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Articles by Swami Veda Bharati

How To Meditate Basics

There are many misleading notions about the practice of meditation. Some people have the impression that they should sit down with eyes closed and try to make the mind blank. Others mistake practices for meditation. Many pick up an idea from books and start practicing without any actual instruction--and it leads nowhere. Others do not begin meditation practice at all because they think they will have to leave their families, homes, comforts, professions, and duties--and withdraw to a faraway cave in the Himalayan mountains in order to succeed.

In the Himalayan Raja Yoga Meditation System what follows are the first steps of meditation. They constitute the foundation. The reader’s ego may want to say:  “I have been practicing meditation for a decade or two; I want something more advanced; I do not need elementary lessons.” This attitude is incorrect. Many aspirants are practicing blanking the mind, or holding the breath like an athlete, but they have not even learnt the correct method of breathing. Only when these foundations have been properly laid can a meditator go on to more advanced practices. The steps in the method are: 

DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING
Even breathing 

CORRECT POSTURE
Being able to maintain a straight spine, with no feeling of discomfort in the legs, back or the neck
           
SYSTEMATIC RELAXATION
Maintaining total relaxation of neuro-muscular system throughout a meditation session
 
AWARENESS OF BREATHING
One gradually learns subtler modes of breathing
 
USING A MANTRA OR A SACRED WORD
Use of the word soham until one is given a personal mantra

Let us go into the details of these steps.

 

DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING

The chief organ controlling the breathing process in our body is the diaphragm, a muscle just underneath the ribs, separating the chest cavity from the abdomen. Ideally, the diaphragm contracts so that we may inhale fully even into the lower lungs. The diaphragm relaxes to push against the lower lungs so that the exhalation from this part of the lungs may be complete. A child at birth breathes diaphragmatically, but later forgets this natural process because of incorrect attitudes of adults around them. Then one has to re-train himself to breathe correctly.

In deep and correct breathing, no pressure should be felt in the lungs, and no tension should develop. Breathing should be a relaxed and relaxing process of rejuvenation.

The diaphragmatic breathing is taught in:

a. The crocodile position

To learn the practice lie on the stomach, heels touching; toes apart; or in whatever way the legs feel relaxed. Place the right palm down over the back of the left hand, and rest the forehead on the hands. The neck is not to be bent sideways. Let the shoulders relax--do make sure of that.

Bring your awareness to the breathing process. In this position, it is not possible to do chest breathing. Observe the flow of the breath. Observe the gentle rise and fall of the stomach and the navel area with the gentle and smooth flow of the breath.

Let there be no jerks, no breaks, in your breathing. Let if flow like a smooth stream. Let it slow down. Observe the gentle flow, along with the rise and fall of the stomach and the navel area. Take note of the breathing process. Resolve to breathe in this way at all times.

After doing this for five to fifteen minutes turn over on your back in:

b. The corpse pose

Lie flat on the back with legs and arms a comfortable distance from the body, palms turned up. Continue to breathe and to observe the process of the diaphragm relaxing and contracting (the rise and fall of the stomach and the navel area).

Place your left palm on the chest, right palm on the stomach. No movement should be felt under the left palm; the right palm should feel the rise and fall smoothly, without a jerk, without a break.

Let even breathing develop; the length of the inhalation and the exhalation being equal. When this has been mastered one graduates to 2:1 breathing (where the exhalation is twice as long as the inhalation).

When one breathes only diaphragmatically at all times, it is considered that the practice has been mastered.

 

CORRECT POSTURE

It is most important that your spine should be straight for sitting in meditation and at all other times.

Unfortunately most chairs, sofas, modern beds, seats in cars and airplanes are designed as part of a conspiracy to shorten people’s life-spans by forcing them to breathe incorrectly by making them sit in positions with convoluted spines.

One often sees people sitting in prayer gatherings with their spines looking sadly like a bent bow. This:

a. Prevents correct and full breathing, causing short breaths, reducing the life spans.

b. Generates or worsens many diseases like asthma, and heart problems.

c. It also adversely affects the entire neural system whose central flow is in the spine.

A straight spine is not a straight line. 

  • It is a slightly S-shaped curve:
  • Convex at the lower third part (lumbar vertebrae 1-5)
  • Concave at the middle third part (thoracic vertebra 2-12);
  • Convex at the upper part of the back (cervical vertebrae 5-thoracic vertebrae 1);
  • Straight at the neck (cervical vertebrae 1-4). 

It should be learnt under expert guidance. But a few hints here will be helpful. One need not try to sit in the advanced postures, especially if age, physical problems, or lack of habit prevent one from doing so. Sitting in a chair or sitting in a comfortable cross-legged position will do quite nicely. Unfortunately when people sit in the cross-legged positions, the centre of gravity makes them bend their backs. The answer to that is a simple one.

DO read this with care and do not misunderstand.

Fold a blanket, and make it into a neat and firm cushion, or use a cushion. This is not to serve as your seat, not like a rug to sit on. Place it only under the hips, with legs or knees on the floor. This will uplift the hips from the ground. Straighten yourself. If there is discomfort anywhere in the back or the neck, you need to experiment with the height of the cushion or folded blanket under the hips; you need to reduce or increase the number of folds in the blanket or number of cushions used. Experiment for a few days until you obtain the optimum comfort. Resolve always to sit in this position.

If sitting on the floor is very difficult, you may sit on a chair; on the edge of a hard chair, with feet on the ground. Do sit with the spine straight. Form this habit. Let it become your natural position at all times--you will notice psychological changes in yourself, such as heightened awareness, intentness, self-confidence without unnecessary pride, effectiveness in life.

Having sat in the correct posture, continue breathing diaphragmatically, with mental observation of the flow, and of the gentle rise and fall of the stomach and the navel area, with no feeling of pressure in the chest. If there is tension, the breathing is incorrect.

 

RELAXATION

Relaxation, after diaphragmatic breathing, is the second step practiced in the corpse pose.

Let us learn basic methodical relaxation.

Lie in the corpse pose, with feet apart, arms separate from the body, alongside the body, palms up. Continue breathing diaphragmatically. Now take a mental inventory of your body in the following sequence, asking each part of the body to relax as it is brought to mind.

Forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nostrils, cheeks, jaw, mouth and the corners of your mouth, chin, neck, neck joint, shoulders, shoulder joints, upper arms, elbows, lower arms, wrists, hands, fingers, fingertips; fingertips, fingers, hands, wrists, lower arms, elbows, upper arms, shoulder joints, shoulders, chest, heart area, stomach, navel, abdomen, pelvis, thigh joints, thighs, knees, calf muscles, ankles, feet, toes and toe tips.

To tips, toes, feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, thigh joints, pelvis, abdomen, navel, stomach, heart area, chest, shoulders, shoulder joints, upper arms, elbows, lower arms, wrists, hands, fingers, fingertips; fingertips, fingers, hands, wrists, lower arms, elbows, upper arms, shoulder joints, shoulders, neck joint, neck, chin, jaw, mouth, corners of your mouth, cheeks, nostrils, eyes, eyebrows, forehead.

Remember this sequence. Go over the body in this order; relax each of these parts in this sequence. Let them go limp. For example, the hands should become like the hands of a baby. If you do not succeed in relaxing them at first, or you have been so tense that you have forgotten what it is like for a muscle to be relaxed, you may use a different method of relaxation called supine tension/relaxation, thus called because it is also done in the corpse position.

The exact sequence for practicing this relaxation exercise follows. When tensing, tense from the fingers or toes upward. Try to avoid sympathetically tensing muscles other than the ones you are working with. Between segments, pause and relax for 2 breaths. After completing the entire sequence, rest for 10 relaxed breaths.

Tense and relax the right leg--left leg--right leg--left leg.
Tense and relax both legs simultaneously. Repeat.
Tense and relax the right leg and arm--left leg and arm--right leg and arm—left leg and arm.
Tense and relax the right arm--left arm--right arm--left arm:  then both arms simultaneously. Repeat.
Tense and relax all the limbs simultaneously. Repeat.

After completing either the body sequence relaxation or the supine tension/relaxation, continue breathing diaphragmatically. Lie in this way for a few minutes, then sit up for meditation. There are numerous progressively complex mental relaxation exercises which can be done in the corpse pose. They finally lead to yoga-nidra, or yogic sleep, and to the entry into the subtle body.

As you sit in your meditation position, do remember to sit with

a. hips elevated on a folded blanket or cushion and
b. with the spine straight.

Again, quickly scan the body for any sign of tension that might have developed in the process of changing the position. Relax. Re-establish diaphragmatic breathing.

 

BREATH AWARENESS

Let your breath flow, smoothly and evenly, with no jerks, no break in the middle of the breath, no break between the breaths, no sound, no gasping.

Become aware of the flow. No break in the awareness.

Twelve breaths, with such unbroken awareness, without any interrupting thoughts will lead you into samadhi. But such twelve breaths are difficult to come by!

Feel the flow and touch of the breaths in the nostrils. Continue to do so, without jerk, without interruption. The awareness of inhalation should immediately merge into the awareness of exhalation and vice versa. The awareness of the exhalation is especially important.

If the mind wanders off, because of its usual habits that have been given to it over many, many years, straighten your spine again; relax quickly again; re-establish diaphragmatic breathing; continue with the awareness of the flow and touch of the breath in the nostrils.

 

SACRED WORD

To begin with, use soham, some prefer to say hamso--and call it the hamsa-mantra. Exhaling, think in your mind the word ham. Inhaling think in your mind the word so. It means I am That. Those in a different religious tradition may use the word prescribed by their tradition, but it should be properly learnt from someone who knows meditation according to that tradition; just any maulvi, reverend priest or pandit or rabbi will not do.

Let there be no interruption in breath awareness, nor in the awareness of the flow of the word as a thought.

Observe how the breath, the word and the mind are flowing together as a single stream.

Slowly, lengthen the time--not how long you sit--but how many seconds you manage to maintain awareness of the flow of that stream without interruption. Too much effort is self-defeating; you cannot fall asleep by making a determined effort, nor can you enter a meditative state by fighting yourself. Let it flow; let it happen. Don’t DO meditation. Observe and experience.

 

NEXT STEP

Seek out someone in the tradition of the Himalayan yogis to give you the first initiation, the personal mantra.

Many questions will arise in your mind. For example, if you are already initiated within a certain tradition, you would resist the thought of another personal mantra. But the way the Himalayan yogis teach, they do not like to create conflict in your mind. They are familiar with many other traditions. They will strengthen you on the path of your tradition, and will teach you how to experience the truth of your own faith.

We have given this basic manual of instruction for a complete beginner in meditation. Do start with this practice. Be diligent, and it will lead you a long way. If you already have a mantra, ask someone in the Himalayan tradition how to merge it with the practice of this awareness, so that it may go deep into you.

After the mantra initiation one may be led to concentrations or methods of meditation individually appropriate for the aspirant. Both a mantra and a meditation mode are assigned according to the individual’s spiritual needs. There are many different ways of refining the mantra experience through various levels of consciousness all the way to final silence. The ajapa state, where one has so absorbed the mantra that it repeats itself in one’s consciousness, also occurs only through the guru’s grace. One may be taught to proceed on the path of internal sound (nada) or light (jyoti) and to go on the path of the kundalini (a yoga of channeling energies). One may be assigned a particular chakra, or energy center in the body, to mediate on from time to time, but the actual entry into such a meditation occurs only when the initiator mentally touches the disciple’s particular chakra. In the chakra one may be assigned a visualization on certain diagrams, etc. At this time the aspirant will also be taught how to merge his mantra with the energy of the given chakra and how to penetrate through its central point (bindu-vedhana). The secrets of these are taught in specific tantras but understood only in the live guru-disciple relationship.

 

Suggestions for reading

Living with the Himalayan Masters, by Swami Rama of the Himalayas.

Theory and Practice of Meditation, buy Swami Rama.

Superconscious Meditation by Usharbudh Arya

Mantra and Meditation by Usharbudh Arya

Philosophy of Hatha Yoga by Usharbudh Arya

 

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