While most of us appreciate the value and the need to quiet the mind in Meditation, one of the frequently asked question is how can this be achieved? Perhaps some of us may wonder if this is even possible? Our mind seems to be gripped by incessant flow of thoughts.
A turbulent mind drains precious energy (prana) from the system leaving one feeling depleted and tired. The mind loses its sharpness and clarity. In fact, the uncontrolled thoughts that bombard the mind are not brilliant Nobel-prize winning quality; they are usually mundane and pedestrian! As we move from turbulence to tranquility, the same energy that powered the mind-chatter is now available to us; it can be utilized to create higher levels of alertness and clarity. From this powerful state of mind, highly creative ideas and solutions can be born.
One of the primary reasons why it seems challenging to quiet the mind in meditation is because our awareness gets caught up in the torments of the body and mind.
When we sit to quiet the mind, we become more keenly aware of the discomforts in the body. For example, we become more sensitive to the tension in the muscles, discomfort in the joints or even itching sensations on the skin. The situation is similar to taking a dilapidated car for a drive to enjoy the scenery; our attention is consumed by the torments of the car and we miss out on the scenery. In like manner, we miss out on the inner scenery of meditation when the vehicle called body is not in harmony.
Even when the body feels fine, we find that the mind is clobbered with excessive thoughts. Or perhaps we find ourselves in the other extreme, where the mind becomes lethargic and dull and we fall asleep! Whether we are experiencing excessive thoughts (rajas) or dull mind (tamas), we are not experiencing bliss in meditation.
While we cannot directly force or demand the mind to quiet itself, we can prepare the mind to allow stillness. These preparatory practices create the space for meditation to happen effortlessly. In this regard, meditation is similar to sleep: we cannot enforce it or drag it into our experience, we can only allow it to happen!
The practice of yoga postures (asanas) and breathing practices (pranayamas and kriyas) provide an excellent foundation to allow meditation.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika mentions three benefits of practicing yoga postures: we gain stability (“sthairyam” in Sanskrit), lightness of the body (“anga laghavam”) and freedom from disease (“arogyam”). Each of the the three benefits directly paves the way for a wonderful meditation to unfold. Stability ensures that the body has the strength to sit comfortably, in a steady seated posture, for the entire duration of meditation. Lightness of the body ensures that we are not caught up with the body; the body is so light that we forget the “vehicle” and allow our awareness to be in communion with the “inner scenery”. Lastly, a disease free body removes any impediment towards experiencing harmony. In fact, Maharishi Patanjali mentions illness (“vyadhi”) as the first of the nine obstacles that prevents us from experiencing yoga.
While yoga postures help to prepare the body for meditation, yogic breathing practices (pranayama) help to prepare the mind. Maharishi Patanjali gives two powerful benefits of doing pranayama. First, pranayama removes the layers of dullness (“avaranas”) that cover and obstruct the light of awareness (“prakasha”). By practicing pranayama, we ensure that we enter meditation with a bright and alert mind, devoid of dullness. Secondly, Patanjali says pranayama develops the ability of the mind to be one pointed (“dharana sucha yogyata manasaha”). When the mind is scattered with incessant thoughts, the quality of meditation is poor. We can consolidate the mind in one harmonious unit, free of scattered awareness, by the practice of pranayama. Furthermore, the practice of pranayama empties the mind of unnecessary thoughts. For example, the breathing practices such as kapala bhati leads the mind to a tranquil space called kevala kumbhaka which is characterized by a spontaneous pause in the breath, indicating a calm and serene mind. Pranayama therefore creates a beautiful blend of tranquility and elevated awareness, which is the perfect and conducive environment to allow meditation.
Therefore the sequence of asanas, pranayama and meditation work in synergy to effectively release turbulence and allow tranquility. One could say this is a deadly combination… or more accurately, a lively combination… that creates a powerful experience of yogic bliss!