To experience meditation it is essential to follow a few basic rules and preparations. The following general suggestions are intended for those people who have never known meditation but have the aspiration to find out what it is for themselves. Lack of preparation can prevent one making progress, especially in the early stages. It is therefore important that the following rules are carried out to the best of your ability and whenever possible.
Time: It is best to have fixed times for your daily meditational practices. This regularity establishes a familiar routine ensuring that the mind and body are prepared for the practice.
The best period of the day is early in the morning, or in the evening before retiring for bed. In fact, the most auspicious hours are between four and six o'clock in the morning. In India this time of the morning is called brahmamuhurta and is known to be especially conducive to meditation. At this time the body and mind are likely to be most relaxed. Furthermore, this is the quietest time of the day with least likelihood of being disturbed by outer diversions. It is the time when you are not normally overwhelmed by your daily problems.
It is important to practise either before eating or a few hours after. It is difficult to relax with a full stomach. If you must practise after meals, it is best to eat moderately.
Duration: Some people in their enthusiasm begin by devoting a very long time to their practices. However, gradually this enthusiasm tends to wane. For example, one person might decide to practise for an hour every day. The second day this will be shortened for any excuse that is available. On the third day the practice will be further reduced and on the fourth day he might leave it completely. It is far better to begin with a duration that you can easily maintain every day. Even ten minutes practice every day is better than one hour one day, half an hour the next day and no time on the third day. Be realistic and choose a period of time that you can set aside for your practice. As you progress, slowly increase the time as required. It is very important not to regard the practice as a burden; it should be thought of more as a time of pleasure.
Sitting position: Use the prescribed medita-tional asanas1.
Place of practice: Choose a clean, peaceful atmosphere in which to practise. It should be well ventilated but not breezy. It should be dry but not hot. Don't sit on a cold floor. Place a blanket or rug beneath you. Leave a reasonable amount of space around you so that you are not disturbed by furniture or other objects. Try to use the same place daily.
Clothing: This depends on climatic conditions; however, your clothing should be as light as possible under the circumstances. Furthermore, your clothing should not be tight or interfere in any way with the breathing process.
If there are many flies, mosquitoes or other insects present, wrap a sheet or light blanket around you to keep them at bay. Alternatively, those people living in hot climates can remain under their mosquito netting. This is important, for it is very difficult to practise properly with flies and mosquitoes buzzing around you.
Sleep: It is normal for most people to sleep when they relax. However, this is not the aim of meditational practices. Some people may start to get up a little earlier than usual to do their yoga practices. These people in particular will often find it difficult to stay awake. Try not to sleep, for if you do you are really wasting your time waking early in the first place. If you want to sleep, then it is better to stay in bed. There are various methods of overcoming this tendency to sleep: one can go to bed earlier at night and/or take a shower before the practice or at any time that one feels sleepy. If you use cold water it is more drastic, but better. There is an alternative method which works over a longer period of time: this is the method of autosuggestion. That is, suggest to yourself before your practice and at other times during the day that you will not fall asleep during meditational practice. If you say this with resolution, then the idea will take root in the subconscious mind.
Probably the best way to prevent sleep during meditational practice is to do asanas and pranayama beforehand. These techniques are excellent for inducing heightened wake-fulness. Apart from this, they simultaneously bring about relaxation of the mind-body complex. As such they are powerful tools in obtaining the most from meditational techniques. For this reason we recommend asanas and pranayama as an integral part of your yoga practice program.
There are some people who feel exhausted after meditational practice. This is exactly the opposite feeling to that which is to be expected. Meditation should bring about relaxation. If it fails to do this, then it is a sure indication that you are not practising correctly. Most probably you are trying too hard to concentrate, instead of merely being aware and allowing the mind to wander. Don't fight and struggle with the mind as though it is an enemy to be subdued by force. Treat it more as a friend and try to coax it by gentle persuasion. Meditation should be a source ofjoy. It is a time when we tune in with deeper aspects of our nature. This cannot lead to fatigue. If it does, then check for mistakes in your method of practice.
Optimism and pessimism: Many people expect to experience meditation on their very first day of practice. This is most unlikely to happen. One should merely practise with perseverance and accept whatever comes. Even though you might not feel the exhilaration of meditation, you will definitely gain many other benefits, including a relaxed attitude to life and mental peace.
At times you will become disheartened and doubtful of the claims that are made for meditation. You will feel that perhaps you are wasting your time and chasing 'a castle in the sky'. Everyone experiences this feeling at one time or another. Don't despair for the transcendental experience of meditation is the heritage of all of us, the treasure of life waiting to be found.
Physical relaxation: The basic hurdles to overcome in meditational practices are physical pain, stiffness and general tension. It is an essential prelude to be able to forget the physical body. This is impossible if you are continually aware of aches and pains. There are various methods to systematically relax the whole body. The best method is a combination of asanas before attempting your meditational practices. In fact, asanas are designed specifically for this purpose.
If you don't have time to practise asanas, then there is an excellent method of bringing about reasonable relaxation of the body within a short time. The practice to use is naukasana2. Briefly, naukasana tenses the whole body for a short time and then relaxes it again. Repeat a few times. This is an excellent method of attaining physical relaxation quickly. It works on the principle that after accentuated physical tension there is a tendency for the body to take the opposite extreme, namely relaxation.
There is another method in which the different limbs of the body are tensed as much as possible one after the other. Lie flat on your back in shavasana2. Direct your awareness first of all to your right leg and tense it as much as possible for as long as you are able, without strain. Then release and relax. Then repeat with the left leg, the two arms, the fists, the abdomen, chest and shoulders, and finally the whole body. This should take about five minutes and is a rapid way of relaxing the body in preparation for meditational practice.
Mental relaxation: The whole point of medita-tional practices is to induce mental tranquility as a means to meditation. However, it is often difficult to progress with the practices because of emotional and mental tensions. Asanas and pranayama are excellent methods of calming even the most turbulent mind. This is another reason for practising asanas and pranayama before attempting meditational techniques.
Often we are overwhelmed by obsessive and persistent thoughts which have emotional overtones, such as jealousy, hatred, pride, fear and a multitude of others. These are not easy to remove. On no account should you suppress them, for they will only lie dormant in the subconscious mind. Let these lingering and exhausting thoughts arise but try to watch them with awareness. That is, look at the thoughts as though they are something different from yourself, as though they are happening outside you. In this way they will lose their intensity and cease to overpower you. Of course prevention is better than cure. It is preferable that these emotionally loaded thoughts occur as little as possible in the first place. This can be done by adopting the rules we have already explained in previous discus-sions2, together with constant practice of yoga in all its forms.
Actually the cause of tension is in the mind. Through meditational practice you will slowly come face to face with the source of these disturbances. People experience these agitations in many different forms. But they are only the manifestations. The cause or nucleus lies far deeper in our mental being. We will always be unhappy and emotionally disturbed while we have this nucleus existing within the subconscious mind. This core is in the form of a conflict or a complex of which our outside activities are merely a reflection. It is only by clearly seeing and understanding the subconscious problems that they can be removed. This is slowly but surely brought about by meditational practices. In this way one will become more and more mentally and emotionally relaxed. Furthermore, increasing benefits will be gained from the practices. The more you relax, the more you will be able to delve into the mind. Simultaneously, the more you delve into the mind, the more you relax. It is a two-fold process that occurs side by side.
Rational thought: Try to leave aside intellectual thinking when you do meditational practices for the aim of meditation is to transcend both rational and irrational thoughts. This is not an easy process. Don't suppress the continuous stream of thoughts, but again merely become aware of them. Try to absorb yourself in the practice at hand.
Vehicle for awareness: A symbol, process or sound is required to act as a vehicle to fix your attention so that your awareness may be directed into the mind. These will be suggested when we describe specific techniques. However, the reader may wish to find a suitable vehicle to suit his own personal tastes. You must know and be guided by what holds your attention most easily. It is not possible in this book to cater for all individual preferences. We can only indicate vehicles in general terms and which we have found to be suitable for large numbers of people. Therefore, we give the following advice as an aid to help you find and choose that which is best for you.
Generally the vehicle of awareness is more powerful if it has some deep meaning or significance. You are more likely to be able to attain deep concentration if the object rivets or holds your attention, because your awareness is less likely to wander here and there, and will be directed into the realms of the mind. If the vehicle has little or no significance for you, then your awareness is most likely to be inattentive. Under these circumstances you might become frustrated and strain yourself in an endeavour to attain one-pointedness. This detracts from success and progress in meditational practices.
A vehicle of awareness can be almost anything. If you belong to a religious group, then you can use an image or form of God. That is to say, if you are Christian, then you are most likely to succeed in concentrating the mind if you use a picture or image of Christ or any great Christian saint. If you are Buddhist, then choose Buddha. If you are Hindu, then you can choose any of the incarnations or avatars of God, such as Krishna, Rama and so on. You must use your discretion in this respect. Only you can choose a symbol which has deep meaning for you.
If you don't belong to any religious group, then there are many other forms that you can choose instead. If you have a guru, then concentrate on his form, or you can concentrate on a cross, a yin yang symbol, the symbolic form of Aurii, the breathing process, any mantra, a rose, a lotus, the moon, the sun, a candle, etc. We repeat, you can choose anything but you must feel an affinity and attraction for the object and be drawn to it without effort.
Most of us are fascinated by many things but without feeling any overwhelming attraction. Under these circumstances continue the practices that we give you. You will still make progress if you have the aspiration. Eventually, however, as you begin to explore the deeper realms of your mind, you will suddenly be confronted by a psychic symbol which has previously unknown significance for you. Even if you try to analyze the image, you may not be able to understand why it is so compulsive. The symbol will almost overpower you with its intensity. Some people are completely surprised at the nature ofthe symbol which they find has great appeal for them. It may even be a symbol of a culture that is completely alien to your present way of life. Nevertheless, it is this symbol that you can adopt for your vehicle of awareness if you wish. You can either make a drawing of the symbol or you can develop the ability to create the symbol mentally in front of your closed eyes. The important thing is that the symbol is perfectly clear and vivid, whether mental or on paper. A useful vehicle of awareness is a body process, such as breathing. This is used in many techniques.
Some people, especially those who are more inclined towards abstraction, can use an idea or a question as a vehicle. This applies particularly in the realm of jnana yoga, where the practitioner totally absorbs himself in an enquiry about the nature of himself and existence. Or one can use abstract concepts such as the idea of infinity, compassion, eternity or love. However, these forms of vehicles for awareness are too difficult for most people, at least in the earlier stages of yoga practice. As such, we recommend tbat you adopt a process, symbol or object that is more concrete. Most of the meditational practices we will give will be of this more tangible type. Full details of this topic will be given when we describe specific practices.
Awareness: We have already extensively mentioned awareness under the other headings; however, we will again briefly summarize. The essence of meditational practice is to develop awareness. That is, awareness of the different realms of the mind. Without awareness, meditation is impossible.
Remember, awareness means that you must be a witness to processes within the mind as well as the process of the meditational techniques. In other words, you should feel apart from your thoughts. Don't lose yourself in them or associate with them. Merely watch the processes as though you are a spectator3. Ifyour mind tends to wander and contemplate on other things apart from your practice, do not become frustrated or try to suppress this tendency. This happens to everyone. On some days we are so relaxed that our awareness automatically fixes itself on the vehicle of awareness, without any effort. On the other hand, at other times our attention jumps around like a monkey in a tree. You must accept the bad with the good. The way to subdue the mind is to allow it to wander as it wishes and not to force it to concentrate. Give it free rein, but at the same time be aware of the fact that it is roaming, roving and rambling. In other words, simultaneously maintain awareness of the different thoughts of the mind, together with the process of the medita-tional practice in hand. After some time you will find that the mind will cease to wander - it will automatically become fixed on the practice. We emphasize again: do not force one-pointedness.
Sometimes the mind will be particularly disturbed. It will incessantly jump from one thought to the next, or be totally obsessed by a problem or some other emotional conflict in your life. An excellent method of overcoming this seemingly impossible situation, and in order to gain relaxation, is to chant a mantra over and over again. A good mantra is Aum, which under these circumstances should be chanted loudly and for as long as possible4. If you do this with intensity, it has an almost incredible calming influence on the mind. It is so simple yet very effective.
1 Topic 2 of this lesson. The Art and Science of Relaxation - Book I, Lesson 1, Topic 5
Relaxation: Shavasana (Part 2) - Book I, Lesson 2, Topic 8 3 Book I, Lesson 3, Topic 5 Book I, Lesson 12, Topic 5
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