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How to meditate

Every sad­ha­ka has a per­son­al sto­ry to nar­rate when it comes to the var­i­ous chal­lenges they face on the spir­i­tu­al path. Med­i­ta­tion is easy for some but tough for some oth­ers. To con­trol the mind or not? To pre­pare the body or not? Is med­i­ta­tion the goal or the means? There are sev­er­al ques­tions that arise in the mind of a sad­ha­ka.

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Arju­na has a sim­i­lar ques­tion. Pon­der­ing over what Bha­ga­van Krish­na said, he thought that con­trol­ling the mind seems to be more dif­fi­cult than con­trol­ling the wind! The Arju­na who just saw the eye of the mind, who shot numer­ous arrows hear­ing the cry of his Guru and the one who won the mastya yantra com­pe­ti­tion dur­ing Drau­padi’s Swayam­vara asks this ques­tion. You can imag­ine the plight of a begin­ner on the path of medi­a­tion!

चञ्चलं हि मन: कृष्ण प्रमाथि बलवद्दृढम् |

तस्याहं निग्रहं मन्ये वायोरिव सुदुष्करम् || 6.34||

The mind is very rest­less, tur­bu­lent, strong and obsti­nate, O Krish­na. It appears to me that it is more dif­fi­cult to con­trol than the wind.

Bha­ga­van Krish­na gave a sim­ple solu­tion. He said prac­tice and vairagya are 2 impor­tant aspects of con­trol­ling the mind. Are you think­ing “Eas­i­er said than done!”. You are not alone. Read our arti­cle on the impor­tance of prac­tice. It might be of help here.

श्रीभगवानुवाच |

असंशयं महाबाहो मनो दुर्निग्रहं चलम् |

अभ्यासेन तु कौन्तेय वैराग्येण च गृह्यते || 6.35||

Lord Krish­na said: O mighty-armed son of Kun­ti, what you say is cor­rect; the mind is indeed very dif­fi­cult to restrain. But by prac­tice and detach­ment, it can be con­trolled.

What is med­i­ta­tion

There are numer­ous ways to under­stand med­i­ta­tion. In fact, the Vij­nana Bhaira­va Tantra gives 112 ways of med­i­ta­tion and the ways are diverse and inclu­sive of all kinds of sad­hakas.

The Yoga­su­tra talks about ash­tan­ga Yoga:

यमनियमासनप्राणायामप्रत्याहारधारणाध्यानसमाधयोऽष्टावङ्गानि॥2.29॥

yama niya­ma-āsana prāṇāyā­ma pratyāhāra dhāraṇā dhyā­na samādhayo-‘ṣṭāvaṅgāni ॥29॥

The 8 limbs or dimen­sions of Yoga include: Yama, Niya­ma, Asana, Pranaya­ma, Dha­rana, Dhyana and Samad­hi. Mahar­ishi Patan­jali gives a terse def­i­n­i­tion of each of these dimen­sions. He defines Pratya­hara as a the process by which the indriyas get detached from the exter­nal objects, turn inward and focus on the con­tent of the mind. Pratya­haar is basi­cal­ly the with­draw­al of the sens­es.

स्वविषयासंप्रयोगे चित्तस्य स्वरूपानुकार इवेन्द्रियाणां प्रत्याहारः॥1.54॥

svav­iṣaya-asaṁprayo­ge cit­ta­sya svarūpānukāra-iv-endriyāṇāṁ pratyāhāraḥ ॥1.54॥

He talks about Dha­rana as fix­ing or focus­ing the aware­ness on a par­tic­u­lar point in space and dhyana as the con­tin­u­ous flow of that vrit­ti or the sin­gle focus. In the wak­ing state, we are con­stant­ly cog­nis­ing based on the con­tent that is com­ing in through the sens­es. Sen­so­ry neu­rons, that are nerve cells that are acti­vat­ed by stim­u­lus from the envi­ron­ment, send infor­ma­tion to the rest of the ner­vous sys­tem. These inputs could be chem­i­cal or phys­i­cal in nature. They respond to sound, smell, light, taste, touch and even mechan­i­cal pres­sure applied on the skin. These sig­nals then trav­el to the brain and we make sense of them. This cog­niz­ing can be impaired due to sev­er­al prob­lems includ­ing the emo­tions. Cloud­ed by emo­tions, we may not be devel­op the right per­cep­tion of the things in the envi­ron­ment. Hence the mind is prone to desta­bil­is­ing very eas­i­ly. The tatt­va bod­ha talks about the mind as सङ्कल्पविकल्पात्मकं मनः ।

The nature of the mind is inde­ci­sion and doubt. The mind keeps oscil­lat­ing between deci­sion and inde­ci­sion, doubt and clar­i­ty and trav­els through var­i­ous emo­tions. It is always in a state of flux and these fluc­tu­a­tions inten­si­fy when focus is on the object of the sens­es. A loud noise imme­di­ate­ly grabs our atten­tion and our mind is filled with the con­tent of the noise and judge­ments about it (mak­ing sense of it). The moment the noise stops, the mind lingers for a while and focus­es on some­thing else. The mind is also tuned to neg­a­tive thoughts and loves them. It feels com­fort­able in brood­ing over the same thoughts again and again. Hence qui­eten­ing the mind is key to med­i­ta­tion. While a no-thought state is best, not every­one is capa­ble of get­ting it. Hence diverse meth­ods are avail­able to qui­eten the mind. देशबन्धश्चित्तस्य धारणा॥Yogasutra 3.1॥

Dha­rana Is The Mind’s (Chitta’s) Fix­a­tion On A Par­tic­u­lar Point In Space

Bull's eye | premier-photo.com | Flickr

तत्र प्रत्ययैकतानता ध्यानम्॥Yogasutra 3.2॥

In That (Dha­rana) The Con­tin­u­ous Flow Of the fix attention/awareness Is Called Dhyana Or Med­i­ta­tion.

Mahar­ishi Patan­jali also shares that while try­ing to focus the mind on a sin­gle aspect, sev­er­al obsta­cles arise and there are some symp­toms accom­pa­ny­ing these obsta­cles as well. He sug­gests more than one way to take care of these obsta­cles. Read our arti­cles on these obsta­cles and solu­tions.

How to med­i­tate?

As we saw ear­li­er, there is not one way to med­i­tate. In the Dhyana Yoga chap­ter (6) of the Gita, Bha­ga­van Krish­na gives us prac­ti­cal tips on choos­ing the right place, the right atti­tude and the prepara­to­ry steps for med­i­ta­tion. Here is what he says

~ Make an asana in a sacred space

~ Place kusha grass, deer skin and cloth one over the oth­er. In the mod­ern con­text, we could organic/natural mate­r­i­al like dar­ba mats, organ­ic soft cloth

~ The asana should nei­ther be too high or too low

~ Hold the trunk (body), neck and head in a straight line

~ Gaze at the tip of the nose with­out the eyes wan­der­ing

शुचौ देशे प्रतिष्ठाप्य स्थिरमासनमात्मन: | नात्युच्छ्रितं नातिनीचं चैलाजिनकुशोत्तरम् || 6.11|| तत्रैकाग्रं मन: कृत्वा यतचित्तेन्द्रियक्रिय: | उपविश्यासने युञ्ज्याद्योगमात्मविशुद्धये || 6.12|| समं कायशिरोग्रीवं धारयन्नचलं स्थिर: | सम्प्रेक्ष्य नासिकाग्रं स्वं दिशश्चानवलोकयन् || 6.13||

Nasi­ka drishti is a very pow­er­ful yog­ic prac­tice that helps in focus and con­cen­tra­tion. Some peo­ple may feel a slight headache while doing this as they might be focus­ing the eye balls on the nose tip for the first time. Over a peri­od of time one gets com­fort­able with the prac­tice. This prac­tice also helps to acti­vate the moolad­hara chakra.

NASI KAGRA DRISHTI | | Yoga Vimoksha Goa

In chap­ter 5, Bha­ga­van Krish­na talks about the Sama vrit­ti pranaya­ma and focus­ing on the space between the eye brows.

स्पर्शान्कृत्वा बहिर्बाह्यांश्चक्षुश्चैवान्तरे भ्रुवो: |

प्राणापानौ समौ कृत्वा नासाभ्यन्तरचारिणौ || 5.27||

यतेन्द्रियमनोबुद्धिर्मुनिर्मोक्षपरायण: |

विगतेच्छाभयक्रोधो य: सदा मुक्त एव स: || 5.28||

Shut­ting out all thoughts of enjoy­ment, with the gaze fixed in the region between the eye­brows, equal­iz­ing inhala­tion and exha­la­tion, con­trol­ling the mind, sens­es and intel­lect, the Yogi becomes total­ly free from fear and anger.

Pranaya­ma can be sama vrit­ti or vishama vrit­ti. The Inhala­tion process impacts the sym­pa­thet­ic ner­vous sys­tem and increas­es the metab­o­lism. It trig­gers the fight or flight response and hence there is a surge of ener­gy. In con­trast, exha­la­tion impacts the parasym­pa­thet­ic ner­vous sys­tem and hence has a calm­ing effect. The sama vrit­ti pranaya­ma bal­ances the exci­ta­tion and relax­ation effect while pro­long­ing the exha­la­tion makes us extreme­ly calm and relaxed.

Deep Breathing | Diagram showing how to do deep breathing. U… | Flickr

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