Meditation was practiced by the Rishis of the Vedic period, since then meditation is being practiced in India. Meditation is a skill, and it has to be developed gradually. In India meditation is Known as Dhyana, and it is very powerful. Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev says that, ‘ We can never do meditation, but we can become meditative. When we bring our body, mind, and energy to a certain level of preparedness, then meditation will happen’.
It is a Vedic tradition and in ancient India, only sages and Rishis practiced meditation. The Rishis discovered that the body and mind are focused outwards. They practiced meditation to discover their true inner self. They succeeded in it and they passed on their teachings to the future generations through the scriptures and their students.
In the modern world, people from all lifestyles practice meditation. Some professions make meditation as a compulsory practice. People ranging from acetic to beauty pageants practice meditation, and they have their own purpose for practicing it. The problem with popularization is that, the original method of meditation is diluted to suit different people, and many forget the spiritual origin of meditation. Meditation is a very subtle divine process and it should be practiced with care. There are different techniques to practice meditation. All the techniques are equally powerful. The type and technique of meditation is selected according to the mentality of the person. A few types of meditation and its techniques are given below.
1. Meditation for spiritual and emotional growth of a person
2. Devotional meditation.
3. Advanced meditation (based on Advaita philosophy).
PREPARATION FOR MEDITATION
The first step for meditation is to prepare the body and mind. Whenever we sit for meditation, the mind wanders; it is due to the lack of preparation. If the mind is under tension, anxiety, fear, or worry, then the mind will not settle down easily. Body must cooperate with the mind to remain calm, and the mind must be calm for the body to remain without moving. The sitting posture for meditation is very important. The body should be erect, the muscles must be relaxed, the eyes should be barely closed and unfocused, the head should be strait, and the chest portion must be stretched out. Sitting on cushions and leaning on some objects are not recommended. When the body is prepared, the next step is to prepare the mind. There is deep connection between the body and the mind. Understanding this connection, Maharshi Patanjali suggests Pranayama to calm the mind and body (it is advisable to learn pranayama from a well-trained Guru).
When our mind is active, we always experience fast breath. When the mind is relaxed, we experience slow breath. Mind affects the breath and breath affects the mind. When we breathe slowly, the mind and the body will be relaxed, but in a few minutes, we will be snoring and not meditating, because slow breath induces sleep. Slow breath calms the mind, but it induces sleep. Something must be done along with the slow breath, so that it will not induce sleep, and that technique is pranayama. When we increase the lung pressure, a lot of air comes into our body, the blood will be oxygenated, and the person will not feel drowsiness. For this, we have to inhale and exhale slowly (in terms of speed) and strongly (pumping in and out a lot of air). Inhaling and exhaling pressure should be neither too low nor too high. This pranayama makes the mind calm without causing drowsiness. This basic preparation of the mind and body helps meditation.
TYPES AND TECHNIQUES OF MEDITATION
1. MEDITATION FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH OF A PERSON
SIT STRAIGHT IN A COMFORTABLE POSTURE, RELAX THE BODY, CLOSE THE EYES, KEEP IT UNFOCUSED. TRY TO REMAIN IN A THOUGHTLESS STATE. WHEN THOUGHTS APPEAR IGNORE IT, REMAIN FOR A FEW MINUTES (ATLEAST 15 MINUTES), THEN BRING BACK THE CONCENTRATION TO THE BODY AND GENTLY OPEN THE EYES.
Peace is our inherent nature, but we fail to recognise it. We are unable to feel our inherent nature because the mind is clouded with thoughts. When our mind is calm, we feel contented and we realise our inherent nature. In the beginning stages of meditation, it is impossible to remove all the thoughts. When the thoughts are fewer, still we can realise peace. For example, when there are a lot of ripples in the pond, we are unable to see the bottom of the pond. When there are fewer ripples, still we can see the bottom, though not very clearly. There is no need to panic by the appearance of thoughts. Allow the thoughts to pass on the screen of the mind. When the thoughts are not responded, peace and silence will be uninterrupted, even in the presence of thoughts. Gradually, the thoughts will disappear. When the thoughts are restricted, the mind will be under strain and the thoughts will bounce back strongly.
Another technique advised by the Rishis is to practice an optional thought. When we find difficult to ignore the thoughts, we can strongly think about a positive elevating thought. It is called an optional thought. It can be a mantra or an elevating thought like ‘I am a blissful soul’, or ‘I am sat chit ananda swarupam’, etc. the optional thought must be a spiritual thought. We can consciously think about an optional thought, so that the other thoughts will fade off. In the initial stages, the optional thought will be prominent, by practice, even the optional thought will fade away and the thoughtless state will remain. Practice makes the mind calm and active, and then meditation happens. Mind will not move outwards. This will happen gradually and significantly. The nature of the mind is fickle. Whenever the mind wanders, the mind should be brought back to the optional thought. Try to ignore the other thoughts. Lord krishna tells Ajuna that, “Undoubtedly, O mighty-armed Arjuna, the mind is difficult to control and restless; but by practice and by dispassion it may be restrained” BH.GITA 6, 35. In the initial stages, to remain in the meditative state for a few minutes itself is a great progress. A short focused meditation is much more beneficial than a long unfocused meditation. Trying to meditate for half an hour is regarded as a standard practice. Even a few minutes of meditation brings a lot of progress spiritually and emotionally.
2. DEVOTIONAL MEDITATION
SIT STRAIGHT IN A COMFORTABLE POSTURE, RELAX THE MUSCLES, AND CLOSE THE EYES AND TRY TO MEDITATE ON THE FORM OF BHAGAVAN (GOD) FROM HEAD TO TOE. FEEL THAT THE GAZE OF THE BHAGAVAN IS ON OUR MIND. MENTALLY FEEL HIS PRESENCE. REMAIN SILENT FOR A FEW MINUTES, AND THEN GENTLY OPEN THE EYES.
Devotional meditation is suitable for bhakti culture (devotion), where a personal God (bhagavan) is worshiped. Infinite consciousness is imagined with attributes, name, and form. Meditating a form is more concrete than the abstract meditation. In Hindu philosophy, there is freedom to assume Bhagavan as the supreme Lord or as a close relative or as a friend or as a master; it all depends on the mentality of the devotee. Devotional meditation suits the emotional people and their emotions are made calm by this meditation. Devotional meditation is Dvaitam (dualism), where God is imagined as different and supreme to the devotee.
It is a common type of meditation, because most of the people are emotionally imbalanced. The most common problem in life is, we hold on to some feelings or emotions, and we assume that our life will not move without experiencing them. When we become more attached, we are very dependent on it. We are so much attached and dependent on certain matters in life, such that we are unable to search for options. This causes a lot of suffering. Mind is the source of suffering and meditation is focused on the mind. Very often, we try to control things, which are not under our control. Universe works under the laws of nature, on which we have no control. Sometimes we may be forced to accept situations, which may not be comfortable to us. Nature changes according to time and its effects on us are inevitable. Lord Krishna says, “Beings are unmanifested in the beginning, manifested in the middle state, O Ajuna, and unmanifested again in their end. What is there to grieve about?”BH.GITA 2, 28. Mind is like a mirror, if the reflecting medium is dirty, then the reflection becomes distorted. The world is as it is, but the mind is coated with desires, likes, and dislikes. The basic impurity is the ignorance. We watch the world and the self through the mind. A person with low self-esteem watches himself through the ignorance of his mind. Each unfavorable experience leaves an impression on the mind and it is an impurity and a burden. When the impurities stack up, we become emotionally weak. The mind should give accurate reflection; else, our perspective towards the world is affected. It is a natural tendency for any person to focus on problems. We are scared of the future. The negative tendency in a person should be erased, and the positive attitude should be practiced. When we turn the mind to Bhagavan, the negative attitude of the mind changes, and the impurities of the mind lose their strength. This shifts the perspective and understanding of life. In devotional meditation we always feel the presence of Bhagavan. An emotional minded person can always share their emotions with Bhagavan. Problems and failures in life are created by the Karmas (actions). If the devotee feels that Bhagavan is responsible for the problems, then this meditation will not comfort him, because the devotee will become more emotional while meditating.
In devotional meditation, we have to imagine the full form of the personal God, from head to toe. The full form of Bhagavan now appears in the mind. Focus the mind on his face. Try to imagine his face part by part, and finally focus the attention on his eyes. His loving gaze directly goes into our mind. Now we are close to Bhagavan, loving gaze of Bhagavan goes inside us. This is the perfect Dharshan. You are seeing Bhagavan and you are also seen by Bhagavan. There is no need for a prayer or no need to tell our problems. In that silent moment, Bhagavan understands our problems. This is a typical moment; we are with God. We are seen, known, blessed by Him in such moments. Remain for a few minute. Slowly shift the attention to his toes, and then gently open the eyes. The mind will be relieved of all the worries and will be relaxed by this meditation. This meditation gives emotional stability, security, contentment, and a feeling of comfort by the presence of Bhagavan.
3. ADVANCED MEDITATION(based on Advaita philosophy).
SIT STRAIGHT IN A COMFORTABLE POSTURE, RELAX THE BODY, CLOSE THE EYES, KEEP IT UNFOCUSED. TRY TO REMAIN IN THOUGHTLESS STATE. IN THAT THOUGHTLESS STATE, YOU EXIST AS CONSCIOUSNESS; YOU ABIDE AS BRAHMAN. FEEL THAT, ‘ I AM BRAHMAN, THE SUPREME NON-DUAL CONSCIOUSNESS’, REMAIN IN THAT STATE AS FAR AS POSSIBLE. SLOWLY SHIFT CONCENTRATION TO THE BODY. GENTLY OPEN THE EYES.
This is a very powerful meditation. Advaita vedanta declares hard truths, and we understand them a little by little, because our grasping power will increase only gradually, by a lot of listening, reasoning, and meditation. In this meditation, the thoughtless state is observed deeply. As the first step, the mind should be disciplined. Mind should be occupied by something, so that it can be restrained from wandering. A mantra is a powerful tool for the mind to concentrate. Mantra can restrict the mind to an extent. Even while chanting a mantra, mind will have the tendency to wander. Continuous practice will restrain the mind from wandering. Meditation is a skill and only repeated practice makes it perfect. It is just like a child learning to walk. Whenever the child falls while learning to walk, it should get up and walk again. Similarly, whenever the mind wanders, it must be brought back to repeat the mantra. Each mantra has its own power and it will help to calm the mind, and remain in the meditative state. We know only the partial nature of the consciousness. The mind should be active and silent to understand consciousness. The true nature of a person is pure consciousness and bliss, but unfortunately, we experience only the thoughts, emotions, and feelings. The mind is superimposed on pure consciousness. Consciousness is omnipresent, but the mind covers the consciousness. In the absence of thoughts, consciousness is revealed. There is an unchanging consciousness behind the constantly changing experiences. In the presence of thoughts, the observer is not observed. In deep sleep, thoughts are not present, but the mind is also not active; so the observer cannot be observed. In the waking state, the mind is active, but the consciousness is covered by the thoughts. We can experience consciousness in-between the two thoughts. For example, in a string of pearls, the pearls cover the string, which holds them. When two pearls are moved apart, the string is seen. Similarly, at the end of a thought, and before the beginning of the next thought, there exists a small gap. In this gap, there will be no thoughts, emotions, or feelings, and consciousness is present as the observer and not as the observed. When the thoughts are associated, then the gap is not clear. When the thoughts are identical, then the gap is clear. Mantras are used as identical thoughts. The gap in-between the repetition of the mantra reveals the consciousness. Gradually, the repetition speed of the mantras should be decreased; by this, the gap between the repetitions of the mantra is increased. The mind will have the tendency to wander in the gap; care should be taken to divert the mind towards the mantra. When we gain practice, the mantras can be dropped and we can remain in the state of non-dual, conscious state. In the thoughtless state, we abide as Brahman. Then the meaning of the mahavakyas,” Aham Brahma Asmi”, meaning, ‘I am Brahman’ is realised. This advanced state of meditation makes a person realise that, ‘ I am Brahman (pure consciousness) with experience, by removing the experiences, I remain as Brahman alone’. This is a profound philosophy, very different from the other philosophies. A moment of silence is an experience, from which we can learn a lot. Lord Krishna tells in Bhagavad Gita that “Shradhavan labhathe jhanam” meaning, a person with faith can gain knowledge. Each individual is infinite pure consciousness, but due to ignorance, we are not aware of it.
EFFECTS OF MEDITATION ON THE BODY
1. Meditation helps to maintain the body hormone levels.
2. Cortisol is a stress hormone. High levels of cortisol in the blood lead to cardio vascular disease. When cortisol level goes up, a person manifests the symptom of stress like fatigue, lack of sleep, sudden weight lose, and depression. Meditation lowers the cortisol in the blood. This reduces stress and allows thinking clearly. Cortisol is not a harmful hormone, but when it is produced in excess, it kills and injures brain cells in billions.
3. Melatonin is a hormone, which is responsible for maintaining the biological clock of the human body. Low level of melatonin in blood results in insomnia, and other sleeping disorders. Meditation helps to increase the level of melatonin in blood. It relaxes the body and we get more sleep. Melatonin, produced by the pineal gland in the brain is important in the regulation of many hormones in the body. Melatonin helps to stimulate cells called osteoblasts, which promotes bone growth. Melatonin acts as a powerful antioxidant, destroying harmful free radicals.
4. Serotonin is a hormone, which controls the behaviour and influence the mood of a person. Low level of serotonin leads to depression, migraine, and insomnia. Meditation regulates the level of serotonin in the body.
5. Dr. Herbert Benson, a professor at the Harvard Medical School studied on ‘the relaxation response’ in the state of meditation. He observed that while meditating, a person’s blood flow is directed towards the parasympathetic nervous system. This part of the brain triggers rest and relaxation – the opposite of sympathetic nervous system (fight flight response).
When blood goes to parasympathetic system the heart rate and breathing will slow down, blood vessels will be dilated and the blood flow increases and relaxes the muscles. Research by Dr. Benson also showed a raise in the level of nitric oxide produced during meditation. It dilates the arteries and increases blood flow throughout the body.
6. The research conducted by the division of cardiology at the Cedars – Sinai medical center shows that a mantra based meditation method lower the blood pressure, and improve the insulin resistance and lower the heart rate variability.
7. Regular meditation increases DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) which helps our immune system. It fights against bacteria, parasitic and viral infections. A high level of DHEA steriod hormones in the blood protects us from problems caused due to ageing. Meditation helps to improve DHEA.
8. When we are in stress, the level of endorphin’s (feel good hormones) in blood goes down. Endorphin is responsible for the immune system. Meditation increases the level of endorphin and helps our body’s defense system.
9. The adrenal glands situated above the kidney, produces hormones called noradrenalin and adrenaline. Noradrenalin is associated with aggression, fighting behaviour, alertness and creates a feeling of arousal. Adrenaline is associated with anxiety. Adrenal glands also produce cortisol. Low level of these hormones prevents gastric ulcer. Meditation helps to lower the level of these hormones in blood.
10. Meditation controls the electric impulse from the brain. Electric impulse reduces the resistance power of the skin. By meditation, the electrical impulse decreases and the resistance power increases. Decrease in the electrical impulse increases the positive attitude.
These are some of the effect of meditation on body. Meditation is a very powerful subtle process, and it helps the body and mind. “When all the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not – then is known the highest state of Divinity. He who attains it is free from delusion.” Katha Upanishad.
Swami Bhaskarananda, Meditation, mind & Patanjali’s Yoga, Mylapore,Chennai, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002.
The Bhagavad Gita,(Swami sivananda,Trans), Uttaranchal, Himalayas, The Divine Life Society, (2003).
Laghu Vakya vritti, (Swami Tadatmananda,Trans), Somerset, New Jersey, Arsha bodha center, 2008.
Ace smith, Effects of meditation on the body’s hormones, retrieved from http://www.articledashboard.com/Article/Effects-of-Meditation-on-the-Body-s-Hormones/496027
Physical benefits of meditation, retrieved from http://www.easy-meditation-for-beginners.com/physical-benefits-of-m editation.html
Dr. Tin Htut, (1999,sep 18), The effects of meditation on the body, retrieved from http://www.thisismyanmar.com/nibbana/tinhtut6.htm