Meditation in the deeper sense
Meditation, in this deeper sense, begins with practice of stilling one's thoughts and emotions.
Yogananda told story of a man who was told, as a means of developing spiritual power, to be very careful not to think
of monkeys. Of course, next time he sat to meditate, the first thing he thought about was monkeys! The more he tried
not to think of them, the more he probed his memory for every variety of monkey he'd ever read or heard about. Monkeys
gradually became an obsession. At last, he returned to his teacher and cried, "Take back this teaching of yours! All it has
done is give me monkey-consciousness, not God-consciousness!"
At this, teacher laughed genially and explained, "I only wanted to help you realize how difficult it is to develop
spiritual powers, without first learning to control your own mind." He then went on to explain to his student positive
aspects of meditation.
So then, the first lesson is: Don't live in "monkey consciousness"! Instead of trying not to let thoughts and emotions
enter your mind, dwell on positive opposite practices that will exert a calming influence on your mind.
The breath is one such influence, when it is used rightly. Not only does breath reflect one's mental states: It also
greatly affects them.
Take breath as a reflection of thought and feeling.
When he falls asleep, his breathing rhythm changes: two counts of exhalation, to one of inhalation. When he is deeply
concentrated, he tends to hold his breath. When he is calm, his breathing becomes calm also.
The reverse also is true. By breathing agitatedly, one tends to create an agitated mental or emotional state. A
photographer, when taking a photo demanding sensitivity and concentration, learns to hold his breath before clicking
By calm, deep breathing, similarly, mind and emotions grow calm also, releasing us from any turmoil that may have been
seething within us. This is why advice is so often given to people who are angry or upset, "First, take a deep breath,
and count to ten."
A good practice when sitting to meditate is to do a few deep breathing exercise. The yoga teachings offer a number of such
exercises, some of which I explain in my yoga correspondence course, "The Art and Science of Raja Yoga." Less sophisticated
than many of these, but quite effective, is this:
Sit upright, and breathe deeply through nostrils counting 1-12. Hold breath 1-12. Then exhale, again to a count of
1-12. In this particular exercise, don't hold breath out, but begin again immediately with another inhalation. Repeat
this exercise six to twelve times.
Your posture during meditation is important. We've all seen photographs in advertisements of people "meditating" according
to Western notion of relaxation: a person reclining comfortably on a "Lazy Boy" chair, his feet up, his head tilted back
on headrest, his entire posture suggestive of a mood of abandonment. The yogis of India would smile at this passive
attempt at relaxation. The fact is, while relaxation is essential to deep meditation, passivity is one of pitfalls to
There are two directions mind can take once it relaxes its grip on conscious thought processes. One is to sink toward
subconsciousness. This direction is taken when one's relaxation is passive. The other direction is to rise toward
superconsciousness. Deep meditation is possible only in intensely positive state of superconsciousness, or
To attain this state of consciousness, it is important to sit upright with a straight spine. Traditionally, one does so
sitting on floor with legs crossed, preferably in one of yoga positions such as half or full lotus pose,
or siddhasana (the "perfect pose"), but Yogananda said that it is quite all right to sit on a straight-backed chair, with
feet flat on floor.
Sit away from back of chair. Place your hands palms upward at junction of thighs and abdomen. Hold
shoulders back to help keep spine straight. Hold chin parallel to ground.
Before deep breathing exercise, relax body. First, inhale; tense whole body till it vibrates; then throw
breath out, and with it all tension. Repeat this process two or three times.
After deep breathing, concentrate on relaxing more and more deeply - not physically only, but mentally and emotionally.
Feel space in body.
Look upward, concentrating your attention at central point between two eyebrows, seat of spiritual vision.
Offer up all thoughts and feelings in deep concentration at this point. Call mentally to God, "Reveal Thyself! Reveal
Gradually, you will feel His peace stealing over you, like a weightless waterfall.