Meditation Tips

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Meditation

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A cornerstone of spiritual practice, meditation is the systematic method of bringing the mind to rest from its incessant activity. While there are many effective methods, a common problem for all meditators particularly when beginning the practice is the opposite effect of the mind that seems to come alive while trying to meditate. Even experienced meditators may run into this issue time and again. The reasons for this vary and depend to some extent upon the particular stage of the spiritual journey and mostly upon the make-up of the individual body-mind with respect to the combination of gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas). For instance, someone with a predominantly rajasic make-up has an overactive mind streaming with thoughts that run in multiple directions simultaneously while one with a tamasic mind may struggle with laziness during the practice. The good news is that continued meditation practice results in the gradual evolution of gunas to become progressively more sattvic. The sattvic mind is one that is calm and most conducive to deep meditation.

At various stages of the journey, the causes for the mind’s agitation may differ. In the beginning, the mental noise may relate to obsessing about the details of the technique, worrying about not doing it right or not being relaxed enough, or thoughts of daily life (the grocery list, the dinner plan, the lunch menu, the office to-do list..). At later stages, the noise of the surface mind has been quietened enough for the churning of the subconscious mind to become evident. Repressed emotions and trauma, memories of early childhood (or further, of past lives), suppressed anger, rage and anxieties that were deeply hidden from conscious awareness begin to surface. For some, the subconscious mind is active from the get-go, and the jumble of thoughts that come up relate to contents of both, the repressed and the surface mind.

Ultimately however, over-analyzing of gunas or the mind’s tricks are counter-productive and unnecessary. For our sitting practices to be effective, what we do outside of these practice times can be highly beneficial. The following are some tips to minimize the powerful pull of the mind that can keep us from advancing in meditative practices:

1. Develop one-pointedness. In a world that is driven by fast-paced multi-tasking, unlearning the habit of doing more than one thing at once is a challenge, but the rewards become amply evident during meditation. Give complete attention to one task at a time, moving to the next only after it is done to satisfaction. Apply one-pointedness to all areas – turn off the radio and drive in silence, cook in silence, put away the phone while working or talking with someone, eat in silence and solitude. Make one-pointedness the center of every waking moment; this results in increased efficiency, higher quality of work, greater mental calm and enhanced creativity.

2. Complete tasks. Annoyingly enough, it is especially during meditation that thoughts about that incomplete project or the unanswered email surface. Clean up your life’s flow by prioritizing and completing daily tasks. Respond to emails and phone calls as soon as possible.  Flag or note communications that need to be followed up upon – this is where technology becomes an obedient servant. If it helps, write down follow-up items and timelines so these details do not clutter the mind. Make it a point to leave no loose ends.

3. Slow down. Hectic rushing from one task or appointment to another cannot be particularly conducive to meditation. Wake up earlier, organize the day with enough buffer time. At the end of each day, make time to read some inspirational material, even if only for 10-20 minutes.

4. Heal relationships. Thoughts about relationships (particularly when there is friction), along with associated emotions surface more frequently in meditation. While the inner silence cultivated in meditation heals such wounds, it is helpful to facilitate the healing consciously such that meditation is effective. Resolve conflicts if possible, or forgive, forget and move on.

5. Cultivate discipline. It is difficult to cultivate a habit for the disciplined practice of meditation if this does not extend to other areas of life. Cultivate punctuality, honesty, cleanliness of body and mind, regulated diet, sleep and exercise habits and freedom from addictions.. Make it a point to sit for meditation everyday or forgo a meal (or equivalent). Ultimately, we will have to find the balance between obsession and laxity for all activities, including the discipline and practice of meditation.

6. Cultivate moderation. Meditation is most conducive when we are neither too full nor famished, when we have had enough sleep (neither too much nor too little), when we are alert but not agitated. Eat at least 2-3 hours before sitting (which necessarily takes discipline and planning) and practice sleep hygiene.

While establishing the practice of meditation may seem like a challenge, its rewards far exceed any difficulty encountered along the way. Further along, the practices of karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga complement and deepen the practice of meditation. At a certain point in one’s journey, all of life becomes one seamless yoga, with no differentiation between sitting practices and daily life.

Meditation on the breath

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Meditation

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The following is adapted from AYP, and presented here  (in italics) with permission from Yogani.

Meditation always involves the use of an object, and systematically refining our awareness of that object in the mind. An ancient and reliable method of meditation involves using the breath as that object. 

Below is the gentle and time-tested method of meditation on the breath:

1. Pick a time when you will not be disturbed for at least 25-30 minutes. Pick a place where you will be left alone for this duration. Set a timer to avoid the temptation to keep glancing at the clock.

2. Sit upright, either on the floor or on a chair in a posture comfortable enough to forget the body for the duration of the meditation. Prop yourself with pillows or blankets to aid this comfort.

3. Close your eyes gently.

4. Bring your attention to your breath.

Some may ask, what is the object we call breath? Is it the sensation of air moving in the nostrils, in the throat, in the lungs? Is it the rising and falling of the chest? As we begin breath meditation, and get into it, we may find it is one of these, or all of these. That is fine. Whatever we perceive the object of breath to be, that is what it is. It is not necessary to physically locate our awareness of the breath. It may start in one place, and move naturally. We can be comfortable with that, easily favor whatever it is, and we will be refining our awareness, purifying our nervous system, and cultivating abiding inner silence.

5. The mind will most certainly wander. As soon as you become aware of attention to anything else other than the breath, bring your attention back to the breath, favoring attention on the breath over attention to anything else (thoughts, sensations, etc).

There can be thoughts or no thoughts with awareness of breath. We don’t try and push thoughts out. We just easily favor the breath, no matter what else may be going on.


6. This is the procedure for the entire duration of the meditation session.


7. At the conclusion of the session,
lie down or lean back to relax for 5-10 minutes. Let go of the attention to the breath and allow the mind to do what it will. Do not skip this rest period. Resting allows the integration of the inner silence cultivated in meditation into daily life.

8. The key to success with any method of meditation is consistency and regularity. It is important to keep up a twice-daily practice of meditation. Although this takes time and effort in the beginning, the rewards of such a discipline far exceed the investment.

 

Some pointers for continued practice:

  • With continued practice, attention to the breath as well as the breath itself (our object of focus be it the sensation in the throat, lungs or abdomen or the energy impulse prior to the breath itself) will become more refined. 

In time, we will find that our attention will go to a very refined aspect of breath that we could call the “energy impulse” of the breath, without a fixed physical location.

If our attention and the breath have become refined, we come back to the breath at that refined level, if that is where we are when we notice we are off the object of our meditation. As we become advanced in our practice, we may find ourselves picking up that refined energy impulse of the breath as soon as we sit to meditate. We can’t force any of this refinement to happen. It happens by itself as our method of meditation and the object we are using become baked into our nervous system. This is why regularity of practice is so important twice daily.

  • Further, it is common for the breath to briefly suspend on occasion.

When using breath meditation and going deep, as with any effective form of meditation, the breath may naturally suspend briefly from time to time. This is a sign that metabolism is low, that we are in deep silence, and that effective purification is occurring. If, during a breath suspension, we become aware that our attention is not on the breath, we may not find much physical breath or subtle energy impulse of breath to favor. If that is the case, we can just easily be in the stillness we are experiencing in the moment. When we notice the physical breath or the faint energy impulse of breath again, then we can return to that at whatever level of refinement we find ourselves. We just relax in stillness until the impulse of breath returns.

  • Advancement in meditation requires a conscious and gradual adjustment of our lifestyle at a whole. Some lifestyle changes that favor a meditation-centered life are described here.

Several other issues arise as the practice of meditation continues. We will explore these in subsequent posts.

“Success” in Meditation – A Dialogue

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Meditation

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Question: I have previously tried a couple of different meditations, but was not successful with either. Do you think the technique you teach will be different?

Response: What do you mean by success?

Question: It means that my mind does not quiet down when I sit to meditate. It also means that I am not motivated to be committed to a practice.

Response: Thank you for your candidness. How long did you meditate before quitting?

Question: A few days..

Response: Well… Let us explore this issue for it is a common one..

Question: Ok. So, how does meditation work?

Response: The purpose of meditation is to cultivate inner silence. What is this inner silence? This is the timeless gap between thoughts, which is available to us throughout the day and frames the doorway to our inner self. Since this is always available, we do not create anything new with spiritual practices; we only become adept at recognizing what already is and has always been. By returning again and again to the object of meditation (breath, mantra, etc), we cultivate one-pointedness of the mind. The ordinary state of mind is that of diffusion – multiple and conflicting trains of thought which are often colored by specific emotional signatures. One-pointedness is the process by which the mind comes to focus on a single object. As we progress further, the object becomes increasingly “refined” whereby it is picked up at subtler and subtler levels. Additionally, the silent gap between thoughts increases, not because the gap is invented (it always is) but because the combination of one-pointedness and refinement leads to diminished thoughts.

Question: How long will it take for me to get there?

Response: The most accurate answer to this is this – as long as it will take. There is no timeline for progress in meditation, because it is dependent upon our individual make-up of tendencies consisting of our personalities, upbringing, culture, influences, desires, emotional imprints, repressed and suppressed issues, etc etc. In general however, the initial results of calmness, reduced stress, health benefits and sleep regulation occur relatively early within a few months. These benefits continue to deepen and evolve over time. Technically, there is no “there” to get to. As Yogani, my beloved teacher states, “the journey is from here to here”.

 Question: I’m not really sure what must happen while meditating. Can you elaborate?

Response: The truth is that every single practice will be unique. While one practice session may be “deep” with relatively fewer thoughts, the next one may be “mind-y” where it feels like no progress was made. It is important to remember that no sitting practice is futile – simply making the time and effort to sit still has been a worthwhile endeavor. Meditation works on the neurobiology (consisting of not only the brain and the nervous system but also the subtle body where the thoughts/impressions are stored) at various levels – at the surface level of thoughts and mind one day and the deeper level of subtle energies on another day. Thus, there is no set thing that “must” happen during any given sitting practice. The beauty of this unpredictability is that it makes us more pliant and forces us to let go of control, an all-important necessity at later stages of spiritual practice.

Questioner: So then, what is the sign of “success” in meditation?

Response: The only true sign of success in meditation is what happens in daily life. Whether one attains depth in meditation or not is irrelevant if their life is not being transformed as a result of the practice. This transformation occurs slowly but surely, often first noticed by those around us. Transformation becomes evident in the subtle ways in which we carry ourselves, behave with others and handle day-to-day matters. Success is noticed when old patterns of reactivity, judgment and ill-will begin to fall away and in an increasingly greater capacity to look beyond our narrow selves. These changes occur whether or not we are achieving perfectly still minds in meditation. Furthermore, achieving a perfectly still mind in meditation is a well-propagated myth. Yes, there are times when this does occur and the meditator disappears (such an event is called samadhi in yoga), but this is neither common nor necessary to make progress.

Questioner: Of all the nuances (posture, timing, duration, etc), what is the most important factor for progress?

Response: It is the deliberate cultivation of the habit to meditate. This is the most challenging factor for most of us in the context of already busy lives and over-committed schedules. It does take effort to make time to practice everyday and to make adjustments to our lifestyles to accommodate this. However, this great self-effort is eventually replaced by the meditation taking over the effort and directing itself. This too happens without a set timeline. Unfortunately, most people quit before this magical shift occurs. The key is to keep up the practice and have faith that it is working. This applies to any meditation technique – give it enough time (at least a few months) before deeming it a “failure”.

Deep Meditation (Mantra): Cultivating Inner Silence

Written by Matt Bartlett on . Posted in Meditation

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“Yoga is the cessation of movements in consciousness”

Yoga Sutras 1.2

“Be still, and know that I AM God”

Psalms 46:10

At the heart of our spiritual practices we are cultivating Inner Silence—pure bliss consciousness—in our daily lives. The essential nature of our consciousness is blissful silence. It is what is behind the mind, what is experienced when the mind becomes still. It is an infinite storehouse of peace, bliss, creativity, health, and optimism. People who have cultivated this Inner Silence, not only experience these qualities themselves, they radiate them out and into their surroundings.

How do we bring our minds to silence? Meditation is the process of systematically allowing the mind to be still for specific periods of time each day. In doing this daily ,over weeks, months and years, blissful inner silence gradually permeates all of our daily activities, even when not on our meditation cushions.

The core practice of the Heal Your Heart program is Deep Meditation from Advanced Yoga Practices (AYP), developed by Yogani.

In AYP, the primary tool for cultivating inner silence is a simple yet powerful form of Deep Meditation. We use a specific thought—a mantra—to draw our mind to stillness. The mantra that we use in AYP Deep Meditation is:

 

…I AM…

 

We use this mantra, not for the meaning of the words, but because of the specific vibratory quality of the sound, which produces purification in our nervous system. The process of enlightenment is a process of purification and opening to the divine within ourselves. The mantra I AM has a vibratory quality that produces profound purification—a “global purification”—within our system that will provide a stable, unshakeable foundation upon which we will layer additional, more targeted purification techniques.

In the AYP system, no more than 20 minutes of Deep Meditation, 2x per day is recommended, once in the morning before your morning meal and again in the afternoon or evening before your evening meal. For tips on how to integrate meditation into a busy schedule, see the AYP Lesson “Finding the Time”.

Here is the technique of Deep Meditation:

1) How to Sit: The first priority is comfort. We want to minimize distractions to facilitate the process of bringing our minds to rest. Sitting in a comfortable chair with back support is a great way to start. As you become more established with your meditation practice, you can sit with your legs crossed (so long as this remains comfortable).

2) Meditation Procedure: As you sit comfortably, close your eyes and relax. Take a moment and notice the stream of thoughts in your mind. After a minute, gently introduce the mantra…I AM…silently in your mind. Think the mantra in a repetition very easily inside, at whatever pace feels comfortable to you. Whenever you realize that your mind has wandered off the mantra and into a stream of thoughts, return to “I AM”, gently favoring the mantra over the thought stream. Like that.

Encountering thoughts during meditation is a normal part of the process. When you find yourself in thoughts, do not try to “force” the thoughts out. Just gently favor the mantra over the thoughts. Deep meditation is a process of going toward the mantra rather than away from the thoughts. Gentle persuasion.

3) Rest Period: When we are performing the Deep Meditation procedure, purification is going on deep inside our nervous system. A lifetime (or two) of inner obstructions are being released as we deepen into inner silence. Resting at the end of meditation allows the obstructions that are in the process of being released to dissolve before we get up and resume our daily activities. A couple of minutes of rest with no mantra may be adequate, or 5-10 minutes of rest may be in order if many releases are occurring.

The benefits of Deep Meditation are profound. As we purify and open our nervous systems we are unfolding inner peace, creativity and energy in our daily lives. If we begin to experience irritability or discomfort outside of our meditation period, it can be a sign that we are not taking enough rest at the end of our meditation session. If we take 5-10 minutes after meditation and are still having symptoms of irritability or discomfort this can be a sign that we are meditating too long—ie, experiencing too much purification at once. This is a signal to “self-pace”, reducing our meditation time in 5 minute increments until we reach a comfortable balance. Self-pacing is very important to ensure maximum comfort and effectiveness as we pursue our spiritual unfoldment.

Why Practice Meditation Twice a Day?

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Meditation

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The general recommendation for practicing meditation is 20 minutes twice a day. As described earlier in meditation on the breath and on the mantra, the procedure is this: 20 minutes of meditation followed by 5-10 minutes of rest. The reasoning behind this is explained by Yogani in the lessons on AYP deep meditation:

When we do practices, we coax our nervous system into a different style of functioning — sustaining deep silence. And in later stages, ecstatic bliss. To stabilize all this we go out and are active in the world every day. There is fading of the higher functioning during activity as we work it into daily living. The fading happens over 5-10 hours. Then we can do practices again and re-establish the higher style of functioning again, to be faded in activity again. This cycle can be done twice a day by doing practices morning and early evening. It provides for the most purification and growth possible during waking hours for people with active lives.
Doing practices once a day is much slower – it is only one daily cycle of cultivating and fading, instead of two. And it is too much fading before reinforcement of the higher style of functioning happens again the next day. Twice daily practice is a matter of effectiveness and efficiency. With twice daily practice over time, the fading of ecstatic bliss in activity becomes less and less, and the higher style of functioning of the nervous system becomes steady and unshakable 24 hours a day.

This is the fruit of the process. It is the ongoing cycle of practices and activity that produces this result.

During retreats, where responsibilities are suspended, more than two routines of practices per day can be undertaken, alternating with meals, light activity, and satsangs (spiritual gatherings). Three or four cycles of practice can be done in this kind of environment. Maybe more for diehard yogis and yoginis. It is a matter of self-pacing for comfort and effectiveness. Then one can go very deep over a period of days, weeks, or months in retreat. This introduces another cycle between retreats that lasts a much longer period of time (weeks or months), superimposed over the twice daily cycle of practices we continue with in our regular life when we are back in the world. Retreats accelerate progress in this way. But retreats are not a substitute for long term twice daily practices at home. What we do every day over the long term is what will make the most difference in the end.
All of this is designed for maximum progress, making the best use of our nervous system’s natural abilities and the time we have available to do the job.

Building a daily practice of meditation

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Meditation

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The most common initial hurdle with taking up meditation is finding the time and motivation for it. Most often, there is the expectation that somehow life will drastically change overnight by merely taking up the practice. Obviously, this is not how it works. As with everything else, there is a need for commitment, diligence and willingness to “go the distance” with meditative practices. Just like we do not take up an exercise program today and hope to lose 20 pounds by tomorrow, we also do not expect instantaneous changes from meditative practices. Unlike lifestyle changes, spiritual practices certainly can result in sudden changes and insights; however, we must be ready to dive in with the faith that transformation is gradually occurring and will continue to unfold as we cultivate inner silence. The first step to this is to build a daily practice in a stubborn sort of way. Such consistent effort is the cornerstone to all transformative behaviors, be it taking up an exercise program, sticking to a healthy diet, quitting addictive habits or maintaining a positive attitude.

Yogani explains this process beautifully; the following is an excerpt from aypsite.com:

Whatever system of practices we are following, chances are that we have heard, or figured out on our own, that daily practice is the key to success. The journey of transformation takes time, and the inner changes that lead to our progress require daily cultivation.

So, no matter what our approach or level of attainment is, reaching our destination in a reliable fashion depends on having daily practices firmly in place. Wherever we may be, we can close our eyes and meditate – in trains, airplanes, waiting rooms, just about anywhere. If we are willing to be flexible and compromise on our practices from time to time, we can keep up the habit under the most adverse circumstances. There is great value in this, for it assures us of a continuation of practices over the long term, which is the key to success.

We do not live in an ideal world. Even with the best plans for regular practice in our meditation room, it can all go out the window with a family emergency or other intervening events. Does this mean our daily practices have to go out the window too? Not if we have a strategy. That is what we will cover in this lesson. Ways to keep our practices going, no matter what is happening.

As our routine of yoga becomes more sophisticated, involving more practices, keeping it all going in a busy schedule presents both challenges and opportunities. With so many pieces to work with in an advanced routine, we can be pretty creative in compressing our practices when time is short. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Let’s talk about the basics of establishing and keeping a habit of doing daily spiritual practices. One of the easiest ways to do it is make a rule for ourselves that we will do our routine before we eat breakfast and dinner – twice a day like that. If the time of one or both of those meals isn’t stable, then we can tag it to be done upon awakening in the morning, and as soon as we arrive home in the evening. If we are traveling, it gets a bit more complicated, but practices can be done to some degree under just about any circumstances, as long as we honor our habit.

Keeping the habit is not only about doing a full routine. It does not have to be “all or nothing.” The habit is an urge we build into ourselves to do something about this practice at the appointed time that comes twice daily. Having the habit is having the “urge to practice.” This cultivated urge is the seed of all daily practice. It is like getting hungry at meal times. It just happens, and we want to eat. If we have the urge for yoga practices cultivated like that, then we will do them. Most days we will be doing our whole routine. On other days, we may be doing less. But we will always be doing something every session. This “always doing something every session” is very important.

To illustrate what we mean by having the “habit,” let’s suppose we are hurrying down a busy street. We are on our way to a business dinner appointment that will tie us up until bedtime. We are walking quickly, weaving our way through the people we are passing on the sidewalk. The restaurant is just around the corner now. Almost there. But wait! We see a bench, an empty bus stop bench on the sidewalk in the middle of all the people hurrying this way and that way. We have that urge built into us to do practices. It is time. So what do we do? We stop and sit on that bench for a few minutes and meditate. It might be only for two minutes. But why not? Who will miss us for those two minutes? And we have kept our habit to sit. It is amazing how doing something small like that can renew us for an entire evening – centering for just a few minutes, picking up the mantra just a few times. The nervous system says, “Thank you!” And we are calmer for the rest of the evening.

But it is not just about centering for a few minutes. It is also about keeping our habit of twice daily practices. If we are in a crazy schedule for days or weeks like that, and can just sit for a few minutes before breakfast and dinner, then when we recover control of our schedule we won’t be struggling to find our practice routine again. The habit will be there, and then we can indulge it with our full routine, which we know will fill us to overflowing with inner silence and divine ecstasy.

So that is the first thing, you know – keeping the habit, even if it for two minutes on a bus stop bench. It does not matter where it is, or what is going on. We can keep the habit if we are committed. Then it will keep us committed, because it becomes a hunger that comes on its own at the appointed time. Then we will not have to struggle to restore our commitment to yoga once we are free to do twice-daily full routines of practice again.

In this busy world, we will all be faced with the challenge of having limited time for our practices. As we continue with yoga, our desire for progress will become stronger, and we will find ways to keep the necessary time available. Even so, there will be things that come up occasionally that will limit our time, so it is wise to develop an attitude of flexibility and a willingness to compromise when necessary to make sure that we are always honoring our habit to practice twice each day. If we do that, there won’t be much in this world that can keep us from reaching our destination.