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Meditation is a technique for training and exploring the mind and (hopefully) the 'self' or 'that' by using various systems and methods which encourage 'one-pointed' concentration or focus.
'Those who aspire to the state of yoga should seek the self in inner solitude through meditation. With body and mind controlled they should constantly practise one - pointedness, free from expectations and attachments to material possessions.' (1)
As yoga means union ~ those who wish to attain this united state of being are recommended to explore the self ('that') through meditation. The above extract is from the Bhagavad Gita and instructs the practitioner how a state of meditation can be reached by controlling the mind and body using concentration, having no expectatitions or attachments to the results.
What is the Self or 'That'?
The Self or 'That' is 'That which cannot be named'. To experience the Self or 'That' , meditation practices potentially offer practitioners a way of experiencing, understanding, trusting and knowing. The self or 'That' cannot be written about, named or described within the limits of language ~ for further information see the translation of classical texts ' The Upanishads' and ' The Bhagavad Gita'.
Purpose of Meditation
There is only one purpose of meditation ~ to experience 'that' which is also known as Samadhi of enlightment, that aspect of oneself which is unchanging boundless. Although there are many types, styles and paths of meditation such as, meditation in the buddhist tradition, transcendental meditation, yogic meditation practices, meditation through religion, etc, there is always only one 'goal'. That final destination may be given other names or descriptions as there are many pathways, but there is only one outcome. Further, it is recognised in the Eastern philosophies and in yoga texts that the unification offered through meditation may take many life-times. The purpose then of meditation is to experience the journey without the need for expectation or attachment to any 'goal'.
In yoga there are two main meditation practices, active and passive:
Active meditation allow us to meditate in the midst of action ~ when we perform daily duties; when we walk, talk, eat, garden, shop, etc. This is the aim of yoga to allow ourselves to meditate while being involved in the world. This does not mean that duties will not be carried out by us or with any less enthusiasm. Rather, we will offer more focus and attention with increased awareness put to the task ~ action with clarity.
Passive meditation is the aim of sitting with the spine in an upright position (or as erect as possible) and performing a meditation practice. The aim of these practices is to 'still' the ever- chattering mind and make it eka grata (one-pointed). Some general passive meditation practices or tools that can aid the practitioner towards meditation include:
~ Breath practices like watching the breath, counting the breath, observing pauses
~ Sound practices such as extended pranayama practices
~ Sight practices ~ 'Trataka' ~ focusing on a candle/point, focusing on yantras and mandalas (geometrical shapes), focusing on internal vision, Chidakasha Dharana ~ viewing the 'space of consciousness' ~ visualising practices
~ Observational practices like Anatar Mouna (inner silence) and yoga Nidra (psyhic sleep)
Precautions for practising meditation
Generally a yoga teacher will offer meditation practices when they feel the class is ready. Certain prefered conditions are required of the practitioner that include a peaceful attitude, awareness of yamas and nyamas, some attitude of discipline, the ability to maintain a firm comfortable position and steadiness of breath. There are certain practices that may be not suitable for some mental and physical conditions such us the practice of trataka for those who have epilepsy. Other guidance includes regulary practising in a quiet, warm, non- draughty place. Prefered conditions for personal practices are at certain times of the day and some teachers encourage the use of puja (worship) e.g a puja table with spiritual images like yantras, some incense, a candle, a small bowl of rice, flowers,etc. in a special place.