by Dean Rosenwald
There has been widespread growth and acceptance of yoga in the western hemisphere over the past 4 -5 decades. Many people have made their yoga practice their primary method of staying fit, healthy, and in shape, but yoga practice is much more than the practice of different poses and postures - asanas in Sanskrit. In fact, asanas are just one of 8 spokes in the wheel of yoga. One’s life can change by starting to practice yoga asanas everyday, but to truly obtain all the benefits yoga has to offer, it is important to practice the other 7 spokes as well. Probably the next most commonly known spoke on the yoga wheel after asanas is Meditation.
Meditation, or Dhyana in Sanskrit, refers to the practice of turning one’s attention inward and focusing things inside the body and mind, as opposed to outside the body and mind. In order to do this, especially for people just starting a meditation practice it is important to close your eyes. Receiving visual stimuli in your visual cortex is by definition external to the body, and images, particularly movement can be a major distraction to the experience of meditation. So for starters, keep the eyes closed.
With the eyes closed, get into a comfortable position, one that you will be able to stay in for a minimum of 15 minutes. This can be either seated or lying down. Most people think of the cliche image of a monk sitting with their legs crossed with their hands on their knees making a little circle with their thumb and index finger. This is unnecessary. For starters I would recommend lying down on your back, or sitting with your back supported somehow, preferably in a chair.
There are many different ways to practice breath but during meditation it is usually best to breath as normally and as consistently as possible. Despite that, it is also best to always begin your practice by grounding yourself with three very deep breaths. Start each breath by breathing deeply into your stomach diaphragm and filling it up completely by slowly pressing your stomach out coinciding with your breath. Next, expand your ribcage slowly in the same way, coinciding with the same breath as wide as you can go. Last inhale your final sips of air into your throat. Hold your breath in here for a minimum of 3 seconds and exhale slowly in the exact opposite order of the inhale. Exhale should be compressing the throat diaphragm, then the lungs, and lastly compress the stomach. Hold your breath out here for a minimum of 3 seconds also. For reference the inhale and exhale should take twice as long as the time you are holding your breath in or out i.e. 6 seconds. Repeat this process of inhaling into the three parts for 6 seconds, holding for 3 seconds, exhaling for 6 seconds, and holding for 3 seconds 3 times before you begin your meditation. This breathing practice is called Three Part Breathing. Work your way up from 3 - 6 to 6 - 12 over time. Once you complete your 3 deep breaths, you should begin breathing normally and counting your breaths.
This is a major part of meditation that often gets ignored even by the most frequent and seasoned meditators. Setting an intention is huge for manifesting your goals, or receiving what you want to receive out of meditation. Take a moment to research what potential benefits regular meditation practice has to offer. Once you have a decent grip on this myriad of mental and physical health benefits, you can start to think about what you hope to achieve through meditation. By setting an intention at the beginning of your practice, you are setting yourself up to literally accomplish whatever you set out to accomplish through meditation.
Once you have completed your intention setting with your centering breaths, switch to the most normal, relaxed breathing you can. At this point, bring all of your attention and focus to your breath. Begin counting each individual breath saying the number in your head both during the inhale and during the exhale - so say each number twice. Only count up to four and then repeat. It should sound like this in your head: one - one, two - two, three - three, four - four, one - one, etc. This is essentially the last piece you need to start meditating on your own.
During your practice you are bound to get distracted by any and everything around you. Itches, sounds, smells, and even tastes will come into your perception and cause you to think… thoughts. Problems from your life and from your day will arise as thoughts during your practice and distract you from your breath counting, cause you to lose count or to forget to stop at 4. None of these are serious issues, the important thing is to keep going. If you find yourself having forgot to stop counting at, say 9, just start back at one. It is important to view these not as mistakes, but as a necessary part of the learning experience. These thoughts and distractions will come less and less often, and external sensory stimuli will begin to have less of an effect on you as you begin to gain a greater control of your mind and mind-body connection.
Many people use timers to ensure they meditate for a specific amount of time. For beginners this is a great method to start practicing. Another, more advanced and possibly more efficient technique is to stop meditating at the point when you believe you are in your deepest meditative state. Worded another way - stop your practice when you feel you are benefitting the most from your meditation. This idea may seem counterintuitive, so simply use a timer if you are having difficulty understanding.
It is important to note that these tips are advice for people beginning their practice, who have little to no experience meditating, or for those who have had serious difficulty practicing in the past. There are infinite techniques and methods to meditations - the ones presented in this article have been tried, honed, and perfected over 12 years of practice. Breath counting is just the tip of the iceberg, as meditation can reshape ones life entirely. Using visualization techniques you can make things happen in your life through meditation.