A systematic meditation framework for helping you go from gross to subtle concentration.
This post mentions concepts explained in “What’s Wrong With Your Meditation?”. If you haven’t read it, I suggest starting with that article first and then applying the techniques outlined here.
The following framework comes from the Himalayan masters; from Patanjali to Swami Jnaneshvara Bjarati, who has truly helped me to understand the way of Yoga meditation.
This framework accepts an infinite number of techniques, I invite you to make it your own.
You will go from the outermost to the innermost. Beginning with the different aspects of the indriyas, then to the aspects of the mind, to transcending the mind.
Step 1: Create the proper environment
Pick a spot where you will be undisturbed. It doesn’t have to be in your home. For example, my wife and I love going to parks to sit under the trees, remove our shoes, and feel the soil. This is called “earthing”.
Make sure the spot you pick is clean, free from aromas that may distract you. In the beginning, choose a spot that is relatively quiet.
By doing this you are facilitating the detachment from indriyas such as smelling and hearing.
Step 2: Clear your airways, bladder, and bowels
Before beginning, make sure you go to the bathroom. Clear everything you can. Blow your nose, poop, and/or pee. Little by little you are eliminating any possible distractions.
Step 3: Make your body flexible (4 to 6 minutes minimum)
Before entering meditation you need to make your body flexible, especially the spine. Doing this will start pulling your mind to the present.
Sit down on the floor or a chair. Inhale and twist your spine to the left trying to look behind you. Do not move the lower part of your body. Then, exhale and twist to your right, again, trying to look behind you. Once you get the feeling for it, start twisting faster from one side to the other. Between half a second or a second on each side is adequate.
Repeat this for sixty seconds.
Then, take a few deep breaths in and out.
Next, inhale and open your chest by drawing your shoulder blades together. Imagine there was a lotus flower blooming from your heart.
Hold it for a few seconds.
Exhale and close your chest as if the lotus flower was becoming a bud again. Hold it for a few seconds.
Repeat this for sixty seconds.
Finally, before moving to the breathing exercises. Do between five to ten sun salutations at your own pace. Feel your body opening and becoming aware of its parts.
Take your time, the more intention and focus, the easier it will be to journey inward.
Step 4: Breathing exercises (4 minutes minimum)
You’re almost ready to begin meditating.
First, you need to exhale as much carbon dioxide from your body as you can to create space for oxygen. Start by inhaling and exhaling deeply as you can. You will incorporate suspension later on.
Thoughts will come into mind, let them go, keep breathing. You will fidget, don’t mind it, keep breathing and maintain the rhythm.
Do this for two minutes. Deep in, deep out.
Now, choose to sit or lay down on your back in dead man’s pose, savasana. Sitting requires effort and strength, so unless you can sit comfortably for at least ten minutes, I recommend that you lay on your back.
If you’re sitting, make your spine straight like a stack of coins. I recommend to check out Dr. Ray Long’s “The Key Muscles of Yoga” for a thorough explanation on the accessory muscles of breathing.
In both cases, draw your shoulder blades together again and hold them there. You’re trying to give your lungs as much space as possible to breathe air in and out.
It’s time to connect the mind and body by consciously regulating your breathing through a technique called Ujjayi Pranayama.
Close your eyes. Inhale through your nose and imagine the air is coming in through an opening just above your jugular notch. What you’re trying to achieve is to compress your glottis so that the air revolves around your trachea.
You should hear a sound similar to the waves of the ocean.
Keep inhaling until you have filled your lower, middle, and upper lobes of the lungs with oxygen. Suspend your breath just before feeling the need to commence exhaling. Suspending should not feel forced.
Exhale and once again imagine the air is coming out from your jugular notch. Compress your glottis. Breathe all of the air out and suspend your breathing. Do so until you’re about to start feeling the need to grasp for air.
Keep breathing like this, as smoothly and as connected as possible.
This conscious breathing is the foundation of your meditation. Keep the rhythm steady. Your inhalations, and exhalations should last about the same. Suspensions should last as long as possible but without effort.
Step 5: Deal with the levels of the mind
With your breathing undisturbed, is time to focus on your karmendriyas, active senses. Start observing them one by one:
First, be aware of your ability to eliminate, and let it go.
Then, procreate or create, and let it go.
Then, focus on your ability to move and choose not to use it.
Then, focus on your ability to grasp and choose not to use it.
Then, focus on your ability to speak and choose not to use it.
Continue with your jnanendriyas, cognitive senses:
First, be aware of your ability to smell and choose not to use it.
Then, be aware of your ability to taste and choose not to use it.
Then, be aware of your ability to see and choose not to use it.
Then, be aware of your ability to touch and choose not to use it.
Then, be aware of your ability to hear and choose not to use it.
Spend time scanning the indriyas of your being, both outer and inner aspects. After a while, your breathing should have changed from Ujjayi to a deep and steady flow of breath. If this is the case, you are now ready to begin observing the four functions of the mind.
Thoughts will start appearing and be voiced by vāk. Don’t suppress them, instead, observe and identify them with each of the four functions of the mind. Are they coming from Chitta, Ahamkara, or Buddhi?
A simple and powerful exercise to begin detaching from your thoughts during meditation and daily life is to substitute “I” for “It”, e.g. “It wants to move”, “It is angry”.
Follow all the thoughts that arise. Observe, accept, and understand them. Don’t attach to them. If you do, observe the physical or mental reactions that they provoke. Accept and understand the reactions.
Keep doing this until you get to a point where thoughts are no longer clear. This is the threshold between the conscious and the unconscious mind.
At this point, the images that appear in your mind might be of foreign worlds, people you don’t know, or abstract dreams. Logic cannot grasp infinity, which is exactly what you’re approaching.
If you seek to process these mental representations through logic you will drop back to your conscious mind. Instead, observe, accept, understand, and let go. Don’t fight them.
Step 6: Go beyond the mind
By now, your breathing is delicate. You are aware of the subtleties of your body and mind. You are becoming the observer.
This next part is extremely subtle, almost unnoticeable. Amid everything you are witnessing, you will hear in your mind a very faint sound. It’s different for everyone. For me personally, it sounds like an uninterrupted sound wave emanating from a cosmic sound bowl. This is your queue to let go of absolutely everything. The idea of who you think you are, thoughts, ideas, memories, everything. Focus on the sound without forcing it. Accept the sound as yourself.
If you got there, you have reached your Center of Consciousness, your Atman. You will have become one with Brahman, one with everything. No words can describe the feeling.
Meditation can be difficult in the beginning because you are learning a new language. The language of yourself. Only you hold the dictionary to it. Have patience with yourself.
Practice daily with devotion and you will transform every aspect of your being. You will find harmony within and this will permeate to your surroundings.
Meditation is where you learn about yourself. Life, however, is where you practice. The path to your True-Self lies in every moment.
Check out these other articles:
What Is Yoga – Part 1: The Eight Limbs