Meditation; the 7th Limb of Yoga

“There is no peace in the world. If there is any peace, it is only in meditation. At first everyone does false meditation. But this false meditation turns into true meditation by regular practice.”  ~ Baba Hari Das

 

Most people who I talk to about meditation simply say they cannot do it.  Such a simple thing, and yet the majority of people struggle with it.  Let’s examine why this is, and some suggestions to help ease this struggle and reap the benefits.

Why is it important to learn to meditate properly?  When you have the skill to calm your own mind and reconnect with the essence of self and the universe, it’s invaluable.  It’s the most fulfilling thing one could experience in life.  It’s one of those things that one can truly only experience, and the attempts at describing it will always fall short.  Much like love. Meditation is like love in this way.

There is much research on the benefits of meditation for stress relief and experiencing deeper levels of rest.  It does this through shifting the brain waves from alpha brain waves (8-12 Hz) or Beta waves (12-30 Hz), which we experience during waking states, to delta or theta waves, which are much slower.  Shifting the brain waves into delta or theta allows the nervous system and body to achieve a state of deep stillness. From this place of stillness, we can access more of our human potential.  A great yogi, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, said in one of his principles of life, that “Rest is the basis of activity”.  What this means is that when we are able to really experience states of stillness, our actions in the world become more grounded, more creative, more inspired, more fruitful.  This type of stillness is so different from sleep. It is an experience of restful alertness, meaning we are conscious and yet the mind is still.

In yoga, Dhyana is the sanskrit word for meditation. It is the 7th limb of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga.  It is the final skill one must master to experience the 8th limb, Samadhi, higher consciousness. The skill of Dhyana actually comes from the 5th and 6th limbs of yoga, Pratyahara and Dharana, meaning withdrawing the mind from sense perception and concentration, respectively.

Pratyahara is practiced by repeatedly pulling the mind from outward objects, inward to the self.  Methods of pratyahara include the yogic practices of mantra (uttering of sacred sounds), nada (listening to inner sounds), japa (repetition of a mantra), puja (worship), trataka (gazing), kirtana (chanting), mudra (sealing of energy in the body), nyasa (projecting the divine principle onto various parts of the body), arati (worship by light), and hand mudras.

Dharana, or concentration, happens after pratyahara has been accomplished.  It is the focusing of attention on one point. It is derived from the word, dha, meaning “to hold, carry and support”. It refers to the holding of an object in the mind. Some of the important points to hold in the mind are sixteen points within the body (shodhashadhara): thumbs, ankles, knees, thighs, foreskin, genitals, navel, heart, neck, throat, palate, nose, middle of the eyebrows, forehead, head, and Brahmarandhra (“hole of God”, another name for mula, located at the coccyx). Other objects used for concentration can be a picture of a deity, a chakra, one’s breath, a visualization, a candle flame, or a mantra.

When we have used the methods of Pratyahara and Dharana, we then experience Dhyana, true meditative states.  Dhyana is derived from the word dhi, meaning “intellect”. Meditation is the channelling of the intellect, the channeling of the mind to one point.  It is the unbroken, uninterrupted focus of the mind. When the mind achieves this type of focus, there is a sense of connection to self, to all of creation, to the world, and subtle energy is awakened.

When the mind is trained repeatedly in this way, meditation becomes easy, natural, effortless.  This is the way it should always be practiced, without forcing.  I have found the most effective way to achieve these states is through a simple mantra meditation.  By focusing the mind on a mantra, twice daily for 20-30 minutes, one will experience the benefits of meditation. It’s helpful to find a good meditation teacher to guide you in the beginning.  As with any skill, it requires practice and consistency to learn. The benefits for the body, mind, and soul are so worth the effort! 

Most people struggle with meditation for these reasons:

  • They practice inconsistently
  • The technique is incorrect
  • The body hurts
  • Thoughts keep coming and they don’t know what to do

Let’s address these problems.

Inconsistent Practice

As with any skill, like learning to play an instrument or becoming good at a sport, becoming “good” at meditation, where you are able to still the mind fully and achieve deeper states of consciousness, takes practice. Choose a time each day, for example 6:00 in the morning, where you dedicate to practicing daily.

Incorrect Technique

Learning the proper methods for meditation is important. How to sit, what to do and what not to do, and the techniques to use, all make a difference. Try different techniques and learn from different teachers to find what works for you. But, choose one technique and stick with it for several months to see it’s effects before trying something else. A good teacher is invaluable and the technique matters.

The Body Hurts

When the body is in pain or one is struggling with health issues, it can be hard to sit comfortably.  Find ways to support the body with pillows and sitting with the back supported if necessary. Practicing asana is designed to make the body strong and balanced so sitting in meditation becomes easier. Commit to practicing asana regularly, and finding a good teacher to support you.  This will help meditation become easier.

Thoughts Keep Coming

When this happens it tells me that the technique or instructions are not adequate and you need support.  The purpose of a technique is that it helps to quiet these thoughts.  When thoughts arise, as they will, we go back to the technique.  This is the cycle of meditation practice, until eventually the thoughts become less and less.  This is part of the growing process, which can be “painful”, much like when you start exercising a new muscle. Don’t give up, you will get past this, and thoughts coming are a natural part of the process.

Keep it up and good luck with your practice!

“It’s hard to be responsible for our own progress. We always seek for someone to carry us and put us on some higher level. We have to understand that our progress is based on our own efforts.”  ~ Baba Hari Das (teacher to Ram Das)

Source

 1.) Ashtanga Yoga Primer. Baba Hari Das. Sri Rama Publishing, 1981.

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