Meditation is often associated with sitting in a cross-legged posture with eyes closed but is, in fact, one of the most misunderstood practices today. Our eyes may be closed and our body still but it does not mean that we are meditating, especially when we are thinking of having a cup of tea, about our work, to-do lists, our evening work-out, etc. What does it actually mean to meditate and how come this is one of the rare disciplines that cannot be taught?
What is meditation?
Meditation represents the art of balance between the body, mind and consciousness. Although it has been said that it cannot be taught, there are meditative techniques which help us prepare our body and mind for a spontaneous state of meditation. In other words, meditation happens on its own, once our body is ready and our mind is free. It is so natural, that when our mind enters a deep meditative state, no one, except someone developing the same meditative state will actually notice.
When in a meditative state our consciousness merges into the universal consciousness. This means that time, thoughts and emotions lose their value. We have no control over our observations, our thinking stops with ease, our ego is released, our breathing calms down and we are able to simply exist as pure awareness. We are able to listen to any sounds without reaction, judgment, criticism, or analysis, as they just absorb into ourselves and into complete stillness and silence. Whatever comes dissolves into peace and this is the time of deep healing.
Different use of meditative techniques
Although meditative techniques and schools are known under many different names (from self-inquiry, surrender to the divine, energy practices, mantra practices, asanas), there are two ways in which techniques can be practised: passively and actively.
When using meditative techniques in a passive way, we choose to remain disconnected from the outside world, for a fixed time each day. It is, however, possible that despite passive meditative techniques, meditation happens outside the set time period.
Active meditation happens whilst performing different actions (i.e. driving a car, making decisions, washing dishes). This does not mean that we are performing our actions in a sleeping state but instead with great efficiency, enthusiasm and energy.
Consistent meditation practice uncovers our full potential
The latest scientific research supports what yoga has known for a long time – 95 % of our capacity lies dormant within us and can be uncovered by dedicating ourselves to using simple techniques daily. Contrary to what the majority believes, it is the simple rather than the complicated techniques and renunciation that bring great advancement. Even if we do not know anything about meditation and yoga, we can reach high states of meditation by just practising one technique.
This has been recently supported by neuroscience as our neuro-plasticity shows great results after using simple brain exercise techniques. What matters is that we stop deceiving ourselves and looking for the answers around us and start to look within, where the greatest treasure lies.
Through meditation, we are able to access the mind and confront the disturbances that control us and our behaviours. Once we confront them, they usually disappear on their own. It takes time to see the results of meditation; yet what matters is the experience, which makes us then realize the power, knowledge, joy and wisdom that lies within.
PRACTICAL Easy to follow steps for meditation
Below are some tips to develop your daily meditation routine. However, you will need to first overcome any constant emotional turmoil and intense feelings of worry, anger, hatred, or jealousy before you begin. The best way to do this is to breathe through the feelings or contact an experienced yoga practitioner to guide you. You should only start using advanced techniques such as breath retention and concentration after your body and mind are well balanced.
- Choose a clean, dry, warm, and well-ventilated space. Return to your meditative space every day, even if only for 5 minutes. This will strengthen your practice.
- In order to meditate, without feeling uncomfortable, it is best to practice some yoga or another form of relaxation beforehand to relax your body and make your practice more successful. A good example is to tense and relax your whole body a few times, or tense different limbs whilst lying in Shavasana posture. Then sit on a blanket or chair with your spine straight and your body completely relaxed.
- Calm and relax your mind. Focus on your breath as it flows in and out naturally. Centre yourself in the present moment and let go of any thoughts. If any thoughts arise, just refocus your attention back to your breath. Observe any emotions like hatred, jealousy or anger but do not try to suppress them as they will lie dormant in your mind until exploding like a volcano one day.
- Once your mind is calm and your body completely relaxed, try out a new technique, choose a focus point such as: a pleasant sound, a picture of a rose, a mantra, your breath, a candle or anything else you may be attracted to. Begin with only one minute a day and slowly increase this to ten minutes a day (or even longer). KEEP IN MIND: There is a saying that a concentrated mind is controlling mind. Therefore, in order to experience meditation, do not try to concentrate too hard but instead discipline your mind to become free, alert and aware, whilst your body remains calm and completely relaxed.
- Observe the process from within your mind. Do not lose yourself in your thoughts or the technique. Learn to differentiate between yourself and your thoughts/emotions, knowing that they are not fixed and no matter how strong they are, they will pass eventually. When your mind wanders, give it a free ride, yet at the same time be aware that your mind is wandering and accept it as you would accept it when it is concentrating. If your mind gets completely obsessed with a thought or emotion, use a mantra, chant it over and over again or sing it out loud for a couple of minutes.
- Please note – if you feel exhausted after practising silence, then it is an indication you have not been doing it correctly. If your practice does not represent a source of joy, relaxation and positive energy, you might have been trying too hard.
Inspired by: Saraswati, Swami Satyananda (1981) A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya. Thomson Press: New Delhi.