Surrounded by mysticism, religion, beliefs, and superstitions, meditation is a pure body state like any other, such as arousal or sleep. In the state of meditation, you can obtain the benefits of this body state which include relaxation, energy, and perspective on your life. Health researchers take meditation seriously in the process of stress reduction and methods to improve overall health. So, how to meditate for brain health and energy?
According to yogic tradition, there are four states of human consciousness.
- The very basic and exoteric is the state of awakens or Jagriti.
- Then comes the state of dreams, (or Svapna) when there is no awareness of the outside world, but the mind is not at rest. The “worlds” of the subconscious and the super conscious are active.
- The third state is that of deep, dreamless sleep, (or Sushupti) when the mind is apparently at rest, but the seed of all mental activities lies dormant. As soon as the individual awakens, and the mind goes into the waking state, the dormant seed sprouts again into the many manifestations of the mind.
- The fourth state of Turiya is not an ordinary one. It is the state when the mind has gone, and there is no longer a sense of “I-ness.”
Tantra and Yoga offer a variety of practices (sadhana) that lead to absorption of the individual mind into the universal mind.
Breath Meditation (Soham Sadhana)
Breathing, both physical and subtle, is made up of two acts: inhalation, in which the air is taken into the lungs; and exhalation, in which the inspired air is driven out of the lungs. The air pushed out of the lungs makes the sound HAM, and the inhaled air produces the sound SAH. The two sounds together make the Sanskrit word HAMSAH (literally “goose”), which is a synonym for the Supreme Spirit. In Indian mythology, the goose is a bird that can separate milk from water, an impossible task. This unique ability of the mythical goose has made it a symbol of discrimination (Viveka) between what is real (the spirit) and what is merely transient (the world of names and forms). Moreover, the goose is pure white and spotless and therefore said to represent the soul.
The ham sound symbolizes the male creative principle of consciousness and is known as the seed mantra of Shiva. The SAH sound represents the female creative principle of energy and is the seed mantra of Shakti. Reversing the word HAMSA, it spells SOHAM in Sanskrit. The word Soham is the famous Upanishadic statement (mahavakya) stressing the identity of the individual soul (Aham = I) and the Supreme Spirit (Sah = That).
The word SOHAM is made up of the following vowels and consonants: s + o + h +a+ m. If you take out the consonants S and H away from SOHAM, we are left with OM, the greatest of all mantras (thought forms). This sacred mantra covers the entire range of articulate sound and is, therefore, the symbol of the cosmic order as understood by the human mind.
At a practical level, the Soham sound that the inhaled and exhaled breaths make can be used as a means of developing awareness. This is traditionally called the practice of spontaneous repetition and is very useful in cultivating awareness and controlling the mind.
This technique is a natural method because no mantras, no mala (rosary), and no initiation are needed. All that is required is to be constantly aware of the two sounds made by the in and out acts of respiration. The sound is always with us and remains constant during all states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. If an awareness of the Soham sound can be kept going through the three states of consciousness, then the individual reaches the fourth state of enlightenment.
Practicing Awareness of the Soham Sound
Choose a clean place, free from noise and other disturbances. The place should be without any unpleasant associations. A naturally beautiful place near a flowing stream or in a grove of flowering trees would be ideal. It can be any time of the day or night. What is important is that the mind should be calm and relaxed.
- To begin with, sit in any comfortable posture, with the eyes either closed or open, as convenient.
- Then breathe in slowly and try to hear the so sound. If at first, you do not hear the sound, try to either imagine it or mentally repeat it.
- While breathing out, the HAM sound can also be heard, imagined, or mentally repeated. Care should be taken to see that the breathing is continuous and the Soham is not broken up like a verbal mantra.
When one becomes conscious of the process of respiration, its rate alters a little. This change can become uncomfortable. If this happens, rest a little and then resume the practice. Ten to fifteen minutes, in the beginning, should become longer and longer until the awareness of the sound becomes natural and spontaneous. When this happens, one might feel that the breath has stopped. But there is no need to worry as this is a sign that the practice has now become natural. This is the Sahaja state. The Sahaja state leads to total awareness of breathing; with the awareness of breath comes an awareness of the nature of emotional, psychological, and physical conditioning. When you are aware of the nature of conditioning of the mind you are free from the bonds of attachment. In freedom is the final meeting of consciousness (Purusha) and energy (Prakriti).
Color Meditation (Varna Dhyana)
Color meditation is considered helpful in maintaining inner calm and in understanding the subtle working of the vital energies of the human body. It is essential to remember that the color meditation is directed toward emotions, and so it is necessary to understand the significance of the colors.
The first color for meditation is red. This color represents all the fiery emotions like anger, passion, lust, hate, violence, and constant activity. The purpose of meditating on this color is to become one with the emotions it symbolizes and to understand these feelings in our psychological makeup. In Indian mythology, red is associated with Brahma, the principle of creation, and the mother goddess, the primary energy of the cosmos.
The second color for meditation is black. This symbolizes all the negative feelings of the human mind. Depression, sorrow, grief, and so on, are all referred to as “dark” emotions. Negative attitudes and emotions are harmful to our physical and mental health. But to overcome them, we must understand them. And to understand them we must accept them. We try to push the negative part of ourselves into the subconscious and project only the good. But merely repressing the negative aspects does not make us free from them. They have to be brought into the open and understood. Any power that is recognized loses its dangerous quality. Meditation on the color black helps us in bringing the dark part of our mind to the surface. Black is a symbol of night, sleep, and death, and hence represents Lord Shiva, the universal power of death.
Having understood and gone beyond the disturbing emotions of passion (Rajas = red) and negativity (Tamas = black), meditate upon white, the color of inner peace and harmony. White is the symbol of Lord Vishnu, the cosmic principle of order and balance. White also represents light and wisdom and stands for purity (Sattva).
Practicing Color Meditation
The method of color meditation is simple.
- Sit in a comfortable posture. We recommend Padmasana or Sukhasana, but any posture will do.
- Then take a large piece of cloth or paper of the required color. Stare at the colored fabric or paper and allow the color to become part of you. Let your entire body take on the color upon you are meditating.
- When you feel that the color has covered you completely with its nature, close your eyes and visualize the color inside you. When you can successfully visualize the color with your eyes closed, you have perfected color meditation. The various physical and psychic benefits will come automatically to you.
Meditation on the Five Elements
Meditation on the five elements (Pancha Mahabhutas) frees the mind from the usual narrow concerns and gives it a sense of its vast potential powers. The human mind is capable of enormous creativity, but unfortunately, most of us are so engrossed in petty, everyday concerns that we have no time to comprehend our hidden potential. Meditation on the natural elements shows us how we are a part of this universe and how we share all the powers of the cosmos.
Practicing the Meditation on the Five Elements
The Laya yoga method of meditation on the elements begins with sitting in a comfortable posture and then imagining that the body and mind are becoming one with the elements. Usually, the most simple element is taken first, and the mind is gradually allowed to move to the more subtle elements until finally it is absorbed into the most subtle element of all: space. As the element meditation moves upward through the body, each element is associated with a color, shape, and divinity, which reveal their universal dimensions.
The first element is earth (Prithvi). This is the primary material from which our bodies are made, and we live in its most visible and solid form. Symbolically the earth represents stability and volume and is therefore shown as a yellow square and is ruled by the lord of cosmic evolution, Brahma. In our bodies, the influence of earth extends from the feet to the knees.
- To meditate on the earth element, sit motionlessly and try to visualize the entire planet Earth as being a part of your body.
- Gradually identify the different parts of the body with the various features of Earth. The streams and rivers are the blood vessels; the forest trees are the hairs on the body, and so on.
- When you feel that your body has lost its individuality and has become this entire planet Earth, then move on to the next element.
The second element for meditation is water (Ap). It is not just the water we see in lakes, rivers, and the sea, but all flowing things. All that is capable of change and can flow has the spirit of water in it. Water is symbolized as a white circle: white because all colors are contained in it; and circular because it represents flow, a return to the source, and rhythm. Water rules the human body from the knees to the navel, and its ruling god is Lord Narayana, the power of perpetual life. The word Narayana also means “moving on water,” and this may be a symbolic reference to the fact that life originated in water, and it still begins in the amniotic fluid that surrounds the embryo. Let your mind and body dwell upon the flow of water, and gradually they will lose their exact shapes and melt away into the rhythms of the universe.
When the mind and body have become liquid, change to the next element, fire (Agni). The rule of fire extends from the navel to the heart and is represented by a red triangle pointing upward to signify its vertical movement. Meditation on fire just after meditating on water brings balance. The cool and liquid nature of the mind is now transformed into heat and activity. The Lord of tears and death, Rudra, rules this element.
- To meditate on fire allow your mind and body to feel the heat rising from the navel to the heart center.
- As you progress in the identification of your body and mind with fire, the body temperature will rise.
- When the body becomes too hot for comfort, change your meditation to the next element, air (Vayu).
Air governs the body from the heart to the area between the eyebrows. It is symbolized as a black or blue crescent and is ruled by Ishvara, the lord of the cosmos. The first three elements have form, but the air is formless and therefore more subtle. Meditation on air brings the mind closer to the formless reality, which is the goal of all spiritual life.
- At first, let your body be fanned by the refreshing air.
- Then imagine that your mind has become very very subtle.
- Allow your body to lose its gross form and become as light as air. You will feel that you are levitating. Air is also the vehicle of the vital energies, so meditation on it will quickly lead you to the final stage of meditation on the elements: the stage of the most subtle, space (Akasha).
Space – Akasha
The space element rules the area above the eyebrows and extends beyond the limits of the human body into space. As space is beyond all human senses, it has no characteristic shape or color. Sometimes, however, it is represented as a point (Bindu) to stress the idea that it stands on the threshold of the manifest and the unmanifest, the seen and the unseen, the unsophisticated and the subtle, and all other such dualities. When the mind is completely identified with the space element in meditation, it is “no more.” This is enlightenment, the final goal of spiritual sadhana. The space element is traditionally ruled by Sadashiva (always auspicious), an aspect of Shiva.
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