Meditation (Dhyana) is the seventh limb of yoga. It leads us to the ultimate goal of yoga, the eighth limb: Supreme Conciousness (Samadhi )- a state of bliss, where the individual being “dissolves” completely and there is an awareness of the true self beyond the ego and a recognition of a oneness with all beings and things.
Traditionally, the physical practice (Asana), the third limb, is considered a preparation for meditation. For some, Asana can be meditation in motion, one which even integrates other limbs of yoga such as breath control (Pranayama) and withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara). But as we age, the physical practice will understandably fall away gradually. If we take great care, this will be a slow process. A meditation practice, on the other hand, is something we can always maintain and carry with us until our last breath.
The benefits of a meditation practice are numerous: stress relief, lowered blood pressure, immune system improvement, increased longevity, brain health, cultivation of focus, pain reduction, mood enhancement. More and more studies are touting the many boons of meditation.
So why wouldn’t everyone want to engage in meditation? The answer is simple. It is really hard! Working on your own mind is difficult. Sitting still and focusing is not a state our minds have been programmed for in our current culture. We have been conditioned to multi-task and become easily distracted when asked to focus. We all know why: work, relationships, bills, insurance, traffic, texts, tweets, email, social media, the almighty sound bite, etc… Who would not be driven to distraction?
This is all the more reason to counter this conditioning with a practice that will instill calm, peace of mind, health, and a real appreciation of the present moment. And what I mean by that is, an appreciation of our lives – right now – as we are living them.
Concentration (Dharana), the sixth limb of yoga, is the path to meditation. There are many techniques which can be used as a part of a concentration practice. This clip from Building a Home Practice is meant as an introduction to two of them.
We start with the practice of external concentrated gazing (Bahiranga Trataka) and move into internal concentrated gazing (AntarangaTrataka). External gazing is considered a more accessible practice, especially for beginners, as we get to actively use the senses to focus – in this case on the flame of a candle and all of its aspects. After taking some time to immerse yourself fully and completely you may find that the senses automatically withdraw and you begin to gaze internally. This can take time, patience, and persistence. In the mean time, simply shut the eyes and continue to focus on the candle flame within the mind’s eye. Start with a few minutes for each practice and slowly build to 5, 10, 20 minutes. What may seem endless and tedious at first will eventually become easy and pleasant. The time spent on your meditation practice will begin to fly by. The hardest part is making the decision to take time out of each day to practice.
If you find that the mind wanders off, don’t despair or feel that you have failed. This is an opportunity to progress. Every time we must bring the mind back from wandering it is a learning experience and we gain the benefits of the practice. After all, if you did not need to practice, you would already be in Samadhi and would not be reading this.
Notes: Set a place in your home as your meditation sanctuary and keep coming back to it. Make it special to you by placing flowers, an aromatic candle, incense, photos, a prayer bowl, whatever inspires you.
In meditation, there is no knowledge that you are meditating. The meditator and the object of meditation have become one. During practices of concentration there is duality – you and the object of meditation are distinct. As you get deeper into your practices of concentration you may find that you eventually naturally slip into meditation. Be patient and persistent!
For more information see the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, verse 31, chapter 2 TRATAKA (concentrated gazing) and be sure to check out the other meditation classes offered on Udaya.com.