Yoga Sutras 1:1; Atha Yoganusasanam
Now the exposition of Yoga is being made
Yoga Sutras 1:2; Yogas Citta Vrtti nirodhah
Conscious mastery of the thoughts arising in the mind is (a large part of) Yoga
Conscious mastery of the thoughts means that you learn how to calm the mind and then you can create the thoughts that you want to, instead of being a slave of the mind.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a powerful tool that has been taught by many spiritual and health traditions to calm the chattering mind, calm and relax the body, and create a contact with the deeper, universal, Eternal, Immortal One Self (The Totality of Existence).
Meditation can help us restore holistic balance and health, improve our intelligence and creativity, allow us to heal ourselves and others, and improve every area of our life. It gives the mind a time to calm down so that you can respond to life from a higher, natural intelligence that we all have. Every organ needs a rest and that includes the brain (the thinking mind). Meditation allows us to give our brain (and mind) a much needed rest, so that it can refresh itself and improve it's naturally intelligent responses to life.
BENEFITS OF MEDITATION FOR REDUCING STRESS
Scientific studies overwhelming support meditation practice to reduce stress, recover from or prevent certain diseases, and improve overall health. One such study, at the University of Massachusetts Mindfulness Stress Reduction Program, included positive results from over 13,000 people. Other research studies indicate that people who practice some form of meditation outlive those people who do not.
Herbet Benson, a Harvard cardiologist, conducted research that showed a variety of different types of meditation produced, what he called "the relaxation response" (also read: Relaxation Breathin). This response includes a significant decrease in the levels of cortisol and other stress hormones within the body, as well as generating calmer breathing and heart rate, a decline in blood pressure and relaxation of muscles. Moreover, in 2005 researchers at Yale University used MRIs to scan the brains of 20 people who meditate daily, comparing their brains to a group of people who did not meditate.
The scans showed that the meditators had a thicker grey matter in the cerebral cortex and in an area of the brain linked to emotions and attention. These were ordinary people with jobs and families. The researcher Jeremy Gray observed, "Daily meditation actually creates the physical changes in the brain, growing new cells in regions responsible for concentration and making sense of the world."
Specifically with regard to stress reduction, researchers from West Virginia University carried out a study of 62 people, which involved an 8-week course where participants learned 4 types of meditation, some basic hatha yoga postures, and how to use meditation in their normal lives once the course has finished. Results showed over half the subjects experienced a drop in stress and psychological stress, by an average of 54%. The study also showed a 46% drop in the medical symptoms they had experienced as a result of stress.
Studies have also been done that show how meditation can decrease stress in the workplace. One 3 month study of managers and employees (of one large and one smaller company in the USA) who regularly practiced meditation, showed that the meditators displayed more relaxed physiological functioning, greater reduction in anxiety, and reduced tension on the job, when compared to control subjects with similar job positions in the same companies.
FINDING THE RIGHT MEDITATION FOR YOU
There are lots of different kinds of meditation, some concentrating more on breathing, other on imaging, some use the repetition of words (mantra meditation), and others simply about letting the mind calm down, doing nothing conscious with the mind at all.
What they have in common is that they calm the active, "chattering" part of the mind and connect us to an experience of ourselves that is beyond the personality giving a pleasant connectedness to life, the universe, and everything.
There are many meditation teachers, books, media (DVD, CD, etc..), and websites that promote and explain different types of meditation. Look in your local health food store and telephone directory, and the internet to find meditation teachers in your local area. Talk with them and if you like the sound of it, try 2 or 3 lessons with them. It may take a while to find the meditation practice that is right for you. Probably best of all is to ask people that you respect if they have ever done any kind of meditation and how they got on with it.
Calming the mind
DIET: The next part of our life to modify for calming the mind is our diet - everything that we put into the body. Yoga suggests a "sattvic diet", a diet that does not overly excite (stimulate) or dull the body and mind.
It is suggested to reduce or avoid the following foods:
- Red meat
- Coffee (only two cups a day if necessary)
- Stimulant drugs
- Very spicy meals
- Heavy, sugary desserts
Eat healthy, fresh meals of sensible portions and leave about 30 minutes between finishing your meal and meditating.
ETHICAL CONDUCT: This is covered by the first and second limbs of Ashtanga Yoga - Yama (don'ts) and Niyama (Do's), but further HOLISTIC PURIFICATION is recommended.
By holistic purification and following Yama and Niyama, we reduce the outer and inner disturbances due to unethical conduct. The conscience is clean and we are free from guilt, shame, regret, the consequences of selfish and negative actions, and other afflictions to peace caused by unethical, immoral behaviour. We don't call them the deadly sins for nothing!
RELAXING EXERCISE: A little relaxing exercise each day does wonders for calming the mind. Many meditators do one or more of the following recommended exercises several times a week:
- Hatha Yoga routine
- Tai Chi
- Walking in nature
- Or any other relaxing, non-competitive, non-straining physical exercise
BREATHING: The most effective, safe, healthy, and FREE way to calm the mind is to learn and practice relaxation breathing. Simply by making the outbreath two seconds longer than the inbreath, the body's natural relaxation system is triggered. As your breathing deepens try to make the outbreath twice as long as the inbreath without straining. You will soon be in a deep relaxation with a calm mind.
In Yoga, conscious breathing techniques are called "Pranayama" and it is the fourth limb of the eight limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga).
Health benefits of Meditation
Although meditation is usually recognized as a largely spiritual practice, it also has many health benefits. The yoga and meditation techniques are being implemented in management of life threatening diseases; in transformation of molecular and genetic structure; in reversal of mental illnesses, in accelerated learning programs, in perceptions and communications beyond the physical, in solving problems and atomic and nuclear physics; in gaining better ecological understanding; in management of lifestyle and future world problems.
Some benefits of meditation are:
- It lowers oxygen consumption
- It decreases respiratory rate
- It increases blood flow and slows the heart rate
- Increases exercise tolerance in heart patients
- Leads to a deeper level of relaxation
- Leads to clarity of thought, mastery of the mind, and deep concentration when we need it
- Helps us break unwanted habits
- Good for people with high blood pressure as it brings the blood pressure to normal
- Reduces anxiety attacks by lowering the levels of blood lactate
- Decreases muscle tension (any pain due to tension) and headaches
- Builds self-confidence
- It increases serotonin production which influences mood and behaviour. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, obesity, insomnia and headaches
- Helps in chronic diseases like allergies, arthritis etc
- Reduces Pre-menstrual Syndrome
- Helps reduce depression and unwanted, neurotic, emotional habits
- Helps us gain conscious self mastery
- Helps in post-operative healing
- Enhances the immune system. Research has revealed that meditation increases activity of 'natural-killer cells', which kill bacteria and cancer cells
- Also reduces activity of viruses and emotional distress