Dhyana is the seventh step in the 8 limb path of yoga and is considered the penultimate practice of yoga. Dhyana is meditation.
Meditation is a tricky thing and all of the exercises that I’ve asked you to do in this series so far with Mindfulness and Concentration have all been practice for meditation. In the traditional sense meditation requires that you sit still, breathe, and keep your mind on one predetermined focus.
What do you do when thoughts come into your head? Well, you sort them. You keep the thoughts that promote your meditation topic and discard the ones that do not.
How do I know which thoughts to keep and which to discard? We’ll get more into that next week when we discuss enlightenment, but for now you need to determine what the goal of your meditation is and that will help you decide what to keep and what to eliminate.
What is my focus? Here are four ways that I teach for practicing meditation:
- Meditate to elicit a specific response: In our practice last week I used both the image of an arc or half circle to elicit the response of happiness and the image of a feather to elicit the feeling of freedom and lightness. Another way to do this is to use scent in your meditation practice. There are calming scents like lavender and vanilla and chamomile and eucalyptus and spearmint and other things that make you feel serene. Then there are energizing scents like citrus that can make you feel like you can get up and go. Think about what you want to get out of your meditation and use a scent to keep you in that mindset. I like the smell of cinnamon when I want to think about family and appreciation because it reminds me of baking, the holidays, and a full house. A recent student of mine used gardenia flowers because it made her feel accomplished, like when she completed working in her garden. These smells can also be tied into the exercise we did in the first week with mindful eating and choosing our foods to elicit a response.
- Meditate to change your response: When we practiced last week we took time to repeat a mantra in order to prepare our mindset for the work ahead. We changed our response from a negative and distracted state of mind to a focused and prepared to tackle anything frame of thinking. This also meant that the job at hand didn’t seem so large. Friday I wrote about Learned Optimism and talked about the D for dispute. Seligman tells us that when we look at our adversities (A) and recognize the beliefs (B) that come with them and then see the consequences (C) of those beliefs, then we may need to Dispute them in order to energize (E) ourselves forward. Self talk during meditation can be a great way to move yourself forward from a negative response to a positive one. Seligman says to look for evidence that the belief is true, look for alternative consequences, how useful is the belief, and what are the implications of it all. In yoga we also use affirmations for this same purpose. Writing a personal, brief, present tense, and positive statement that affirms the state of mind that we want to be in and repeating it to ourselves 100x/day. Another way to change these responses is associated with Seligman’s other two D’s: distract or distance. A freeform of journaling in meditation can help. I like writing the words LET GO at the top of a page and then writing down all of the things I need to let go of. I can’t go back and review them and check off my list or change them as I go. It must be truly free form, so I’m just writing…..letting it all out of me. Then, without rereading it, I tear it up and get rid of it for good. No more ruminating! Journaling the negative and holding on to those journals is like packing up boxes of rotting, stinking garbage and keeping it in your living room. Not productive and not something you need to keep around to move forward in life.
- Meditate to Zen out and create a sense of relief and serenity: Many people come to yoga and meditation in order to be free of it all! The best way I can think to do this one is to still the body and to let go of the thoughts for a change. In Restorative Yoga we can allow the body to relax more fully than in many of the traditional yoga practices. Additionally, we don’t always have to be seated. If you can find the most comfortable position in which you can be still and focused, but not fall asleep, try an OM chant meditation. Your only focus here is to make sure that you chant with the word OM. Feeling the vibrations of the chant in your body brings you that awareness that we found in Mindfulness practice, but also a calming feeling. You will have no other thoughts than “OM” and sometimes that’s what we need. Here is a link to an OM chant on Amazon that is 60 minutes long (repeats in about 5 minute loops) and is less than $1!
- Meditate to find Enlightenment: The disputing activity in #2 and certain mantras can also bring enlightenment (my own E) as can the practice of Svadhyaya and use of the Dharmachakra mudra. The rest of this one we will discuss next week.
The two things I caution you about in regards to mediation are this; make sure that you have a set intent ahead of time and don’t feel regret if it’s hard at first. Meditation takes practice and perhaps you’d do better with one of the earlier practices instead of a deeper practice at this time. And one final note…..I don’t recommend music during meditation as it tends to be more of a distraction than an assist.
I would love it if you would share your favorite meditation with us here in the comments or as a post on your blog linked in the comments below!