WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEDITATIVE rest and sleep? The distinction is profound.
First, their similarities. Oxygen consumption during both decreases.[i] The difference is here. During sleep, oxygen consumption drops about 8 percent gradually over 4 to 5 hours. During meditation, it plummets 10 to 20 percent in the first 3 minutes.
Only meditation has proven to produce such an efficient result.[ii]
Scientific studies have shown that these results are brought about universally in almost all forms of meditation. They aren’t exclusive to any particular brand or creed.[iii]
Being given a ‘secret’ mantra, for instance, by a teacher or guru makes no difference to the results. You get the same benefits of stress reduction even if you choose the mantra or symbol yourself.[iv]
As I’ve mentioned before, yoga is not a religion.
It’s a principle. Like gravity. Or love. Or compassion. It’s no-one’s and everyone’s property. That’s why it’ll work even if you don’t believe in any particular faith or guru. That’s the beauty of principles.
Even Patanjali promoted self choice. He gave people the freedom to become their own teacher and choose their own focus of meditation. That’s empowerment. That’s liberation and enlightenment beginning right there even before you’ve begun your practice.
Indeed, yoga is liberation on steroids. Still, if you choose, you can have as many teachers on your journey as you wish. They can be very helpful. When you’re ready, some can take you to your destination in a fraction of a moment.
For instance, just as yoga’s ancient postures remain unclear, so are its meditative techniques. The descriptions are obscure and esoteric. They describe inner energy centers (chakras), rivers (nadis), and the omnipotent Serpent Power, the Kundalini. Awakening this power and nudging it upwards from the lower spine to the head would release the astounding energy and bliss of samadhi.
Certainly, such mysterious techniques should not be attempted unless under the supervision of a genuine master.
For our health-based purposes here, we will only describe the easy, safe, evidence-based meditation techniques prescribed by medical professionals. These scientific studies have demonstrated that meditation brings about deep tranquility and helps treat many medical conditions. (Please remember, always consult your physician first.)
Scientific studies show there are four simple components of effective meditation.[v]
- Quiet surroundings.
If you are a beginner, this helps reduce the distractions you encounter while performing meditative techniques such as repetition of a word, phrase, or mantra. It makes focusing easier. As you get better with practice, you’ll be able to meditate in almost any environment.
- Comfortable seating.
Lying down is not advisable because you might fall asleep. A comfortable posture such as sitting upright in a chair or cross-legged on a comfortable surface is recommended.
- Mental tool.
This could be either of two things: a mantra or symbol. A mantra is simply an uplifting word or phrase. It could be love, laughter, peace, harmony, compassion, I am love, I am loved, I am successful, I am, I will succeed, I will lose weight, I am getting thinner day by day, I am getting better day by day. (You can abbreviate the ‘I am’ to I’m. There are no strict rules.)
You can also use these: my yoga posture is beautiful, I love my body, I love myself, etc. Plus, if you add awareness of your breathing rhythm and synchronize it with your mantra, it enhances your recitation.
All the above are examples of uplifting mantras.
Alternatively, you can use an uplifting physical symbol. It doesn’t have to reflect the values suggested in the mantras. It can be anything else you might find inspiring: a cross, om (aum), candlelight, flower, mountain, river, yoga pose, laughing Buddha, or simply a printed version of the above symbols. Anything whatsoever, said Patanjali.
But as I’ve mentioned earlier, an exciting or arousing symbol would probably be counterproductive. You want to look for something tranquilizing.
Why do I need to repeat a mantra? you might ask.
The reason’s simple, but ingenious. Repetition reminds you to rein in your mind when it wanders off from your object (mantra or symbol) of meditation. Repeating the mantra disturbs the distraction. It reminds you to come back to your subject of focus. Refocusing trains the mind to stop wandering and become still like a ‘candle flame where there’s no wind.’ Gazing upon the symbol does the same thing. Stillness, of course, leads to reduced stress.
- Passive approach.
This is the most important component of your meditation practice. You must let go of the results. You shouldn’t strive to be successful in meditation. You shouldn’t force yourself to relax or experience tranquility. That will defeat the purpose and no physiological or psychological rewards will be noticed.
So what should you do if your mind keeps wandering? Don’t be judgmental. Don’t worry about it. Simply draw it back and focus again on the mantra or symbol.
It doesn’t matter that your awareness of these will initially comprise just a fraction of the period of your practice – most of it spent daydreaming. Eventually, your mind will become trained and disciplined. Focusing on your mantra or symbol and stilling your mind will become effortless. It’ll be as easy as flipping a switch or turning down the volume till it’s barely audible.
Now, I’ll show you a practical way to implement the above tools. Following is a safe and simple generic meditation technique outlined by Harvard’s Thorndike Memorial Laboratory. It’s an ancient technique and scientists claim no innovation.[vi] It works as effectively as any culturally, religiously, or spiritually nuanced meditation.
There’s no magic going on here, no voodoo. It’s a pure principle of science. Non-dogmatic yogis discovered it millennia ago.
Meditation is a feast.
It’s of two sorts: with spirituality and without.
In Buddhism, it’s usually without. It’s called ‘mindfulness’ meditation. This doesn’t mean yoga meditation isn’t mindful. It is. It just hasn’t been named that way. Mindfulness is central to both traditions.
In Buddhist meditation, you commonly focus (become mindful) on the one undeniable and most immediate physical fact – your breathing. You let go of all other peripheral facts. This simple one-pointed focus brings your mind to rest, stillness, and calm.
Remember, it’s not the thought or object of meditation itself, but the focusing on it that calms your mind.
In yogic meditation, you usually focus on the one most inspiring and divine fact – something spiritual. You let go of all other peripheral facts. This one-pointed focus brings your mind to rest, stillness, and joy.
Nevertheless, according to the Yoga Sutras, you don’t have to choose something spiritual. You can choose anything you prefer.[vii]
Even your physical breath.
Says Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras: yatha abhimata (“according to [your] preference”).
This means Buddhist meditation on the breath is a technique accommodable within Ashtanga Yoga – as long as there is also a surrender to a higher power or the universal consciousness.
Patanjali says, ishvara pranidhanaya (“prostration to God”).
In other words, to be a yogi, one doesn’t have to meditate on the spiritual, but one should at least believe in the spiritual.
Following then, are eight simple steps (not to be confused with the eight steps of Ashtanga Yoga) scientifically proven to bring about tranquility of mind and reduced levels of stress.
When practiced regularly or frequently, it will change your life!
EASY, EIGHT-STEP MEDITATION TECHNIQUE
Step one. Sit comfortably in a quiet place.
Step two. Shut your eyes. (Not required if you’re using a physical symbol.)
Step three. Relax your muscles from your feet upwards to your face.
Step four. Breathe deeply and naturally through your nose. As you breathe out, say your mantra (in your mind) or focus on the image. Try to be aware of your breathing.
Step five. When you inhale, let your belly inflate first and then your chest and shoulders. This is called abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing.
Step six. Do this for 10 to 15 minutes. Do not use an alarm. Simply open your eyes to check the time.
Step seven. When you notice you’ve been distracted, don’t worry or become anxious. Simply focus again on repeating the mantra or gazing at your object. Soon, relaxation will become quite automatic.
Step eight. After completing your practice, do not immediately standup. Wait a few minutes. First, sit quietly without repeating the mantra, with your eyes closed. Then sit for a short while with your eyes open. Then stand up.
Tip: do not practice these meditation techniques within two hours after a meal. Studies show that the processes of digestion tend to interfere with bringing about meditation’s physiological, relaxing effects. (The yogis said the same thing.) Try to practice meditation at least once or twice a day.[viii]
That’s it! This is all you need to do to relieve or reverse many serious medical conditions and to experience calm and happiness.
There’s no secret. It’s well documented. It’s science.
Fortunately, it’s not rocket science either and anyone can do it.
Best of all, it’s so simple, you can probably learn it on your own. There’s no need to pay anybody to teach you. It’s free. Yet its rewards are priceless and can transform or even save your life.
Though the Yoga Miracle comes free, a good way to thank mother yoga is to show it to somebody else. Pass on the love. The benefits they’ll derive will be invaluable. Their blessings will shower upon your head as a bonus. Remember yoga’s principle of compassion and karma: what goes around, comes around. When we help each other, we all live in a better world. Teaching or spreading the goodness of yoga might be the most compassionate act you can do.
A yogi went for his daily bath in a local stream. While bathing, he noticed a scorpion fall into the water. It was drowning. Cautiously, he tried to lift it out and place it back on land. But every time he brought his hand close to the scorpion, it would try to sting him. Yet, the yogi would try again. Many people gathered to view the spectacle.
After some hours, one tired person said, “Sir, why do you keep trying to save its life? Just let it drown. It’s trying to sting you.”
Replied the yogi, “It’s in its nature to sting. It’s in mine to help.”
Compassion is the perpetual nature of a true yogi.
~ By Sanjay C Patel, former monk and author of the bestselling: The Yoga Miracle – How Yoga and Meditation Bring You Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Wellness.
[i] Herbert Benson and Miriam Z. Klipper, The Relaxation Response, William Morrow Paperbacks, February 8, 2000, p. 112
[ii] Herbert Benson and Miriam Z. Klipper, The Relaxation Response, William Morrow Paperbacks, February 8, 2000, p. 112
[iii] Herbert Benson and Miriam Z. Klipper, The Relaxation Response, William Morrow Paperbacks, February 8, 2000, p. 117, 171-2
[iv] Herbert Benson and Miriam Z. Klipper, The Relaxation Response, William Morrow Paperbacks, February 8, 2000,, p. 117, 171-2
[v] Herbert Benson and Miriam Z. Klipper, The Relaxation Response, William Morrow Paperbacks, February 8, 2000, p. 170-1
[vi] Herbert Benson and Miriam Z. Klipper, The Relaxation Response, William Morrow Paperbacks, February 8, 2000, p. 172
[vii] yathaa abhimata, The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, 1.39, translation by Manilal Nabhubhai Dvivedi, Samaladas College, Bombay Theosophical Publication Fund, 1914, Digital Library of India, http://www.new.dli.ernet.in/
[viii] Herbert Benson and Miriam Z. Klipper, The Relaxation Response, William Morrow Paperbacks, February 8, 2000, p. 173