The ancient yogis and sages long ago developed powerful ways to attain deep relaxation. Modern stress management and relaxation methods have borrowed from this ancient and very important knowledge. It is very interesting to think that they did not have what we have today to stress us but the techniques proved to be as helpful to modern people as the people from another time. “By relaxing deeply all the muscles the Yogi can thoroughly rejuvenate his nervous system and attain a deep sense of inner peace.” Corpse (Savasana) is an example of this.
At the heart of their of all their beliefs is “We become what we think” so therefore we must have positive and creative thoughts because that will help us attain health and peace. The mind can be under perfect control by practicing meditation (dhyana) regularly.
The breath and mind are intimately connected and react with each other responding instantly to states of mind and emotion. “As the breath flows, so flows the mind.” Focusing on the breath can calm the mind.
Below is the Hong-Sau method of concentrating and meditating which is taught by Paramhansa Yogananda and his disciple, Swami Kriyananda, founder and spiritual director of Ananda. http://www.extragentleyoga.com/ry/Meditation.html
The Hong-Sau Technique:
Hong-Sau can be done anywhere, any time. It is suggested that energizing, prayer and chanting be done before meditation.
These preliminary activities are done to help focus the mind and body on the activities at hand, use any excess energy or focus any unfocused energy that stress creates and provide a body and mind more awake to the possibilities and potential of meditation.
Inhale, tensing whole body. Exhale and relax. Repeat three times.
To a count of 6-10, inhale slowly, hold the breath for the same amount of time, exhale the same to the same count and “immediately inhale again to the same count. Repeat 6-10 times. Please remember that these are preliminary breathing exercises, not the technique itself.”
This is to relax the body and mind so you are not distracted by tension and may not even know it. Modern relaxation techniques often use this exact same method to help people relax.
With no count or tensing, inhale (long slow and deep). “When the breath begins to flow again, begin to observe its movement, without any attempt to control it. Notice the place at which you can observe the breath in your body whether in the lungs, in the nostrils, or sinuses. Be an impartial observer, not caring whether it flows in or out or remains stationary. Simply remain attentive to whatever the breath does by itself, naturally. Moving the forefinger of the right hand in for inhalation and out for exhalation may be helpful for helping you tune into the breath.”
Being an impartial observer is not something most people practice or are taught at home or at school. Everybody has an opinion about everything and lets you know. Being an impartial observer gives you the opportunity to perceive more of what is happening than if you get bogged down in having thoughts and opinions about every little thing that is happening.
The Hong-Sau mantra is now used “spoken” but only mentally, not moving mouth. Inhale and “say” Hong (mentally say it like song). Exhale and “say” Sau (mentally say it like saw). ”Repeat the mantra mentally only. Be careful not to move the lips or tongue. Hong-Sau is a Sanskrit mantra meaning I am He or I am Spirit.”
Mantras help focus attention on the meditation and so you won’t think of problems and distractions. It is like a rest for the mind and body, while also being a focus for putting your energy.
When your practice of this gets deeper, “begin to enjoy the pauses between the inhalations and the exhalations, when the breath is not flowing. Do not actively hold the breath in or out. As many times as your mind wanders away from Hong-Sau, bring it gently back to the technique.”
Everything in meditation is supposed to be gentle, supportive, positive, helpful. Meditation acknowledges that people have constant distractions from life, their minds, etc.
After practicing Hong Sau breath in and out three times, then leave the exhalation out as long as you are comfortable, then breath in a normal way. Five or ten minutes of practice may be enough for a beginner and can be increased as is comfortable.
Meditation always takes you out of it gently, never approves of forcing anything, believes that success in meditation will come with practice and the benefits are for everyone.
During practice keep eyes closed, look up to the place between the eyebrows without straining your eyes (let them be relaxed). Eyes are closed so you can focus and not be distracted.
When finished practicing Hong-Sau, sit silently and be still “for at least as long as you practiced the technique. You can now do “devotion, inward chanting, visualization, or prayer.”
Meditation encourages people to feel the benefits and not just jump back into life without taking the benefits with them.
Hints for mediation:
Regular practice: 2-3 hours after meals (empty stomach), same place, same time(s) daily (suggested times are dawn, twilight, high noon, evening just before bedtime, midnight)
Exercise if possible before meditation, making sure that the exercise calms the nervous system (yoga is a good to do). “Yogananda's Energization Exercises are highly recommended.”
A special place, such as a quiet room or part of a room specially for meditation, is desirable. It should be comfortable and well ventilated (a bit cooler than warmer and use a blanket or shawl or something to wrap yourself in). “Have a place to sit, and a small, simple altar or focal point, like pictures, flowers, candles. You will find that the vibrations of meditation build here. Face East, if possible. Yogis say that there are certain natural currents, flowing east to west, which help you meditate better. North is also a good direction.”
Sit erect with a natural fiber cloth on your seat either on a chair or the floor, back straight, chest up, head erect, keep eyes closed, hands palms up in your lap (near where the thighs and abs join). the natural fiber protects you from “the downward pull of earth currents.”
”Do not set unrealistic goals for yourself.” It is better to meditate a short time, be consistent and then increase it. Then with time, practice and experience you can increase the meditation time as much as you feel comfortable. Two suggestions are: a long meditation once a week is good and is very helpful to give you some idea of what it is like to do it for a longer time and gives you some variety and meditating with other people, especially those who are proficient, gives you a chance to learn from them and all of you can share your experiences. When you meditate with others, especially those who have done it longer than you “the energy of a group meditation” can help “you to meditate longer than you would ordinarily be able to, on your own.” But meditation is never a contest with yourself or others, never forced, always gentle and respectful of all things: people, energy, time, problems, etc.
Even before you begin to meditate the gently easing into meditation is suggested. You don’t necessarily plop yourself down or jump into it.” Upon beginning your meditation, say a prayer either out loud, or inwardly, to God and the Masters, to guide and help you. Do some chanting, if you can (using a cassette tape of chants is very nice, sing along with it!). Practice breathing to relax. Inhale, tense the whole body, then throw the breath out and relax, do this 2-3 times.
”Then do some measured breathing: inhale to a count, hold that same count, then exhale to the same count, and begin again, this 6-12 times. The count can be 8-8-8, 12-12-12, or higher if you feel comfortable. Then relax and breathe normally, but be aware of your breathing. You should now feel relatively relaxed. Hold the body still! Mentally check it from time to time to see that no part becomes tensed again inadvertently. Physical tension is a great deterrent to calm meditations. Be very silent and relaxed, yet aware.
”Meditate with joy, with devotion! Don’t wait for God’s joy to make you joyful, be joyful first yourself! Meditation simply helps you remember, on ever deepening levels of awareness, who and what you really are! You are a child of God; you are one with the infinite Light.”
Meditation takes you “away from all of the turmoil of daily life…in a consciousness where only the quiet and calm of the present exists. There is nothing from the past. There are no thoughts of the future. Only inner peace. The mind is not jumping from thought to thought thinking, ‘What is going to happen next?’ or maybe ‘What am I going to do about that?’ or ‘How will I work that out?......There is nothing......just inner peace.’”
People’s rational minds may only accept “a rational thought process…logical, mechanical or mathematical” answers or solutions to the problems in life but ”there is so much more beyond this. There is so much more to our consciousness than what exists on this level.”
If meditation was bottled maybe people would buy it. If it was available in a special place maybe people would travel there to take a vacation or get cured of health problems. But to find out the benefits people only have to try it. The effects can be felt by the person and you don’t have to wait for test results to know you feel better, you can basically choose your own time and place, and you are your own experimenter. There is enough information to show anyone interested how to get into doing it.
It is very logical that if you feel better and therefore can function better you will be able to handle the problems of life better. If you are different from the way you were before you did it then you will probably live in a healthier way and handle life’s difficulties better. Taking a rest and refreshing and renewing yourself is not running away from problems, it is strengthening yourself to deal with them.
Can people claim that meditation is just a hold-over from the sixties when it has been around for thousands of years, does it work or doesn’t it? “To answer that question we must first look at the mind, how it works, and how meditation affects it.”
“From the yogic perspective, the mind is a collection of habits (samskaras). These samskaras make up most of our daily lives. How we act, how we think, how we emote are just habits of the mind, conditions that have been embedded and reinforced through repetition over extended periods of time.”
Habits can be desirable or undesirable.
Desirable habits are being kind, responsible, and other qualities that make our lives better, giving us inner peace and contentment.
Undesirable habits are anger, anxiety, etc. We would be better off minimizing these kinds of things. These things “make the mind turbulent and unquiet, making us go outward looking for things to quieted the mind while thinking that these external things will make us happy and give us peace of mind.” If buying something makes someone happy it is significant how long that thing does make them happy.
Too often people are only happy for a while when they buy something and then have to go shopping again. “Why does the new car (or whatever thing we are desiring) make us happy, but just for a while? When the mind is happy, or even as in the beginning of this article, it is in a blissful state, it is focused, the scattered rays of the mind have become one-pointed; the mind is concentrated on one particular thing. When the mind focuses on one thing, whether it is an event, a person, etc. outside of itself, it becomes quiet. These external focal points are transitory…conditioned in time and space….impermanent. Consequently, the concentration wanes. We attempt bring the focus back to them over and over again, but, as we experience over and over again, after a period of time, they fail to bring the desired satisfaction. We seek happiness in something else external, repeating the cycle over and over again.” When the mind focuses (or tries to) on one thing it is paying attention and aware of that one thing and when focused on one thing it doesn’t matter if it was bought or thought it is simply focused and that is all it needs.
Meditation focuses the mind but goes within, not toward external things, going toward inner peace not the scattered distracted mind. The mind is therefore used “as a tool to change itself. Through regular practice of meditation we're creating new, positive, uplifting mental habits.” The mind gets more quiet, focused, powerful and can “accomplish whatever task is placed before it more easily and quickly and more effectively.”
Meditation can be an easy going, even playful thing that takes away stress, not adds to it.
“It can enlighten us with solutions to these problems discovered through meditation, or simply grant us the serenity to navigate our difficulties with grace.”
Even if life is hectic and it is difficult to set aside time to meditate it may be possible to take a few minutes “to calm ourselves, breathe deeply, and connect our mind and our body can greatly enhance our ability to cope with all that we have to do.” It is valuable and should be a priority to take time to take care to do “’mini-meditations’ that can be done anytime, anywhere, to keep us in touch with our true inner self even when the pace gets hectic.”
Here are some suggestions that can be done for a few moments to refresh the mind and body. “None of these suggestions bear much resemblance to the traditional idea of meditation as something that must be an elaborate spiritual ritual. But all of these simple ‘mini-meditations’ lift the spirit just the same.”
1. Look “at the vastness of the heavens above us. No matter how far the eye gazes, the sky is still there. Visualize the task you have at hand held up against this immense sky.”
Compare this task to the vastness before you (noting how small it is, etc.) “and take a moment to reorganize your perspective.”
2. Keep photos of loved ones close (desk, wallet, etc.) In tense situations instead of loosing your temper with someone, glance at the photos. “Imagine the words you are about to say being said to someone you love dearly. Remember that no matter how rude or unintelligent the person you are dealing with may seem to you, they, too, have people who love them. Try to treat them as you would have those you love be treated.”
3. If about to loose your temper take time “to remember the last time you had a REALLY bad day - and how you treated others on that day. It is a basic psychological principle that we tend to attribute angry words we say based on our feelings at the time (which are always changing), but we tend to judge other's anger or foolishness as a basic trait of their character.” We’re all human and can have bad day. “Instead of making it worse, try to make their day better by treating them with civility and respect. Chances are, doing this will make your day improve as well.”
4. A cuddly stuffed animal nearby to hug when you are feeling sad or overwhelmed can remind you “there is someone out there who loves you…even if that person is yourself. Hug the stuffed toy as if it were your inner self you were hugging. Take comfort in being hugged.”
5. A child playing completely absorbed is a role model for showing how someone can become so engrossed in their activity that they do not care who is watching or even notice anyone watching. “Try, just for a few moments to imagine that you are a child, ‘playing’ at whatever task it is you have at hand (remember how we all used to play school, or going to the grocery store, or at being a grown up at work?). Try to absorb yourself in this ‘play’ the way a child does...and see if your task doesn't become easier.”
Meditation Through Movement and Stillness: Meditation does not have to be how others define it. You can define it for yourself. Judith Lasater feels her yoga practice is meditation and who is to say it is not? The awareness gained is what is important and also the respect given the body, mind, spirit, process, journey, path, etc.
The purpose of meditation and yoga is awareness. The exact path is not so important, the idea is to take a path. The journey is the important thing. Meditation and yoga are two paths you can take. People have done it for many years. Judith Lasater writes about yoga being “Meditation in Motion: Not just a physical practice, yoga asanas can be a doorway to self-awareness.” For her yoga gave her an intuitive connection to her soul and “that each asana represents an aspect of myself and as such offers a powerful doorway inward to deeper awareness. This deeper awareness occurs because when I practice a pose, I am focusing on the feelings and thoughts that arise rather than just on completing the movement. I may notice tightness in my legs or emotional resistance to certain movements. This daily intense period of focus helps to create a habit of paying attention which follows me through the rest of my day. As I pay attention to what arises, I learn to see myself and my reactions more clearly; as I see myself more clearly, I begin to understand that my reactions are habits that I can let go of. This process is at the core of spiritual practice.”
Awareness through yoga poses may be as old as civilization in India. “Archaeologists have discovered a 5,000-year-old carving from the Indus River valley that shows a cross-legged figure seated in a position yogis still use for meditation.”
Even though there is this evidence of ancient yoga there is not much known about the development of the poses of yoga. Traditionally the creation of poses is credited to the sages of Vedic India “the most revered yoga text of ancient India—the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, from the second century A.D.—barely discusses the subject. Patanjali gives no specific instructions about asana practice, and only touches on it in four of his 145 verses (chapter two, verses 29 and 46-48).”
In modern times yoga “has taken on forms Patanjali might not even recognize.” As yoga becomes more prevalent and accepted for therapy and fitness yoga appears in publications and the media. Famous people acknowledge and praise it.
“More interesting…than any specific practice techniques are two basic ideas about asana. First, I think asana practice can be a spiritual practice in and of itself. Second, I think this practice can help us bring the spiritual into our daily lives in the modern world, far from the ashrams and retreats of ancient India.”
Yoga offers healing, flexibility, strength and “a powerful nonverbal expression of the sacred. Humankind has always sought a connection with the transcendental. We may in fact be ‘hardwired’ to seek a source beyond our selves, and this hunger to connect with the sacred unseen can be fed with asana practice.”
“To truly practice asana, you have to become present in the moment. You have to observe your sensations, your reactions, your sense of ease and difficulty as you stretch and bend. And this consistent willingness to be in the here and now is the basis of meditation. Part of what makes being in the present moment so special is that we rarely do it. Most of the time our minds are fleeing toward the future or lagging in the past. We tend to live in our thoughts about reality and not in reality itself. The problem with this way of living is that it makes us miss the present—and the present is all we really have. Our frequent dissatisfaction with life comes from never fully tasting it exactly as it happens. Asana practice can help us reconnect with the sacred by requiring that we pay attention to the miracle that we are and to the wonder of creation in which we live.”
Patanjali (Yoga Sutra, chapter two, verse 46) “clearly defines steadiness and ease as the two key characteristics of asana practice.” Judith Lasater thinks it is “ironic that most people think of asanas as the movements of yoga; actually, asanas demand that the practitioner learn to stay still.” Poses are supposed to be held for a certain amount of time, depending on the skill, strength and flexibility of the person doing it. “This staying still is a powerful practice. When you learn to hold a pose, the steadiness of the body becomes a backdrop against which you can clearly see the constant movement of the mind.” Without forcing the body and mind, yoga and meditation allow awareness to happen. As a person learns to be still the poses “can be a doorway to deeper states of meditation” and therefore awareness.
Yoga poses, like the corpse or sponge pose, can help people reach dis-identification (“yoga's most important gift”). “In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali teaches that mistakenly identifying your thoughts as your Self is the root of all misery. He further teaches that all the practices of yoga aim to dissolve this false identification.”
When you are still and quiet in body and mind in a pose, especially one like the corpse of sponge pose, you can separate your self from your thoughts and relax more deeply and go into “a state in which thought is experienced as a surface phenomenon. You can begin to experience a little space between thought and what is perceived as Self. A teacher of mine once said, ‘The problem with our thoughts is that we believe them’ - and the problem with believing our thoughts is that we often act on them in ways that cause suffering for ourselves and others. When you experience a little space between your thoughts and the consciousness that is the background for thought, thoughts begin to lose their power over you. With dis-identification comes choice: You can choose to act from the thought, or to release it without action. Ultimately, this kind of choice is synonymous with true freedom.” This may sound a little strange at first but when you think of it you are not bogged down in knee-jerk habits that take you down the same unproductive paths you’ve gone down before. You have a chance to try something new. You have a chance to try something at that moment. You really have choice, not habit or distracted attention or just take whatever is there.
“Along with steadiness, Patanjali stresses that for a position to be an asana, we must abide in it with sukha, a word usually translated as ease or comfort. For most of us, that may seem like an impossible demand. When we move into asanas, we're often aware of difficulty—tightness, weakness, mental resistance, or all three. It's rare that we have a sense of ease. So what could Patanjali have meant by insisting that asanas must be marked by ease?
“I've come to think that ‘ease’ in this context refers not to the difficulty I experience in doing the pose, but rather to my interpretation of that difficulty. In other words, the pose can continue to challenge me. Perhaps that will never change. But I can become ‘easeful’ in my interpretation of that difficulty. I can choose to remain present and allow the difficulty to be there without fighting it, reacting to it, or trying to change it.”
Meditation and yoga are about how you deal with life, yourself, others, problems, decisions, plans, etc. “Just as seeking ease in your asana practice doesn't mean avoiding difficult poses, the wider practice of yoga is not about arranging your life so that it is free of challenges. Rather, it is about using the discipline you find in asana practice to remain easy in the midst of difficulty. When you learn to maintain this ease, everything you say and do can become an asana—a position that allows your body, mind, and soul to sing in harmony with the universe.”
Meditation and yoga are tools with which you can improve and heal your body, mind, spirit, life, relationships, work, play, etc. They give energy and peace, action and stillness, a path and a non path (the choices are always yours, you always choose at any given moment), strength and flexibility. All these things are necessary to build a good life. Having just one or an unbalanced selection of them would make us miss out on the things that the other aspects could provide, for example it is good to strong but we need flexibility also, in mind as well as body and spirit.
Meditation is simply teaching the body and mind to pay attention to what they are doing and move toward a healthier and more spiritual way of living. People get caught up in tense and unhealthy ways of dealing with life.
Meditation tries to show how far from peace they are and how close to peace they can get. People often don’t notice how far they are from peace and health and meditation can show them in a gentle and doable way that they can achieve it.
Meditation is not usually a big bang (although significant revelations may feel that way sometimes). It is an incremental movement toward a state of peace, quiet, connection, and health between body, mind.
Meditation invites you to not only look at yourself and your life, but to feel it and feel it on many levels: how the body feels, how the mind feels, how the body and mind affect each other, what is your spiritual life like, how you can get from one state of being to another, how you can solve problems without forcing things, how to deal emotionally with problems so there is less stress, what are more creative ways to deal with the situations that come up in life, what true peace feels like, how the body feels on the surface as well as deeper, bringing awareness of different parts of the self: actual physical body, feelings, thoughts, breathing, sensations, perceptions. It is a unique combination of rest and activity. Calm gentle active attentive perceiving. For example there may be something in your life that is overwhelming and tense and exhausting but after meditation you may feel different – refreshed, like you can handle it, see different sides of the situation, different solutions may become evident, possibilities perceived, creativity may bloom, etc. It is actually very logical – if you feel different physically and emotionally (for example by meditating) you very likely may act and think differently. Just focusing your attention in a different way causes changes in your life.
Meditation is a powerful technique that can be taught to and learned by anyone interested. The benefits can be immediate and long lasting if you continue to practice. There are many people and books to guide you. Everybody is their own responsibility. The choices are infinite and custom made for each person by each person: times, places, situations, feelings, benefits, etc. You can’t get anything cheaper and yet it may be the most valuable thing you ever do for yourself, your life, others, the world.