Preparing to Meditate
Before you begin to meditate, it is helpful to keep these things in mind to get the most from your meditation practice:
Do this Tense and Relax exercise to help you relax:
- Inhale sharply through the nose, with 1 short and 1 long inhalation (double breath)
- Tense the whole body until it vibrates with energy
- Hold your breath and the tension for five seconds
- Exhale forcibly through the mouth, with one short and one long exhalation (double breath)
- As you do, throw the tension out
- Repeat several times
Begin your meditation with a prayer. This will help you remember why you are meditating! You will also be inviting the Divine, or your Higher Self, to help you in your practice.
3. Sit Still
Moving your body even slightly sends the energy into the muscles. The purpose of yoga is to withdraw that energy inward and upward, to the brain. Thus, any physical movement during meditation will counteract your meditative effort.
To keep yourself from fidgeting, try to think of your body as a rock — solid and unmoving. Refuse to move for the first five minutes of meditation, and you will find that your body will grow calm of its own accord.
Your physical and mental restlessness will subside the longer you sit still. A glass of muddy water will become clear in time if it’s undisturbed. The same is true for us!
4. Look Up
Your eyes should be closed and held steady, looking slightly upwards, as if looking at a point about an arm’s length away and level with the top of your head.
It is essential to keep your gaze gently raised to that point throughout your practice. This will magnetize your spiritual eye, and draw the energy to the highest spinal center, the seat of spiritual awakening in the body.
How Long to Meditate
It is entirely up to you. Make sure, however, to allow enough time after the technique to sit still and enjoy the calm meditative state. For beginners 5-15 minutes a day is plenty, but as you become more experienced and get into the habit, 30 minutes to an hour and a half will give you a much greater benefit. You can even do this twice a day if you like!
Where to Meditate
If possible, set aside an area that is used exclusively for meditation. In time it will become saturated with spiritual vibrations. A small room, a corner of your bedroom, or even closet can suffice, as long as it is well ventilated.
Keep it simple. All you really need is a chair or small cushion to sit on, and perhaps a small altar. Face East if possible, and place a wool or silk blanket on the floor to insulate your body from the subtle magnetic currents of the earth.
Proper Meditation Posture
In addition to sitting on a straight-backed chair, there are other ways of sitting that are appropriate for mediation. You can sit on the floor in any of the several poses: cross-legged, half-lotus pose, or full-lotus pose.
Two things, however, are essential: your spine must be straight, and you must be able to relax completely without slouching.
How to Meditate
The following is a very simple meditation technique you can learn in five minutes.
1. Breathe Evenly
Inhale slowly, counting to eight. Hold the breath for eight more counts, then exhale slowly to the same count. Without pausing, inhale again — hold — exhale, each to the count of eight.
This is called the Measured Breathing Exercise. Repeat it three to six times.
You can vary the count according to your lung capacity, but always keep it equal during inhalation, holding, and exhalation. Finish your practice by inhaling deeply, then exhaling completely.
2. Hong-Sau Technique of Concentration
Now wait for the next breath to come in of its own accord. When it does, mentally say Hong (rhymes with song). This time, don’t hold the breath, but exhale naturally. As you do, mentally say Sau (rhymes with saw).
Hong-Sau is an ancient Sanskrit mantra (a mantra is a word, syllable, or group of syllables, which can convey spiritual power when pronounced correctly, often with repetition). It means “I am He” or “I am Spirit.” Try to feel that your breath itself is silently making the sounds of Hong and Sau.
Make no attempt to control your breath. Simply observe it as it flows in and out naturally.
In the beginning you may be mostly aware of the physical manifestation of the breathing process as your diaphragm and chest expand and contract.
As your breath grows calmer, however, try to become aware of its flow in the nostrils, then gradually transfer your awareness higher and higher in the nasal passages.
With the eyes closed, turn your gaze upward to the point midway between the eyebrows within your forehead. Concentrate there. This is the seat of spiritual consciousness in the body, also called the spiritual eye, or Christ Center. In time, try to feel the flow of the breath near the spiritual eye within your forehead.
Keep your gaze steady at the point between the eyebrows throughout your practice. Don’t allow your eyes to follow the movement of the breath. If you find that your mind has wandered, gently bring it back to an awareness of the breath and the mantra.
3. Sit in the Stillness
Finish your practice of Hong-Sau by inhaling once through the nose, then exhaling three times through the mouth, and then forget the breath.
Concentrate deeply at the point between the eyebrows. Keep your mind focused and your energy internalized. Absorb yourself in the peace generated by your practice.
Continue for at least five minutes. Finish with a prayer to the Divine, offering yourself into the light of God.
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These techniques are based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi.