What is Meditation?

“There is no peace in the Himalayas, and there is no noise in the world; everything is within you. If you are at peace with yourself, you can find peace anywhere in the world, and if you are not at peace with yourself, you will never find peace in isolation in the mountains.” -Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati (from his book, Yoga Sadhana Panorama, 1997)

What helps us to unwind, clear our minds of problems & worries, get things into perspective? socializing, drinking, watching TV, reading, listening to music, going to the cinema, theater, parties, shows, exhibitions etc. can all be fun activities but they are all based around ‘doing’ & distraction. Meditation is about ‘being’ & introspection.

According to Patanjali, author of the yoga sutras, there are a few levels leading up to actual meditation.

These are:

  • Pratyahara; withdrawal of the senses so that focus can be directed internally.
  • Dharana; concentration of the mind on an object & its field / concentration of mind on the cultivation of a specific feeling or inner state such as compassion.
  • Dhyan; meditation-withdrawal of the mind from external objects & focus on one point only.

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years by differing disciplines/religions & there are many techniques to choose from. One does not have to believe in a god to practice, though it is spiritual in the sense that it is a technique utilized to unite us with our core selves. (See also definition of  Samadhi, in What is Ashtanga Yoga).

Meditation consists of stilling the mind and it’s incessant chatter, the stream of thoughts that constantly goes on inside our heads, distorting our view of the world, calling attention only to tiny details and preventing us from seeing things whole.

Meditation promotes general psychological well being. It is known to reduce stress, anxiety & related disorders, depression, headaches, pain, elevated blood pressure, panic attacks etc. It improves concentration, perceptual sensitivity, reaction time, memory, self control, empathy, self esteem & emotional balance including increased forgiveness.

Someone who regularly meditates is calm, balanced,  joyful & a joy to be around.

During meditation we can use the breath as a tool to link the body & the mind.

  • Often people tell me that they can’t meditate, that their mind wanders & it’s difficult to focus. This will happen at first. It is the nature of the mind. When practicing if your mind gets distracted, be aware that it has, be aware that your focus has shifted. If thoughts come, try to let them pass without judgment. Try not to blame yourself for the distraction, blaming causes unnecessary conflicts to arise within you. Instead, gently re-connect your attention to your breath/object of meditation & be accepting and compassionate to yourself. It gets much easier with a little practice!

Example Concentration/Meditation Technique:

Start with 10 minutes & gradually increase time with each practice.
It is better to meditate when the stomach is empty & to wear loose clothes. Make sure you are comfortable & warm enough.

Sit cross legged with a straight back or on a chair or sofa. Put your hands loosely on your knees. Close your eyes. Bring your attention to the natural breath. Focus your mind on your inhalations & exhalations. Notice the breath in your belly, feel the breath in your chest, feel the breath in your nostrils. Now relax each muscle from head to toe, one by one, slowly.

After you have relaxed the muscles, focus your mind again on the breath. Do not force or try to control breathing but simply witness it. Be aware of its flow from navel to throat as you inhale & from throat to navel as you exhale.

The relaxation of muscles creates a feeling of pleasure in your mind and body. As the body relaxes, breathing becomes slower. As breathing becomes slower, the mind becomes calm and quite. As the mind becomes calm and quite, the body relaxes further.

At the end of the practice become aware of your body, notice how it feels. Make some slow movements, wiggle your fingers & toes. Inhale & stretch your arms up. Exhale & release them, then slowly open your eyes.

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” -Hafiz

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