ARTICLE BY DAWN ARNO
Many of our students assume that as Yoga teachers we are conversant with all aspects of meditation, that becoming a yogi sits hand in hand with a diligent and serious meditation practise. That presumption is not unlike the belief that to meditate one must sit bound in the lotus position, empty the mind of all thought and become terribly serious and austere. Of course we know this not to be the case.
Over my years of practise I have been drawn to meditation both on and off my mat. In my youth sitting in meditation would have been torture for me – it was hard enough just to hold a posture for any length of time. The fire in my belly wanted me to move, run, leap and dance. Trapped in my physical body or in annamaya kosha, a powerful physical practise was most appealing to me.
In those early years I would have said my meditation happened when focus was turned inward during asana practise. In fact that was probably the only time my mind was completely still.
I first became aware of the deep stillness and clarity which can occur during savasana. I now know this to be a glimpse into the state of bliss or connectedness with the soul, my anandamaya kosha. I began to look forward more and more to spending time on the mat. Slowly I found it was not always necessary to be doing something with my body to bring my mind into sharp focus. That it was possible to go inward through the five sheaths of existence and into the centre of my being.
When the five koshas or sheaths of being are misaligned one being more dominant than the other we suffer from disease or disharmony within self. This manifests in many different ways. Health, relationships, poor emotional states, even wealth can suffer.
So often we or our students simply exist in the physical state, anandamaya kosha and there is no dialogue, understanding or communication between these sheaths.
The beauty of our practise is that what happens on our mat is simply a mirror of what is manifest in our lives. Therefore through our asana, pranayama and our meditation practise we can bring our koshas into balance then this will be positively reflected in our material existence. Improved health, relationships even our ability to manifest the kind of life we wish to live.
So how do we get in touch with our internal being, our soul, our blissful state?
By switching off the internal dialogue of the mind and allowing ourselves the time and space to look inwards.
But how is this done?
There are many methods which work but here is a method that has worked for me and my students.
Introduce a few minutes of stillness sitting on the mat before you begin asanas. This grounding brings you to a place of deep pratyahara – concentration.
If necessary turn your attention to watching your breath, perhaps deepening it in preparation for asana.
I tried this with my students in class and was astounded at the results. Their own practise seemed more powerful, intense, authentic. They spent less time examining the postures of the other students and seemed to find it easier to turn inwards.
This simple yet powerful discovery led me to intensify my own personal meditation. I would give myself time each day to just be still, to look inward rather than explore the internal dialogue. I learnt simple techniques which would allow me to become non-attached to the stream of distractions which ran through my conscious thought facility.
At first this was immensely difficult. But having seen the results on the mat with my students I persevered. If by being still for five minutes watching the breath the following asana practise can be so much more focused and intense then how would a daily meditation practise change my own interactions with the world. Would I learn to stop the internal chatter? How would my relationships change, my own Yoga asanas, my emotional health?
The practise began really with my own pranayama. I went right back to basics and began to follow the complete yoga breath. I later learnt that this simple practise which had grounded myself and my students so effectively was utilized in Buddhist Meditation as Mindfulness of the Breath. This wonderful practise is the most basic and yet most powerful of all meditations. Even now after years of meditation and teaching this is the practise I teach first, second and last. There are so many layers of awareness which can be uncovered, developed and utilised that no matter what kind of student you have in front of you. This simple meditation holds the key to a state of bliss.
How it works:
Find a place to sit comfortably. Make sure your spine is fully supported and that you feel relaxed. Place the hands palms up on the knees.
Perhaps decide how long you wish to meditate and set an alarm so you don’t have to wonder what the time is. (Aim to build up to 30 minutes but do as little as 5 if you wish to begin with.)
Gently close the eyes and mouth.
Begin to watch the flow of breath through the nostrils. Perhaps you can feel it brushing the top lip on the in and out breaths..
Sit with this for a while.
Feel the change in temperature of breath, cool on the inhale warm on the exhale
Sit with this for a while.
Notice were the breath moves to in your body. Don’t attempt to change it in any way. You are not looking for a deeper breath or more shallow breath. You are simply trying to become a silent observer of the process of the breath.
Sit with this for a while.
Notice the pause or stillness which sits at the top of each breath, between the in and out breath.
Here the breath is held within the body.
Next notice the stillness which sits at the end of the breath between the out and in breaths.
Here the breath is held outside the body.
Take care not to try to change the pauses between the breaths. We are not trying to make them longer or shorter. There is no reward for a really long retention. They simply ARE what they are.
Sit with this for a while.
If you wish begin to add a mantra to this simple breath meditation. On the in breath hear the sound SO and on the out breath hear the sound HUM.
SO HUM meaning, ‘I am that’.
(Many students who find it difficult to focus on a sensation or in other words are auditory rather than sensory will find the practise of adding the mantra a powerful tool to help them along the road to stillness and internal focus.)
So allow yourself to sit quietly simply being aware of all of these sensations, the sound of the breath, the temperature of the breath, the pauses which sit between the breaths, and finally if you wish too the sound of the mantra.
A word of caution, don’t become attached to any one of the processes. Don’t seek and search for some perfect breath, moment, stillness. Meditation is practise. Sometimes it is blissful the mind sliding easily into a rhythm of awareness a potent and heady connection with the energetic body and the energy of the universe around you. Other times your mind will behave in its own way. The nature of your mind may cause thoughts, sounds, sensations to intrude upon your stillness. This is the job of the mind, to react to stimuli, to consider, ponder, engage in the world around you.
The goal of the yogi is not to dissociate from the physical world but to learn to blend the five koshas. To explore the internal nature of being. By discovering our true blissful nature we must understand that that exploration. That journey takes place within our own bodies. We are not trying to lose our sense of self rather this journey brings us closer to a more authentic way of being. Losing the anxiety, expectation and the fear attached to our consciousness due to the non-reality we each have created around us. We become more peaceful, calmer; we have a genuine sense of wellness, health, and a much greater chance of success in our own reality.
So practise non-attachment. Watch the breath but don’t judge it. See or hear the thoughts but don’t engage with them. Feel the sensations but don’t grasp at them.
And as those moments of bliss arise, those glimpses of bliss which sit between your breaths when you feel connected to your true nature and connected to the universal energy we inhale with each breath don’t cling to it. Just observe it. Practise just being, don’t judge it, analyze it, discuss it, label it, change it, that action of simply just being with it will transform your meditation, your practise, your health it will lead you to a state of bliss.
With these methods in place – the mind discovers a place of sharp awareness, clarity and stillness. All thoughts, fears, anxieties, worry, passion, anger, desire, expectation both your own and that of others will dissolve. You will experience a deep relaxation of body and mind.
In the end the action of letting go and just being, moves you towards your own personal anandamaya kosha. Your own personal state of bliss. Thoughts suspend, breath seems to stop, sensations disappear, the total awareness, connectedness, blending of everything, every being, every single atom is so simple so natural you will wonder at its beauty and simplicity.