Monthly Archives: October 2012

Understanding Meditation

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By:  Dr Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati

There are many ways of understanding meditation. It may be called focusing the mind, stilling the mind, experiencing the mind in its raw state, being at one with ourselves, being closer to our centre, or being present in the moment. According to Patanjali, it is self-knowledge, becoming grounded in the self by disentangling the mind from sense objects.

Patanjali defines meditation as: Yogaschitta vritti nirodhah – the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind (chitta). Then the seer is established back in his or her own true nature – Tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam. Yoga defines meditation as an unbroken flow of awareness. Tantra defines meditation as a process of activation of energy through movement, breath and sound in order to awaken the deeper forces. Mantra sadhana is a process of feeling the deeper unconscious with different forms of vibration.

Embodying meditation

There are two levels of understanding meditation that we need to develop. The first is to learn a practice thoroughly so that we embody it and become one with it. The second is to develop our knowledge and deepen our understanding of the process of meditation. Therefore, it is most important that we practise meditation diligently, and at the same time look at our lives and see how we can increase our awareness there in a practical way.

As part of the attainment of yoga, the development of memory, smriti, is essential. The smriti that Patanjali talks about is the integration of the chitta so that it can hold a vast array of experience and the sense of self at the same time, at one moment. This is achieved through meditation. We have to develop a tissue memory of the meditation experience and hold that in every moment. Meditation should be so ingrained in us that there is not a moment when we are not practising meditation.

When we sit for meditation we disengage from the outer world and go deep into ourselves. As we continue our practice, over time the thinking starts to calm down and all the emotional entanglements start to go away, and then we can feel ourselves back in a beautiful inner space. While we are meditating we move into a different sense of who we are. But when we end the practice, we re-emerge into the world and we take on the personality ‘shape’ again, this egoic shape which contains the learned patterns that are in the nervous system. These are patterns of behaviour, patterns of thinking and ideas about who we are and what we can and cannot achieve.

We try to be fully conscious at the same time of both the negative pattern with its fears and worries and of that higher part of ourselves, the higher nature. In the higher part is the stillness and in the lower part is the turbulence – the two should come together and relate with each other. This is the relationship between you and your self, that part of you that remembers that you are not the diminished or contracted state, but that you are the higher awareness. It is the relationship between consciousness and mind.

Meditation is mind management. It is remembering who we are and observing the relationship with the mind and its activities and finding a way to manage and integrate that.

Overcoming desire

Patanjali says that regular practice, abhyasa, and nonattachment, vairagya, are necessary for meditation. The issue here is the development of a technique in meditation practice, and the capacity to bring that technique into your life so that your lifestyle supports and reflects your inner work. That is where difficulties can arise, because the capacity for distraction is endless; we have endless desires which keep us fascinated. However, meditation tackles this endless cycle of desire and will finally take us to the point where we have to examine the unbroken desire that keeps us alive, the will to live, and ultimately death itself – the process of letting go. Once we can do this we can convey a sense of certainty and power in the face of life’s difficulties. This process takes place gradually over a long period of time.

The desires and distractions will always be there and we should accept that, but the consciousness has to be aware of the urgency, the compulsion to act out these desires. Until that time meditation cannot build in intensity. The more we can hold the memory of the practice, the more we can hold the capacity to pull the mind back from the endless sensory input, the more we will progress in meditation.

Being the witness

So we need to develop a meditative lifestyle. This is where the technique of antar mouna comes in. We learn to be the witness and to hang on to this ability. One of the problems we may have in meditation is that when we practise we can have a great experience but after, when we go back into our life, we lose it. This process is natural. It is an oscillation between two states – the state we achieve in meditation and the state of mind in daily life. We need to understand this process of oscillation and develop the capacity to follow its pattern. We also need to assess how much our lifestyle helps or hinders this process. How much do diet, sleep patterns, exercise, work, pastimes and relationships play a part in pulling us out of the awareness of our inner process and what changes will help us get back into it. We must come to know ourselves, our own patterns and tendencies. This is where swadhyaya, self-study, comes in.

Grounding

In practising meditation, we find that as we advance we can take on more rigorous practice. To manage this, one fundamental technique we need to learn is grounding.

Grounding means to be firm and stable in facing our own mind and in the face of life. The best place to be grounded is in the body; we can also ground ourselves in the breath. Grounding in the body is one of the most basic and important things to help us go deeper. It can happen in meditation that people get to a certain point and then lose their confidence. They can get into a state of sleep or become blank (an unconscious mechanism to avoid looking at what lies hidden at deeper levels) or they feel a fear arise, which happens when stability is lost.

Grounding is a process that allows us to maintain both one-pointedness and also the memory of what we are doing. It also conveys a sense of strength, which gives us the confidence to go forward into our mental processes so as to uproot the deeper issues. There is a certain point at which we are willing to go into our ‘mental stuff’ and a point where we are not. It is necessary not just to want to have nice experiences in meditation, but to start to actually use meditation to do solid work on ourselves.

Grounding is an essential component. Without grounding, as soon as energies start to change, there is no stability within to rest on. So we may feel it is easier to stay with an old pattern of behaviour through familiarity, rather than trusting in the new pattern we are trying to create. By coming back into the base of the body, the pelvic floor, or the bones (the ground of consciousness), or the breath, we can develop a habit of grounding ourselves. Then we can trust in the process and we can do the next stage of meditation training, which is to face our fundamental issues.

Solid inner work – developing trust

To be able to face our issues in meditation, two things are important:

1. The capacity to use energy in the form of movement, breath and sound, to allow us to manipulate the body/ mind, so we are able to change how we feel.

2. The development of the capacity of consciousness to penetrate into this energetic field, to know and to feel what is going on at deeper and more subtle levels of being.

The relationship between consciousness and energy is very important. We need to understand and experience how consciousness and energy relate and interplay. Energy is the vehicle for consciousness. It carries consciousness. Take the breath, for example. If you move the breath up and down, the consciousness can travel with it more easily. Energy is informing our consciousness; it is constantly bringing up information for us to process. The more we develop the capacity for recognition through the ability to witness, and experience an ever more subtle awareness, the more we can know what is going on within ourselves.

In meditation, we find that we come up against blocks, certain patterns of energy that seem to have a life of their own or about which we have gone into denial. Meditation in this day and age is not just sitting alone and going inside. Meditation is the use of awareness in the day to day existence. Before we can genuinely practise higher yoga we need to get information back to our consciousness about what we need to deal with, and then we need to find a kind of determination to go into that ‘stuff.’ We have to jump in.

Antar mouna – stage 3

In antar mouna, there are stages to do this. In stage 1 we witness our sensory information; then in stage 2 the spontaneous thoughts, and then in stage 3 the conscious creation of thoughts. To do work we need to go deep inside ourselves and really explore life. Not in a half-hearted or timid way, but with gusto and zest. How far into our process are we willing to go when we create thoughts in stage three?

Stage 3 is the capacity to use our minds constructively to create thoughts. We can only rise above the mind when we make a conscious decision that we will go in and tackle the mind, in a way that is skilful, patient and respectful. Stage 3 is for that. Here we create our own thought, any thought, but uncensored. Then whatever that issue is, go into it fully. This is what tantra really is. If we don’t tackle it in meditation, we will have to live it, because it will drive us unconsciously. It is active and it will drive us, so bring it up – drinking, smoking, sensuality, passion, anything – whatever your trip is, visualize it, see yourself doing it, without reservation, without inhibition. Bring the craving, the desire up, make yourself sick of it – and then throw it out.

Swamiji tells the story of his desire for mangoes, which he saw as an attachment. He went into meditation and visualized himself eating baskets and baskets of mangoes until he was sick of them. Then he stopped desiring mangoes.

Dealing with unconscious drives

As meditation stabilizes, we can begin to watch our lives more. The desire for attention, to be important, to be loved, the need to use the libido, the need for creativity, the need for a purpose – how do these things drive us? How do we get our fulfilment and where do we lack it? What emotions are coming up and what issues do we need to face – at work, with people, with anger, fear and frustration and our self-esteem, our lack of self-esteem or our arrogance? We need to bring all these things up and work on them. And we also watch how they affect our lives. How conscious are we of those things so that our lives are working at a level that is lifting us out of the lower chakras and into anahata?

In the lower chakras are the dark unconscious energies of the mind, which are driving us all in one form or another. This is also where the kundalini, the shakti, resides. The vast power that reveals who we really are is locked in the darker recesses of the unconscious. In meditation we open up to all this, to being with ourselves on these different levels. So meditation is not just a passive sitting in a peaceful state. It is about being with ourselves as totally self-possessed human beings, knowing all of our darkness and all of our light.

Antar mouna – stage 4

Stage 3 of antar mouna is also a preparation for stage 4. In stage 3 we are creating the thoughts. In stage 4 we deal with the capacity to grapple with unconscious forces as they arise. These forces can come up and take us over and we may be overwhelmed by them until our sense of self, through the capacity to remain the witness, becomes alive, strong, consolidated, and grounded. Until our sense of self has become established and is stronger, the mind will have a greater capacity to overwhelm us.

In stage 3 if an issue comes up spontaneously, often we can move into stage 4, if we are prepared to do that. When a powerful negative (or positive) thought comes up we can be ready to grab it and wrestle it and then throw it out. So if anger or disappointment comes up and we start to feel the ache, and the inner critic comes up, and anything else, we watch all those contracted energy patterns (thoughts) – then we throw them out. This is the stage where we develop the confidence to really be with our issues. Until that happens the repressive instinct takes over, pushes the stuff away, and we go into contraction. Attachment takes over and we push away the thoughts. As soon as we relax and get the confidence, we can say, “No, let’s go for it,” and dive in. We need to start really to be in touch with ourselves so we are no longer just trying to create pleasant states all the time, to relax and feel good. I need to be able to say that it is time to do something about this: Let’s work on this one now.”

Developing spiritual maturity

Most people are afraid to go deep into their own minds, because we are not trained or encouraged to do so by our society. The mind is still a mystery to most of us. It is wise to use caution in proceeding into these areas. They can create depression, fear, anxiety, insecurity and so on. These lie in the deeper unconscious waiting for something to trigger to explode them and rob us of our power and our consciousness.

In meditation, whenever we are facing some major issue in this way, we can always come back to the breath to ground ourselves. We have to be able to regulate ourselves by moving between stability and the need for grounding, and the capacity for diving deeper.

Meditation is where we develop a subtle awareness, so that in our daily lives, when core issues or powerful emotions arise, we can see them for what they are and develop a calm confidence in dealing with them. To do that we go back to the meditation process and work on them again and again, to look at how we have managed in our life and how we can improve ourselves in those situations. The techniques become the tools, which are available more and more outside of formal meditation practice.

 

Visualization Techniques

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Found this great article about visualization and I wanted to share it here. Credits go to Mr. James Bone,  from the Satyananda School of Yoga in Australia.  Thank you James!

Visualize this!   By James Bone

• Visualization is a process where you create internal mental images and use this process in some positive or constructive way. For example in yoga, you may visualize a beautiful scene during relaxation to enhance relaxation of your mind; or you can visualize energy flowing up and down your spine as you breathe in and out, to enhance its free flow.

• Visualization is a tool used quite extensively in yoga, especially in the tradition of Tantra Yoga. Tantra Yoga is a form of yoga concerned with the expansion of consciousness, and its aim is to allow yoga to be accessible to all. Visualization is also used in many other areas such as psychology and sport.

• You can choose to be a victim of life and just meander here and there where it takes you, or you can decide to take charge and give it some direction. This is where the tool of visualization can be very helpful. It can be used in small and simple ways, such as improving your tennis game, to actually aiding in the healing process of a serious illness.

• One theory behind the principle of visualization is that your world is created by what you think and believe. Certainly from a scientific point of view, we know that we only see what our minds are trained and prepared to see.

Visualization is a vast topic so today we will just consider 3 main areas of visualization usage.

Enhancing Success

This form of Visualization is used most readily in the areas of sport, performance, business and wealth creation. Basically you visualize in your mind’s eye the positive outcome you would like to see.

• In sport for example, you may visualize yourself playing the perfect golf shot.

• In performance for example, see yourself performing the perfect dance form.

• In business for example, see your business as successful as you would like.

• In wealth creation, you see yourself achieving the goals you seek.

The process is simple, but you must be very clear in your mind what you want, or you may end up getting what you don’t want!

• Healing

Martin Rossman MD was one of the first to investigate the use of visualization in medicine and found it to enhance healing. Dean Ornish MD also used a form of visualization in his “Reversing Heart Disease Program with Yoga”.

In this process of Visualization, you form some image in your mind, which symbolizes healing for you, and the area that needs healing. This image can be quite individual, and it needs to be meaningful to be effective. Sometimes in a Yoga class or with a client I will use the image of a warm healing light spreading outward from your heart or navel to the area needing healing …. feeling your body immersed and nurtured by this light. For others they have used the image of their immune system successfully tackling an illness and winning. What type of technique works best for you really comes down to what feels right in your heart and can hold your concentration effortlessly.

The problem doesn’t have to be major, as you can use this technique even for day to day aches and pains, injuries and coughs and colds.

• Transformation

This is the form of visualization most used in yoga. Transformation is a process where you make a decision in your life to develop yourself in a positive and directed way. Often the process is more an uncovering of your true nature, rather than actually improving anything, as according to yoga philosophy, we and everything else is already whole and perfect, but we just can’t see it. So there are a variety of techniques used to help with this process.

One such tool is the visualization of the chakras. These are representations of your developing consciousness, which are aligned along your spinal column and brain. There is a technique called Bhuta Shudhi where you ‘cleanse’ the Chakras and so your consciousness through visualization.

Visualization is also used in Yoga Nidra, a form of deep relaxation. You use a resolution at the start and end of your practice, focused on what you would like to transform. Visualization is also used within the practice to draw you into deeper states.

Visualization can also be used to enhance your flow of energy (called Prana). It assists the process by which you do physical yoga practice, such as lifting tall through the crown of your head by feeling your head as light as a balloon, or imagining drawing the energy from your feet up to the crown of your head, or feeling your feet connected to the earth, grounding like the roots of a tree.

In Contemplative Meditation, visualization can be used to enhance a feeling, or a feature or characteristic you would like to enhance in yourself, such as focusing on the heart to enhance compassion, concentrating on a special person you admire to develop that person’s qualities in yourself, focusing on a spiritual aspect you would like to develop, or visualizing on something – for example, a mountain if you would like to be steady, or on an elephant if you would like to be strong and graceful, etc. The scope is quite unlimited, and I’m sure you can think of many more possibilities.

There are hundreds of meditation and relaxation practices using visualization (used within the yoga and other traditions) to help direct your mind in a positive way. On the other side, visualization is also used to loosen or dissolve negative feelings so that you can become aware of them, deal with them, and unlock your hidden potential.

•  Some people can visualize extremely well and use this technique to great effect. However, not everyone has equal skill in this area. Luckily, just as the body can be trained to become stronger, so can the visualization ‘muscles’ be trained to work better with practice. I myself am not strong in visualizing and when I was younger I felt the practices quite frustrating and pointless. However, over time and with practice I have slowly improved my capacity to visualize. So practice, practice, practice!

• I suggest for those of you who struggle to visualize, start with something simple, such as a simple image during relaxation or meditation. Just keep saying the image to yourself, until an image begins to form. Don’t try too hard and be patient, as it may take a little while to happen.

• For those who can visualize well, maybe now is the time to try one of the techniques above and see if it can enhance your life in the way you would like.

• A Simple Visualization Technique used in Yoga to help calm the mind is a beautiful scene: Visualize a warm golden sunset, or a beautiful scene, or a lake of peace and tranquility, or clear blue sky with a single cloud floating by, hold your mind on the visualization… become absorbed in it…

Yoga as therapy for depression; a scientific explanation.

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In 1952 Hans Selye in his theory of stress called “The General Adaptation Syndrome” argued that “stress-related illness originates from a breakdown in the defenses of the organism due to exhaustion. The organism is exhausted because it has been unable to successfully adapt to a stressor and return to homeostasis” – a state of balance and natural well-being. In summary, Selye’s theory states that if a person cannot overcome or adapt to a stressor, it will become gradually depleted and exhausted by the constant activation of the stress response and eventually become ill.

Yoga’s effectiveness comes from the ability to efficiently alleviate tension, and we have to remember that stress plays a big role in depression. The individual that suffers from depression has a tendency to have the sympathetic nervous system constantly activated (called the fight-or-flight response), causing increases in heart rate, blood pressure and muscular tension and the release of stress hormones.  Releasing muscular tension can counteract feelings of stress and depression through breathing practices combined with slow stretching movements releasing physical and mental tension while massaging the body and relaxing contraction of the muscles. The movements or Asanas (as they are called in Sanskrit) followed by guided relaxation and meditation recreate the activities of the parasympathetic nervous system which counteracts the fight-or-flight response. Additionally, research has demonstrated a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, (a common physiological measure of stress) following a Yoga practice.

Many controlled studies which included mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga as part of a program have shown that yoga can significantly improve mood and reduce anxiety in people with mild to severe depression. Mindfulness as quoted in the “American Journal of Psychiatry” is the “conscious moment to moment awareness, cultivated systematically paying attention on purpose”. In Yoga this means that precise alignment of a posture it not as important as the frame of mind brought to it.

Yoga postures are not the goal in yoga, but a tool through which we can focus in the moment to enhance mind, body and emotions. Spending regular time concentrating the mind and senses with the breath, and healthful body postures logically reduces our attention on outside stressors, letting us regain a balanced perspective of life and daily challenges. Mindfulness in Yoga is an insight-oriented approach to self-regulating emotions and reducing stress by gaining insight into how and why we think and behave the way we do in certain situations, this is turn will empowered us to change the destructive patterns in our lives. Rather than being a victim to a spontaneous emotional reaction to a situation, Yoga teaches us to take a breath and respond out of a stronger position of clarity and calmness.

Yoga as a tool to treat depression applies a variety of techniques that range from breath awareness and learning proper breathing, to specific postures or Asanas and guided relaxation with visualization and meditation. Cleansing techniques such as Jala Neti, (nostril cleansing with saline water) and a healthy diet and lifestyle are also part of a holistic and integral approach.

Copyright © 2012.

By (Yoga Priya Ma)

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Antar Mouna (Silence Meditation)

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ANTAR MOUNA – A POWERFUL TECHNIQUE TO LEARN TO MEDITATE-

When the mind is silent and peaceful it becomes very powerful. It can become a receptor of bliss and wisdom enabling life to become a spontaneous flow and expression of joy and harmony. However…this inner silence cannot arise while there is a continual stream of disturbing thoughts and emotions. All this inner noise of thoughts and emotions has to be removed before one can truly experience the soundless sound of inner silence.

—Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Peace, bliss, harmony. Who is able to experience these states? So many people these days are struggling with their own minds. Influenced by their conditionings, and overwhelmed by the pressures of day to day living in today’s increasingly stressful society, they are full of mental tensions, which manifest as anxiety, nervousness, guilt, lack of self-confidence, loneliness, fear, obsessions and phobias. Some turn to drugs and alcohol as a temporary means of escape and solace. Others enlist the costly help of psychiatrists or psychotherapists to try and cope. All are looking for some form of change, a little relief from the inner conflicts and turmoil, wanting to feel at ease with themselves, or even to experience, if not bliss, just a modicum of peace and contentment.

Those who are fortunate enough to come across Yoga can encounter and learn an excellent systematic meditation practice, known as antar mouna (अंतर्मौन) , that will enable them to release these oppressive mental tensions and to become their own psychotherapists in the process.

Antar means inner, mouna means silence. Antar mouna is a technique of attaining pratyahara(withdrawal of the mind from the sense objects), the fifth stage of raja yoga, and in its fullest form can lead to dharana and dhyana. Antar mouna is also a fundamental part of the Buddhist practice known as vipassana, used in a modified way.

Purging the mind

Generally we tend to allow ‘good’ thoughts to arise to conscious perception; we accept and enjoy pleasant thoughts. When an unpleasant, painful or ‘bad’ memory or thought arises, we tend to quickly push it back down into the subconscious layers of the mind. This is suppression and we all do it. Everyone has mental suppressions. Often we are conditioned to do it from childhood. But suppression is definitely not the answer.

Every single suppressed thought that remains unexpressed causes a block in the free flow of the mind. The thoughts and experiences stay submerged in the subconscious realms of the mind in seed form, causing pain, unhappiness and frustration in life. These subtle impressions are known assamskaras. Without even realizing it, we build up a vast accumulation of suppressed thoughts which cause a lot of tension and disturbances in the mind and personality without obvious cause.

To find lasting happiness or peace of mind, these mental impressions have to be rooted out. It can be compared to gardening. We remove the unwanted weeds from the mind. If we just break the top off, although there is temporary relief, the weed will return. However, when we dig down deep and pull out the root of the weed, it loses its hold and can be removed completely. If left to fester in the mind, these negative mental impressions poison the psyche and lead to irritability, aggression, anger, non-specific depression, a tendency to worry, being fearful without reason, and permanent tiredness. This affects all our interactions in life and reduces our ability to be efficient, creative and dynamic at every level of our lives.

Antar mouna enables us to exhaust these unwanted thoughts; it provides a means to purge the mind. Once these mental tensions start to be released, we can experience corresponding surges of energy and inspiration and life starts to take on a new dimension. In the same way that we clean our rooms and the physical body every day we also need to develop the habit of cleaning the mind each day in order to prevent the accumulation of more dross or rubbish. Therefore, it is very necessary to repeat this process on a consistent and regular basis.

Antar mouna is required because this process of oscillation and extrication from the contracted state to the more benevolent state takes time. We forget and get lost along the way. We need a technique like antar mouna which will help us through this process. Antar mouna is the technique of inner silence, also known as witnessing. It is divided into six main stages which can be divided into three basic categories. For most people, the first three stages provide plenty to work with, and in order to obtain the full benefits, a considerable amount of time should be spent practising and perfecting them before attempting to move into the more advanced stages.

The first two categories are passive, where we sit and observe our mind and our process of evolution, of change in our inner nature, without engagement. We simply observe that tendency to suppress things and to grab onto things and to lose ourselves within our mental process. We do not try to change anything. We simply develop what is called a sense of self. While we are developing that, we have to maintain an awareness of the object of meditation. We also have to be aware of the whole process. This is important because we tend to get lost either in the object we are observing, a thought or an event, or we get lost in our own selves. It is very difficult to maintain the kind of equilibrium where we hold an awareness of self and of other at the same time.

Antar mouna is designed to allow us to do that because developing a sense of self is an antidote to the pain, to dealing with this kind of contracted and somehow distorted energetic process that goes on inside. A sense of self is very grounding and calming. We feel a greater sense of safety and trust the more we develop it. What we are trying to do is develop a greater stability in that experience, so that it becomes more available to us for longer periods of time. So the first stages of antar mouna are simply passive, learning to witness outside sounds or sensations, learning to witness thoughts without getting engaged in suppression of thoughts or involvement in the process. These are the two main states, grabbing onto a thought and pushing it away. Of course, the awareness is the antidote to ignorance.

Once we have that capacity, we go into the next two stages. These are active, to develop mental muscle, like doing mental push-ups. We consciously try to grab onto a thought, to exaggerate the process of grabbing. Then we consciously let it go. One stage is to create a thought, grab it and then throw it away, and the other state is to grab a spontaneous thought as it comes up and then throw it away. So we are developing this internal capacity to deal with our thoughts, feelings, emotions and inner states with greater clarity. In the third category, which is divided into two groups, we throw out any thought that comes into our mind, until we achieve shoonya or emptiness, a luminous emptiness. It is not a dark, tamasic emptiness; it is an emptiness which is full of peace and love.

Antar mouna is one of the most important techniques that we can learn in order to maintain the path, in order to maintain an awareness of duality and polarity, and to be able to hold the negative as well as the positive experiences.