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Meditation is an intensely personal and spiritual experience. The desired purpose of each meditation technique is to channel our awareness into a more positive direction by totally transforming one's state of mind. To meditate is to turn inwards, to concentrate on the inner self...The Self exists within all of us in purity, peace, bliss, and knowledge, and is free from mundane and temporary forms of happiness, sadness, or any mundane conditions. To attain that inner state we must turn inward, and one of the prominent ways of doing that is through meditation. Meditation is the art of focusing your mind, restraining your thoughts and looking deep into yourself. Practicing it can give you a better understanding of your purpose in life and of the divine, as well as provide you with certain physical and mental health benefits. It may be simple enough to empty your mind of thoughts but to prevent them from coming in is a lot harder than you'd expect.
The entire process of meditation usually entails the three stages of concentration (dharana - immovable concentration of the mind), meditation (dhyana - worship) and enlightenment or absorption (samadhi - becoming so absorbed in something that our mind becomes completely one with it). The individual preparing to meditate usually starts off by harnessing his awareness, such as focussing his mind onto a certain object. Once attention gets engaged, concentration turns into meditation or dhyana. And through continuous meditation, the meditator merges with the object of concentration, which might either be the present moment or the Divine Entity.
Humanity is increasingly turning towards various meditative techniques in order to cope with the increasing stress of modern-day lifestyles. Unable to locate stability in the outside world, people have directed their gaze inwards in a bid to attain peace of mind. Modern psychotherapists have begun to discover various therapeutic benefits of meditation practices. The state of relaxation and the altered state of consciousness-both induced by meditation-are especially effective in psychotherapy. But more than anything else, meditation is being used as a personal growth device these days-for inculcating a more positive attitude towards life at large.
Meditation is not necessarily a religious practice, but because of its spiritual element it forms an integral part of most religions. And even though the basic objective of most meditation styles remain the same and are performed in a state of inner and outer stillness, they all vary according to the specific religious framework within which they are placed. Preparation, posture, length of period of meditation, particular verbal or visual elements-all contribute to the various forms of meditation. Some of the more popular methods are, Transcendental Meditation, yoga nidra, vipassana and mindfulness meditation.
Meditation has not only been used as an important therapy for psychological and nervous disorders, from simple insomnia to severe emotional disturbances, but lately physicians have also prescribed it for curing various physical ailments as well. It is useful in chronic and debilitating diseases like allergies or arthritis, in which stress or hypersensitivity of the nervous system are involved. Regular meditation practices have also been known to help in dealing with pain and a number of painful diseases, whether chronic or acute. The act of meditation comes in useful because it helps the mind to detach itself from all material and physical attachments-and that is the ultimate cure for all diseases or at least the way to transcend them when we cannot avoid them.
Ashtanga Yoga
Yoga is more than just a physical discipline. It is a way of life-a rich philosophical path. Ashtanga Yoga literally means "eight-limbed yoga," as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of eight spiritual practices based on principles of morality - yama and niyama, physical discipline - asana and pranayama, mental alertness - pratyahara and dharana and spiritual awakening - dhyana and samadhi. The first four limbs-yama, niyama, asana, pranayama-are considered external cleansing practices. Any defects in the external practices are correctable, but, defects in internal cleansing practices-pratyahara, dharana, dhyana-are not correctable and can be dangerous to the mind unless the correct Ashtanga Yoga method is followed.
The Yamas and Niyamas are guides that must be deeply contemplated. Yamas and Niyamas are ten good common-sense guidelines for leading a healthier, happier life - bringing spiritual awareness into a social context. Focus on the ones that resonate with you today. Consider their application in your life. Use your rational mind to question them, ponder them, and examine them from all angles.
Yamas are guidelines for how we interact with the outer world. Social disciplines to guide us in our relationships with others.
The five yamas are:

Ahimsa: non-violence, kindness, no harm in your actions.
Satya: Truthfulness - Truthfulness of speech, thoughts and deeds.
Asteya: Non-Stealing - Not coveting, not being jealous.
Brahmacharya: Moderation, Channeling Emotions, Moderation in all things, self-containment.
Aparigraha: Non-Possessiveness, Greedlessness, Simplicity

Niyamas are how we interact with ourselves, our internal world. The practice of Niyama harnesses the energy generated from our practice and cultivation of the yamas. Niyama is about self-regulation - helping us maintain a positive environment in which to grow.
The five niyamas are:

Shaucha: Purity/Clarity Purity of body, cleanliness, good health habits, a clear and orderly environment
Santosha: Contentment Accept what is, make the best out of everything.
Tapas: Austerity The willingness to do what is necessary to reach a goal with discipline
Swadhyaya: Self-Education, Study
Ishwara-Pranidhana: Surrender to God/Light/Energy of the Universe

In this context the word "asana" means a posture, a steady position of the body. There are special methods of working with one's body in order to prepare it for further stages of the spiritual work. Systems of asanas and other exercises of this stage of work are collectively called "hatha yoga". They also help one acquire initial concentration skills and provide an entry-level development of energetic structures of the organism. Yoga regards the body as a vehicle for the soul on its journey towards perfection, Yogic physical exercises are designed to develop not only the body. They also broaden the mental faculties and the spiritual capacities. The Asanas also affect the internal organs and the endocrine system - glands and hormones.
Pranayama, is the science of breath control. It consists of series of exercises especially intended to meet the body's needs and keep it in vibrant health. In our respiration process, we breathe in or inhale oxygen into our body, going through our body systems in a form of energy to charge our different body parts. Then we exhale carbon dioxide and take away all toxic wastes from our body. Through the practice of Pranayama, the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide is attained. Absorbing prana through breath control links our body, mind, and spirit. But life is full of stress. Because of the daily work, family, or financial pressures, we tend to ignore our breathing. Thus, it tends to be fast and shallow. The use of only a fraction of your lungs results to lack of oxygen and may lead to different complications. Heart diseases, sleep disorders, and fatigue are some of the effects of oxygen starvation. Therefore, the negative energy of being restless and troublesome leads to lesser prana inside the body. By practicing deep and systematic breathing through Pranayama, we reenergize our body.
The word "pratyahara" means "removing indriyas from material objects". Pratyahara is the stage at which an adept learns how to control the "tentacles" of consciousness that are called "indriyas" in Sanskrit. This allows him to achieve the ability to see in subtle and the subtlest layers of multidimensional space, as well as to exit of his material body into them and to settle in them, accustoming himself to their subtlety, tenderness and purity. Concept of indriyas exists only in the Indian spiritual culture. Europeans with their simplified, complicated and degraded religious ideas usually are not capable of grasping this kind of knowledge. Even in translations from Indian languages they substitute the word "indriyas" with the word "senses" that has lost its original meaning; by doing this they completely reject the immense methodological significance of pratyahara concept and of principles of work at this stage.
Dharana, the sixth limb of the Yoga philosopher Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga, literally means 'immovable concentration of the mind'. The essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in one direction. This is not the forced concentration of, for example, solving a difficult mathematics problem; rather dharana is a form of closer to the state of mind, which could be called receptive concentration.
In practicing dharana, conditions are created for the mind to focus its attention in one direction instead of radiating out in a million different directions. Deep contemplation and reflection usually creates the right conditions, and the focus on a single chosen point becomes more intense. Concentrative meditative techniques encourage one particular activity of the mind, and the more intense it becomes the more the other preoccupation of the mind cease to exist.
The objective in dharana is to steady the mind by focusing its attention upon some stable entity. Before retracting his senses, on may practice focusing attention on a single inanimate object. After the mind becomes prepared for meditation, it is better able to focus efficiently on one subject or point of experience. Now if the yogi chooses to focus on the center (chakra) of inner energy flow, he/she can directly experience the physical and mental blocks and imbalances that remain in his or her system. This ability to concentrate depends on excellent psychological health and integration and is not an escape from reality, but rather a movement towards the perception of the true nature of the Self.
Dhyana, the seventh limb of Ashtanga Yoga, means worship, or profound and abstract religious meditation. It is perfect contemplation; it involves concentration upon a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it. During dhyana, combining clear insights into distinctions between objects and the subtle layers surrounding intuition further unifies the consciousness. We learn to differentiate between the mind of the perceiver, the means of perception, and the objects perceived-between words, their meanings and ideas, and even between all the levels of natural evolution. We realize that these are all fused in an undifferentiated continuum. One must apprehend both subject and object clearly in order to perceive their similarities. Thus dhyana is apprehension of real identity among apparent differences.
During dharana, the mind becomes unidirectional, while during dhyana, it becomes ostensibly identified and engaged with the object of focus or attention. That is why, dharana must precede dhyana, since the mind needs focusing on a particular object before a connection can be made. If dharana is the contact, then dhyana is the connection. Obviously, to focus the attention to one point will not result in insight or realization. One must identify and become "one with" the object of contemplation, in order to know for certain the truth about it. In dharana the consciousness of the practitioner is fixed on one subject, but in dhyana it is in one flow.
The final step in Ashtanga Yoga is the attainment of samadhi. When we succeed in becoming so absorbed in something that our mind becomes completely one with it, we are in a state of samadhi. Samadhi means "to bring together, to merge". In samadhi our personal identities completely disappear. At the moment of samadhi none of that exists anymore. We become one with the Divine Entity.
During samadhi, we realize what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul enjoys a pure awareness of this pure identity. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged. The final stage terminates at the instant the soul is freed. The absolute and eternal freedom of an isolated soul is beyond all stages and beyond all time and place. Once freed, it does not return to bondage.
The perfection of samadhi embraces and glorifies all aspects of the self by subjecting them to the light of understanding. The person capable of samadhi retains his/her individuality and person, but is free of the emotional attachment to it.
Download in format
Meditation - A Short Course to Higher Consciousness
by Stephen Knapp
Hatha Yoga Pradipika of Swami Swatmarama
Translated by Brian Dana Akers
Gheranda Samhita, a manual of Yoga taught by Gheranda to Chanda.
Translated by James Mallinson
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