You may have heard that the best way to overcome a bad habit is simply to replace it with a better one. That works spiritually as well, in that we can learn to replace ego identification with awareness of our Self as Soul.  To do that effectively, however, ones needs experiential proof of our spiritual reality, lest otherwise it be mere wishful thinking or mental affirmation.

One of the most effective ways to tune in and experience our Self is through meditation. In meditation, we discard the outer stimulus of the world and the bad habit of identification with matter and our earth bound form. Instead, we replace it with experiences of our True Self, thus establishing the good habit of identification with our spiritual nature.

Mind you, it’s not that having an earthly form is bad. The human body is the sanctuary and home of our soul during it’s sojourn in the physical world. In that sense, the body is a sacred and wonderful gift. No, it’s not the body that’s the problem, it’s our false identification with the body and our forgetfulness of the Self that resides within.

Did you ever hear about St. Francis of Assisi calling his body Brother Donkey? He understood. His body was simply a vehicle to transfer his soul from hither and yon, and to provide it earthly experiences that were not available on Spirit side.

For a moment let’s discuss the difference between concentration and meditation. Yogananda has said that concentration is one pointed attention on anything, and he described meditation as concentration on an aspect of Spirit. Additionally, in Patanjali’s eight fold path, we see that there are various levels of concentration, from simple attention to complete absorption.

One of the most powerful forms of meditation is simply to meditate on the breath, or the use of mantra. I might add, too, that concentrating on Infinity is very helpful. One way to do that is to meditate with eyes open on the horizon, or a starry night, or a vast distance.

Yogananda has also stated that there are eight aspects of Spirit that can be experienced and meditated upon. These are Light, Sound, Peace, Calmness, Love, Joy, Wisdom and Power. In another blog, I’ll offer specific meditation techniques to find attunement to each of these eight aspects.

Below you’ll find Yogananda’s thoughts on the eight aspects of God, as recorded by Swami Kriyananda and published in The Essence of Self-Realization.

“There are eight aspects in which God can be experienced: as Light, Sound, Peace, Calmness, Love, Joy, Wisdom, and Power.

“To experience Him as Light during meditation brings calmness to the mind, purifying it and giving it clarity. The more deeply one contemplates the inner light, the more one perceives all things as made of that light.

“To experience God as Sound is to commune with the Holy Ghost, or Aum, the Cosmic Vibration. When you are immersed in Aum, nothing can touch you. Aum raises the mind above the delusions of human existence, into the pure skies of divine consciousness.

“Peace is an early meditative experience. Peace, like a weightless waterfall, cleanses the mind of all anxiety and care, bestowing heavenly relief.

“Calmness is another divine experience. This aspect of God is more dynamic and more powerful than that of Peace. Calmness gives the devotee power to overcome all the obstacles in his life. Even in human affairs, the person who can remain calm under all circumstances is invincible.

“Love is another aspect of God—not personal love, but Love in nite. Those who live in ego-consciousness think of impersonal love as cold and abstract. But divine love is all-absorbing, and in nitely comforting. It is impersonal only in the sense that it is utterly untainted by sel sh desire. The unity one nds in divine love is possible only to the soul. It cannot be experienced by the ego.

“Joy is another aspect of God. Divine joy is like millions of earthly joys crushed into one. The quest for human happiness is like looking around for a candle while sitting out of doors in the sun. Divine joy surrounds us eternally, yet people look to mere things for their happiness. Mostly, all they nd is relief from emotional or physical pain. But divine joy is the blazing Reality. Before it, earthly joys are but shadows.

“Wisdom is intuitive insight, not intellectual understanding. The difference between human and divine wisdom is that the human mind comes at things indirectly, from without. The scientist, for example, investigates the atom objectively. But the yogi becomes the atom. Divine perception is always from within. From within alone can a thing be understood in its true essence.

“Power, finally, is that aspect of God which creates and runs the universe. Imagine what power it took to bring the galaxies into existence! Masters manifest some of that power in their lives. The expression, ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,’ describes only one side of Jesus’ nature. The other side was revealed in the power with which he drove the moneychangers from the temple. Just think what magnetism it took to combat single-handedly all those men, entrenched as they were in habits and desires that had been sanctioned by ancient custom!

“People are often appalled by the power they see expressed in the lives of saints. But remember, you will never nd God until you are very strong in yourself. Power may exercise less appeal on your mind than other aspects of God, but it is important to realize that divine power, too, is a part of your divine nature.

“Whatever aspect of God you experience in meditation, never keep it contained in the little chalice of your consciousness, but try always to expand that experience to infinity.”

The Heartfelt Hug

Stand facing each other, and for a moment, look into each others eyes. Now enter into a gentle embrace.

With eyes closed and lifted gently up, open your heart and allow love to flow from your heart to the heart of the person within your embrace.

Begin to match your breathing together. A full breath in through the nostrils; An exhalation through the mouth.  Not a strained breathing, but slow and relaxed. One that you can both easily maintain.

As you breathe in feel your chests pressing a little closer together. Imagine your auras commingling and your hearts Divine Love merging as one.

Now, just as if your ear was to your partner’s chest, begin to sense with your heart the heartbeat of the one you are holding. Even if you can’t feel it physically, embrace it, and allow that beating heart to merge with yours, like a gentle hug, within and without.

Stay in that embrace for a few moments longer. When you are done, take a big breath in and a full exhalation out, and allow the embrace to come to an end.

Stand again facing each other and for a moment look into each others eyes. With folded palms at the heart, bid each other Namaste. My soul bows to your soul and honors the Divinity within.

by Rowan Lommel, yogini and contributing writer
visit
www.yogapotentials.com for more by Rowan
Used with Permission

The following 12 Sanskrit words can help illuminate your holiday yoga practice and meditations.

Yoga Sutra I.36 viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī
“We can be free of suffering by paying attention to the light within.”

As we move now toward the shortest day and longest night of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere), let’s take a deeper look at yoga teachings on light and darkness and explore what they have to say about light within and without, body and mind, the transient and the eternal. Though for us moving toward the Winter Solstice light is now diminishing, yoga philosophy suggests there is a light within that never wanes.

First, let’s introduce two ancient Sanskrit words: The ancient yogis saw our being as spiritual creatures made up of (word #1) prakṛti [prak-rit-ee] and (word #2) puruṣa [poo-roo-sha].

Prakṛti is our body (it is also a word used to mean “nature”). It is all that is changing in us, or, in other terms, and this is not always obvious: the body-brain system. It is not always obvious because we identify with something that is changing, thinking that it is something permanent.

Puruṣa is all that is not changing within us, sometimes defined as the soul, or pure awareness, or in some other contexts, “consciousness.”

Puruṣa is the light that never wanes.

Now a third and fourth Sanskrit word: Patañjali (#3), who compiled the Yoga Sutra-s sometime around 350 CE, uses the word īśvara (#4) to mean a Higher Power. Iśvara is the source of light, or pure awareness or consciousness; through puruṣa (our individual light as experienced by us), we are connected to this one light, the source of all light, awareness, consciousness.

So, the interesting question arises, if reality and our relation to reality is constructed like this, how is darkness possible? How can depression, wrong action, confusion, illness, a sense of disconnect from light and wholeness, arise? This is an ancient question, and a living one.

Here are some things to ponder from the yoga teachings and their related philosophies. These are suggestions we can more than ponder, but test in our own life and in our yoga practice to discover for ourselves what they might mean.

Sanskrit word #5 is prāṇa, or life force. The ancient yogis saw health as a smooth flow of prāṇa within the body-brain system. Since our body is made of matter, it has limitations or a conditioned nature. We experience that conditioning, yoga suggests, through the guṇas (#6), or tendencies. The guṇas influence matter very strongly. Just as electricity can’t pass through wood but it can pass through copper, the body’s receptivity to prāṇa will change. According to yoga, the guṇas govern this receptivity.

The guṇas are sattva (#7: balance, order, purity), rajas (#8: change, movement, dynamism) and tamas (#9: lethargy, dullness, slowness).

To bring this full circle and to see the interconnected, holistic view of reality to which yoga is inviting us, the guṇas also qualify the seasons. Sattva is the springtime, with it’s creative potential, and all that blossoms with it. Rajas is the summer, it is hot, people move around and travel. Tamas is associated with fall and winter as it gets darker and colder. The seasons are a reflection of the guṇas of the world. When people talk about nature or the environment, we usually understand it to be the external world. However, according to yoga philosophy, the internal environment is just as or even more important than the external.

In the moments when we are feeling less receptive to the light within, it doesn’t mean the light is not there. Our receptivity is different in accordance with our state of mind. Yoga suggest that deep inside us there is always light. That is why Patañjali advises us in Yoga Sutra I.36 to meditate on the light within.

YS I.36 viśokā vā jyotiṣmat
“We can be free of suffering by paying attention to the light within.”

Viśokā (#10) literally means “no despondency.” When grief is sustained it becomes despondency. Everyone has bad experiences in their lives, but when we identify with those past experiences we negate our reception of light. According to yoga philosophy there is always an inward resource.

Jyoti (#11) is our inner light, and jyotiṣmatī (#12!) means “to focus on the light within.” Despondency may transform when we pay attention to the light inside.
In times where we feel darkness or depressed, we don’t need to search outside, the yoga teachings suggest, we can be inspired by the source of light inside. The next time you are in a state that feels disconnected, try your yoga practice. Did that feeling turn out to be reality, or does it change when your body-breath-mind state changes?

The teachings of yoga seem to be suggesting something further as well, beyond helping us return to equilibrium. Here seems to be a key point: both suffering and joy are only possible in something that changes. When you begin to become sensitive to the transient, changeable nature of prakṛti, you might ask, what is it that lies beyond all the changes, what is the source of both light and dark? What is there that never changes?

That may be the most eternal quest.

Source: 12 Illuminating Sanskrit Words for Christmas Yoga Meditations by Rowan Lommel for the Huffington Post
Originally published on December 11, 2013
Rowan Lommel is a Yoga Teacher & Yoga Therapist and founder of the New School of Yoga for yoga teacher training.

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padma

 

 

by Padma Shyam, contributing writer and Canadian yogi
visit www.padmayoga.ca for more by Padma
Used with Permission

 

 

Years ago, when I lived in the Himalayas, there was absolutely nothing to do in the wintertime. The days were bitterly cold and the nights were eerily quiet. Yet in this extreme environment, there was also a beautiful peace and quiet that set a perfect stage for meditation.

Just Breathe
Meditation in the winter (and especially during the holiday season) can help us avoid the stress and stimuli that often accompanies this busy time of year. Meditation is a soulful training program to balance your nervous system and connect with your own potential and power. It’s also about finding stillness and tapping into the bliss you hold within yourself. Simply put, it’s about becoming more aware, more appreciative and happier. With the long winter about to set in, now’s a great opportunity to practice some winter meditations.

Create Your Sacred Space
How can this be done?  Find a cozy spot in your home where you can be in peace and won’t be disturbed.  Get a comfortable cushion (like a zafu) to sit on. Wrap yourself in a warm shawl or blanket. Then light a candle and settle into the quiet space you’ve created. Begin to gently inhale and exhale and take in the sound of silence. Enjoy being relaxed and at ease.  If you like, you can try saying this mantra: “Amaram Shyamm” (pronounced um-u-rum-shom), which means “infinite peaceful quiet.” Repeat this as often as you like. Take whatever time you need. Just enjoy the feeling of stillness you have created for yourself.

Set An Intention To Sit Still Everyday
If you make the effort to simply sit still and be at peace in your own company each day, this will become more and more a natural feeling. With a regular practice, you will discover the hidden gold that is within you.  Soon, every meditation session will be your private retreat and a time of replenishing self-communion. This will revitalize you and fill you with joy. What could be more comforting? Try it. May peace and love be with you. Silent Night, Holy Night, All is Calm, All is Bright.

Compassion/Loving Kindness meditation, sometimes called Metta, is a compassion-based meditation that has been shown to enhance brain areas associated with mental processing and empathy. It also increases one’s sense of social connectedness. According to a study published in the US National Library of Medicine, mindfulness-based meditation interventions have become increasingly popular in contemporary psychology.

Other closely related meditation practices include loving-kindness meditation (LKM) and compassion meditation (CM), exercises oriented toward enhancing unconditional, positive emotional states of kindness and compassion. LKM and CM enhance activation of brain areas that are involved in emotional processing and empathy. The study concluded that, when combined with treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, LKM and CM provide potentially useful strategies for targeting a variety of different psychological problems that involve interpersonal processes, such as social anxiety, marital conflict, anger, and coping with the strains of long-term caregiving.

There are two components of mindfulness: one that involves self-regulation of attention and one that involves an orientation toward the present moment characterized by curiosity openness, and acceptance. Mindfulness meditation employs the full range of perceptible experience as possible objects of mindful awareness, for example, bodily or other sensory experience, affective states, thoughts, or images. It also brings attention to breathing.

The aims of breath awareness are, among others, (1) to use an observable and constantly available physical stimulus (the breath) as the object of investigation of mind-body awareness; (2) to utilize continuous attention to the breath to improve the capability of moment-to-moment will-driven concentration; (3) and to employ a rather simple object of observation (which is intimately related to physical, mental, and emotional functioning) as a starting point for more complex objects of awareness.

These mindful practices – loving-kindness meditation (LKM) – aim to develop an affective state of unconditional kindness to all people. Compassion meditation (CM) involves techniques to cultivate compassion or deep, genuine sympathy for those stricken with misfortunate, together with an earnest wish to ease this suffering. Furthermore, these practices – and the path of yoga – begin with cultivating appreciation of our oneness with others through generosity, non-harming, right speech, and right action. Then, on the foundation of these qualities, we purify our minds through the concentration practices of meditation. As we do, we come to experience wisdom through recognizing the truth, and we become deeply aware of the suffering caused by separation and of the happiness of knowing our connection with all beings.

Source: US National Library of Medicine

Have you ever left a meditation unsatisfied, wondering why you can’t seem to quiet the mind, frustrated with restlessness?

You’re not the only one. The common credence is that a good meditation is still, the mind is quiet. A meditator’s paradise is the ability to have thoughts at a standstill, and anything less than that is a difficult or bad meditation.

So what do we do? We equip ourselves with the tools and techniques and drive the road of meditation with a continuous rehearsal of refinement and self-analysis. At first, this road can appear overwhelming – the scenery is new, exciting, perhaps even beautiful – but it eventually might swerve into the bumpy, mechanical, and scientific (proper breathing, appropriate posture and prop selection, visualization & focus, mantras, mudras, the list goes on…). Suddenly our seated session passes by and we realize we were thinking the entire time; the judgement ensues.

Thinking is not the enemy of meditation. Thinking, in fact, is essential to our lives. We need it to make important decisions, to plan, communicate, and to grow. The problem isn’t so much that we think; the problem is thinking that our thoughts are new when the actual act of thinking is fixed.

For example, once I believed that I was to blame for my father’s disinterest in having a relationship with me. I came up with all the evidence to prove it: I wasn’t good or smart enough, I didn’t follow in his religious footsteps, I took on more of my mother’s traits than his, I should have persisted in pursuing him in spite of my step-mother’s control – the inner blame went on. Then my own defense would kick in: you called, you wrote, you text, you visited, you pretended to accept the hurtful, insensitive teasing and judgements, you cried, pled, and even moved closer to him. Enough is enough. “Oh, but the regret if something ever happens to him.”

This is an example of how thinking tends to be for or against, one over the other. We think that thinking is the problem when, actually, it is the quality of our thoughts. This is why meditation is so important – it brings clarity and direction.

Rather than overcoming the feat of thought-elimination, one of the most fundamental skills to develop in meditation is to be able to identify and suspend polarized thoughts – calming the impulse to be at war with opposition. One relative example is relaxing the body. You physically want to be still – you know it’s beneficial because it’s been proven to foster less stress and mental activity. Yet, the body struggles because there is resistance that the complete opposite will occur.

If meditating removes the thought of thinking, you may find meditation difficult because the feat of removing thought can cause tension and resistance. This makes meditation frustrating; it creates a space for self-critique. Furthermore, attempting to focus on, “I am not going to think” will feed into more thinking. This teeter-tottering is what most of us do when we make decisions, communicate, and plan. We weigh the evidence and choose the best option.

However, one of meditation’s goals is to liberate thinking, to allow ourselves a space where the thoughts do not control us rather than us attempting to control the thoughts. This is where techniques are fruitful – they give us something other than thinking to focus on. It offers the mind something to do rather than letting it freely do as it usually does. It further elevates our consciousness, too.

Most techniques fall under posture and breathing. This is why it is so important – especially for beginners – to find a path and practice that fosters a connection with one’s self and the divine. Once you feel connected to a certain teacher or guru, the more likely you will invest energy and commitment. This aspect of devotion is equally if not more important than the techniques.

When you sit and feel your shoulders slumped, ask your thinking, “How can I improve my posture?” “How does this affect my breathing, and how can I expand it?” Does the chest feel contracted or caved in? This is indication that thinking is doing its thing, and when you’re thinking notices that, draw the shoulders back. Broaden the chest, and lengthen the spine. Sit up straight! You can have your thinking count breaths; practice the simple strategy of measured breathing. Here’s thinking at its best – it is working for you and not against you.

One approach is to give your thinking a task. Mantras, mudras, and chanting are useful. Set a practical goal. For example, I am going to “Aum” 25 times at my spiritual eye. Or, visualize spaciousness and breath in the heart chakra. You could even picture your guru, your spiritual guide, sitting next to you and ask for guidance and support in meditation.

When you’re not sitting, exercise your thinking muscles. Ask yourself the “big” questions, such as “What do I really want in life?” All of these activities keep thinking occupied in a productive way. It beats the approach of sitting and trying to enter a sudden void. In a sense, you invite your thinking to join you in meditation rather than exclude it. It’s more likely, then, that your thinking will collaborate and harmonize with you.

Another way to make friends with the mind is to remind it that you are checking out temporarily. You are not abandoning the mind completely. You are merely asking the thoughts to take a time-out from its busy tasks. Directly ask your thinking to leave you alone – the judgment, attachments, gossip, and opinions – so you can meditate. Agree to check in afterward to listen to what your thinking has to say; you may find that it actually likes to meditate!

Watching the mind obtain a state of quietness is like cleaning a pot that has sat for a long time. At first it just seems dirty, but then we add clean water (our awareness) and begin to scrub. We see it become what seems like an even bigger mess, as now we’ve “disturbed the bees nest” of our mind. The clean water is now full of debris. Only as we continue to scrub (concentration) and rinse (devotion) do we see the result we wanted – a clean pot – and a mind that is calm and deep.

In the end, never make a part of yourself the enemy. Going into overwhelm or state of war creates resistance. Find a balance of ease and resilience. Doing so helps strengthen will power and break through preconceived limitations. The mind and its thoughts are constantly discovering ways to engage, create, and enjoy. Through meditation – and welcoming what seems like intruding thoughts – we are able to live, awaken, and transform our lives. Thinking is not the enemy; it can be a significant spiritual friend.

“The best and shortest road towards knowledge of truth is Nature.”
— Ancient Egyptian Proverb

“Unlike our mind, our body and senses are always in the present. Being present in nature makes it much easier for us to inhabit our body and the realm of the senses. Unlike our temperature-controlled houses, the natural world entices our senses to wake up. When we step outdoors, our skin receptors enliven as we feel subtleties of temperature and breeze. Our hearing becomes sharper as we listen to nuances of birdsong, silence, and the rustling of leaves in a forest. Most of all, our eyes become captivated by the beauty, texture, and sheer diversity of color, shape, and form,” says Mark Coleman, a psychotherapist, life coach, Buddhist meditation practitioner, and author of Awake in the Wild: Mindfulness in Nature as a Path of Self-Discovery. By being present in nature, more so practicing meditation in its presence, the more we can be a part of our surroundings, drink from the well of its beauty, and bring positive change into the world.

“Nature and Me” is a Sharing Nature wellness activity by Joseph Cornell, whose teachings have been used by Boy Scouts of America, the American Camping Association, and the National Audubon Society. Its practice allows a deepening practice of mindfulness. Cultivating a meditative practice outdoors can heighten sensitivity, bringing about a sense of wonder, beauty, and connection. Practice in wilderness, a garden, and even a city park!

Nature and Me:

Find a captivating spot outdoors, such as a flower-filled meadow or a forest glade. Sit down (or remain standing) and rest both hands, palm down, lightly on the thighs.

Reflection Lake

During this exercise you’re going to look for natural phenomena that capture your attention: for example, the texture of a tree’s bark, a field of flowers waving in the wind, or a bird calling deep in the forest. Don’t think about what you see or notice; just let your awareness flow from one observation to another.

Each time you see something, gently press a fingertip on your thigh to note the observation. Counting this way helps keep your concentration fully focused on your observation. Touching the leg also helps you feel that everything you see is united with you.

Use the ten fingertips on both hands to count your observations in batches of ten. Start with the left hand’s little fingertip and count across to your right hand, ending with its little finger. Go across as many times as you like. Two to three times (20 to 30 observations) work well.

Another way to play Nature and Me is to focus on one object like a tree or boulder that has many interesting features. With each observation, you will discover more and more detail about your subject: perhaps noticing its silhouette or shape, its color and texture, its immediate environment. The suggested number of observations for this version is fifteen to twenty. Children and adults who are more scientifically inclined usually prefer this second version of Nature and Me.

Source: Ananda

 

In addition to consistent practice and meditation technique, with equal importance is probably proper body alignment and comfort. There are various options for meditation postures. Understanding proper body alignment is important and which cushions facilitate proper body alignment allows you to sit correctly and comfortably, allowing deeper meditation.

Which Meditation Posture is Right for You?
It is important to find a meditation position that is most comfortable for you and your body type. What works best for one may not suit another. Find a position offering you the greatest stability and proper body alignment of the head, neck, shoulders and spine. Maintaining proper body alignment is a key component in being able to lengthen your time sitting in meditation. If your mind is focused on body aches and discomfort, the goal of achieving a state of deep meditation can remain elusive.

The 5 most common sitting meditation postures are:

  1. Full lotus – where the right foot rests on the left thigh and the left foot rests on the right thigh.
  2. Half-lotus – where one foot rests on one thigh while the other leg is folded underneath the other.
  3. Burmese – where the knees are bent and both legs are folded (but feet are not resting on the thighs).
  4. Kneeling or Seiza – knees are shoulder-width apart with the buttocks supported either by the heels, a zafu (sitting cushion) or other cushion, or a low sitting bench. Kneeling is often more comfortable for people with less flexibility in the hips and is the easiest position to get in or out of.
  5. Chair sitting – Keep your feet shoulder-width apart on the floor. If you have trouble with your back, use a cushion, such as a zafu, to support the lower back. Otherwise, sit toward the front third, away from leaning back. Both feet should be feel flat on the floor directly below your knees at approximately a 90 degree angle, if necessary use a cushion to elevate your feet. This is likely going to be the most comfortable position for most Westerners. It is not necessary, and even ill-advised, to force oneself into one of the above in order to meditate.

In all sitting meditation postures, it is important to keep the spine straight with the lower part of the back curved. Thighs should slope down from the pelvis to the knees enough to tile the pelvis forward and provide needed support for the lower back. Keeping the spine straight allows the diaphragm to move freely allowing breathing to become deep, easy and natural.

Can I lie down to meditate?
The answer is that while lying down posture for meditation is certainly an option, it is not generally recommended for meditation unless you are well rested. There is a tendency to fall asleep when lying down, which defeats one of the purposes of meditation which is to raise our awareness, energy, and consciousness.

The sitting postures will largely depend on your comfort level and flexibility in getting in and staying in a particular posture. The full lotus and half lotus require the most flexibility. Often beginners at meditation will experiment with a few before picking one or two favorites. Whatever position you choose, it should allow you to be in an alert yet relaxed position where breathing and circulation can flow optimally.

Finding the Right Meditation Cushion for Your Body Type

There are many meditation cushions available on the market in a variety of shapes, sizes and with many different fill materials to support proper alignment and comfort in meditation. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss all of them so we will focus on few of the most popular choices. Some things you will want to consider is your own height and flexibility, the height of the cushion, the fabric (ideally durable yet soft) and how well the filling supports your body.

Types of Meditation Cushions and Support

The Zafu Cushion

Zafu Meditation Cushion

The Zafu, the traditional round pleated cushion, raises the hips and upper body so that the legs can rest comfortably. It can be used in kneeling or seiza position but is typically used for Burmese or cross legged position. One should sit on the edge of the zafu so that the thighs slope down slightly. This posture will help to rotate the hips forward creating the natural curve in the spinal column. When the spinal column is in its natural alignment, the back, shoulders, neck and head will take on a comfortable upright posture that is easy to maintain during meditation. When used alone, the zafu is well suited for persons of average height and who have normal to above average flexibility.

Taller people and those with more limited flexibility tend to benefit from a higher sitting position. A rectangular meditation cushion can be used with the zafu to increase height and allow for positioning of the cushions to produce proper alignment.

The Rectangular Meditation Cushion
The rectangular meditation cushion can be used alone or in conjuction with a Zabuton to provide an additional lift. It’s rectangular shape makes it easy for stacking. This simple cushion is not as high as the zafu and it is often the preferred choice by those with greater flexibility or who are of average height or lower.

The Zabuton Meditation Cushion

Zafu on top of Zabuton Cushion


The zabuton meditation cushion provides cushioning for the knees and ankles during sitting meditation. This cushion is designed to be placed under the zafu or other sitting cushion. Proper alignment of the body in the sitting posture can create some additional pressure on the knees and ankles, and the zabuton helps to cushion these pressure areas.

Crescent Cushion

The Crescent Zafu
The crescent zafu is ideal for sitting in the cross legged or in the Burmese position. An advantage to using this type of meditation cushion is that it provides more surface area for sitting, and elevates your legs which helps prevent them from falling asleep – a common problem for many practitioners.   The height of the crescent cushion can be adjusted by adding or removing the fill from an opening in the back of the cushion which can make it a good choice for larger people.

Meditation Benches and Other Accessories

Meditation benches are portable and are appropriate for those who are less flexible and need more sturdy support. Other accessories, in addition to benches, are available for comfort, correct spinal alignment and support, assisting in deeper meditation and safe posture.

 

What’s Inside Counts: Choices of Fill for Meditation Cushions

Two different, yet popular choices for fill are Kapok and Buckwheat hulls, each with its own merits and characteristics.

Kapok is a soft, cotton like material that comes from the Kapok tree. When inside a cushion, the downy-like material becomes more firm and dense. The advantage to using kapok as a fill is that it does not become compressed like cotton or other foam filled products. It is light in weight and has some pliability so that it can conform to the body to a certain extent without too much give so it still provides support needed to keep proper posture.

Buckwheat hulls are dark, small and saucer shaped. When the hulls are in the meditation cushion, it feels like sand but without the heavy weight. The advantage to choosing a cushion that is filled with buckwheat is that it conforms quite easily to your body and gives you a grounded feeling during meditation practice. Cushions filled with buckwheat hull often feature a zippered opening that allows you to adjust the level of hulls to your comfort which can be a plus. The stability and pliability that this fill provides tends to make it a preferred choice amongst those who practice meditation on a regular basis.

Taking a little extra time to figure out the right meditation posture and cushion for your body can really help you to stick to your meditation practice by providing a more comfortable and, ultimately deeper and more satisfying, meditation experience!

(Source: Body Mind Awakening)

 

ananda-34-198x300Meditation can be practiced anytime, anywhere, for as little as 10 minutes a day. All you need is a simple, effective technique for calming the mind and relaxing the body, that inspires and motivates you to practice again and again.

*Daily meditation for at least 10 minutes per day has proven physical, mental and spiritual health benefits.

Instructions for Practicing Meditation

How to Sit in Meditation

  1. Sit upright in a chair with your spine straight (if possible without leaning against the back of the chair).
  2. Place your feet flat on the floor.
  3. Turn your hands palms facing upward, placing them at the joint between your thighs and torso, where your shoulders will be able to relax (shoulder blades back).
  4. Try to adjust your cushioning so that your legs are parallel to the floor (either by placing cushions under your feet or beneath your sit bones).
  5. Tilt your chin down slightly, so that the back of head and neck are in alignment with the spine.

How to Relax the Body

  1. Tense the whole body until it vibrates with energy. Release and let go of all tension.
  2. Feel the released energy vibrating throughout the body now.
  3. Now add a double breath– inhaling sharply through the nose two times (first short, then long). And exhaling through the mouth (first short, then long).
  4. Together! Tense and double inhale. Relax and double exhale. Repeat several times.
  5. Feel the body especially in its relaxation phase, full of energy and tension-free!

Even-Count (Measured) Breathing for Meditation

  1. Keeping to an even-measured count, practice watching the breath. For example: Inhale slowly counting to about 6 (or all the way to 12 if you can!), then hold the breath for 6 counts, then exhale slowly to the count of 6.
  2. Repeat this 3, 6, or 12 times, until you feel a sense of deep relaxation.

Hong-Sau Meditation Technique

As taught by Paramhansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi)

  1. At the end of your last round of even-measured breathing, wait at the last exhalation for a natural pause before your next inhalation, letting it come about on its own, without your control.
  2. When this next inhalation comes, mentally say the word Hong (rhymes with song).
  3. Let your exhalation come naturally as well, and with it, mentally say the word Sau(pronounced saw).
  4. Continue to watch the breath flow naturally, repeating the mantra Hong-Sau *with each inhalation and exhalation. If you find yourself pausing longer and more deeply, let it happen. These are “Pauses of Peace.”

*Hong-Sau is an ancient Sanskrit mantra, made of syllables that have a special meaning. A given mantra has spiritual power to affirm a truth, especially with repetition. The Hong-Sau mantra means “I am Spirit,” and is affirming letting go of the little self, by absorption into Spirit.

Gazing Upward to the Seat of Spiritual Consciousness

  1. Close the eyes.
  2. Gaze upward as if you were looking out just above the horizon.
  3. This brings the gaze to a point midway between the eyebrows at the forehead.
  4. Concentrate here and practice Hong-Sau, increasing the length of time gradually as you practice.

The location of the seat of spiritual consciousness as taught to us by the great yogi masters, is also the location of the frontal lobe of the brain where functions of higher consciousness and awareness have been scientifically-proven to be most active.

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