What is meditation and why is it so difficult? To keep our body still and our mind focused sounds simple enough; but for those who have tried meditation, we know it is not. Keeping our bodies still can be difficult enough; keeping our mind still can be near impossible. So where do we start? We start with the body. We start here because if the body is not comfortable, that is where the mind will focus. Soon after your thoughts will turn to “how long have I been doing this” and “when will it be over”.
So we need a body position that allows us to breathe freely and does not pull the mind’s attention to it. Lying down might seem ideal, and if you have aches and pains this may be your only option. If the back is curved while lying down, this can cause discomfort and/or restricted breathing. If comfortable in this position, you may simply fall asleep. Sleep is not meditation. In meditation the mind remains fully alert to your surroundings.
The ideal meditative posture is seated on the floor with ankles crossed. If you are not flexible, sitting on a straight backed chair will also work. Sit on the front edge of the chair with the knees hip distance apart and both feet flat on the floor directly under the knees. The chair should be at a height that allows the thighs to be parallel to the floor. Sit up straight with the torso balanced directly over the hips and the head directly over the torso. The back does not rest on the chair but is forward away from it. The abdomen is slightly extended to accommodate the breath. The hands rest on the knees or are folded in the lap with the back of the right hand resting in the open palm of the left. Scan the body for flexed muscles being especially aware of the neck and back muscles. The body should feel balanced and relaxed. Maintaining the position should be effortless.
Meditation can be thought of as deep concentration. The breath is a common point of focus, but you can choose a word or phrase, an object or even visualization. Whatever you choose, the mind will most likely wonder. Just as we train our muscles to stretch and be strong in yoga, our minds need to be trained as well. During a meditation session, you may find yourself so engrossed in a thought that you completely forget you were trying to meditate. When you become aware of this, simply bring the mind back to your focus point. You may find you have to do this repeatedly. It can be very frustrating and you may feel your attempts at meditation are futile. But understand your mind is being trained, and each time you bring it back you are gaining control. It is the beginning step to meditation. With time and practice, the mind will begin to stay focused.
Although thoughts can be a constant obstacle when meditating, another technique is to simply observe your thoughts. Observing means to not dwell, analyze, or become emotionally involved. It means to merely acknowledge that the thought occurred and then let it go. As you begin using this method, you may find yourself pulled deeply and emotionally into a thought. When this happens, bring yourself back to the role of observer. Do not label the thoughts or engage in them in any way. Merely witness and let go.
How long should one meditate? Short periods of time, about five to ten minutes every day, are a good starting point. If possible, be consistent with time and place. Longer periods, at least in the beginning, can be frustrating because most of the session will be spent bringing the mind back to focus. It can feel exhausting. When you begin to experience true meditation, the body and mind are renewed and energized.
Over time, you will start to experience brief moments of pure concentration. When you realize this is happening, it is so exciting that it will probably break your concentration. Do not be discouraged. That wonderful glimpse of pure peace you momentarily felt is a sign that your efforts are working. You are on your way to enjoying the physical and mental rewards of meditation.
A point I can’t stress enough is that our minds are very quick to return to their old pattern of uncontrolled mind chatter. If you stop meditating on a regular basis, all gains accomplished will be lost. When you try to meditate again, you will be starting right at the beginning, as if you had never done it before.
Be patient with yourself while learning. You are in the process of training the mind. A mind that has been allowed to run ramped with thought as it pleased. Control of the mind is well worth the effort. With frequent practice, it will respond and you will be rewarded with an inner peace far beyond that which you’ve ever experienced.
Article Date 06/21/15 by Linda Marrazzo
The chakras are centers of energy in the astral body. The Sanskrit word Chakra is symbolic for a wheel or spinning vortex. There are six chakras located along the Sushumna, or spinal cord, and a seventh at the crown of the head. All are depicted with a certain number of petals, corresponding to the number of nadis emanating from them. Nadis are nerve channels or tubes in the astral body through which prana, or energy flows. Each petal represents a sound vibration produced when the Kundalini energy passes through the chakra. All the chakras except the Sahasara, the crown chakra, have their own color and mantra, or sound, associated with it.
At the base of the spine sits Muladhara, or root chakra. It is portrayed as a lotus with four petals. This chakra is located at the base of the spine in the coccygeal region. The color is red for Muladhara. It symbolizes groundedness, foundation, stability and prosperity. The activating sound for this chakra is LAM. It is here that Kundalini lies dormant.
Next is Svadhisthana, or sacral chakra. It is depicted as a six petal lotus located at the sacrum. The color is orange. It symbolizes movement, connection, desire and pleasure. The syllable sound for this chakra is VAM.
Manipura, or solar plexus/navel chakra is symbolized by a ten petal lotus. The color is yellow and the seed syllable is RAM. Manipura is representive of will, self esteem, power, energy and activity.
Anahata, or heart chakra, is symbolized by a twelve petal lotus and is green in color. Located at the heart region, the sound mantra for this chakra is YAM. It relates to love, balance, self-love, relationship and devotion.
Vishuddha, or throat chakra, is depicted as a 16 petal lotus and blue in color. The sound is HAM. It symbolizes self expression, finding ones voice, creativity, good listening, and the right to be heard.
Ajna chakra, located between the eyebrows, or third eye area, is depicted as a two petal lotus. The color is violet, indigo or deep blue. The activating syllable for this chakra is OM. Ajna relates to intuition, imagination, dreams, insight and vision.
And last, Sahasrara, the thousand petaled crown chakra, is the seventh and highest chakra. Located at the crown of the head, it is depicted as a brilliant white light, or violet in color. The Sahasrara chakra represents divinity, union, vision and understanding.
Activating the chakras allows the passageway for Kundalini to reach the crown chakra. Kundalini, the Sankrit word for “coiled one”, is a primal energy located at the base of the spine. The Yoga Upanishads describe Kundalini as lying “coiled” at the base of the spine, represented as either a goddess or sleeping serpent waiting to be awakened.
As Kundalini passes through each of the chakras, different states of consciousness are experienced. Different traditions teach methods of “awakening” Kundalini. Yoga breathing techniques and practices activate and arouse Kundalini, causing this dormant energy source to rise up through the chakras. When it reaches the Sahasrara, the thousand petaled crown chakra, the yogi attains Samadhi. Still operating on the material plane, the yogi has reached a level of existence beyond time and space. When Kundalini rises to this point, a state of Samadhi is attained, that of spiritual enlightenment.
Article Date September 4, 2015 by Linda Marrazzo & Pat Cail
YOGA - THE PATH TO ENLIGHTENMENT
“HATHA YOGA EXCERCISES ARE DESIGNED IN SUCH A WAY THAT THE BODY BECOMES AN INSTRUMENT FOR TREADING THE PATH OF THE HIGHER LIFE.”
There are many paths that lead to self realization. Some of them are:
KARMA YOGA The path of Action
BHAKTI YOGA The path of Devotion
JNANA YOGA The path of Knowledge
KUNDALINI YOGA The path of Awakening the Latent Spiritual Power
MANTRA YOGA The deep state of Meditation Concentrating on Sound.
HATHA YOGA The path of Using the Body as an instrument for treading the path
of a higher life.
RAJA YOGA The Royal Path
All paths lead to the same place, SAMADHI--enlightenment, self realization, the state of superconsciousness. The focus of this article is on RAJA YOGA, The Royal Path. This path encompasses all of these different paths.
"The teachings of RAJA YOGA were systematized somewhere around 200 B.C. by the sage Patanjali who organized the teachings in 196 sutras, or aphorisms, called the YOGA SUTRA. It concerns itself with three dimensions - physical, mental and spiritual. Through the methods of RAJA YOGA, one achieves mastery of all three realms and is led to full self realization."
RAJA YOGA, is also known as the EIGHTFOLD PATH. It is made up of eight angas, or limbs: YAMA, NIYAMA, ASANA, PRANAYAMA, PRATYAHARA, DHARANA, DHYANA, AND SAMADHI
YAMA consists of five restraints that regulate one's relations with other beings. They are Ahimsa - nonviolence,
Satya - truthfulness, Asteya - nonstealing, Brahmacharya - abstinence from sensual indulgence, and Aparigraha - nonpossessivements.
NIYAMA consists of the five observances one should follow. They are Shaucha - purity, Santosha - contentment,
Tapas - perfection of body, mind and senses, Svadhyaya - knowledge of self, and Ishvavra-pranidhana - surrender to the ultimate reality.
ASANA, or postures, which is the THIRD LIMB of RAJA YOGA, is aimed at the physical well-being and control over the body. This is a prerequisite for a healthy and controlled mind. “Pantanjali has not described ASANA and PRANAYAMA in detail. These aspects of RAJA YOGA were developed later by the exponents of HATHA YOGA who realized that in order to arouse KUNDILINI, the latent energy within, one has to practice and perfect ASANAS and PRANAYAMA, for a sickly and dissipated constitution is an obstacle when one scales the higher rungs of the yoga ladder.“
HATHA YOGA, or yoga postures, are therefore necessary to ensure physical health and harmony as prerequisites for concentration and meditation. There are two types of yoga postures, meditative and postures that ensure physical well-being.
A stable meditative posture, in time, leads to a stable mind as our body and minds strongly interact. The posture should ensure that the head, neck, and trunk are erect and in a straight line. If the body is uncomfortable and unsteady, it acts upon the mind, making it unsteady and distracted. A meditative posture makes it possible to have a motionless body to prevent restlessness from disturbing the mind.
The physical postures control specific muscles, nerves and glands which have a therapeutic effect on the body. Yoga postures take into consideration the internal workings of the body significant to physical well being such as the nervous, endocrine, circulatory, digestive, urinary, and respiratory systems.
PRANAYAMA, also called the science of breath, is the FOURTH STEP of RAJA YOGA. It is the control of prana, or life force, the energy that surrounds us. It is achieved through control of the breath which is the greatest manifestation of prana. Our minds correspond with breath. This can be observed when one is afraid or stressed, the breath becomes irregular. One can only regulate the mind if he can regulate the breath. Through regular practice of yogic pranayama, the breath becomes rhythmic and the mind becomes calm.
PRATYAHARA, the FIFTH STEP of RAJA YOGA, is the withdrawal and control of the senses to protect the mind from distractions during concentration, meditation and SAMADHI.
DHARANA, the SIXTH STEP of RAJA YOGA is concentration. It is the process of bringing the mind, which has the tendency to jump from one thing to the next, to a relaxed state with attention focused on a single object.
DHYANA, or MEDITATION, the SEVENTH step in RAJA YOGA, makes the mind one-pointed and steady. “ It expands the one-pointed mind to the superconscious state by piercing through its conscious and subconscious levels. Meditation is the uninterrupted flow of the mind toward one object or concept, and with this flow intuitive knowledge dawns. All methods of yoga prepare one to reach the stage of meditation, for only through meditation can one reach the level of superconscious mind and hence attain perfection.”
SAMADHI, The EIGHTH and last step of RAJA YOGA, is the state of superconscious where a person becomes one with the Divine and transcends beyond imperfections and limitations. The state of Samadhi, also known as the fourth state of sleepless sleep, transcends the three normal states of waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep.
“He who has attained Samadhi is a blessing to society, for if humanity is to achieve a better civilization, it is possible only through the growth of the inner being.”
Article Date: August 20, 2016 By Linda Marrazzo **all quotes are taken from The Royal Path by Swami Rama