Archive | Meditation

Meditation Articles

I recommend two articles available online.

Here Comes the Sun by Richard Rosen
Richard Rosen, the author of THE book on yoga breath (The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama), wrote a delightful and enlightening article on the sun salutation for Yoga Journal. As the sun returns to us, this first week of spring seems an especially appropriate time to remind ourselves about the origin of this basic yoga sequence called Surya Namaskar. Surya – sun; namas – salute (same root as namaste which means literally “I salute you.”)

Here’s a sample – The outer sun, they (ancient yogis) asserted, is in reality a token of our own “inner sun,” which corresponds to our subtle, or spiritual, heart. Here is the seat of consciousness and higher wisdom (jnana) and, in some traditions, the domicile of the embodied self (jivatman).

It might seem strange to us that the yogis place the seat of wisdom in the heart, which we typically associate with our emotions, and not the brain. But in yoga, the brain is actually symbolized by the moon, which reflects the sun’s light but generates none of its own. This kind of knowledge is worthwhile for dealing with mundane affairs, and is even necessary to a certain extent for the lower stages of spiritual practice. But in the end, the brain is inherently limited in what it can know and is prone to what Patanjali calls misconception (viparyaya) or false knowledge of the self.

To read the full article, click here. http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/928_1.cfm

The Complete Package: Meditation and Yoga by Cyndi Lee
This piece originally appeared in the July 2001 issue of Shambhala Sun. Written by my former teacher and mentor in New York City, Cyndi Lee includes this vivid episode about a frightening accident as a spark for why one practices yoga and the variety of benefits. What she describes here echoes my own experience with yoga, though I’ve never been dumped unexpectedly into the rapids of a river. She sets forth her ideas about how yoga can be meditation in movement and how to approach your physical practice with a sense of curiosity rather than judgments measured against goals. She’s a wise yogini, and I encourage you to read the full article here. http://www.purifymind.com/CompletePackage.html

Why Both Meditation and Yoga?

I recommend to you this essay, The Complete Package: Meditation and Yoga by Cyndi Lee, which originally appeared in the July 2001 issue of Shambhala Sun. If you’re not aware, Shambhala Sun is a magazine on Buddhism, culture, meditation and life.

Written by my former teacher and mentor in New York City, Cyndi Lee includes this vivid episode about a frightening accident as a spark for why one practices yoga and the variety of benefits. What she describes here echoes my own experience with yoga, though I’ve never been dumped unexpectedly into the rapids of a river.

She sets forth her ideas about how yoga can be meditation in movement and how to approach your physical practice with a sense of curiosity rather than judgments measured against goals.

She’s a wise yogini, and I encourage you to read the full article here.

Why Meditate?

At the Washington National Cathedral’s spirituality conference this past weekend, Sharon Salzberg noted that medical science has been studying the neurophysiologic benefits of meditation with MRIs and brain wave studies. As one of the foremost meditation teachers in the United States, she fretted that they’d put her in one of those machines and find the wrong parts of her brain activated. She got a good laugh at that.

With alpha, theta and beta wave increases, science documents what the ancients observed for centuries: People who meditate enjoy calm and focus as well as improved creativity and increased ability to vividly imagine.

Meditation frees the mind from turbulent desires, emotions and thoughts. The mental muscles that contort, strain, tense as they judge, rationalize and defend all relax. A time set apart to meditate also can bring unconscious thoughts into conscious awareness.

Salzberg stresses that if you learn nothing else from a meditation practice, you learn that you can begin again.

In meditation, you begin again all the time, and in doing so, you experience renewal that permeates your life.

For me, that sense of renewal is the best reason to meditate.

How To Sit in Meditation

Many postures are available for sitting meditation. Walking meditation produces wonders as well but is a subject for another nilambu note. (I walked the labyrinth on the floor of the Cathedral for the first time this past weekend).

Some believe that the purpose of yoga is to prepare the body to sit; others come to meditation thru yoga as meditation is the 7th limb of yoga, dhyana. However you come to meditation, any pose you pick must comfortable enough for your body to relax.

In order of difficulty, several sitting poses are:

Friendship pose
maitryasana
Sit on edge of chair with hip, spine, neck and head in one line. Feet flat on floor. Hands rest on thighs.

Adamantine pose
vajrasana
Kneel and sit on a bench that is 5-8” off the floor and which is tilted forward.
(Adamantine means unyielding or hard and brilliant, as in a diamond)

Easy pose
sukasana
Sit with the legs crossed and folded in front of you. Sides of feet rest on floor. Knees point toward ceiling at 20 or 30 degree angle.
(Called Indian style when I was in Kindergarten, but probably no longer called that).

Auspicious pose
swastikasana
Sit in a tighter cross legged and rest the feet not on the floor but on the back of the opposite calf. Heels should be about 4” apart. Knees rest flat on floor.

Accomplished pose
siddhasana
Hard to describe and challenging to do.

Lotus Pose
padmasana
Also hard to describe, but more commonly known.

If you can’t sit because of illness or pain, you can lie down. I recommend lying on your back, with the soles of your feet on the floor (or bed) and knees up toward the ceiling. Place your palms on your belly, below your navel and gently interlock your fingers.

How To Meditate

Meditation is prolonged concentration. You can concentrate on a sound (or mantra or prayer beads) or an image (icon or a candle) or a passage of writing (or scripture). Or you can simply focus on your breath.

As your mind wanders (and it will), once you notice that meandering simply bring your attention back to your point of focus. Be neutral and non-judgmental toward your distractions. Simply begin again. See the analogy quoted below about the quality of the mind in meditation.

Some recommend that if you are feeling sluggish to place your palms up either in your lap or on your knees or thighs. And if you are feeling hyper to place your palms down and on your lap, knees or thighs.

Also, before I sit down on my mat alone, I often jot down my list of things to do. I found that if I don’t do this, all the things I’d not done would pop into my head during my meditation, and then I would worry I’d not remember them later. And the train would be off away from my object of focus. I keep a pad of paper nearby, so I can jot thoughts down and let them go. Thoughts will arise. Some thoughts are easier to let go if I know they are safely written down.

Start with a short time. For beginners, 3 minutes can seem like an eternity. Add minutes and work up to 10, 15, 20 or 30 minutes. Some meditate 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night. Some do a prolonged single session. Others combine their meditation with a practice of prayer or journaling. Some meditate every day; some when they remember to do so.

The more you meditate, the more the people in your life will notice that you do.

Why be Still in Meditation?

Stillness in the body helps to bring stillness in the mind. I don’t view this as an absolute proscription.

If you are in a room with others, be considerate and respectful that any movement disrupts their concentration.

A foot asleep is a distraction for you and should be addressed – just do so as unobtrusively as possible. Even if you alone, still try not to move.

Going to start a meditation practice?

This quote from Dennis K. Chernin’s excellent book, How to Meditate is the most helpful image I’ve encountered in my broad reading on the subject.

In the aftermath of the tsunami, the ocean as a reflection of the mind may seem dissonant, but read on and contemplate his analogy –

The benefits of meditation can be understood by the following analogy. The human mind is like the ocean, the conscious mind representing the surface of the sea and the innumerable fluctuations of thought and emotion representing the ocean waves. Lying beneath the surfaced is the unconscious mind, analogous to the deep and submerged ocean expanse. The turbulence of thought waves obscures the depths of knowledge underneath the conscious mind in a similar way that ocean waves make it impossible to see beneath the ocean surface. The process of meditation calms the tumultuous ebb and flow of the mind’s outer layer of wave activity like a calm day quiets the ocean surface. Unconscious repression and habits deep within the mind are allowed to rise to the surface to be observed, in a similar way that bubbles and currents rise and dissipate on the ocean surface. Since no energy is supplied to suppress them, the bubbles gently burst and dissipate. The dispassion averts the creation in the unconscious of further increased psychological pressure that can produce exaggerated emotional reactions, like tidal waves in the ocean. The conscious mind becomes quiet and still, and the deeper mysterious layers of the unconscious can be observed and experienced, similar to the way the ocean depths become visible on a calm, wind-free day. Finally, the individual, separate self merges with universal consciousness, like a wave that merges with the great ocean expanse. – Dennis K. Chernin, How to Meditate (Ann Arbor: Cushing-Malloy, 2002) pp. 34-35. (Used by permission)