Meditation lies at the heart of yoga. We can think about meditation as the yoga of the mind and the soul, commonly referred to as Raja Yoga, while the practice of Hatha Yoga that is offered in most yoga classes today can be considered to be the yoga of the body.
Under normal circumstances our minds are generating a constant stream of thoughts, usually reflecting our innermost fears and worries – worries about our health, our finances, our relationships, about what will happen in the future, or having some regrets about some aspect of our past, etc. The Buddhists liken this chatter in our mind to that of drunken monkeys! Emerged in this chatter, we forget to live in and appreciate the present moment.
The goal of meditation is to gain control over our minds so that we can access our personal source of inner peace, contentment and joy. We learn to calm our minds down and replace negative patterns of thought (such as anger, greed, fear, jealousy) with positive ones that reflect our innermost qualities, those of our true self (love, peace, strength, wisdom, bliss).
When we are established in a true meditative state, many everyday concepts that constrain us, such as time, space, our roles, gender and even our individual identity are rendered irrelevant. All that is left is pure consciousness. In the highest forms of yoga, meditation is the practice of concentrating on our soul, with the aim of uniting ourselves with our soul and our soul to Spirit, or God. This total union is referred to as the state of Samadhi, or Enlightenment.
Regular practice of meditation has been proven to bring about several benefits. It helps us to relax, become calmer and more peaceful, overcome stress, reduce anxiety, improve brain functions, strengthen our immune system and feel happier about life in general. The benefits listed here are only the tip of the iceberg. Meditation is so beneficial that we would not hesitate in stating that it is one of the most important skills you can learn to enhance the quality of your life!
Choose a quiet place where you will not be disturbed: ensure that nobody interrupts you and that you have put your mobile phone on silent.
It is good to meditate in the same spot as it helps to establish your meditation practice as one of your regular lifestyle habits: something that you do as part of your daily routine just as you would brush your teeth, etc. Meditating regularly in the same place also helps to build up the right energy around that place over time.
When you become more established in your meditation practice, it will become easier to meditate in other environments, such as when travelling on the tube or sitting in the park. You can then use these opportunities to meditate more often, as these would be in addition to your regular practice.
When, How Often and How Long
One of the best times to practice meditation is early in the morning, straight after a shower. Doing meditation at this time will help to get you into the right frame of mind for the day.
Another good time is in the evening, before going to bed. You have an opportunity to review how the day went and apply wisdom to learn from any mistakes that were made. It also helps to calm you down and aids the process of going to sleep.
If these times are not available, then find some other suitable period in the day when you can meditate without being disturbed.
Ideally meditate at least once every day. To give yourself the best chance of ensuring that this happens, start small and gradually increase your commitment. For example, start by meditating for 5 minutes every day. It is easy to put aside just 5 minutes and meditation soon becomes a part of your daily routine.
Spending 5 minutes in meditation every day is better than doing nothing for a few days and then sitting down for 30 minutes. Think of it like watering a plant: a little bit of water every day is better than starving the plant, followed by drowning it in water!
Gradually build up the time and/or frequency. There are no hard and fast rules for how long you should spend every day in meditation. Once you have established a regular practice, then it is perfectly fine to have some meditation sessions that are longer than others. However, note that quality of practice is more important than time: 10 minutes of a good, focused session is more valuable than 30 minutes during which you constantly lost focus (and perhaps even drifted off to sleep)! Therefore, be patient and gradually build up your practice.
Sit in a posture that allows you to be you relaxed and alert. Ensure that your spine is long and erect, chest and abdomen are not restricted in any way, chin is parallel to the ground, eyes are steady underneath closed eyelids, your weight is evenly balanced and the arms are relaxed with the palms turns upwards.
Using a cushion or some other suitable support if you are sitting in one of the cross-legged positions on the floor usually helps to relax the knees.
If you are sitting on a chair, make sure that your feet are comfortably flat on the floor and your thighs are parallel to the ground. Try to move away from the back of the chair to minimize any sensations coming from contact your back has with the chair behind you.
Notes on Techniques
Try out the various techniques offered here, as well as others that you may come across. You will find that some techniques resonate with you more than others, and that which one appeals to you could also depend on your particular circumstances. For example, you may wish to use affirmations to overcome a specific challenge or hurdle that is holding you back; at other times you may be happy to simply observe your mind and allow the thoughts to settle.
When you come out of meditation, ensure that you allow enough time to ground yourself before becoming active again. You may wish to write down and capture any insights that came up during your meditation session.
If you find that there is a technique that particularly appeals to you then let that become your default method of meditation. It is better to master one technique than to keep changing all the time. If you wish, you can think of it like digging wells when looking for water: it is better to dig deeper into one well than to keep digging in different wells.
Remember that the technique is only a means to an end, so don’t get too caught up in the technique itself. And attitude is very important. Do not look for results, instead focus on your process and be patient and compassionate with yourself.
Meditation, like the rest of yoga, is a life-long practice, not just a quick fix!
Links to Meditation Techniques