The small courtesies of meditation sweeten life, the greater ennoble it

                                                                                                                          —–Rabindranath Tagore

Meditation, or in simple words, the pursuit of relaxation through mental or physical exercise, comes in innumerable forms. Meditation is an art and Science. It is a mental discipline by which the practitioner attempts to transcend the frontiers of human imagination and enters into a finer state of relaxation or composure. It is practiced in various forms in almost all the cultures. According to Wikipedia, Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or for the mind to simply acknowledge its content without becoming identified with that content, or as an end in itself.

The art of meditation encompasses the act of normal breathing. This act of normal breathing is a twofold process that comprises:

  • Inhalation
  • Exhalation

Inhalation is the biological process of taking in or inhaling of oxygen-rich air from the environment into the lungs. Exhalation is the biological process of breathing out or exhaling air laden with carbon dioxide. The muscular wall or the diaphragm enlarges the chest cavity during the process of respiration. During the biological process of respiration, the intercostal muscles between the ribs play a pivotal role and expand out­ ward. This expansion creates a slight vacuum in the lungs and air is inhaled in to fill the vacuum. The air that enters the body through the two nostrils passes through the pharyngeal tube into the trachea, the main airway. Trachea is colloquially known to the world as ‘Windpipe.’ The trachea extends further and divides into two bronchi, which in turn divide and branch into bronchi­oles leading to the alveolar ducts and sacs where the exchange of blood and air takes place. In a nutshell, inhalation is an active act while exhalation, on the other hand, is a passive act and requires least effort. The elastic diaphragm rearranges itself to its original position and deflates the lungs, thus pushing the inhaled air out.

Under usual conditions of conventional breathing, the biological mechanism of respiration takes approximately four to six seconds per breath. More often than not, breathing is an instinctive process that eventuates at the rate of twelve to sixteen breaths every minute, without our cognition. This automatic nature of breathing is a prerequisite to our survival, as oxygen is essential for the survival of each and every cell in our body. Respiratory Center is the control center that allows you to govern your respiration. It is situated behind the brain in the medulla oblongata and pons which are integral parts of brain stem. This Respiratory Center receives various controlling signals of chemical, hormonal and neural nature and controls the rate and depth of respiratory movements of the diaphragm and other respiratory muscles. It is an established fact that emotional stress can enhance the rate of respiration while emotional calmness can make the breathing deep and slow. The former is undesirable while the latter is espoused with no afterthought.

Prior to the birth of modern science, human beings were successful in realizing the proximity between respiration and the changing emotional states of the mind. Many early civilizations, and particularly those of India and China, evolved various methods of controlling respiration and consequently changing the state of consciousness and the emotions. In India, these practices and theories have been extensively developed in the traditional and conventional disciplines of Yoga and Tantra. The chief focus of the Tantra philosophy is the universal energy and creative power embodied by the feminine aspect of the supreme deity personified as Shakti or Prakriti or as other feminine deities. The tantric texts contain material that develops the five themes of creation, dissolution, worship, supernatural attainments (siddhis), and methods of attaining union with the Supreme through meditation. Yoga seeks a confluence with the supreme deity through an eight-fold path. This awe inspiring practice is termed “Ashtanga Yoga”. These tantrik and yogic ideas, abstractions and notions serve the framework of the tantrik breathing, which is known as svara-udaya or svarodaya. The vital breath is called svara and the movement of this svara from nostril to nostril is called udaya (rise). The ancient and conventional system of knowledge (shastra) that deals with the significance of the changes in vital breath is called the svara­ udaya or svarodaya shastra.

To understand the genesis of Yoga, one must understand the genesis of “Pranayama”. The word Pranayama is composed of the two words: prana, which means “breath” or “gasp” and as well as the vital energies of the human body and ayama which means “conscious control.”  Together these words refer to the vital mechanism of breath control that forms one of the eight basic steps of classical science of yoga.

More often than not, several yogic practices begin with Yama which is associated with moral discipline and is initiated by taking vows of non-­ injury, veracity, uprightness, self-control, generosity, purgation, unadulterated diet, and cleanliness. Then comes the second stage called Niyama which is another moral discipline at a more subtle level and involves internal purity, gratification, austerity, rare spiritual excellence, and self-control. Asana is the third stage that is mostly associated with the physical postures that assist in maintaining a healthy body. It helps an individual to ease himself/herself and religiously do meditation for long hours without any qualms of discomfort. Pranayama is the fourth stage and stands on the border between the physical and psychic aspects of yoga. After pranayama comes Pratyahara which primarily deals with the withdrawal of consciousness from the senses and turning it inward for the next stage of Dharana or men­tal concentration. The seventh stage is reached when dharana becomes absolutely steady and one-pointed with no disturb­ing thoughts entering the mind. This is called Dhyana or true meditation. The final stage is Samadhi or trance, in which the individual mind is freed from all material limits and is dissolved into the ultimate reality. Pranayama has three steps, which are the same as the three acts of natural respiration. All the stages consist of inhalation (puraka), retention (kumbhaka), and exhalation (rechaka) of air from the lungs.

The Holistic science of Yoga has some celebrated classifications for meditation:

  • Breathing
  • Conceptual
  • Physical
  • Purity in mind
  • Awareness
  • Objective
  • Mantra

Breathing Meditation

This typically involves supreme concentration to ensure perfect relaxation of the body. It is often suggested to maintain a rhythm of breathing.

Conceptual Meditation

This type of meditation deals with supreme concentration on a philosophical concept. It is often suggested to allow our mind freely within the frontiers of human imagination. For instance, many philosophers practiced this meditation to comprehend the finer differences between philosophy and mathematics.

Physical Meditation

To ensure concentration on physical actions, physical meditation is your best bet. This kind of meditation decides the reaction to opponents and adversities during compelling situations. This is completely a different genre of Meditation.

Purity in Mind

This is deemed to be the toughest genre of meditation. Purity in mind implies purity in thoughts, of course, both in letter and spirit, policy and execution.

Awareness Meditation

Observe all the things in the surrounding and fine tune your senses to gain an overall perspective of the situation.

Objective Meditation

There are a few adversities in everybody’s life that seem insurmountable. The chief motive of this genre of meditation is to find solution to the perceived insurmountable problems.

Mantra Meditation

To overcome the momentary pangs of guilt and fits of temper, a definitive way is to practice Mantra meditation. This type of meditation involves chanting a hymn or a sloka to obviate such fits of temper in the future. Most of the religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity etc., give importance to this genre of meditation.

To enlighten and enrich our minds, meditation is our best bet. Some of the famous practitioners and advocates of meditation are Steven Segal, Swami Vivekananda, Richard Gere, Orlando Bloom and Tiger Woods. Meditation has become a mainstream practice in many countries. There are various physical, psychological, spiritual and emotional benefits of meditation. Most of the countries like India and Nepal have advocated the practice of ‘Guided Meditation.’ To practice Guided meditation, Mandala is required. The word Mandala signifies “sacred circle” in Sanskrit. In sacred rites and rituals, Mandalas are used as tools of transformation. In addition, they are used as facilitating tools of meditation. The celebrated psychologist Carl Jung is believed to have suggested Guided meditation as an elixir to all maladies.

The Art of Meditation

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