Anita Aparna Muyeed
On the path to meditation, there are two essential steps to master. The first step is learning to get there, and the second step is learning to stay there. The getting there part requires both relaxation and concentration. The body should be relaxed through right posture and breath, and the mind should be quiet through focus and concentration.
Remember that meditation is a state of being, where the body is relaxed, the mind is calm and the heart is at peace, allowing us to experience the higher aspects of our own being; enriching our lives on all levels - body, mind and spirit. We may need tools to help us get there, but once we are there we let go and we sit in silence.
In order for the body to relax and the mind to be still, we must first sit comfortably. It does not matter whether we are seated in the lotus position, cross legged or on a chair. What really matters is that our spine is straight, for a straight spine allows energy to flow unobstructed up and down the body. In order to keep the spine straight and be still, we must be seated comfortably.
Sitting on a Chair
If you chose to sit on a chair, you should come towards the edge of the chair so that the feet are flat on the floor and the spine is tall and erect. If the feet do not reach the floor, you may put a folded blanket under them. If the spine is rounded, you may use a pillow as a wedge to tilt the pelvis slightly forward. The thighs should be parallel to the floor and the knees slightly below the hips. The palms should be turned upwards, resting at the junction between the abdomen and the thighs. The upturned palms help to open our chest and heart chakras into a receptive mode. Relax the shoulders back a little while opening the chest, lifting through the heart gently, while keeping the chin parallel to the ground.
Sitting on the Floor
If you chose to sit cross-legged, or in lotus position on the floor, sit on one or two pillows so that your hips are slightly tilted forward allowing your spine to be tall and straight. Your knees should be slightly lower than your hips, your shoulders relaxed and slightly pulled back. The palms should be turned upwards, resting at the junction between the abdomen and the thighs. The chest should be open, the heart lifted and the chin parallel to the ground.
Gazing at the Point Between the Eyebrows
Paramhansa Yogananda taught his students to inwardly (with eyes closed) gaze at the point between the eyebrows. As energy flows where attention goes, gazing at the point between the eyebrows not only hones the mind through concentration and focus, but also energizes the prefrontal cortex, the seat of our higher consciousness and wisdom. It helps us to shift our perspective and withdraw our attention from the outer world to the very center of our inner selves, putting us in tune with the superconscious.
The Double Breath
The double breath not only melts away tension in the body, but also energizes it. As we gently gaze at the point between the eyebrows, this exercise is practiced in three parts: A short and full inhalation through the nose, pausing and holding the breath, and then a short and a long exhalation through the mouth. While inhaling, we gradually tense all the muscles of the body, from low, medium to high tension. We then hold the breath while continuing to tense and vibrate the muscles. And finally, we double exhale through the mouth while releasing and completely dissolving tension in the muscles.
The Equal Count Breath
During mediation we withdraw our awareness away from the senses, and bring it inwards towards the spine and upward toward the brain. The equal count breath not only helps to relax the body, but also helps to focus and interiorize the mind in preparation for meditation. In this exercise, as we gently gaze at the point between the eyebrows, we inhale, hold the breath, and then exhale through the nose in equal counts.
Observing the Breath
A calm mind accompanies a calm breath. A restless mind accompanies a restless breath. To calm the restless mind, it is helpful to give it something to do. When we observe the natural flow of breath without controlling it, it gradually slows down and the mind follows suit, and in this way they feed each other. As we observe the breath, we also naturally pull away from the senses and withdraw our awareness inward freeing the mind for divine contemplation. A component of most meditation techniques is watching the breath, following its path and/or observing its qualities. Because the breath and the mind are intricately connected, this technique has been practiced for thousands of years in the Indian subcontinent.
Another helpful tool to reach the meditative state is to mentally repeat a mantra while observing the breath. Repeating mantras not only give the mind a point of focus, its syllables have a vibratory connection with the breath, thereby calming it. A mantra is a word or seed sound that has the power to help us transform our consciousness, and works in the most direct way possible to bring us to a state of true meditation.
And finally once we have successfully reached that state, we then have to learn how to stay there. Staying there, includes letting go of all the tools and techniques that have helped us to arrive at our destination. Here we simply allow ourselves to go into a state of deep inner connection where we commune with the expanded consciousness of peace, light, calmness, love, joy, wisdom and other divine aspects.