sound to focus our mind. A third factor will be used to increase our focus and this will be according to the movement of the breath and energy in the body.
There is an important psychic pathway in the body: sushumna. It is where we want our energy to flow freely and harmoniously. This pathway begins at the mooladhara chakra (the perineum for men and the cervix for women) and ends up at the ajna chakra (the pineal gland). With this practice, we visualize the energy moving up from mooladhara to ajna and down from ajna to mooladhara.
The breath, the sound, and the movement will be the anchor for us to focus our mind. Needless to say, it is enough to keep our mind out of its usual daydreaming mode!
Another important aspect of the practice is the purging of the mind. During the practice we’ll be doing SO-HAM for a while, then we’ll stop this practice and allow our mind to evacuate or to express its unconscious content by focusing on the dark space at the forehead area called “chiddhakasha.” Like looking at a movie screen, we'll let our mind play its deepest and far rooted memories like a film. As a witness, we’ll learn about our unconscious self and its surprising content.
Those deep rooted memories have significant influences on our behaviour and our way of thinking and dealing with our environment. By allowing them to surface and acknowledging their presence, we take a step to understand ourselves and subsequently to modify our own attitude, patterns, and behaviour.
Sit comfortably. Take off your watch and glasses. Turn off your cell phone. Make sure that nothing can disturb your practice. Your hands are on your knees with Chin, Gyan or Bhairava mudra. Your spine is straight with the shoulders slightly back and relaxed. The head is straight and the chin is slightly tucked in. Adopt ujjayi breathing (restriction of glottis) and, if you feel comfortable, adopt ketchari mudra (tongue fold tip on soft palate).
Before starting Ajapa Japa Dhyana, do a short kaya sthairyam (body stillness) practice, Be aware of your body posture, make sure your body is still, relaxed, and grounded. Then, move your awareness to the body sensation from toes to head. Make sure that you are now still, steady, and comfortable. Then, move your awareness to the outside sounds, moving from one sound to the other without trying to identify the sounds, but just by observing the different sounds. Move from the furthest to the closest sound.
Then bring your attention to the breath. Feel your breath in and out of the nostrils - feel the cool air coming in and the warm air going out. Stay focused on your breath for a while; you can even feel the hair of your nostrils moving with the breath. Then slowly increase the depth of your breath - make it become deep and slow.
Imagine each inhale moving from the navel to the throat and each exhale moving from the throat to the navel.
Feel the energy moving from mooladhara chakra to vishuddhi ksetram (passing all other ksetram on the way) to bindu with each inhale and down from bindu to ajna chakra down to mooladhara chakra (passing all the other chakra on the way) with each exhale.
Add the sound “SO” to your awareness while inhaling, and “HAM” while exhaling
Continue this practice of SO-HAM, keeping ujjayi, ketchari and awareness of the movement, breath, and sound. Be completely focused on those objects. Become the breath, the sound, and the movement.
After about 5 to 10 minutes, stop the practice, breath normally and focus on chiddhakasha, the “movie screen” in the dark space at the forehead area. Keep focused; let the mind show its content, don’t censure any thought or feeling. Allow anything that surfaces - be attentive and be a witness. Don’t get emotionally involved into what you are seeing or feeling, let it be. If you feel like crying - you can cry. But cry with a witnessing attitude. It is a time of purging; your mind has deep rooted memories and it is a perfect time to allow them to surface and show themselves to you. They are part of you and you need to acknowledge them. Now you see them with different eyes and it is time to process them with awareness and compassion, for yourself and others.
Then go back to the SO-HAM practice for another 5 to 10 minutes, then again take time for chiddhakasha dharana. And continue this sequence as long as you feel comfortable.
Then you stop the SO-HAM practice. Focus again on the breath. Again become aware of each inhale and exhale through the nostrils. Then become aware of the outside sounds, then bring your awareness to your body sitting in the studio or your room. Feel comfort and be at peace with yourself and your surroundings. Keep the feeling of Joy, Harmony, Happiness, Love, and Peace with you and spread it to everyone you’ll meet.
End the practice by chanting Om three times. Do palming one time and open your eyes slowly when you feel ready.
Hridayakasha Dhyana, meditation on the heart space.
The heart space is considered by many to be the seat of the soul, you just have to look at some pictures of statues of Saints, the Buddha, Gods and Goddesses, and often you will see a radiating heart in their chest region. This Sun is our divine source of energy; it is our connection to the energy of the universe. We already know that everything is made of energy; that energy can’t be destroyed or created. But we know that energy can be transformed and used; it can be redirected and focused. The purpose of this meditation practice is to connect with this source of energy; to connect with our divine nature and create an energy field overflowing with Joy, Harmony, Happiness, Love, and Peace. It is said to be the attribute of our Buddha nature or God nature.
This practice has a great influence on us, but more than that. it benefits our relatives, our neighbourhood, our country and the whole universe. I know for many this may seem a bit overwhelming, but for many others, it is a day-to-day reality and they continue their practices understanding that it gives great assistance to all sentient beings.
A lot of research has been done on the effects of meditation. It has been proven that meditation practice positively influences the overall health of a person. But more than that, some research has proven that when a large group of meditation practitioners were active in a certain region, the crime rate of this region was lowering. For example, if you go to a city like Kyoto in Japan filled with temples and monks, and then you go to another city having the same population, you will notice the difference. It is palpable; it is in the air; people are more joyful and relaxed in Kyoto. So we can modify ourselves. We can influence others and then those others can influence others. Knowing this, why shouldn’t we start our practice as soon as possible?
Sit comfortably, Take off your watch and glasses, turn the cell phone off. Make sure that nothing can disturb your practice. The hands are on your knees with hridaya Mudra (see picture below). If you feel uncomfortable with this mudra, just take Chin, Gyan or Bhairava mudra. Your spine is straight with the shoulders slightly back and relaxed. The head is straight and the chin is slightly tucked in.
Before starting Hridayakash Dhyana, do a short kaya sthairyam (body steadiness) practice. Be aware of your body posture. Make sure your body is still, relaxed, and grounded. Then move your awareness to the body sensations from your toes to your head. Make sure that you are now still, steady, and comfortable. Then move your awareness to the outside sounds - move from one sound to the other, without trying to identify the sound, but just observing the sound. Move from the furthest to the closest sound.
Then bring your attention to the breath. Feel each inhale and exhale through the nostrils. Feel the cool air coming in and the warm air going out. Stay focused on your breath for a while. You can even feel the hair of your nostrils moving with the breath. Then slowly increase the depth of your breath as it becomes deep and slow.
Then bring your focus to your chest area, to the heart centre. Visualize a dark space having in its centre a tiny white crystal energy light. This light is your energy. This light represents Joy, Harmony, Happiness, Love, and Peace. With each inhale, this light is growing more and more. Soon your whole chest area is filled with this light. You can feel Joy, Harmony, Happiness, Love, and Peace growing in your chest. Continue to breathe and soon your whole body is filled with this light; every cell of your body is radiating this light this feeling of Joy, Harmony, Happiness, Love, and Peace. You can really feel it; it feels great.
Then think about your family members, your children, husband or wife, father, mother, sister, brother, their children - whether they are living on this earth, or living somewhere else. Make a bridge of light with them. Send them the energy of Joy, Harmony, Happiness, Love, and Peace. Visualize them feeling it completely the way you feel it. They become happy and joyful too. Make a bridge with everyone even if you have some differences with him or her. It doesn’t matter here. Their feelings will influence the others as well and it continues like this, positively influencing each and every one.
Then come back to the studio or to your home. Start sharing this light with the students and teachers, receive it too from the others. The whole studio, or your room, is filled with light. This light is now growing outside in the neighbourhood, the city, and the country. Then the whole planet and the whole universe is filled with this light. You become light; you become the universe; you become Joy, Harmony, Happiness, Love, and Peace. Stay in this feeling and light for a while and enjoy.
Then keeping this feeling alive inside yourself, focus again on the breath. Once again, be aware of each inhale and exhale from the nostrils, then become aware of the outside sounds. Then bring your awareness to your body sitting in the studio or your room. Feel comfortable and at peace with yourself and your surroundings. Keep the feeling of Joy, Harmony, Happiness, Love. and Peace with you and spread it to everyone you meet.
End the practice by chanting AUM three times, do palming one time, and open your eyes slowly when you feel ready.