Published on: November 24, 2016
Reading time: 11 minutes
School of Yoga explains breath and meditation.
The breath goes past the septum. Behind the septum is the nasal cavity. The septum acts like a venturi, so when the air goes past it, it expands suddenly. Consequently, the air gets a swirl when it hits the roof of the nasal cavity, resulting in the following;
- There is a rushing sound generated by the swirling of air in the nasal cavity.
- The increased energy downstream of the flow of air results in an increased temperature of air when it enters the nasal cavity.
- The entrance to the auditory tube is also in this cavity, so any change in pressure here will affect the pressure in the Eustachian tube – hearing and balance.
- Finally, all the senses of taste and food temperature are centred round the face.
Why is this important? The experience of breathing comes from the sound and sensation of breath going past the septum and the olfactory receptors which also transmit the sensation of smell. Similarly, all other senses are directly or indirectly associated with the breath and the quality of breathing. Therefore, control of breathing is essential for control of the senses.
When the suction pressure is equalised with the septum-nasal cavity pressure, then there is no sensation of breathing. This should be achieved and retained, even during activity. When we succeed in stopping either the outgoing or incoming breath, this state is called kevala-kumbhaka (only emptiness).
School of Yoga explains Bhagavad Geeta Chapter 6: what Hatha Yoga Pradeepika (Chapter 1, verse 10 – 16) says about dhyāna (meditation).
Hatha Yoga protects the yoga practitioner from pain like a house and supports his efforts like a tortoise. In fact, the yoga practitioner should keep the knowledge secret.
He should practice in a small room, situated in an isolated place, free from stones, fire and water or disturbances of any kind and governed in a dhārmic manner (meaning all citizens conformed to the rule of law and live in harmony).
Also, the room should have a small door, level, be free from holes and hollows, be neither too high or low, be well plastered with cow dung and be free from dirt, filth and insects. Outside, there should be a shaded area with raised seat with a well, enclosed in a compound.
Finally, the person should rid himself of anxiety and then begin the practice of Hatha Yoga as instructed by his guru.
(15) 6 virtues impede development in Hatha Yoga – they are over-eating, excessive exertion, excessive talking, excessive adherence to rules, company of humans and unsteadiness.
(16) 6 habits bring success – zeal, boldness of drive and willingness to start, patience, perseverance, ability to discriminate, clarity of purpose and aloofness.
School of Yoga explains Bhagavad Geeta Chapter 6: how should one meditate? (verse 11-17).
- Firstly, the practitioner should rely only on himself for all improvements, for each person is his own best friend or worst enemy.
- Secondly, the yogi should be steady and without agitation within. This happens when one views all creation equally, without assigning differential personal value (I want this more, I hate this, I don’t like that person). Also, this includes animate and inanimate objects, friends and foes, relatives and saints. Additionally, this means that one should be calm and peaceful when experiencing opposites such as cold / heat, pleasure / pain or honour / dishonour.
- Undoubtedly, the most important requirement for a serious practitioner is finding a country or region (desh) which is well administered. This ensures that there are no disturbances and turbulences on account of the surroundings, law and order and that the practice of meditation is undisturbed.
- Next, the practitioner should sit in a clean place which is neither high nor low, over a bed of cloth and kuśa. So, why is the seat important? Why should it be neither too high nor too low?
- When we sit too high or low, we never get the right perspective of our environment. Consequently, there is perceptual feeling of discomfort.
- When we sit in a place where we are unable to view our surroundings, then we get uncomfortable and insecure,
- For example: when travelling, most of us prefer facing the direction of travel, because we get to see where we are going and what’s coming. Similarly, when we are sitting in the rear seat of a car, we prefer a place from where we can see the road and where we are going. Lastly, at home, we each have a preferred seat, which mostly will be one which gives us maximum view of our surroundings.
- Then, the practitioner should control the sensory organs (indriyās) and cognitive apparatus (manas) by turning the consciousness (citta) inward. After this, the yogi should try and hold his (manas) steady to a single point (ekāgrat) to purify the awareness of the Self (prajñā).
- Lastly, the yogi should hold his body, head and neck in a balanced (samam) position and gazing at the tip of the nose (nasikāgre).
- Additionally, he should avoid getting distracted by avoiding outside contact during the practice.
School of Yoga explains Bhagavad Geeta Chapter 6: progression in meditation (verse 18-20).
- Slowly, the practitioner is able to slow down the speed with which the consciousness (citta) reaches out to objects for affirmation of existence, increasing free-will.
- When this happens, the consciousness becomes steady like a lamp in a windless room. In fact, one may compare the breeze in a room to external disturbances and the lamp to the reaction of the consciousness to those disturbances.
- When the consciousness (citta) is quietened, it stops seeking and looks at its own Self or Soul (atman) for sustenance. Then, the consciousness slowly merges (yoga) with its own Self (ātma). When this happens and the consciousness is no longer agitating or looking for sustenance, it ceases to operate the sensory organs (indriyās) and cognitive apparatus (manas).
- Finally, this results in what is called nir-vikalpa-samadhi or changeless merger, the final state of yoga.
School of Yoga explains meditation practice.
Meditation or dhyāna is the first step of the second element of rāja-yoga, called samyama-yoga that comprises dhyāna, dhāraṇā and samādhi. The intent is for a practitioner to transcend the personal body and merge with the source (Brahman), thus experiencing the “Self” (jnana).
Pratyāhāra is the point where yama, niyama, āsana and prāṇāyāma prepare the practitioner to transcend materiality (māyā) and prepare the Self for samādhi or liberation. From pratyāhāra emerge dhyāna, dhāraṇā and samadhi.
What needs to be achieved is the experience of “null” or śūnya or emptiness /state of null. Sit in any convenient āsana. Next, focus on the bāhira-kumbhaka (emptiness after exhalation). focus on the emptiness emerging from the experience and try to retain it when breathing resumes. Slowly, increase the duration of practice.
School of Yoga explains meditation exercise.
- First, sit in a secluded place. Ensure that the place is one where you can go to regularly and should have a pleasant atmosphere. Also, the temperature in the room should be conducive for long practice (sādhana).
- Next, sit on a chair or on the floor. Floor postures hold the body more firmly, this is preferred.
- Lastly, sit in a comfortable pose. Padmāsana, sukhāsana or vajrāsana are preferred, but it is possible that there is discomfort initially. If this happens, start with one of the above āsanas and re-seat to a comfortable posture for the remainder of the meditation period. Over time, one pose will become the preferred pose and the body will fall naturally into it. But the important point to remember is that the back must be erect from the coccyx upwards. The perineum, which is the seat of the mūl̄adhāra-cakra must touch the ground, forcing the spine erect.
- Next, relax the body using auto-suggestion (suggestive commands given the person to one self). Start from the top of the head and slowly relax each part. Also, try to break the command into specific locations. For example; instead of saying “relax the brain”, say “relax the front of the brain, relax the left side, relax the right side, relax the back… etc…” Consequently, this will lead to quicker and more effective relaxation. Then, relax completely. Remember that relaxation becomes deeper with practice.
- In fact, when the body has relaxed completely, it will be noticed that breathing becomes shallow and even. Observe the breathing. Importantly, watch the interval between pūraka (inhalation) and recaka (exhalation) and vice-versa. Here, there is a minuscule period of silence where the breath crosses over from inhalation to exhalation and vice-versa. Focus on this emptiness. Try to extend the silences even when breathing restarts. Also, try to keep the breathing even and without ripples or agitation.
- Stay in this position for around 10-20 minutes. Also, do not practice more the once or twice a day or for longer periods unless you are interested in deeper spiritual investigation.
School of Yoga explains distractions in meditation.
The sense of identity generally keeps seeking assurance of existence, so keeps pinging the environment for assurance of existence. It latches on to any form for this assurance. This is distraction. Distraction is any activity which creates images that arise when meditating. Some are straightforward, such as watching too much TV, but there are others that are subtle and not easy to define or discriminate. This takes time and often a lot of effort. While the grosser elements may be easy to manage, the subtler elements take enormous effort. But, as a result of this effort, awareness increases.
- External distraction: This comes primarily in the form of noise and is hard to ignore. To avoid this, one could practice in the early morning hours and in a secluded part of the home. If this is not possible, then one should seek a location where this is possible. As one practices this, it becomes easier to control cognition from being hijacked!
- Internal distraction: This is harder to control. As one meditates, the Self will jump off into a thought. This thought moves to different subjects and before one knows it, one has shot off into a tangent. The harder one tries to control the mind, the more it foils attempts at control.
To control this, one must view the thought as an action that is independent of control. Allow the mind to drift but gently draw it back like a grandparent pulling back a child from danger. It is hard, but with practice, one will be able to achieve an anchor in silence and experience clarity and high level of internal awareness.
Some more tips:
- First, to avoid distraction, reduce interaction with people. Additionally, this includes social media. So, if you are active in groups, slowly reduce your activity. As a result, you will have less disturbances, because you will think less about what you wish to say.
- Second, reduce watching TV. If you are addicted to serial binging, slowly reduce the frequency and finally stop. Rightfully, the TV is called an “idiot box”, it makes an idiot out of the viewer.
- Next, reduce your exposure to news. Most of the stuff that is spoken about is sensationalised and you have no control over the outcome anyway.
- Lastly, reduce speaking. In fact, speak only when you know that you can add value or make a difference. Try to increase the silence in speech to silence within.
School of Yoga explains hijack in meditation.
This term has been used to describe what happens if the person is unable to step back from the associations that the mind continuously makes. The associations lead to emotional discomfiture, both positive and negative. Also, at extreme levels, it can completely disrupt the meditation practice.
However, these associations, images, and body responses to passions can be avoided by sustained practice of yama and niyama. Step back!
School of Yoga explains measure of success in meditation.
- During practice of pratyāhāra, duality slowly gets eliminated. Darkness and light merge, silence is the preferred mode of communication and there is stillness in the self.
- There is no judgement, no fear of rejection or expectation of victory. An indifference to success, ambition, consequences, opinion, sex creeps in.
- There is no seeking, no reaching out for solution- but if a problem needs resolution, it is done with no expectation of any credit, material or otherwise.