How to meditate Insights from the Bhagavad Gita and Yogasutra of Patanjali

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Every sadhaka has a personal story to narrate when it comes to the various challenges they face on the spiritual path. Meditation is easy for some but tough for some others. To control the mind or not? To prepare the body or not? Is meditation the goal or the means? There are several questions that arise in the mind of a sadhaka.

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Arjuna has a similar question. Pondering over what Bhagavan Krishna said, he thought that controlling the mind seems to be more difficult than controlling the wind! The Arjuna who just saw the eye of the mind, who shot numerous arrows hearing the cry of his Guru and the one who won the mastya yantra competition during Draupadi’s Swayamvara asks this question. You can imagine the plight of a beginner on the path of mediation!

चञ्चलं हि मन: कृष्ण प्रमाथि बलवद्दृढम् |

तस्याहं निग्रहं मन्ये वायोरिव सुदुष्करम् || 6.34||

The mind is very restless, turbulent, strong and obstinate, O Krishna. It appears to me that it is more difficult to control than the wind.

Bhagavan Krishna gave a simple solution. He said practice and vairagya are 2 important aspects of controlling the mind. Are you thinking “Easier said than done!”. You are not alone. Read our article on the importance of practice. It might be of help here.

श्रीभगवानुवाच |

असंशयं महाबाहो मनो दुर्निग्रहं चलम् |

अभ्यासेन तु कौन्तेय वैराग्येण च गृह्यते || 6.35||

Lord Krishna said: O mighty-armed son of Kunti, what you say is correct; the mind is indeed very difficult to restrain. But by practice and detachment, it can be controlled.

What is meditation

There are numerous ways to understand meditation. In fact, the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra gives 112 ways of meditation and the ways are diverse and inclusive of all kinds of sadhakas.

The Yogasutra talks about ashtanga Yoga:

यमनियमासनप्राणायामप्रत्याहारधारणाध्यानसमाधयोऽष्टावङ्गानि॥2.29॥

yama niyama-āsana prāṇāyāma pratyāhāra dhāraṇā dhyāna samādhayo-‘ṣṭāvaṅgāni ॥29॥

The 8 limbs or dimensions of Yoga include: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Maharishi Patanjali gives a terse definition of each of these dimensions. He defines Pratyahara as a the process by which the indriyas get detached from the external objects, turn inward and focus on the content of the mind. Pratyahaar is basically the withdrawal of the senses.

स्वविषयासंप्रयोगे चित्तस्य स्वरूपानुकार इवेन्द्रियाणां प्रत्याहारः॥1.54॥

svaviṣaya-asaṁprayoge cittasya svarūpānukāra-iv-endriyāṇāṁ pratyāhāraḥ ॥1.54॥

He talks about Dharana as fixing or focusing the awareness on a particular point in space and dhyana as the continuous flow of that vritti or the single focus. In the waking state, we are constantly cognising based on the content that is coming in through the senses. Sensory neurons, that are nerve cells that are activated by stimulus from the environment, send information to the rest of the nervous system. These inputs could be chemical or physical in nature. They respond to sound, smell, light, taste, touch and even mechanical pressure applied on the skin. These signals then travel to the brain and we make sense of them. This cognizing can be impaired due to several problems including the emotions. Clouded by emotions, we may not be develop the right perception of the things in the environment. Hence the mind is prone to destabilising very easily. The tattva bodha talks about the mind as
सङ्कल्पविकल्पात्मकं मनः ।

The nature of the mind is indecision and doubt. The mind keeps oscillating between decision and indecision, doubt and clarity and travels through various emotions. It is always in a state of flux and these fluctuations intensify when focus is on the object of the senses. A loud noise immediately grabs our attention and our mind is filled with the content of the noise and judgements about it (making sense of it). The moment the noise stops, the mind lingers for a while and focuses on something else. The mind is also tuned to negative thoughts and loves them. It feels comfortable in brooding over the same thoughts again and again. Hence quietening the mind is key to meditation. While a no-thought state is best, not everyone is capable of getting it. Hence diverse methods are available to quieten the mind.
देशबन्धश्चित्तस्य धारणा॥Yogasutra 3.1॥

Dharana Is The Mind’s (Chitta’s) Fixation On A Particular Point In Space

Bull's eye | premier-photo.com | Flickr

तत्र प्रत्ययैकतानता ध्यानम्॥Yogasutra 3.2॥

In That (Dharana) The Continuous Flow Of the fix attention/awareness Is Called Dhyana Or Meditation.

Maharishi Patanjali also shares that while trying to focus the mind on a single aspect, several obstacles arise and there are some symptoms accompanying these obstacles as well. He suggests more than one way to take care of these obstacles. Read our articles on these obstacles and solutions.

File:Cranium colored mind.png - Wikimedia Commons

 

How to meditate?

As we saw earlier, there is not one way to meditate. In the Dhyana Yoga chapter (6) of the Gita, Bhagavan Krishna gives us practical tips on choosing the right place, the right attitude and the preparatory steps for meditation. Here is what he says

~ Make an asana in a sacred space

~ Place kusha grass, deer skin and cloth one over the other. In the modern context, we could organic/natural material like darba mats, organic soft cloth

~ The asana should neither be too high or too low

~ Hold the trunk (body), neck and head in a straight line

~ Gaze at the tip of the nose without the eyes wandering

शुचौ देशे प्रतिष्ठाप्य स्थिरमासनमात्मन: |
नात्युच्छ्रितं नातिनीचं चैलाजिनकुशोत्तरम् || 6.11||
तत्रैकाग्रं मन: कृत्वा यतचित्तेन्द्रियक्रिय: |
उपविश्यासने युञ्ज्याद्योगमात्मविशुद्धये || 6.12||
समं कायशिरोग्रीवं धारयन्नचलं स्थिर: |
सम्प्रेक्ष्य नासिकाग्रं स्वं दिशश्चानवलोकयन् || 6.13||

Nasika drishti is a very powerful yogic practice that helps in focus and concentration. Some people may feel a slight headache while doing this as they might be focusing the eye balls on the nose tip for the first time. Over a period of time one gets comfortable with the practice. This practice also helps to activate the mooladhara chakra.

NASI KAGRA DRISHTI | | Yoga Vimoksha Goa

In chapter 5, Bhagavan Krishna talks about the Sama vritti pranayama and focusing on the space between the eye brows.

स्पर्शान्कृत्वा बहिर्बाह्यांश्चक्षुश्चैवान्तरे भ्रुवो: |

प्राणापानौ समौ कृत्वा नासाभ्यन्तरचारिणौ || 5.27||

यतेन्द्रियमनोबुद्धिर्मुनिर्मोक्षपरायण: |

विगतेच्छाभयक्रोधो य: सदा मुक्त एव स: || 5.28||

Shutting out all thoughts of enjoyment, with the gaze fixed in the region between the eyebrows,  equalizing inhalation and exhalation, controlling the mind, senses and intellect, the Yogi becomes totally free from fear and anger.

Pranayama can be sama vritti or vishama vritti. The Inhalation process impacts the sympathetic nervous system and increases the metabolism. It triggers the fight or flight response and hence there is a surge of energy. In contrast, exhalation impacts the parasympathetic nervous system and hence has a calming effect. The sama vritti pranayama balances the excitation and relaxation effect while prolonging the exhalation makes us extremely calm and relaxed.

Deep Breathing | Diagram showing how to do deep breathing. U… | Flickr