Beginning a meditation practice can be daunting, especially if you don’t have a teacher or don’t practice with an experienced group. The mind has been likened to a monkey stung by a scorpion. It jumps around wildly and chatters a mile a minute. It’s easy to give up after trying to calm such a creature. The key, as with anything else in life is the golden virtue of persistence.
First, sit in any comfortable position on the floor or in a chair. It’s best to keep your back erect without the support of the chair if your back will allow it. Try to remain perfectly still allowing not motion whatsoever. Your asana or posture practice will help you build the strength and health of your body so you can do this. That is, in fact, the explicit purpose of asana.
You may close your eyes or leave your eyes open while focusing on a stationary object or just allow your eyes to go out of focus.
Fold the hands or use an easy mudra.
Begin using the three part breath. Allow your belly to be soft. Breathe into your belly; draw the breath up into the solar plexus and heart. Slowly exhale using the abdominal muscles and diaphragm to gently push the air out. Brief deeply enough to adequately supply your needs, and use each breath to become progressively more relaxed. Slow your breath and keep it even and regular.
I recommend using a simple mantra. Two syllables works really well. I use the So Ham (like hum) mantra. It means “I am that.” Silently say “so” as you inhale and “hum” as you exhale. Of course, you may use any meaningful or sacred phrase you choose. Concentrate on the breath, mantra and the motion of your belly and chest.
As you breathe and repeat your mantra, you will notice that the mind can still jump all over the place despite your efforts of concentration. You may forget your mantra and breath and be caught away in some personal drama or see the characters of your favorite TV show floating through your mind. I saw the entire cast of Downton Abbey this morning. When you notice that you’ve lost your concentration, gently bring your mind back to your breath and mantra. As you concentrate, become a disinterested third party witness to the things your mind will do. Give them no weight or importance, simply observe the thoughts and let them go. They will soon be replaced by others; you can be sure of it.
Now, here’s the trick to help you keep your concentration. As you reach the top of your inhalation pause just long enough to notice it. Likewise, when you reach the bottom of your exhalation, pause without beginning your next inhalation for a brief moment. While the breath is suspended for that short span, the mind will remained focused. Suspension of the very act that that keeps you alive brings the attention to the present.
Experiment with the length of your pauses. I usually make the pause after the exhalation longer than the inhalation pause. Breath suspension is much easier after the exhalation because the lungs are nearly empty with no pressure inside them.
As you use this technique, the gallivanting mind will begin to slow down. Lengthen your meditation sessions and you will find that dharana or concentration will transition into dhyana or meditation. Eventually you will experience the ecstatic peace of total absorption into your true nature which is bliss. Meditation helps us to remember who we are.
The path to samadhi will have some bumps in it. Some days the intensity of what the yoga sutras call the “modifications” of the mind are quite resistant to our best efforts. Some meditation sessions may feel fruitless and without effect. During those times be grateful for and enjoy your breath—and most of all persist. You will be rewarded. You will touch your true nature. You will achieve a peace in your life that will give you the strength to be who you really want to be.