2. Meditation - THE tool

It was the year 2001 when I attended my first meditation course, and straightaway I had a fascinating experience meditating on the image of a spiritual teacher. Since then, I have practiced dozens of different meditation techniques. Generally, I would roughly categorize them into two large groups:

1. Meditations that (mainly) serve to change the body and/or the circumstances in which one finds oneself (=self-healing or healing of the circumstances). These meditations involve using your attention, love energy, visualizations, affirmations, etc. to manifest the desired changes.

2. Meditations that (mainly) serve to achieve self-knowledge. These meditations are about bringing attention back to its source, to the awareness behind the appearances - and even beyond that. One realizes that the true Self is beyond all manifested forms. In these meditations, you don't want to change anything; you want to recognize or experience who you really are.

Sutra 2.11 “The active forms of suffering can be overcome through meditation.” or “Through meditation, the painful thought waves are avoided.”
Sutra 2.17 “The identification of the subject with the object is the cause of suffering and should be avoided.”
Sutra 2.25 “When ignorance disappears, the connection dissolves, then the self is liberated.”

Step-by-step instructions for meditation

1. Preparations

I. Find a place to practice where you feel comfortable

Or, if possible, even set up a special place for this and make sure that you are undisturbed during the meditation.

If you want to meditate on the floor, find a soft surface, such as a thick blanket. On this surface, you put something soft that you can sit on (e.g., a thick cushion - a real meditation cushion would be ideal). Of course, you can also meditate on a couch or chair if that's easier for you. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable in your position and that you can relax.

For example, I found a very good meditation spot on my couch, namely at the junction between two parts of the couch. There is a slight elevation there, which minimizes the pressure on my legs and feet on the left and right sides of this elevation. Just try out for yourself where and in which position you can relax best for a longer period of time.

II. The attitude

1. Make sure your spine is straight, as this allows the energies in the main energy channels in the spine (Ida, Pingala and Sushumna) to flow better. It is also helpful if you tilt your chin slightly towards your chest, thereby stretching the cervical spine, among other things.

2. See what sitting position feels good for you. Is it the cross-legged position, the 'half lotus' (=one foot is on the other thigh), the 'full lotus' (=the feet are on the other thigh), or can you relax best when sitting on a chair (the feet should be parallel to the floor)?

3. About the hand position in meditation... a classic hand posture is the 'Chin Mudra' (see picture), in which you put your thumb and index finger together, stretch out the remaining fingers slightly, and place your hands on your knees with the palms up.

Picture Meditation
This mudra closes an important energy circuit in the body and thus has a positive effect on meditation. There are many different mudras, and each of them has a specific effect. Personally, I intuitively mostly use the 'Dhyana Mudra'. However, you can also meditate without doing a mudra or, for example, just put your hands on your heart.

4. The tongue also plays an important role in meditation. By placing it lightly at the base of the upper incisors, you close the descending energy circuit, which is beneficial for meditation.

5. Eyes open or closed?

To concentrate better, it is better (at least for beginners) to keep your eyes closed, as the process of 'seeing' consumes a large part of our attention.

2. What is it about?

In principle, it's about taking your attention away from thinking and focusing it on something else in order to remove the energy from the thinking process and thus allow your thoughts to calm down. In this meditation, we focus our attention on the breath - more precisely, the raising and lowering of the chest in the area of the heart that is caused by breathing.

Taking attention not only from thinking but also from sensory perceptions (=Pratyahara) and focusing it at one point (=Dharana) form the 5th and 6th limbs of Ashtanga Yoga and are mentioned by Patanjali in Sutras 2.54-55 and 3.1. Meditation (=Dhyana) is the 7th limb of Ashtanga Yoga and is specifically discussed in Sutra 3.2 and subsequently in many other sutras.

Sutra 3.2 “When attention flows steadily, meditation happens.”

Dharana and Dhyana then lead through practice to Samadhi (super-consciousness), the 8th limb of Ashtanga Yoga.

Sutra 3.3 “The awareness of subject and object disappears into the void when experiencing the super-conscious.” or “When the being completely dissolves into what is being perceived, unification occurs.”

Why do we focus attention on the area of the heart and not, as is often taught, on the tip of the nose and how the air flows in and out there?

Of course, you can also focus your attention on the tip of your nose and observe how the air flows in and out there, which is also a common practice for beginners. But... by bringing the attention into the area of the heart right at the beginning, we come closer to a later goal - namely, that the attention comes more and more into our (spiritual) heart - but more about that later.

3. The technique

1. First, take a few deep breaths, relax, and let yourself fall deeper into your body as you exhale.

2. Now direct (focus) your attention on the area of your heart and observe how the breath raises this area as you breathe in and how it falls again as you breathe out. If it helps, you can also place your hands on your heart, which will automatically bring your attention to this area to a certain extent.

3. As soon as you notice that you are thinking again, immediately go back to observing the rise and fall of the chest in the heart area. Do this over and over again until your thoughts calm down and you relax more and more into the position of observer of this process.

4. Now simply stay in this state of observation and relax deeper and deeper into it.

Congratulations, you just meditated!

Buddha picture

That's basically the technique. Your mind will probably speak up pretty quickly and demand your attention back (with a variety of very important thoughts - at least it will try to convince you that these thoughts are important to pay attention to right now). That's completely normal. However, as soon as you notice that you are thinking again, immediately bring your attention back again to observing the rising and falling of the area of your heart.

The longer you manage to stay focused over time, the more the chatter in your head will subside. See that you manage not to get lost in thinking; but to simply observe thoughts as they arise. Let them come, and then just let them go again without giving them your attention.

Be aware that up until now your mind has always automatically taken your attention from you, and it is used to this, so it takes a little time and practice before we can take back 'the reins', so to speak.

What does the science say about it?

There are now so many scientific studies that have proven the positive effect of meditation on the entire being that it is not easy to choose which ones I should list here. You can find a pretty good overview of some of the studies on this page (you will need your browser's internal translator, a translation add-on, or Google Translate as the site is in German): Scientific Studies Meditation

So... let's learn the next tool in the next section now: 3. Follow your heart