How to Meditate
August 2, 2017
Nayaswami Diksha teaches a class on meditation. She is a long time meditator and teacher at Ananda's Expanding Light.
This video was produced by the Ananda School of Yoga and Meditation at the Expanding Light Retreat.
Hello, everyone. My name is Diksha, and I have been meditating for many years. I find that meditation is a great tool to help me deal and cope better with the challenges and the test that I face in daily life. Meditation can really help us to overcome anxiety and fear and help us to relax physically and mentally.
Would you like to have this tool in your life? Yes. Okay. I'll be happy to share it with you. But first, I like to ask you, how many of you have tried meditation already? Just raise your hand. Okay, just some of you. Okay.
Today I would like to share with you a traditional meditation technique that has been taught in India for about 5000 years. One of the yoga masters who brought it to America is Paramahansa Yogananda. He's my teacher and my Guru.
So first, let me talk about what meditation is. Meditation is a state of profound relaxation, where the body is relaxed, the mind is calm, and you experience peace in your heart, and you experience the higher aspects of your own being.
The process of meditation, the traditional meditation, is withdrawing from all five senses, and bringing your awareness inward and upward, focusing it at the point between the eyebrows. This is the most advanced part of the brain. When we can bring the energy to that point, we can experience higher consciousness. We can experience joy and creativity and find solutions to daily challenges.
So I wanted to share with you an example of what meditation does for us. Some years ago, my husband and I went hiking. And we went to hike a mountain. And we started with the valley. The valley was a thick forest with many trees and bushes. And even though it was a sunny day, the sun could not come through. And it was very shady. As we started on the path, we couldn't see very far because there were so many trees. And we kept making the effort to walk upward. And after about two hours or so, we reached the top of the mountain. And the space opened up. There were normal trees. The sun was shining. There was a beautiful, vast view of the whole valley. And there was fresh air. It was just beautiful.
And so for us in daily life. Most people live in the valley. They live in this thick forest. We mostly live in our heads, full of thoughts, full of projects and to-do lists, worries, and regrets. But when we meditate, we offer our energy; we withdraw, withdraw it from the senses. And as we make the effort to bring it up, there is a point that we reach the top of the mountain. We experience clarity of mind. We experience joy. We find solutions. We feel lighter. We get perspective. And we see a broader reality. And so this is what meditation does for us.
So meditation is not about thinking, analyzing, making to-do lists. But it is really a state where we are very calm. We experienced peacefulness and joy. Meditation is not a state of sleepiness or being foggy, but being present, being awake, and being ready. You can see meditation is coming home. This is really our native land. But since we've been away from our true home for so long, it seems foreign to us. And so it takes time to relearn the language and the customs of our new home. And then gradually, as we practice meditation, we start to remember, yes, this is the home that was always mine. And we start to experience the comfort of a true home. We experience true peace. We experience true love. That's really what meditation is about.
Meditation is also a state of being, not a state of doing. And in daily life, we are so used to doing. And so it takes time to make the transition between doing to being. It takes time, and it takes patience. So to succeed in meditation, what we really need is willingness, self-discipline, perseverance, and commitment. And as we practice, day, after day, after day, we start to experience inner peace and inner joy within us.
So I've talked to you about what meditation is, and I would like to talk to you and guide you into the actual practice of meditation.
There are two parts to meditation. There is the getting there and the being there.
The “getting there” includes relaxation of the body and concentration of the mind.
The “being there” includes “the letting go” of the technique and then expanding your consciousness, experiencing within you the peace, deep joy, and other qualities, divine qualities.
So let's start with “the-getting there” by first, relaxing the body.
I will show you two breathing techniques that will help us to relax the body. And then we're going to sit to meditate. So before I show you the breathing techniques, I would like to show you how we sit to meditate. And I would like to ask for a volunteer willing to come so I can show you how to sit comfortably. Okay, wonderful. Please come. Stand here for a moment. Just stand here for a moment.
There are different sitting meditation techniques.
You can sit on a chair or on the floor. Today, we'll just focus on sitting on a chair. So I'm doing the demonstration by her profile so you can all see.
[Instruction directed to the helper] Please try to sit more toward the edge of the chair. Great. Okay, round your back for just a moment.
[Comment to audience] She has a great posture I can see already. So when we sit to meditate, we want the feet to be flat on the floor. Okay for stability, the spine, is nice and long, relaxing the shoulders, and lifting a little bit through the heart. Keeping the chin parallel to the floor. If you want help (removed the word ‘you’) to sit upright and not round your back, you can use a wedge, and I will bring the wedge. Actually, it's a flat pillow, and I'm just going to fold that pillow.
[Instruction directed to the helper] Okay, just please lift. Okay, so just tip the pelvis slightly forward. How does it feel? It helped to straighten the spine.
[Comment to audience] But now what we have is we want the thighs to be about parallel to the floor. The knees should be just slightly below the hips. But it seems that this is too low. So I will bring a folded blanket. And let's see if that will help. I will put it under her feet.
[Instruction directed to the helper] Just lift it. How's that? Great.
[Instruction to both the helper and to the audience] Palms turning up close to the abdomen is more of a receptive mode. If somebody wants to give you a gift, you extend your hand. You don't turn your hand down. In meditation, we receive the gift of peace. So turning the palms up you not only open your heart, but you also open your chest. Okay, so I like to show you something.
[Instruction directed to the helper] Why don't you interlace the fingers now? Okay, now, separate the hands and tuck the hands to the junction of the thighs and abdomen.
[Comment to audience] Do you see what happened? It really broadens her chest. Okay, so that's really what we would like to do.
[Instruction to both the helper and the audience] Okay, if you need support for your lower back, I'm going to bring another blanket. And what I'm going to do, is I'm going to roll that.
[Instruction directed to the helper] Okay. And I will tuck it here. Okay, how does it feel? Good.
[Comment to audience] You always want to ask, “how does it feel.” Because for your eyes, it might look okay, but the person has to feel it. Wonderful. Okay, is that clear?
[Instruction directed to the helper] Okay, thank you so much.
[Comment to audience] So I'm going to keep the props for myself. Just move it. And now I would like all of you to try it. Sit close to the front of the chair, feet flat on the floor. I can see that some of you might need a prop. [Sounds of helping others with props.] Let's have that. Okay. Let's see. Does anybody else need a prop for underneath the feet? Does anybody need a prop for the back? Good. How does it feel? Good. Okay. Yes. Okay.
[Comment to audience] So now we are ready. Okay, so now that we all are sitting comfortably, make sure your spine is erect, your chest is lifted, shoulders relaxed.
I want to show you where we gaze when we close our eyes because we say gaze at a point between the eyebrows. Still, we’re not literally meaning physically right at this point because if you try to gaze here, you're gonna just strain the muscles of your eyes, and people have headaches because of it.
So what I'd like you to do is extend your right hand out, make a fist with a hand, bring your thumb up, and then lift that thumb so the tip of the thumb is in alignment with the crown of your head. Gaze at the thumbnail. Great.
Now close your eyes, and sort of visualize that thumbnail. And then release your hand down so you're looking out and slightly up above the horizon as if you're watching a bowl of light or a beautiful sun. But make sure when you're gazing up that you're not lifting your chin. Your chin should remain parallel to the floor.
Okay, okay, well, open your eyes. And now, I would like to show you two preliminary breathing techniques that we do to relax the body, to focus the mind before we meditate.
So as we sit up, the first breathing technique goes along with the body. That's how the breath looks and sounds like. [Sound of inhaling breaths and immediately followed exhaling breath as described next] So short, followed by long inhalation through the nose, and then short, followed by long exhalation through the mouth.
Let's try just the breath before we also use the tensing and relaxing of the body. So inhale so your nose. [Sound of inhaling breaths] Exhale. [Sound of exhaling breaths] Great.
Try to when you inhale [sound of inhaling breaths]; no need to lift the shoulders. Keep your chest lifted. Try it again. Inhale. [Sound of inhaling breaths] Exhale. [Sound of exhaling breaths] Great.
Now, we do this along with tensing and relaxing the body. So we tense the body, low, medium, high, vibrate, as we inhale and then exhale, we relax.
Let me show you what it looks like.
[Sound of inhaling breaths and immediately followed with exhaling breath as described earlier]
Okay, try that. Inhale. [Sound of inhaling breaths] Exhale. [Sound of exhaling breaths]
Very good. Can you see and feel? You bring all the tension [with the inhalation], and then you dissolve it, [the tension], with the exhalation.
So this is the first breathing technique; we usually do it three times.
The second technique helps to focus and interiorize the mind to prepare it for meditation. We inhale, hold and exhale through the nose to the same count. Usually, we start with a count of four, and gradually, as you're able to breathe more deeply, you can extend the count to six to eight to ten, and so forth. Today, we'll try the count of four.
So I'll guide you through just two rounds. We're going to inhale, hold, and exhale through the nose to the count of four.
So sitting upright, just take a breath in and out first, just a normal breath. Okay, now inhale through your nose. [Sound of snapping fingers to the count of four] Hold. [Sound of snapping fingers to the count of four] Exhale. [Sound of snapping fingers to the count of four]
One more round, inhale, [Sound of snapping fingers to the count of four] Hold. [Sound of snapping fingers to the count of four] Exhale [Sound of snapping fingers to the count of four] and relax.
Okay, open your eyes. Are these two breathing techniques clear?
Okay, so now I will explain each part of the technique of meditation. We'll try just a little bit, and then we'll put it all together.
The main part of the meditation technique is watching the breath. This has been done in India for 1000s of years. Because the breath and the mind are connected, when you watch your breath without controlling it, it will start to slow down, and the mind will slow down. The mind slows down; the breath continues to slow down. And so they feed each other.
Okay, so I want you to have a taste of what it is like to watch your breath. First of all, I’d like you to feel it, so we're going to take the right index finger, and we place it on top of the upper lip. First, just take a breath in and out. Feel it on your finger. And now, close your eyes. Allow the air to flow in and out naturally. [Pause] Don't control it and feel the sensation of the air on your finger. [Pause and feel] You should feel a cool sensation when the breath flows in and a warm sensation when the breath flows out. Once you get in touch with your breath, release your hand down, keep your eyes closed, and for only half a minute, watch your breath. Relax your nose. Tune to the flow of air in and out through your nostrils.
And now, gently bring yourself back and open your eyes.
I could even sense that you're much more focused. And that's what happened when we watch the breath. Because what happens is that we are pulling away from the senses. We start to withdraw our awareness inward and upward. Okay?
Another thing that we do, you watch the breath, and then we give the mind something to do. We're going to accompany the natural flow of the breath with a repetition of a mantra. A mantra is a word or seed sound that has the power to help you transform your consciousness.
We're going to use a universal mantra. And the mantra is HONG SAU. And HONG means “I AM.” “i” the little self. SAU means Spirit. Okay.
And now, this is a seed sound. HONG (draw out the sound) has a dissolving sound. SAU has an emerging sound. So when we are practicing, try to feel the dissolving of the little “i”, dissolving of the HONG, and becoming SAU, becoming the Spirit.
We will practice it again shortly. There's one more aspect, we watch the breath, accompanying the breath, the repetition of the mantra without moving the lips, tongue, or Jaws, saying only mentally. And to give the body something to do, we're going to use the right forefinger, it’s also the index finger. ,
When the breath flows in. Just gently curl that finger in very subtle. When the breath flows out naturally release the finger out. Okay?
Natural breath flowing in, HONG, curl the finger. Breath flows out, SAU, mentally repeat and release the finger out. Is this clear?
Okay, so now, let's just try this part that I just explained. We're gonna watch the breath briefly, add the mantra and the finger for just less than a minute or so.
Close your eyes. Just take a deep breath in and out. [pause]
okay, become aware of your breath. Let go of the breath. [pause]
Surrender to the natural flow. [pause] And once you tune into the flow of breath, then mentally, when the breath flows in naturally, mentally repeat HONG. Curl the right index finger in.
When the breath flows out naturally, mentally repeat SAU and relax the finger out.
HONG, curl the finger on the natural inhalation.
SAU, breath flows out naturally, relax the finger out.
Let's just do it for a few seconds.
See if you can keep your gaze lifted. Park your gaze there, but your focus is on the sensation with the breath in. So your gaze is uplifted, but your feeling nature should focus on where you can feel the flow of breath.
Okay, now relax and gently bring yourself back and open your eyes.
Okay, so the last part is when we finish the technique, practicing the getting there, then we do something before we go into the being there. We gently inhale, then exhale three times like this. [Sound of one slow inhalation followed by three shorter exhalations], through the mouth, leaving the breath out, as long as it's comfortable. Experience a few moments of stillness. Again, let me do it [Sound of one slow inhalation followed by three shorter exhalations]. And then, when the breath wants to flow back in, allow it to happen. But just experience those moments of stillness without breath when you can feel the peace. Okay?
And then we sit in the silence, gaze uplifted, and we focus on the quality of divine peace, absorbing ourselves in peace. Think about the surface of a calm lake. There are no ripples. It's very, very still stilling your heart, stilling your mind. You're on the top of the mountain. Clear, open space. Everything is quiet. That's the practice. Okay.
So now we can practice it, the technique. Okay, so everybody's ready to practice. Okay, let's bring the hands for a moment in front of the heart. Relax. As we start the practice. Set the intention of wanting to experience inner peace within yourself.
Okay, release your hands. Let's start with the first breathing technique.
Tense, relax with a double breath. Inhale. Squeeze, exhale. [Sound of double breath, hold and exhale] Again. [Sound of double breath, hold and exhale] Once more. [Sound of double breath, hold and exhale]
So make sure your palms turn upward. Lift your gaze. And let's practice. We do only three rounds today of measured breath. Keep your chin parallel to the floor and inhale, hold, then exhale through the nose to the count of four. I'll tap on my thigh.
Inhale, [Rhythmic tapping 4 times] Hold, [Rhythmic tapping 4 times] Exhale. [Rhythmic tapping 4 times]
Inhale, [Rhythmic tapping 4 times] Hold, [Rhythmic tapping 4 times] Exhale. [Rhythmic tapping 4 times]
Again, Inhale, [Rhythmic tapping 4 times] Hold, [Rhythmic tapping 4 times] Exhale. [Rhythmic tapping 4 times]
And now, take a deep breath in. And a deep breath out. Relax.
Let go of controlling your breath. Just observe your breath without control. Feel that you are surrendering to the natural flow of your breath. Keep your gaze lifted. First, tune in to wherever you can feel it [the breath]. It might start with the movement of your chest, and the physicality of the breath, but gradually you want to bring your awareness to your nose. Feeling the flow of air moving in and out through your nostrils. And keep your nose relaxed. When you become aware of your breath, flowing in and out naturally, [Pause] when the breath flows in, naturally you can curl the right index finger slightly in. [Pause] Breath flows out naturally; relax the finger out. [Pause] Let’s do it a few times
And now let's include the mantra, the breath flow see naturally, curl the right index finger, and mentally HONG without moving lips, tongue, or jaw. Breath flows out naturally, relax the finger out, mentally SAU. Observing the breath with detachment but with reverence. [Pause] Feel the dissolving for the HONG, for the little “I”, the merging into Spirit, with SAU. Continue watching the breath, breathing the mantra, and using the right forefinger. As you do that, gradually, the breath will slow down or become shallow. You slow down with it and enjoy pauses of stillness between breaths. [Long pause]
We practice now for about two minutes or so. Remain relaxed. Keep the chest lifted. [Long pause]
And now, let's release the technique.
Gentle inhale and three exhalations through the mouth. [Sound of two short exhalations and one slightly longer exhalation] Relax upwardly, gazing between the eyebrows. The body is very still, focusing on the point between the eyebrows without strain, focusing on the Divine quality of Peace. You can visualize the mind as a calm lake, a still lake, with no ripples on the surface of the lake. Absorb yourself in peace. [Long pause] We do this for about a minute or so.
And now, prepare yourself to come back to the room. You can take your breath in and out. Before you open your eyes, make sure to try to radiate that peace through your eyes, through your heart to all of us. Now gently bring yourself back and open your eyes. AUM
Question and Answers On Meditation, Prayer, Sitting Postures and a Wandering Mind
Okay, so I would like to ask you, “how was it?” Were you able to experience a little bit of peace? Okay, so I would like to, let me move the props. okay, I would like to see if people have questions. Yes.
- What can I do if my mind wanders while I'm meditating? Okay, let me repeat the question. What can I do if my mind wanders in meditation? This is a very good question. And the nature of the mind is to move, is to wander. But we don't have to get caught in it. We need to come back again. And again, to watching the breath, to repeating the mantra to moving a finger. This is our anchor; our anchor is watching the breath, coming back to it again and again. So it's like taming the monkey mind. It's not like it is. This is the battle that we have. And so as we keep practicing, over and over, bring yourself back. You don't fight the mind; just bring yourself back. You are focusing on the technique. Just think about when you watch a movie that you really like, you're not aware that your mind wanders because you're interested in it. And so you need to be very interested in watching your own breath. Okay. So keep practicing, and it will get easier and easier.
- Any other questions? Yes. What is the difference between meditation and prayer? Okay, let me repeat the question. What is the difference between meditation and prayer? Prayer is talking to the Divine, to God. Meditation is listening; it’s an inward state of listening to the answer. So meditation is a state of receptivity, like we turn the palms up, we're trying to receive inner guidance. We're trying to receive peace into ourselves. Thank you.
- Any more questions? Yes. Why do we have to keep our spines straight while we're meditating? Very good question. Why do we have to keep the spine straight during meditation? Well, I will give you an example. Think about a garden hose. When you turn on the faucet, and if the hose is straight, the water flows right through it. But if you bend that hose, the water cannot go through. And the same in meditation, when you sit upright, okay, you're able to draw that energy inward and upward and bring it here to the point between the eyebrows. Okay? But if your spine is bent, you're not able to bring that energy up and experience higher consciousness. Not only that, you can’t even breathe freely. Okay? That's why we do it.
- Any other questions? Yes. I feel myself getting sleepy. Yeah. Sure, she's saying she finds herself getting sleepy in meditation. What this is, is a natural thing that can happen. Okay, because sleep and meditation both we’re withdrawing energy from the senses. But sleep is passive; you are falling asleep. In meditation, you need to use dynamic energy; you can’t be passive to draw that energy and lift it up. Okay, so to help you. If you're just falling asleep and nodding. What you can do is your eyes are closed, open your eyes wide and then shut, open, and close them a few times, getting the energy to the eyes. And then keep them wide open, stare, just straight, and then close. And then go to the meditation. See if that helps. If it doesn't help, just do a few breathing techniques to wake you up with “intense and relax.” But besides that, you want to make sure that the room is not too warm, the room is cool. Okay, you might want to exercise a little bit beforehand. But you also want to see that you have good sleeping patterns. Because if you are really sleepy, it's better to go and take a nap and then meditate.
A Few More Words on Meditation
Okay, so let me say just a few more things before we finish the class. You know, meditation is a wonderful, as I said, wonderful tool. But to experience the benefits of meditation continuously, you need to create a habit; you need to practice every day. It is best if you can practice morning and evening or just find a time in the day that can work for you. Carve that time. You can start only with five to ten minutes in one setting and see how it works for you. Now, everybody, when they wake up in the morning, first thing they brush their teeth. Okay? This is your physical hygiene. You can view meditation as your spiritual daily hygiene. And as you practice meditation, you start to see that meditation is like an oil. It lubricates all the machinery of your life, and you experience everything flowing more smoothly, more harmoniously. So I really hope that you will practice every day. Before you leave. I will give you a handout with a technique so you can review it and practice. Okay. And I hope that through practice, you will experience inner peace and more and more happiness within yourself. So thank you all for coming. Namaste.
Learn more at www.ananda.org/meditation