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Meditation

Meditation is the state achieved from intense concentration on a single object until all other thoughts vanish and all that is left is an intense awareness of the object.

For some traditions, that's all there is to it. In yoga, however, the ultimate goal is a bit more ambitious. Meditation is one of the Eight Limbs of yoga outlined in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Called dhyana, meditation is considered the highest practice and is the final step before bliss. James Hewitt, in The Complete Book of Yoga defines the goal of yoga meditation like this: "…meditation means sense withdrawl (pratyahara) and concentration (dharana), sustained into contemplation (dhyana), with the aim of triggering a super-conscious state (samadhi), which is one of intuitive realization of the identity of the individual soul or spirit and the cosmic soul or spirit."

Of course, samadhi may be a long time coming. Frankly, it doesn't matter because there are lots of other benefits to be had along the way. For example, meditation helps reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and improve concentration, clarity and creativity. Or, to paraphrase Patanjali's classic comment about yoga, yogaschittavrittinirodhah -- meditation calms the fluctuations of the mind.

However, meditation is not always easy. The "fluctuations of the mind" do not like to be calmed. It's amazing how many thoughts, how many stories, how many little movies can run through your head in the space between two breaths -- especially when you're trying to meditate. Anne Cushman, a writer for Yoga Journal, once described meditation as being locked in a closet with a lunatic with a megaphone. Fortunately, it's usually not that bad. Usually.

Whether your goal is enlightenment, revelation, relaxation, simple clarity or low blood pressure, the process of mediation puts you in touch with something good and quietly profound.

A simple meditation
Sit in a comfortable position, either in a chair or on the floor, with your back and head straight.
You can "warm up" with a couple of deep breaths, ujjayi pranayama or nadi shodhana.
Close your eyes. Breathe through your nose. Focus on your breath -- cool air in, warm air out. If the mind wanders, gently bring it back to the breath. That's it. Start with a 5-10 minute meditation and work your way up to 15, 20, 30 minutes or more.
A variation that may make things a little easier at the beginning is to count your breaths. Count up to four and then repeat, over and over. You can add an "and" between counts to fill up the space between breaths. It goes like this: inhale (1) - exhale (and) - inhale (2) - exhale (and)…and so on up to four.

Please click for meditation guides and tools.

 

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