Yesterday I saw a blog post on one of the internet portals from a woman. She was writing that she had lost the desire to live and had a suicide attempt. She was resented at those who managed to call the ambulance.
No, her words did not leave the impression that she was crazy. Her words were just telling me that she was in depression.
“… They brought me back to life, but I could not regain the desire to live. Every day for me is a torture. I wake up and I do not want to live. My brain is giving me a pain “- the excerpts from her post said.
I began to feel sorry. The post was so sincere; the suffering is flowed from the words of the author. So, I decided to write this preface.
This work of meditation I started long ago and some had already been written. But there was no introduction. And I decided to write a few words. These are the words that you reading now.
I tried to give a definition of what the practice of meditation is many times, what yoga is and what is the eastern philosophy about. In other words: what is my book about. And I realized that all it is about how to overcome this depression.
I do not know if “depression” is the right word, but I do not want to go into the deep etymology. I want to put it in a simple way. What is this book about and what it will give to you?
The answer is: this book is on how to overcome some kind of a mental pain and how to overcome the suffering that the mind brings to people. Immediately the answer to unspoken question is yes, all people suffer, without exception. Some of them are more intense, others are barely noticeable. But the pain is always there.
The Sanskrit term – “dukkha” means certain dissatisfaction with life. It is a disease of mind, and this disease can be cured.
A billion people find their cure in Buddhism religion. Slightly less people confess Hindus. Both of these religions based on the following: people are undergoing some kind of mental pain (dukkha). This pain can be cured with the help of mental techniques. In Buddhism and in Hinduism there is a variety of techniques you can use to change the mental state of mind. We will combine all of this to make it brief and call it meditation practice.
In the West there are many books written about meditation as a technique of training the attention, the development of different qualities of the character such as courage, the ability to influence on others, etc. So this aspect of meditation we will not touch.
We will try to look into the vast archive of knowledge, accumulated by billions of people, by many billions if we look not only in space but in time.
Somehow, this knowledge is more common in the East. Although, there is a number of western Gnostic texts describe the meditation technology. There is experience of the Stoics and even work “Meditations” by a well-known at that time Marcus Aurelius. But still Eastern experience is much more extensive and incomparably richer than the Western.
In India, China and Japan the meditative technology (Dhyana, Chan and Zen) reached the culmination of its development. And that is important to me and to the point of view at which I try to present this book. In the Eastern philosophy it was clearly stated what the meditation technologies are for and what the student should expect from their use.
There is a certain neurotic tension in psyche, dissatisfaction, dukkha, and it hurts people. It brings pain to everybody, without exception. Most of people transfer the vector of their problems and think that satisfaction can be achieved in the external world – by wealth, power, and so on.
But as soon as they get it all, they feel deceived: dukkha does not disappear. This aspect clearly defined in Buddhism, because Gautama was heir to the throne and he was brought up in incredible luxury. Also, the different aspect from external vector was emphasized by philosophical texts of Samkhya-Yoga and the Mahabharata. They were handed by the Kings (it is cited in the Bhagavad Gita), from one generation to another in the chain of discipleship.
Also the Upanishads (Hindu philosophical texts) were transferred through the higher spiritual caste. And as a fact, the priests in those days were not poorer than for example the Pope and Cardinals. So the people who were talking about dukkha realized from the real experience – the wealth cannot help in this battle.
Dukkha is something internal, mental, and there is no gold that can buy things that contribute to getting rid of it. “And everything is the vanity and melancholy of spirit” – said the King of the Jews, one of the richest and most powerful. He tried in unsuccessfully by external tools to get rid of this longing. He was building towns, multiplied wealth, sought solace in the pleasures of the flesh, surrounded himself with poets and philosophers and still was not able to overcome it. It is impossible to get rid of something that is INSIDE with something that is EXTERNAL.
The progress of the humanity did not bring anything new in this respect. The most favorite people’s idols, rich and famous were committed suicides. Nothing they did is saved them from the melancholy of spirit, of this dukkha. Drugs were beneficial only for the short-term results, the temporary oblivion and were just speeding up the death.
Life made a bad joke to them. When achieved the very top, they realized that they were deceived and found that the mental torture remained there and became even more intense since illusions were dispelled.
Because most of people believe in myth that in order to be happy they need something specific – be well, a bank account, a successful career and comfortable life. Why do people who have achieved all of this entirely, commit suicide? Why is in Switzerland, the most favorable country in the world, the highest number of suicides? All for the same reason – nothing external can help to heal something that is essentially internal. The melancholy of spirit cannot be defeated by gold or the sounds of applause. And those ones who do not reach all of it in this life, appeared to be happier than the others because they still have an illusion that there is a certain level of wealth, celebrity, power that can help them to be really happy.
Only those who come up to the top or born at this level understand that the palaces and servants are not the cure for this.
Ecclesiastes and Gautama Buddha are two kings, two examples. The book of the first one is full of despair and pessimism. He could not get rid of dukkha, of longing.
And Gautama was the one who could do it. He could do it by not building the new palaces, by not trying to buy knowledge from philosophers, or by finding oblivion in the music and feasts.
He got that by studying the issue. To cure a disease, you must first define it. “Name the disease “a disease” and it will leave you” – said another sage, Lao Tzu. Buddha discovered the root, the cause of unhappiness, longing.
Sarva dukkha – sarva anitiyam said Buddha, and exactly the same words we find in the yogic texts. “Everything is suffering, because everything is ephemeral.” And Gautama himself was cured.
He found the medicine and explained the way how to heal to the world and become a Buddha, an enlightened teacher. The same knowledge is in yogic texts, in Upanishads, in Mahabharata, in texts of the teachers of Zen and Chan Buddhism.
Citing the example of Gautama, I did not call you for withdrawal from the world. In yogic philosophy there is a figure of Janaka, the legendary king of ancient times who was able to synthesize the spiritual path and execution of his duty. And he had more duties than all the other people in his country because he was responsible for everything. The story says that Janaka ruled justly and wisely, and his spiritual achievements were as perfect as his activities as governor.
So, neither the hermit nor busy life gives peace of mind to a person. The main thing is an attitude to life, darshana, point of view. The main thing is how people see the world and their place in the world.
Yoga says that the people’s misfortune comes from the wrong darshana, misperception of everything, of a distorted vision of life and themselves. And through meditation practice, this distortion can be corrected, like as change from the wrong glasses to the other, clear ones that help to correct the vision.
And then dukkha disappears, no more melancholy of spirit and the man becomes happy. Whoever he was, he finds peace in his place. If he is poor, he remains poor, but he is happy. If he is rich, he is rich and happy. He has no dependence on external factors, or rather the illusion that happiness depends on external factors. The person still continues to live, seek to improve this life, to achieve more, nothing is changed externally. But the practice of meditation adds peace and happiness to his life. Dukkha is replaced by sukha; that is how easy texts describe the process: suffering changes to happiness.
That is what my book is about: how to change your mind, how to change everything for the better. Everybody is infected by dukkha, although it manifests in each one with varying intensity. But every single person is poisoned by this phenomenon.
The cause of dukkha in a few words is in understanding the finiteness of life by the mind. Unlike animals, people live with an understanding of the future imminent death. Not just theirs, but all their relatives and loved ones.
The knowledge of time flow, finiteness of life and the moving to inevitable end of all life around is too much stress for the psyche. That is why the mind is deformed, and it develops a super neurosis.
That is why there is such a widespread desire for religion, mysticism, and philosophy. It is like the brain is resentful: “This cannot be truth! It is kind of a sadistic practical joke.” We are born, fall in love, become attached to each other and suddenly we realize that death separates us from our loved ones, friends, parents and children. That is impossible. There must be another explanation. And religion is another explanation.
The more people believe in a particular religion, the better they get rid of dukkha, a basic neurosis.
I am not talking here about whether religions are true or false. The question of faith is not the subject of this book. I try to talk about the suffering of spirit, of being dissatisfied and the way to become free of this suffering. This way is called meditation.
Almost all Eastern systems of meditation formulated for the sole purpose to liberate mind from dukkha.
In other words, the purpose of meditation is to cure a person from this basic neurosis formed deep in childhood, in that time when awareness of the inevitability of death occurs.
Children do not have dukkha. They are happy. Remember your childhood, the time of continuous euphoria. But as people grow up so that they start understanding the inevitability of death, their mind is distorted and they cannot enjoy life anymore, more precisely they do enjoy life piecemeal, from time to time, because of constant fight with dukkha.
Meditative practice can give you Nirvana, serenity, cure from neurosis or dukkha. Simpler, it can return you to a state of mind which you remember from the childhood.
Be as a child, it is said by many sages in many sacred texts. But what does that mean? What is needed to become like a child?
What needed is the absence of dukkha, when the world is perceived like a great fairytale.
Therefore, in this book I will not address the philosophical subject, mysticism and religion. We consider meditative technology as a medicine from neurosis, from dukkha. I should add that I have not only my own thirty years of meditative experience, but it is also based on the experience of many of my students.
So, the mind can be freed from some deep-seated neurosis called dissatisfaction with life. You can do it yourself, without the “magic” help of some half-naked old man sprinkled with ashes and murmuring words in an unknown language.
It is useless to rely on money here. It is impossible to go to India, pay someone and acquire meditative skills. Even if you meet the Buddha himself, he cannot do the work INSTEAD OF YOU.
Better that you carefully study the words of Buddha, translated to your language by a professional translator, read the comments of people who wrote about the subject, examine these sacred sources of Hinduism, Yoga, Zen and isolate the main thing, the essence on what they agree with each other.
And then implement this knowledge and practice what you have learned. Endless study of more and new sources becomes a habit, and some people cannot stop. Instead of implementing what already learned, they read and read books, look for more and more gurus. Some people have a hope that they can get a result by paying to extravagantly dressed old man who by imposing his hands on their forehead will cure the neurosis.
Alas, it is childish. Actually, what Buddha was preaching or what the real yoga is, or Zen, or Chan Buddhism is not so difficult to grasp. It’s not hard at all. Immerse yourself in a subject, learn a few books, and that is it, you already have the map and the path.
But the map itself does not become a territory; you should make the journey by yourself. You must enforce, implement the techniques of meditation that you have learnt.
Here is a scheme. And it works. I can assure you that many people have changed their perception of the world by getting rid of frustration. If they could, so can you. As well as learning the language or learn to play the guitar. You have to find the exercises for meditation that right only for you, and practice them. There are many exercises, so you can choose those that are acceptable to you and fit your nature.
This book does not consist of quotations, I try to isolate only the essence and describe the techniques that are found in different sources. I add some tips from personal experience or from the practice of my students. All this is not much more difficult than learning a new language, such as French. But to learn the language, you have to spend time, a lot of time. You need to make an effort and to overcome the laziness.
Does it worth it? I think it does. After mastering the meditation techniques it will feel as if you discovered that part of yourself and of your mind that you did not own before. It’s like magic and like some shroud just dropped from your eyes: “I was blind, but now I see the light.”
I try to explain without any mysticism: the mind begins to work better, starts to operate those formations that are known to remain passive in most people throughout their lives.
Miraculously the health improves. Psyche affects the physical body, and exercises in meditation, at first sight not related to health, give an incredible effect.
But the main thing is that kind of forgotten childhood condition of fabulousness, euphoria. The main purpose of these exercises is just this: change dukkha to sukha, change neurosis on euphoria. Sukha, ananda, nirvana, there are a lot of terms. But they all refer to the mental serenity and euphoria. They talk about freedom from permanent painful existence. When the world is seen as it was in a far childhood, as if through the pink-colored glasses, like a fairy tale.
It is useless to talk about it. This is beyond words. But it is possible to feel and experience. You can start practice in meditation and make sure for yourself.
The Definition of Meditation
There are several definitions of the term “meditation”. Mind control, concentration, introversion, changes in mind activity – it is all aspects of meditation.
Let’s talk about how yoga understands meditation.
In Sanskrit, a lot of terms define meditation: samadhi, nirvana, sammapati, samatva, yukta, goes on and on. They all represent some aspect of the mind immersed in contemplation. But the basic terms are dharana and dhyana.
Dharana, dhyana and samadhi three together are the highest stage of yoga. This is how the sources define them.
Etymologically important is the sound “DKH” found in all three words.
This “DKH” is something very ancient, Indo-European, a kind of ancient word that changes in the various languages. For example Zen originates in the same “DKH”.
Dheya – contemplate, think and at the same time keep in mind the image of what is in the process of thought. Madheya in ancient Iranian and Aryan is the contemplator.
So maDHeya is contemplator, Dheya is contemplation or Dharana, Dhyana. Therefore, what is Dhyana in India became Chan in China and Zen in Japan. That’s right, dhyana spread almost all over the continent, changing into Chan and Zen.
Dheya is a term found in Vedas on ancient Sanskrit language. It indicates some alternative mental state, not the usual thought and logic, but the inspired and exalted state of mind, when the mind is rely on the object of concentration. I ask the reader to make an effort and try to look at this concept from a different point of view. So, as it is traditional in yoga psychology. Psyche compares to a crystal that color in the same shade of the surface on which the crystal is laid. The crystal itself is colorless, transparent, but on the red surface it becomes red, on blue becomes blue.
Similarly is the mind, the psyche and the chitta (mind) are colored by what a person thinks. The mind is like creating a virtual image.
In simple terms, DHEYA means that ability to create an image in mind and to keep it.
The untrained mind of ordinary people operates in three modes: passive, active and in a certain balance mode. Of course, I describe it very simply, because the talk about the gunas (Sanskrit term means “string”, in abstract – quality or an operational principle or tendency), the three components of the psyche, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas will take us far.
Therefore, we take a simplified model. In mind there are three different modes, alternating with each other. From each neuron itself to the whole psyche in general we see either inhibition or excitation, or some combination of these two processes, which are in fact called mental activity. Just as with a computer, where the foundation of all is 0 or 1 and the combination of zeros and ones. The same way the whole psyche can be reviewed as the excitation of neurons, inhibition, and the combination of these two processes. Excitation called Rajas. Inhibition is Tamas. And the “meaning”, some, which line up these two, called Sattva.
So, in the mind of ordinary untrained people there are more Tamas or inhibition. Sleep, apathy, stupidity, lack of concentration, depression – all these states are dominated by Tamas.
Passion, anger, excitement, rage and so on, – this is the state where more of Rajas.
And finally analytical reasoning, inspiration and intuition are the modes in untrained people where Rajas and Tamas, otherwise – excitation and inhibition, – are balanced to some extent.
Therefore, the practice of meditation is a daily effort to balance Rajas and Tamas, to balance the mind like a surface of water from waves and turbulence. Only then the water becomes clear.
Such state of mind and its depth can be different in different students. Starting from rest and relaxation, when the mind is calm and mental activity is at peace and up to ecstasy and trance.
According to Yoga, chitta or mind operates in several phases. Kshipta, mudha, vikshipta, ekagra, nirudha – all these terms are different forms of mental activity (Chitta Bhumi or mental modes).
Here is their ranking:
(1) unstable (kshipta)
(2) twisted, dark (muddha)
(3) both stable and unstable (vikshipta)
(4) fixed on one point, directed one-way (ekagra)
(5) completely controlled (niruddha)
Two of these modalities are common to all people. We can say that kshipta is excitement, Rajas, and muddha is inhibition, Tamas. The third modality of consciousness, vikshipta is a state of mind found in people who are accustomed to intellectual activity. Scientist according to the development of his intellect can balance Rajas and Tamas, the processes of excitation and inhibition.
But this mode is far from meditation. It can be described as attention and intelligence. People are passive even during the intellectual activities. The person thinks he is the ruler of the mental stream, he seems to be involved, but does not have the full power over his mental activity. Attention is constantly jumping, carried away after the flow of associations. The flow of consciousness is interrupted by sensations from the senses.
Only by practicing special exercises in meditation student can be able to operate on a completely different level of mental activity. Ekagra (Ekagrata) or concentrated mind is something qualitatively different than the previous three states of mind. Ekagra can be transferred to full mental peace called nirvana, samadhi or nirudha.
Therefore, two high bhumi (concentrated mind and stopped mind) are achievable only by prolonged meditation practice.
The consciousness can be transferred to these states of bhumi depending on which mode of it is dominated. According to yoga psychology: (1) when the predominant is Tamas (darkness, heaviness), the consciousness is inert, falling asleep and numbness (2) when the predominant is Rajas (energy), the consciousness is active, energetic, intense and willful, and (3) when the predominant is Sattva (purity, inspiration, caused by understanding), the consciousness manifests itself as vitality, inspiration and in general, as a state of clarity and serenity of mind.
These bhumi are the states of the same mind, but the difference is in the balance of modes. Kshipta is the process of excitation when rajas is prevailed. Muddha is the inhibition, when Tamas is prevailed. Vikshipta is when a person acquires the elemental power over the process of excitation-inhibition. Most people exist in this mode. They did not exercise the minds on purpose and the skill of Vikshipta is acquired through life.
Since childhood the child learns how to read, to listen, to play and to communicate, he explores and remembers. In all of these, there is an element ATTENTION. But no one develops attention as a separate discipline. Only meditative schools are doing it.
Unlike the others, a student of Yoga tries to control the processes of excitation and inhibition, as such. The balance of these processes is a state of mind with a predominance of Sattva. With harmony and balance the mind remains in its perfect condition in state of PRAKHYA – serenity, clarity.
Student acquires something that is in his nature, in a rudimentary form. Prakhya is a serene state of clarity, the primal characteristic of consciousness as such. But its manifestation interrupts by imbalance of excitation and inhibition and lack of harmony. Rajas and Tamas must be in a subordinate position to manifest Sattva in full.
Meditative practice is an attempt to clear the mind of dirt, from turbulence and thrill. For the crystal to become clear and be able to be colored by the surface on which it is set. Yoga often uses this term – Alambamana, reliance, support. Reliance of contemplation is what the student tries to fill the mentality with.
The more skillful student is and the more transparent and clearer his mind, the more successful and longer it can be COLORED with what it directed to, which called Alambamana, support in meditation.
Prescribed dieting, ethical rules, relaxed postures and Pranayama lead to a balance of Rajas and Tamas. With their balance mind fully exerts its properties to reflect and think. Mind is the thinnest and Sattvic of all other flesh. And of all minds, the one that balanced the processes of inhibition and excitation is the clearest. This is what called Prakhya – the state of serenity, inspiration, clarity and Sattva. It is a freedom from dukkha and serene happiness.
We now turn to the practical side. In fact, you can practice meditation in any position: lying, sitting in a comfortable chair and, even while walking. But the lying position causes drowsiness, so I would advise a sitting posture.
Many do not know that the term “asana” does not mean yoga pose. Asana is sitting. In the ancient Aryan society they sat in the eastern cross-legged pose, so under asana the rest of the world means sitting on the mat, legs crossed or “Buddha posture.”
The sources have a description of how to set up the environment for exercises in meditation: the place to be quiet protected from drafts, without any odor. Nothing should be distracting the attention.
There should be no people. Yoga happens in privacy. This is one of the main rules. Why? It is a different story, we will not go too deep, but overall the texts are the same: no one should observe the disciple.
So, in an isolated ventilated room, where no one is disturbing, the student must roll out the mat, put the pillow, sit comfortably and indulge in exercises.
The mat, the pillow and the pose with legs crossed in that society was something similar to the definition of “comfortable chair” for us, people of the West. For some people cross-legged pose on the floor is so unusual that they need months to adapt to it. I suggest you sit in the chair comfortable and so proceed to the meditative exercises. A “Buddha posture” can be practiced in parallel. Years later, a student may feel that he is able to sit on the floor cross-legged for a long time. Then he can go and meditate in this position. Or he may not learn meditation postures at all, continuing to meditate in a chair or lying on the bed.
For example, Patanjali in Yoga Sutras does not talk much about the asana. “Asana is an easy and comfortable posture” – that is all he said about asana in the main book of Yoga. Asana means posture, where you can sit for a long time and forget about the body. I think, for the initial stage of mental exercises, chair or bed are suitable.
Breathing: While Pranayama, the breath control, is a significant part of yoga as a separate segment, I must say that it can be avoided. Yes, meditative yoga can be practiced without mastering breathing. Of course, by pre-mastering of Pranayama the students ability to control own psyche is increased and they are able to meditate on a deeper level. But meditation can be practiced without Pranayama. For example in Yoga Sutras (I quote this source often and rely on it for its credibility. Yoga Sutras by Patanjali is the most authoritative source on yoga, recognized in the world) said that the breathing exercises is one of the ways to master meditation.
It also describes other ways of practicing Yoga and meditation that do not imply the respiratory control.
Therefore, a western person can practice yoga meditation, as if skipping stages of yoga, known as Asana and Pranayama. He can directly proceed to meditation by sitting in a comfortable chair, calming down and simply by making the breath calm. You can try to breathe as if you are sleeping for a couple of minutes. We remember what kind of breathing we have during sleep. Before meditation you should breathe like you are asleep, that’s all.
Everything described before looks like autogenic training or self-hypnosis session. AT or autogenic training is a set of exercises that you can learn in a couple of months and use them to influence on your own psyche. In the past century autogenic training has become very popular. It was like a new religion, as often the case when the “old wine poured into new vessels.” Meditative practices were synthesized by practicing hypnologist and tested on his students.
The synthesis was successful. Schultz (that was his name) created a system with self-hypnosis method, synthesized it with yoga and dropped everything external from yoga like postures or breathing exercises.
Autogenic training has spread like fire, and even the government institutions (up to external affairs bureaus) took it on board.
I think to touch on autogenic training in more detail.
There are six stages in autogenic training. Every stage student practices about a week, adding the next one, then another and another.
For the exercises we need an isolated room, although autogenic immersion can be done even in the office or while walking. But it is only for advanced students. For beginners an isolated, quiet room is required with couch or chair. I would recommend the chair because the reclining condition predisposes to sleepiness.
Sitting in a chair, the student tries to relax the body, from the top down, with the facial muscles to toe. He imagines as the muscles relax and become heavy. Remember how it is when we are sleepy when eyelids swell and it is impossible to raise your hand.
The student is trying to do the same things consciously by bringing attention to different parts of the body, relaxing muscle by muscle. This can be called the first stage. Exercise may be associated mentally formulas “my face is relaxed, the lids are heavy, shoulders are relaxed, hands are heavy, every muscle is relaxed or you can transfer the just the attention to every muscle and weakening it without mental formulas of autosuggestion.
The first step is mastered in a week. Two to three times a day, sitting in a comfortable chair, a student relaxes the whole body, from head to toe, mentally whispered formulas of autosuggestion. The reflex will be created in the body and each time it will do it faster and deeper. A mental formula autosuggestion makes it more effective.
Approximately a week later, we add a second stage. With the body relaxation we shift the focus gradually to the arms, legs, chest, back, torso and imagining a feeling of warmth in them. The mental formula of autosuggestion is like “a pleasant warmth flows on the body, on the hands and they become heavy”.
A feeling of heaviness and warmth are the necessary prerequisite of sleepiness and drowsiness. Remember that by specifically these suggestions hypnotists put people to sleep and such sensations we experience before falling asleep or right after waking, when the mind is still half asleep. Sometimes a person in this half-asleep condition it is impossible to raise a hand or open the eyelids.
Practice these two stages daily about two weeks. Each session should last 10 minutes. There may be several sessions per day. But it is enough to practice couple of times before going to bed and after awaking. Such mind condition between sleep and awaking is very successful for the self-hypnosis.
The first week all of ten minutes are dedicated to relax the body and to the auto-suggestion of heaviness. When switched to the second stage, the student divides the exercise time in half: the first five minutes to suggest relaxation and mentally reciting the formula of heaviness; the second five minutes the student instills a sense of warmth.
Turning to the third stage, a ten-minute session once again is divided into two parts. The first five minutes are the self-hypnosis of relaxation and heaviness. A second five minutes are the relaxation of the respiratory center. Note that it is different from yogic breathing. The student just trying to breathe as we breathe during sleep.
I have read that inhale should remind you a yawn, and exhale a small sneeze, just imagination of them, not more. An inhale is longer and an exhale is shorter, but I repeat, this is not breathing exercise. The student mentally whispers formulas of autosuggestion “my breathing becomes quieter, I breathe easier, with each inhale I calm down and my relaxation is deeper and deeper”. At the same time, he tries to remember what his breathing was during the deep sleep and breathe similarly.
Turning to the fourth stage, the 10-minute session again splits in two parts: the first five minutes have three stages (relaxation and heaviness, warmth, breath 😉 practice gives you the opportunity to have time to go through all the steps of five minutes. In the remaining five minutes student takes attention to the heartbeat, and mentally trying to convince him that the heartbeat slows down.
Fifth stage is autosuggestion for the warmth in the solar plexus. You can imagine molten gold or the sun or fire.
Sixth stage is the visualization of lightness in the head and coolness of the forehead. This is an important point. The previous five steps were aimed as self-hypnosis for sleepiness. The student is almost asleep, he achieves a hypnotic slumber.
But the sixth stage as self-hypnosis of lightness and coolness on the forehead purposed to create a “watch center” as a prevention of the final transition into sleep.
Part of the mind is asleep, but some remain vigil. This awaken part governs all the others and it goes from one formula to the next auto-suggestion.
I’m not going to praise or criticize the system of autogenic training. There are sensitive people who are subject to the formulas of autosuggestion more intense than others. And there is a type of people who absolutely cannot instill themselves by repeating mental formulas, such as “my body is relaxing.”
Such individuals may well relax the body itself, muscle by muscle, without repeating the formulas of autosuggestion.
Also there are different types of people who can easily picture the fire in the solar plexus, or molten lead, which fills their hands and feet, like empty vessels. But other people are completely incapable of this kind of mental visualization, although perfectly relax muscles directly, shifting attention from one group to the next.
But there are others who have a little bit of each of these qualities. For them, I think, the system of the autogenic training can work, where the visualization and mental formula autosuggestion is complementary.
I think, for the beginner it will be useful to practice the above six exercises. So that after a couple of months he could call a relaxation, a feeling of heaviness of the body, calm the breathing and heart rate, cause a sensation of heat in the solar plexus and the cool forehead within a few minutes. All that will predispose to the practice of meditation and set you off from the outside world for a moment.
Often newcomers who are trying to practice meditation are encounter obstacles in the form of tremors in the body, confusion breathing, excessive salivation, sweating or itching. The legs or arms feel numb and it is the urge to change the position and get up like the whole body and mind try to prevent the exercise of meditation.
No one should be surprised by that. Everybody go through these stages. From childhood, people are turned out to the outside world. We do not tend to introspection. So, practicing meditation we do something fundamentally new. By the way, the breathing exercises of yoga help to transfer attention to our own breathing and the student shifts the focus of his attention inward. With time, he gets used to it and after a few months the student is able to pay attention to more subtle processes, be withdrawn into himself and on his mind.
As we have seen, the AT system was able to do a minimum without going into breathing exercises as it is done in a classical yoga. I think for the beginner student, who decided to learn meditation, this approach is preferable. If to use the approach from the perspective of yoga, it would take too much time, until one mastered asana, pranayama then and only then will go to the actual meditation. Modern man does not have such a long time.
Therefore, it is better to go through a training course, having mastered basic skills of introspection (learning to sit still for a long time by switching the attention to inner world) and start the meditation exercises.
In Yoga Sutras of Patanjali there are two approaches or more to practice, as it is not always noticed by the other commentators. The first chapter describes the schedule where people immediately begin the higher forms of meditation practice. The second chapter is a different approach: a student ordered to begin with the lowest levels and gradually raise to the meditation exercises. And elsewhere, the Upanishads, the Gita, Zen Buddhist scriptures or manuals on the practices described different approaches.
When person is trying to meditate very first time in his life, he finds it different from the others. Some achieve meditation easy, the others more difficult. And the method itself is acceptable for a one person and different for another. But if you compare us, modern people with ancient ones, one thing is sure that our minds are more trained.
TV, computer, books and school – each child trains in concentration and digests huge amounts of information, making it not on purpose, but because of objective reasons. That is called progress. Whatever or not the person is intellectual he still spends hours in front of TV.
All of the above changed the psyche of the modern man, and his ability to concentrate higher than the average ancient person.
Hence the old methods should not be adopted blindly. They need to be adapted to the realities of our times.
It depends on what is the motivation. If it is the mastery of yoga for health and longevity, then the focus should be on physical exercises and breathing techniques and to meditation should be given a secondary status. But if the person wants to master his psyche, he had no reason to acquire over the years, the “lotus pose”, or learn to restrain long breath. He should just work in meditation, rather than spending years in the preparatory phase. That is why I brought autogenic training exercises. They will help the beginner in a couple of months to prepare himself for meditation practice.
The fact is that when the average person trying to jump straight to the mental exercise, he finds that he cannot sit still, the breathing destructs, saliva accumulates in the mouth, itching in various places, etc. In other words, it is like the body interrupts him from focusing on inward. For this purpose there are some preliminary exercises. Those students who have been engaged for a long time in breathing exercises do not need any autogenic training exercises. They are ready to go to the mental exercise.
Those who begin now, but do not want to spend a long time to master the meditative asanas and pranayama, fit the above exercise self-hypnosis and visualization.
There is a yoga step that follows after the practice of breathing, it is called Pratyahara. Literally it means “to collect self inward.” Many texts, explaining pratyahara, give the example of turtles. The way the turtle pulls its limbs into the shell. The same way due to the correct position and prolonged slow breathing student of yoga “pulls his senses” inward.
The texts often found such a comparison – “like a dried-up tree.” This is the stage to be achieved by student by slowing the pace of breathing until he becomes “deaf and blind”.
For those who have a lot of time, motivation, and decided to learn the practice of meditation from the very beginning, passing stage of yoga, one after another, no training is required for meditation. Pratyahara occurs automatically after the meditation posture is taken in about fifteen minutes of rhythmic breathing. The student is like in his own skull, the body feels like wooden, “as a dried tree” he is not distructed by outside noises and he can direct his attention like a ray of light.
I can give you a tip, which helps me personally. I imagine the sensation of falling. You just think that you dive in a free fall. It helps to relax the body, without any formulas of autosuggestion. To tell you the truth, I do not use them at all. All the necessary sensations I generate directly. Feel the weight of relaxation and warmth. And to achieve the state of pratyahara or autogenic condition I need a few minutes of rhythmic breathing.
So, autogenic training is needed, only as a preparation for meditation practice. Now I will describe how to prepare for meditation, using the breath.
We all know how closely connected breathing and emotions. When we get angry, we breathe in a special way; when we proud -differently. Almost every strong emotion alters changes in breathing. But this connection, emotions and breathing has two sides. Often we consciously tried several times to breathe deeply to calm down when we upset. Everybody do that without any mysticism or training, just based on the experience of life.
Indeed, the calm and regular breathing calms down the mind. And it is necessary to use before meditation.
We are not talking about complex techniques of pranayama. Even in classical yoga breathing is just one of the alternative exercises to achieve mental peace. It is only in later texts such as the late (yogic) Upanishads or “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” pranayama began to develop almost as a separate branch of yoga. In classical yoga, breathing plays a minor role.
“Or by exhalation and retention” – this is the sutra. Patanjali lists the ways how to calm consciousness. Let’s pay attention to this “Or.” This is necessary, because I have noticed one peculiarity, often students seeking to master meditation and then “turn in hatha yoga.” Those, who seek to learn meditation, have different motivation from those who want to master difficult asanas and pranayama, but they become dragged in it, and stuck for years at this stage.
Indeed, the mastery of asanas and pranayama is difficult and it takes years and years of practice. Often in the letters, students complain that the breathing exercises that are described in the books are too difficult.
I passed by a lot of “tabloid” books about yoga, where students are required to stop breathing for an incredibly long time, so that a person is unable to do. Perhaps, if the child is exercising early in life, living in a mountainous area, where there is a fresh air, then in the middle of his life he will reach the ability to stop breathing for long time. But to master meditation, this method is too long and indirect. Better just to start an exercise in concentration and not to spend years to master pranayama and after start the same exercises in concentration.
What is meant by concentration? Concentration is the ability to direct the mind and to keep it in a certain direction. For example, feel your hand, and hold the mental sensation of that feeling. It’s hard. Ordinary activities do not involve the same activities of the mind. In the words of an ancient Upanishad “The mind of the majority directed to external objects. Only rare sage draws the mind inward. ”
Modern people are not prepared to introspection. And if they try to jump straight to meditative exercises, it gets so bad, so hard that they can drop it with the first steps.
For example, even a philosophical, not detailed about meditation text like Bhagavad Gita, has the following note. Arjuna (the main character) is well trained in the martial arts and knows philosophy, yet notes that the concentration of mind is something incredibly difficult. Yes, it is very difficult, the teacher agrees, but with diligence and persistence, you can learn how to rule your mind.
It is here that I see the value and place of breathing exercises. Not those difficult and complicated, but very simple. They are described in Gita itself. All it is the rhythmic and quiet breathing. That’s it. But the secret is in this simplicity. Student, while reversing his full attention to the process of inhaling and exhaling shifts his focus from outward to inward.
A very quiet breathing smoothes and calms the mind.
Again, the whole point of this exercise is its simplicity. This is how a student teaches his mind to be one-point-focused. Remember the five bhumi, five stages, which we discussed earlier. Kshipta, mudha, vikshipta, ekagra and nirudha. The first three are common to all people. But the fourth is something totally unfamiliar.
One point focused mind is achieved ideally by concentration on one external point, such as candles and stones; or on one internal point – the area between the eyebrows, the solar plexus, etc. This is what we will discuss in detail later. But now I am trying to explain why we need some auxiliary stage.
To start straight from the above is very difficult, because the psyche ever since the childhood was never trained in this area. To read attentively, watch or listen to something is different, this is the third bhumi – vikshipta. During vikshpita thoughts in the mind are changing and remain around a certain object, such as reading a book.
Ekagra (real concentration) is when there is one thought that lasts and lasts. When someone, who is not trained, is trying to achieve this, he is never successful. His mind just never functioned in this way. Therefore, we need some preparatory stage.
The exercise described above is used in Zen, in Chan and in a number of Buddhist schools. Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and Mokshadharma texts describe it also. In fact, there is nothing to describe. Again, the complexity is in simplicity.
You need to close (or semi closed) your eyes, and put the attention inward to your breathing. You need to inhale and exhale consciously. That is all, no complications. Inhaling and exhaling should be long and quiet, such as breathing during a quiet sleep. It is simple normal and quiet breathing, but conscious. Attention shifts from outward to inward. While inhaling and exhaling is not quite the “inward”. The mind needs to learn how to switch inward on itself, and this process of inhaling and exhaling can be used as a transitional step.
Rhythmic breathing is the door to inward, the entrance. I remember in the book about yoga, I described the ancient legend that is used in many books. Therefore, I will not dwell in detail. In that legend somebody wants to raise a thick rope to a great height. But it is impossible, so they tie a thinner thread to the thick and strong one. And after that more thinner until the thinnest end of the rope can be picked up by the insect and delivered to the high tower. That is how the person in the tower, by catching the thinnest thread can pull up the thick and strong robe.
So, the exercise with “conscious inhale and exhale” is just that transitional thin thread. As a beginner is not able to proceed immediately to the concentration, he accustoms himself to keep the attention on the breath, while inhaling and exhaling.
This exercise should be done for a couple of months, about fifteen minutes every day. I repeat this is not pranayama. Sit in a quiet room, in a chair and relaxing, you need to close your eyes and move the attention inward. It always will be carried away in the ways of the associations; it will ride like a wild horse. But the student must curb the attention and return to the breath again and again.
In fact, this exercise is more difficult than it would be, if the process of inhalation and exhalation was complicated such as in pranayama with long delays, etc. The easiness makes it impossible for the mind to catch and hold of something. A simple inhale and exhale, – the mind is not accustomed to such monotony. But the meaning of this exercise is just to form a skill of ekagra, to ensure that the psyche is and remains on one thing, one wave, one thought.
This exercise does not require any additional respiratory skills; an ordinary person can do it, not an athlete or sportsman, even a smoker. It is only the transferring the entire focus on the process of normal breath.
What is next? Through this exercise the student develops a new quality – introspection. He can move the focus inward, to his subtle world, as well as ordinary people can explore the outer world.
Actually, you can learn it without any preliminary stages. The purpose is to learn how to switch the mind’s entire focus to the very mind. By the way, the most authoritative sources on yoga Yoga Sutras use the same approach to the issue. There, in the first chapter, are given different ways of meditation practice, including this breathing practice.
Often I get emails from students who follow my (or not mine) recommendations, have already mastered the level of pranayama and are interested in what is next. So, from this point of our discussion, we turn to the stage, which follows the pranayama. Once again, the stage of asanas and pranayama, as they are described in classical yoga, can be avoided if you practice in autogenic training or Zen, or they may even be unnecessary for a particular student.
Why? Let’s not forget that yogic philosophy believes in reincarnation. A soul transfers some of its skills from the past life to next lives, and skill of meditation is one of those that can be accumulated from life to life. This answer the teacher gives to Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita, when he answers the question about the complexity of mastering meditation. So, one person can work in meditation for years and reach some low results, and the other grasps it playfully, in fact, he actually remembers it and does not learn it from scratch.
Yoga Sutras give it another definition – a sign, by which one can recognize that a person is seriously engaged in meditation practice in past lives. It describes a kind of original reaction in particular individual when he discovers mentioning of the path of yoga. This person has goose bumps all over his skin, he is delighted and excited. This reaction is difficult to convey, but as I experienced it myself, I can confirm: yes, that is the case. No matter the age and circumstances, as soon as one hears about yoga and the practice of meditation, does not matter how old is he, he knows that he had heard something very important. He remembers for life this moment, and what he heard.
Let’s go back to the very exercises. After the preparation period, the student begins to master concentration.
Self-hypnosis and observation of the breathing process – all of that is in the past.
The thing is in shifting the focus from outward to inward. Breathing was necessary only as transitional factor to accustom for the focusing on inward. The auto-suggestion formulas and visualizations served this purpose.
What achieved is becoming an observer of your own mind. Not to rule, not to concentrate it, just to watch. We should admit that at first it is difficult to manage. The mind acts like attraction, it magnetizes the watcher and student distracts from exercises and involves in the flow of associations, thoughts, emotions or memories. The method is very simple: you should stubbornly stupid, with determination return your mind every time to pure observation.
Sit with your eyes closed and do nothing. Give freedom to the mind. Let it jump from thought to thought, even cruising by the streams of associations and memories, even making plans for the future or remember the moments of the past.
Imagine that during this exercise you split yourself apart. One part continues to be like before – furious, endless thoughts come and go, doing rethinking of the pieces of the past. Mind is full of chaos mixing desire, resentment, hope and associations, and in parallel, at the same time there is a different point of excitation in the mind, the observation point, the guard. That is the exercise.
Close your eyes and watch your mind. Do not stop it, do not interfere and do not forget about the process of observation.
And the miracle begins. Believe me. The time during which it occurred is varied. I think right here it is the matter of adrista, the experience from previous incarnations. But no matter who is a student, even if he has no experience of meditation in past lives, the progress will be significant.
This exercise is not very difficult. I would say this is the easiest exercise in the world. After all, a student does not do anything and does not force himself. There is no need to focus or to stress your lungs. Just watch the mind. But this exercise is so UNUSUAL that it is difficult to force yourself to practice it.
We are all accustomed to the outside. Anyway, we can still make ourselves to practice conscious breathing. But to shift the focus on our own mind and to give it at least half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening for a few months – for some reason it becomes a difficult task for us.
Alas, there is no way to avoid or modify this stage. You can master the meditation only this way.
There is no clear distinction between concentration and meditation. One transfers to the other. Scriptures say this: if you can keep your focus for 12 seconds to stay on one detail (point, object, thought) of consciousness, this is called concentration (dharana). In other words, once the student can stop the mind for 12 seconds on the point between the eyebrows, or the solar plexus, this is dharana.
12 dharanas is dhyana. In other words, about two or three minutes of continuous concentration is called meditation. A 12 dhyanas is samadhi. Samadhi is the highest stage of meditation. It turns out, the student who has mastered the mind so that he can hold it for 12 seconds – he learned dharana.
After that, with more exercising the student gradually masters dhyana, when he keeps the mind one-pointed in about two or three minutes. Once he is mastering meditation so that focus on one point holds for more than 20 minutes, he becomes a master and his mind go into Samadhi – the mysterious condition, which we will not discuss in this book. You can read my work on Yoga, where I talk about the higher stages of yoga. In this book, I intend to give practical advice and examples of meditation manuals for the practice.
Let’s return to the practical side. So, before we were talking about that the student must pass certain preparatory steps of the method of autogenic training, using techniques of yoga or the method of Zen. Whatever he uses, he must master the ability to stay a long time without moving, as if he is “freed from the body” and divert the attention from the outside world, turn it off and shift the attention inward.
He must exercise in watching the mind, thus as he developed inside the mind a new center, parallel. He can sit with his eyes closed, trying to breathe slowly and in rhythm, and at the same time have to watch himself, sitting and concentrating attention on the process of inhalation and exhalation.
You feel that we are talking about something very difficult. In fact, it is apparently simple.
Imagine a room full of junk, antiques and dirt. At first it seems that to bring the room to order is very difficult. But if you do not hurry, if you extend the work in time, the work will turn into something enjoyable. Similarly, when learning meditation. The first attempt should not confuse you. The mind is not developing the same way as muscle.
The person begins to play sports, practice bodybuilding or martial arts for years and get stronger, the muscles are strengthened, grow, become more flexible, but it happens slow and there is a limit (at a moderate workout).
But the mind is developed differently. At first, the student does not control it. He cannot sit alone, cannot go deep into himself, thoughts are jumping, the body rebels, he becomes bored and experiences lack of faith. But by controlling himself and continuing the practice, the student becomes able to be in silence, still for a long time and be lost in himself and mastering his own psyche. There is no limit, as in bodybuilding or sports. The student can progress all the time.
I should point out that there is certain amplitude, the pendulum principle. This is described, and I experienced it myself and my students without exception had similar experience. So, the reasons mentioned below should be taken with confidence.
The mastering of meditation is strange: first you make progress, which is replaced by regression. Like a student fell from the height reached. But if he continues to train hard, he rises to a new level. Then follows a setback and after he takes off again, now to the next stage. And so on.
The reason for this mechanism is inertia of the subconscious, some engrain records in your mind (samskaras and vassanas), but we will not talk about it here, I described them in detail in the “Psychology of Yoga”.
So, you should be prepared for these amplitudes of progress. No need to lose motivation, every recession must rise to a new level.
As I created this work as a practical guide, I will not go over the endless list of different meditations. Believe me, there are a lot of them. And often student begins to try different meditations, moving from one to the next, but do not have the basic skills of concentration. And the results are disappointing.
I will describe different kinds of meditation in the next work, but in this one let’s be limited by already mentioned and try to make a resume.
1. To begin the practice of meditation is not required to adhere to any ethical rules, diet, have certain faith or point of view. You can be a smoker or non-smoker, drinker or not, you can use drugs or to refrain from doing so. This work is not about yoga, which begins with ethics. The only thing you need to start is the desire. Nothing more. If there is a quiet room, then great, if not, then you can exercise before going to bed and after waking up. For about 20 minutes, twice a day. But it is better to start with five minutes.
2. First, you need to learn how to relax the body and mind, getting in a certain condition, which is called autogenic dive. It is a state of rest, but not sleepy.
3. Next, for some time you learn to transfer the attention inward. And this is the preparatory stage: the concentration on the breath. It is very difficult to set a firm deadline. About for a month for each stage approximately. A month to learn to relax the body (better to use the stages of autogenic training, which I have described.) After that, one more month to concentrate on the process of breathing, the usual, slightly lengthened, without any delay. The same way as we breathe during sleep.
4. Then for a month to practice observation of the mind, to become a witness. Do not try to concentrate the mind or switch it to something. Let it ride as it wants, let it wander the paths of associations, memories and plans. But in parallel, part of your mind must remain the dispassionate observer.
5. All this will lead student to master the concentration, dharana. And then, as described in the ancient scriptures, 12 dharanas = dhyana. 12 dhyanas = samadhi.
This is what happens in practice: the student takes a meditation pose (the one he mastered in months of the preliminary training), quickly enters the pre-meditative state, by going through the steps that he developed: calms the body, automates breath, and begins to observe his own mind and a SURPRISING thing occur: the mind comes to peace. This is a result of the exercise, when the student was watching his own psyche, without interfering. This is because during this time in the mind formed a new focus, a new point, a guard.
There is no mystery. We all know that there is hypnosis, and one-fifth of humanity is exposed to hypnosis and can be immersed in its deepest stage – somnambulism. So, somnambulism is a state where the mind slowed down, but there is a certain part, a point, a guard that is associated with the words of the hypnotist. Through this guard-point hypnotist communicates with the rest of the psyche.
Something like this happens with the mind in meditation, but without the frills of hypnotic. Every day, by watching his own mind the student develops a new focus in mind, the “watchdog”. Here in mind the different memories and associations are floating, but parallel part of the psyche remains quiet, watching everything else. It goes on from day to day, and slowly swirling in the mind calms down.
Why? It happens because the Watch Center “is gaining power.” Restless work, different memories and rambling thoughts should not be fed by anything, they just there. The student does not try to delete them, but do not feed them with details also. He just observes, contemplates. The contemplation itself is also a mental process. And this process becomes stronger, as is repeated regularly. And gradually, the energy is redistributed.
The student discovers that with each new meditation, his mind becomes calmer and quieter. There is less of confusion in it, smaller associations and fewer memories. At the same time the dispassionate observation becomes easier and easier.
Earlier THE WHOLE mind rushed for memories or fantasies and student FORGOT that he must monitor his own mental stream in parallel. It happens in the beginning. But gradually it happens less and less often.
I repeat, without any effort. After all, we watched our mind for hours of childhood, fantasized or pondering something, or remembered. Meditation is the same thing, but with the part of the psyche as the observer. By exercising regularly, the student develops this observer and gradually all the mind energy flows to it. And one day, he discovers that there is nothing to observe. This is the first stage of meditation. The mind is calm, the student observes the bubbling of his mind, but there is NO more bubbling.
Then he moves the attention to the observer and starts to observe the observer.
Very generally, the secret is this: to learn how to observe the mind. Once you have learnt it, move the attention to the observer.
All this is not as difficult as described in various books. Or rather, there are different stages: to reach one is easy, the other is difficult or some require a long time.
But as soon as student is able to shift attention to the subject or the observer for 12 seconds, you can say that he had mastered the dharana – concentration. If he is able to extend this process to 2-3 minutes, then he mastered dhiyana – contemplation. And when he reached the stage where he can switch to the observer for 20 minutes, he had mastered the Samadhi or mastered the Meditation.