Emptying the mind isn’t easy. Attaining a true state of meditation necessitates significant preparation so that the mind can shift gradually and develop over time. That is, if one is to find an authentic meditative state.
I believe that having an understanding of the first six limbs of yoga is important to recognizing the seventh limb called meditation. Because in my opinion, the prior limbs give you the knowledge to see where the heart of meditation lies. I’m not saying that you need to be a master of the headstand or absolutely pure in thought, word and deed, but to have knowledge of the ethics, know physical alignment, be comfortable with the breath and have the ability to disengage are all skills that are very helpful to setting up a practice of concentration and meditation.
#1. & #2. Yamas & Niyamas: The ethics and codes of conduct will help you to understand the mind and how we use it to relate to our surroundings and to ourselves.
#3. Asana: Learning to sit peacefully is founded on the postures of yoga. Yoga asana is performed so that the body is able to sit comfortably in stillness.
The word “asana” literally means “seat or sitting.” Being able to sit comfortably is the true indicator of a successful yoga practice. The Yoga Sutras (the yoga bible if you will) says that, “Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.”
Here are my tips for crafting a comfortable seat:
Sit on the Edge – Sitting on the edge of your chair will strengthen the muscles of your back. Overtime they will cease to rely on the chair back for support.
Sukasana After Savasana – Take 1-3 minutes each day to sit in a simple cross leg posture (sukasana). Try this after your usual yoga practice (post savasana) when you are most flexible and relaxed.
Get Your Back Against the Wall – Use a small rolled towel to support your lumbar spine and be sure to support your knees with blocks or folded blankets placed underneath them. You can also try to place a block in the space between your sacrum and the wall. Using your core, try to move your hips away from the block.
Take a Commercial Break – If you watch t.v., get down off the sofa during commercials and sit on the floor.
#4. Pranayama: When we are aligned, physically, we can refine our breath and come to know ourselves energetically. Pranayama or breath control is the fuel that sustains us to stay steady in our bodies and minds.
In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (another classical yoga text) it states: “When the breath is steady or unsteady, so is the mind, and with it, the yogi.”
#5. Pratyahara: The pathway to meditation begins with the 5th limb of yoga called pratyahara or sense withdrawal. There are two types of pratyahara:
First, is the withdrawal from external stimulation. Like a turtle that retracts inside of its shell, your practice of pratyahara will teach you to go inside yourself and retreat from the external “noises” that exist around you: the opinions, the interruptions, the distractions, the associations, the influences.
I consider “Receiving solitude” as the first step to the practice of pratyahara. It can be practiced each time you find a quiet location. When you focus on your breathing, you are tuning inward and detaching from all outside stimuli. The key here is to practice regularly so that you can access this state of “external” sense withdrawal whenever you want to.
Walking in nature or watching the sunset or sunrise are good ways to soak up some solo time. Also, consider your speech and how much you talk. Curtail your urge to speak a bit this week to bring more reflection and centeredness into your life.
Or, you can choose to be in solitude with others by practicing the concept of mouna or silence. A good time for this is just prior to or following a meal. Another effective time is the first thing in the morning or the last thing before sleeping. If you live with others, make this “silent time” a period for eliminating the television, computer, or any other device that produces sound. For 10-15 minutes (and ear buds plugged in do not count), try to keep the silence with reading, drawing or writing. Eventually, slowly phase out these activities and find a comfortable place to just be still. During this time, consider your thoughts and observe what surfaces. This is a great prelude to meditation. Performed on a regular basis, mouna becomes an important tool for generating increased awareness. The yama of asteya or non-stealing in the form of words, can also be a consideration for keeping the virtue of silence.
When you practice silence, your thoughts become quieter, and, ultimately, you will find that you are able to pacify your emotions and soften your personality.
Once you are able to remove all external commotion, you can be free to choose the sensations that you wish to bring into your field of awareness. In order to accomplish this, you will need to detach from the internal noise going on in your own mind.
“Emptying the mind” is the second step of pratyahara. After quieting yourself, begin practicing a deeper level of pratyahara by closing the eyes and observing your mind. Refrain from judging, analyzing or connecting with the mind, merely be an observer. See what surfaces. Following this quiet period, spend some time journaling about the patterns and topics that arose during your practice.
#6. Concentration: Overtime, this detachment from your external and internal senses will begin to quiet the commotion of your mind; so that you can truly see what lies within. Like a body of water that gradually settles after a wind or object has influenced it, your mind will eventually learn to calm and become clearer. Then you are ready for a deeper state of concentration that can lead you to meditation.
Ayurveda defines meditation as the process of directing the mind inwards, toward pure awareness. Not only does it bring peacefulness to the mind, it is known for allowing you to think a new thought that you have never thought of before. You see, meditation gets us to that deeper level… it allows us to access the emotions, thoughts and feelings that are buried. We become the witness and see ourselves as we were meant to be seen. Physically, meditation decreases blood pressure, muscle tension and allows our brain waves to settle inviting relaxation and increased focus.
And this is how it works, when the conscious mind becomes quiet, the subconscious mind is allowed to emerge. The conscious mind is the surface mind which contains fully realized thoughts. The subconscious houses those buried, undigested or submerged feelings and emotions. The key is to have access to these subconscious thoughts or emotions to create greater awareness so that you can come to terms with them and find peace.
My teacher describes the flow of thoughts like the flow of a river. The nature of the river, whether turbulent or still will determine how easy the travel. If our thoughts are turbulent or agitated, we will have trouble accessing the right path. If our thoughts are smooth, positive and peaceful, we can navigate and find our way to greater happiness and wisdom.
On my podcast, I share some meditation techniques that have worked for me. The tried and true practices that I turn back to if my practice takes a hit during the holidays or any other time that my set schedule is off. When I follow a meditation/breathing sequence as the first order of business in the morning, I can more easily continue it as a daily habit. In the podcast, I also provide a link to my guided meditation that offers a simple 5-10 minute introduction to the techniques I find to be most helpful.
It is my hope that this information will get you started on your path to meditation so that you can see yourself exactly as you are.
Namasté, Kim. 🕉