Practicing Yoga and Meditation: Tips for Beginners
How Are Yoga and Meditation Related?
Yoga is the science that teaches us how to know God. The ancient sage Patanjali approached it in a systematic way for the benefit of seekers and as such outlined 8 steps for this process. Hatha Yoga is the third step and is what most westerners use. It is sometimes called Asanas or postures. The first two steps can be put together as Yama-Niyama. It is said in Yoga, that if we do not follow these initial steps, then it is pointless going any further. This has been emphasized as without them, it is impossible to achieve our aim of inner stillness and abiding joy.
Some of us do the exercises to keep fit and to enhance or encourage good health. This is quite useful, providing that is what one is looking for. The purpose of Yoga is equanimity or inner peace. Or, if you like, a state of oneness, constantly, ceaselessly and irreversibly, with one’s True Self or God.
Yama and Niyama are the pre-requisites for Yoga, and require us to do well and abstain from practises that make us weak or kill our joy. Good is that which takes us closer to our true nature, towards the Light, and bad is that which which causes pain; which takes us towards darkness.
The most practical step of Patanjali’s Yoga is called Dhyana (meditation), and this is what we will focus on today. Without meditation, it is extremely difficult to transform our nature. We are all creatures of habits and have cultivated a good few over the years. Meditation, in a sense, allows us to undo that process, through transformation of our lower nature to a more aspiring life, a life lived in God. This cannot take place without yearning. The child cries for its mother and she comes running. The rich man is driven by ambition, and so he becomes rich. So too, progress in meditation requires an inner cry, an intensity or earnestness for Truth or Light.
This naturally becomes apparent when the seeker or Chela becomes dissatisfied with life, or feels that it has not fulfilled his/her quests for something deeper; more meaningful. Without abhorrence for all things material or a wanting to move away from desire and to seek something higher, them meditation will not be fruitful.
While Asanas help, they are not necessary for meditation. One can skip same and go straight into meditative practices. It is rather like being a bright student at school. Anyway, the person who goes straight into meditation, has generally done some work in a past life, and is reaping the results of his/her karma. These are some of the key steps for meditation as I see them.
6 Tips for Meditation and Yoga Practice
- One need to have an intense faith – an unfaltering belief in 'Something Higher'; an intuitive grasp of the Unseen. The longing for this state or goal must be loving and strong.
- One needs to practice Sadhana’s (spiritual practices): prayer, breathing, reading of devotional works, singing, silence and the like).
- A life of selfless service to humanity and a recognition that we are all sparks of the divine. Without service, progress will be slow and uncertain.
- No expectations and a reliance on Divine Grace. This is crucial.
- Practice, practice, practice. I cannot stress this enough. I have practiced meditation every day for the last 34 years! I feel that I have made some progress, but I also feel that much more work has to be done.
- Be humble. Have Zen mind or beginner’s mind. Be an eternal seeker with a simple childlike heart. Here are some necessary tools for meditation.
Where, When, and How to Meditate
- Make a shrine at home, preferably in a quiet area of your house or room. Get a table, a white or blue cloth and spread it on the table. Add candles on either side, or one in the middle. Burn incense and keep flowers on the shrine. Have a picture of your favourite Teacher or perhaps a coloured circle that you like for meditation. You may also wish to anchor yourself (focus), (concentration), on the flame of the candle.
- In Meditation we want to prepare ourselves in such a way that when we rise in the morning and look at our shrine, we should feel preparedness, readiness, satisfaction and above all gratitude. Having a decent shrine in place will help us to feel this.
- Rise at a time which is peaceful, practical and conducive to meditation. This is usually when Mother Nature is most still. 6. a.m is a good time for us in the West, as we all do daily jobs. Still, be an individual. Know your capacity and receptivity. Meditation will teach you this.
- I tend to keep my eyes open. Meditation is not sleep and is infinitely more dynamic. Still, there is no hard and fast rule as long as you are sitting. Lying down can create mental and physical lethargy, and will sometimes send us to a different place: The sleep world. You may also wish to practise gentle breathing and visualization techniques.
- Let your position be a sitting one if possible or if not, then a comfortable one. Avoid aches and pains which will distract you. Do not ‘push or pull’. Simply be. Eyes and shoulders relaxed, back straight and looking gently at the focal point, practice concentration. You may need to do this for 10 or 15 mins. for a few sessions. Remember, meditation begins only when the mind is silent or calm and still. It is rather like being at the bottom of the sea. On top there may be a multitude of waves, but the sea is all serene and still below.
- Dharana (concentration), another one of Patanjali’s eight limbs, is the ability to focus the attention on a fixed point (candle or Teacher), to the exclusion of everything else. In the beginning, it is the concentration which is more important and needs to be harnessed. True meditation begins when this is achieved.
- Meditation will help us all and indeed we all use it for different reasons. Still, it is useful to know that it is a tool with a goal in mind, that of oneness or unconditional surrender to our True Source or God. Nevertheless, the practice of meditation will be useful in all our day to day activities, and will improve our relationship at work, home and with our fellow humans. God speed!!