The Twelve Principles of Meditation
A peaceful and calm mind, along with a peaceful and calm heart brings a sense of wellbeing, relaxed focus, and increasingly produces a feeling of happiness. Brain wave patterns, happy hormone production accompany many benefits to mind and body. With practice, as the sense of thought and body dissolve into an open and spacious fullness and stillness, a spiritual benefit arises as we learn to achieve a state of presence that is found rather than manufactured, that is beyond thoughts, feelings and changing perception. This state of unified consciousness is the real essence and preparation of true yoga practice and meditation which go further with focus.
“The Self is not the individual body or mind, but rather that aspect
deep inside each person that knows the Truth.”
Swami Vishnu-devananda, renowned Hatha and Raja Yoga authority
and Founder of Interntaional Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres.
The state is best achieved by attaining steady observation of the mind in equanimity and calmness. With practice the benefits can be felt throughout the day and the meditation becomes the anchor point for continuous practice when in action. This is when we gain more freedom from reactivity, changing moods, stress responses, imbalance and disease. Meditation is showed to significantly reduce catabolic decline that accompanies ageing and assist in mental stability and wellbeing. In observing our inner life along with our outer life, we gain more choices in how to respond, so the doing and the being of living becomes a more conscious, progressive and enjoyable journey. We can feel more present and experience things more serenely and deeply.
The key to enjoying and developing this skill is to practice for the sake of practice. You just do it daily and let the results occur in their own time. Like sleep, meditation cannot be forced but allowed to happen. In the meantime it is a short time spent regularly for yourself that will eventually bare ‘flowers and fruits’ of immeasurable benefit.
It is not essential to still the mind completely as a beginner or even intermediate, so do not let ongoing thoughts discourage you. Sogyal Rinpoche, a renowned authority on Tibetan Buddhism, uses the analogy of letting your consciousness be like an old grandparent sitting calmly watching the children (your thoughts) at play. He also has used the analogy of sitting strong and stable, lower body a base and body still like a mountain, your mind the sky and thoughts clouds that come and go. Let them be and if they distract you, then when you realise it just let them be and come back to your practice.
Developing a calm mind is more likely with technique. Therefore a simple technique that provides a focus, synchronicity of breath focus and an inner object of concentration, is the best place to start.
There are many forms and styles of meditation, most of them eventuating in the same result. Swami Vishnu-devananda (pictured) formulated the following Twelve Principles which provide the key points in most meditation approaches and for beginners to achieve gradual results.
- Location – have a dedicated place where you practice regularly to build an atmosphere and place where you will quickly feel the right state with time.
- Time – choose a regular time once or twice a day, when you can switch off from daily concerns during your practice. Dawn and dusk are traditionally ideal times or early pre-dawn and last thing at night.
- Same time and location each day conditions the mind to slow down more quickly and deeply.
- Posture – spine straight and erect but comfortable. Use a meditation cushion for cross legged options can help align the hips and spine, or a firm chair where you can sit upright free of back or arm rests. Feet flat on the floor for chair sitting. Hands are best positioned in cupped the lap or palms up on the thighs where elbows are relaxed, and the shoulders a little back to open the chest slightly. The traditional meditation position is facing North, East or somewhere between.
- Instruct your mind to remain quiet for the duration of your practice. When thoughts do arise, observe them without attachment and maintaining focus as described in the following points.
- Regulate your breathing – start with three to five minutes of deep relaxed breathing, being mindful of each inhale and exhale without any forced holds, and then let it calm down into a natural rhythm. Build up to 30 minutes or more.
- Establish a comfortable contained pattern of gentle inhales and exhales of about three seconds each.
- Once you establish the breathing pattern, maintain this pattern consciously but also let the mind relax and wander a little as forced concentration will make the mind restless.
- Then choose a focal point either in the heart centre (anahata chakra) or between the eyebrows (ajna chakra). You may want to try a session on each until you decide which one is best for you then stick mostly to one location in your practice.
- Hold your attention in one of the above chakra (energy centre) points throughout the session while also moderating the breath as above.
- Allow meditation to come in glimpses and gradually more sustained periods. It will come when the mind is in a state of a clear non-verbal thought as you do your practice. Other sensations will occur which can be noticed and let go of like any random thought. You will still be aware of your practice without mental narrative or wandering.
- After long practice, duality of this from that, of the doer and doing, disappears and samadhi, the superconscious state is attained.
Some people who get agitated with a really active mind can include a mantra, like the sound of OM, to quietly repeat with each exhale and then, after a period of deep relaxed breathing, do silently within. This combined with the breath and point of focus at the anahata or ajna should help occupy the mind so it becomes more single pointedly focused and progressively relaxed. Otherwise the above points should be sufficient to build a good base with time and repeated sessions. There are various techniques to help calm the mind and focus that will be touched on in other articles. However, keep it simple at first and enjoy the journey the above approach will take you on.