Meditation for Yoga
It is important to understand that meditation is not worship or prayer. It is however, a mental discipline by which one attempts to get beyond the reflexive, "thinking" mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness. Meditation is an integral part of any yoga practice as it is one of the eight limbs of yoga (see Philosophy).
In his original work A Map of Mental States, British psychologist John H. Clark characterized meditation:
"Meditation is a method by which a person concentrates more and more upon less and less.
The aim is to empty the mind, while, paradoxically, remaining alert."
Meditation can be described as a state of consciousness that arises when the mind is free of scattered thoughts and various conditioned patterns. To achieve this state of consciousness, the mind needs to become still, thoughts controlled, and emotions balanced.
The Practice of Meditation
The practice of meditation has been proved scientifically to combat stress and stress related disorders as it induces a relaxation response. The relaxation response brings your system back into balance: deepening your breathing, reducing stress hormones, slowing down your heart rate and blood pressure, and relaxing your muscles. As stress is induced by stimulation of the- hypothalamus of the brain, relaxation can be achieved by countering this stimulation - by stimulating other areas of the brain. This is achieved by doing meditation.
Apart from simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind, different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual and/or psychophysical goals -- from achievement of a higher state of consciousness, to greater focus, creativity or self-awareness.
Numerous meditation philosophies and techniques exist; only the most basic will be discussed here.
Various forms of seated cross legged yoga postures are used to meditate in stillness. When seated in a legs crossed posture, a firm triangular base is created for the spine. The spine is erect and all the body parts are relaxed. Hands rest on the knees comfortably. In a comfortable seated meditative position, the mind remains alert, the pelvic region gets a rich supply of blood and abdominal muscles are stressed to the minimum extent. Eyes can be closed or open with a soft gaze.
Often the use of a mantra, which is a repetitive phrase repeated by the practitioner is used in seated meditation. A mantra can be defined as a potent form of thought, an instrument of conscious intention. In its purest form, mantra is a vibration that has an effect on the mental and psychic consciousness. It is a sound or group of sounds that has been passed from teacher to student and has received the teacher's grace. In its less pure form, the practitioner may choose his or her mantra. An important criterion for mantra selection is that it must appeal to the mind fully when spoken verbally. The recitation of mantras can be done aloud, whispered, or mentally, which is deemed best, because it is said to be the most potent.
Using a mantra in meditation has proven helpful in releasing hormones that calm the mind. However, it is also possible to place the mind in a light sleep state through the use of mantra and this in not the intent. Remember, meditation means that you are relaxed as if sleeping, but your consciousness is fully and intensely awake.
For this reason it is also recommended that seated meditation be done in a lit room with sufficient light passing through the eyelids if they are closed.
Trataka meditation is a form of seated meditation that involves a steady gaze on an object or at yourself in a mirror. Whatever the object is - a candle's flame, a distant tree or the picture of an enlightened teacher - the intensity is such that you become totally absorbed by the object. Some practitioners find that the use of a mirror virtually doubles the power of their meditation sessions. The best way to do this is to sit in front of a mirror and gaze into the reflected image, setting your focus just above the head so that you view the wall behind you. Looking directly at the face or eyes may be too intense. Using this technique one only views the physical body as a shadowy peripheral silhouette.
When you practice the yoga asanas, or postures, you are both preparing for meditation and performing a meditation in and of itself. Each posture is designed to create a unity between body and mind. It is through practicing the various postures and following the breath within the postures that a balance between movement and stillness is achieved. The postures are dynamic, yet as you practice, you are perfectly poised between activity and non activity. The Yoga Sutras teach that each posture reflects a mental attitude, whether that attitude be one of surrender, as in a forward-bending asana, or the strengthening of the will, through backward-bending postures.
In both the asana or moving meditation, and meditation in seated stillness, focus is on the breath as a way to take the mind away from the constant mind chatter we continuously engage in.
There is no set time limit in meditation. While forty minutes is said to be ideal, a simple ten or fifteen minutes breathing meditation can help you to overcome your stress and find some inner peace and balance.