How to Meditate
The 12 Points or Techniques of Meditation
There are many styles and variations of meditation that can be practiced. Many of these variations are very effective, and no one style of meditation is right for everyone. The style someone chooses can vary depending on their inclination and which form of yoga, spirituality or religion they practice. We present here the method that we use which consists of Japa Meditation (repetition of a mantra). For this method there are 12 fundamental steps.
The most important aspect for a successful meditation practice is regularity. One should practice every day and bring regularity to just about every aspect of the practice. Regularity should include details such as time of daily practice, length of daily practice, meditation posture, place of meditation, and mantra used while meditating. Other factors such as wearing the same shawl or burning the same incense are also helpful to maintain regularity.
The best time for practice is early morning. The great yogis recommend we practice during Brahmamuhurta, or the hours between 4 and 6 am. During these early morning hours the mind is very still and the energetic and thought vibrations of the world around us are few, which lends itself to better meditation. In most of our busy lives, however, a regular daily practice at this time of day is quite difficult to achieve, and so meditating during this time frame is not a hard and fast rule. In the long run practicing every day at 7 am (or some other time) will give you more benefits than practicing once per week during Brahmamuhurta and not at all on the other days.
The next best time to practice is in the evening before going to bed. Other times of day are less beneficial but are considered better than not practicing at all.
The length of time practiced is also important. If your goal is to practice meditation 10 minutes per day, stopping after 8 or 9 minutes gives leniency to the mind and can eventually erode your practice. It is better to practice 10 minutes every day, than to practice 2 minutes today, 5 minutes tomorrow, 20 minutes the day after that, and so on.
Find a quiet undisturbed place in your house to meditate and set up an inspiring and vibrationally uplifting meditation space or altar. If possible you should try to find a place that no one else will disturb - whether that is a corner of a room, a part of a closet, or a room set up just for meditation. When possible you should try to separate this space from the rest of the house with a door or a hanging curtain.
Many people like to set up an altar to meditate in front of. This can be as simple or elaborate as you wish. It is common practice to set on the altar some photos of your main deity, your guru, or the Om symbol. You can also keep spiritual books near the altar. Many people cover the altar with a nice cloth and keep there fresh flowers, incense, a candle or oil lamp, and one or several deity figures according to their religion or practice.
Over time, while practicing in this same environment, the atmospheric vibration will change and become very uplifting. Just sitting in your meditation space will provide comfort and a sense of calm.
Shown here are two altars, one very simple and one quite elaborate.
To be able to meditate well you have to be able to sit comfortably. Try to find a good, comfortable cross-legged posture. Sitting on a pillow can sometimes help. Your posture should be very steady and easy to maintain. The back should be straight and the whole body should be as relaxed as possible. Generally you should keep your hands on the knees or folded together in front of the body to help preserve energy. Try not to move. Keep your eyes closed unless you are practicing tratak (steady gazing).
At this point it can be helpful to repeat the mantra Om several times, at first out loud and then gradually mentally. It will help to calm the mind in preparation for the remaining steps.
Now that you are comfortably in your steady posture in your meditation space, you should make a sankalpa, or resolve, commanding the mind to be quiet for a specific length of time – this will give a powerful instruction to the subconscious mind. The resolve could be, ‘I will keep my mind quiet for 20 minutes’, or ‘I will meditate 15 minutes’. Whatever you choose for your sankalpa be sure to finish the resolve to give strength to the mind and set up a good pattern for your practice.
Just as you require food for the body, so also you require food for the soul in the shape of prayers, Japa, Kirtan, meditation, etc... The food for the soul is more essential than the food for the body. Therefore, do your prayers, Japa and meditation regularly. Swami Sivananda
6. Deep breathing
Take a few deep abdominal breaths, exhaling and inhaling through the nose.
7. Rythmical breathing
Along with your deep breaths, start counting two or three seconds as you inhale and two or three seconds as you exhale to establish a perfectly rhythmical pattern. You only need to count consciously for a few breaths and the subconscious mind will take over.
8. Shallow breathing
Gradually transition to kevala khumbaka by breathing as shallowly as is comfortable. Kevala khumbaka is the state of natural suspension of breath that advanced yogis experience. In this state your mind will be very calm, because as the breath is calm so is the mind calm. While breathing shallowly you should not feel that you are gradually running out of air. You should always breathe enough to maintain comfort.
9. Allow the Mind to Wander
At the beginning of your meditation session the mind will have a tendency to wander. Within reason you should let the mind go, only gradually gathering it in.
10. Do Not Force the Mind
It is important at this stage not to force the mind to be still. If you try to force it too much it will rebel, making your practice even more difficult. Be patient and persevere. Do not get tense as you practice. Work with your mind, not against it. Try to be a witness of the extraneous thoughts, not being affected by them, but letting them go by as though you are just watching and not engaging with them. This stage can be very difficult, but with proper patience and diligence can be overcome.
Calm the bubbling emotions, sentiments, instincts and impulses through silent meditation. You can give a new orientation to your feelings by gradual and systematic practice. You can entirely transmute your worldly nature into Divine nature. Swami Sivananda
11. Select a Focal Point
Once your mind starts to calm down you should select a focal point, or lakshya, to concentrate on. This is usually either the place between the eyebrows (ajna chakra), or in the heart center in the middle of the chest (anahata chakra). Center your mind in that point, concentrating all of your prana (energy) and attention at that place. As an aid to concentration, it can be helpful to envision in your lakshya a bright white light, your main deity, or your guru.
Most people intuitively select either the ajna or anahata chakras as their focal point. For some people deciding on a focal point is more difficult. Usually more intellectual people will choose the space between the eyebrows and more emotional people will choose the heart center. Once you determine your focal point you should never change it.
12. Concentrate on a Mantra
The last step is to concentrate on a mantra. This becomes your main object of concentration. Everything else should just be in the background of your mind. Keep repeating the mantra until you become totally immersed in it. You should coordinate the correct repetition of the mantra on the inhale, and the correct repetition of the mantra on the exhale. Some people don't have a mantra, and it is acceptable for them to use the universal mantra Om. For some other people it can also be acceptable to concentrate on an uplifting phrase or prayer, coordinating it with your breath.
Try to sit still without moving through the remainder of your meditation time.
How do I meditate when I am travelling?
Many people have asked how they are supposed to keep a regular meditation practice going while they are travelling. They may be on a plane, a train, in an airport, in a car, or a number of places which are not the most conducive to a regular meditation practice.
There are several things you can do while travelling to maintain the regularity of your practice.
Many people travel with a portable altar. This can consist of something as simple as a photograph of your main deity, your guru, and the Om symbol. Or it can be more elaborate and also include a candle, incense and a spiritual book. Setting up your portable altar in the hotel room and meditating as much as possible following the 12 points listed above is then possible.
If your schedule is such that you will be spending the entire day in transit, the next best thing is to sit comfortably in your seat wherever that may be. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, imagining that you are in front of your main altar. Concentrate, and as much as possible follow the 12 points of meditation. Understandably this can be quite difficult, however, the most important thing is to maintain the regularity of the practice - strengthening the samskaras (latent mental impressions) that you will meditate every day no matter what, rather than strenghtening the opposite samskaras that you only meditate when it is convenient and all the conditions are perfect.