Whenever you feel in a peaceful state of mind, meditate. Just close your eyes and relax, even if it’s only for a minute. If you wish to deepen your meditation, then schedule some time daily for this practice.

From the physical to the mental to the spiritual

Meditation needs the cooperation of both the body and the mind. Prepare the body with the asanas, or Yoga postures, and pranayama, breathing exercises. As for the mind, learn to keep it always fully occupied on one thing, but don’t let that thing or concept bind you. Stick to one object of concentration; don’t change continually. It’s best to be regular in practicing meditation—try to have two daily sittings. The scriptures recommend the times when day meets night or night meets day: dawn and dusk. It’s neither day nor night and thus very conducive. If this is not possible, sit as soon as you wake in the morning and at night before retiring.

If you get up after the world is already awake, it’s probably best to quiet yourself by first doing the Yoga postures and some breathing practices. Then, go on to your meditation. In this way, you go from the physical to the mental and from the mental to the spiritual. It’s easy to go from the gross to the subtle. If you wake very early in the morning, before dawn, it is already very sattvic, or peaceful. Don’t disturb this with any physical practices; begin your meditation immediately.

Even in the midst of Hatha Yoga asanas, you may sometimes feel so very peaceful that you can simply stop doing the postures and enjoy that pleasant meditation. When you’re actually trying to meditate, be very gentle. Training the mind to stay on one point is something like training a horse. If the horse doesn’t want to go into a particular lane, you can’t force it. It will revolt. A tricky trainer will say, “All right, where do you want to go? This way? Sure; turn.” You let the horse go a few yards that way, then, slowly, you take it around. The horse is pleased: “Ah, I had my way.” Very soon, the trainer will say, “I have my way now.”

Your mind is something like that. Just bring it around. Otherwise, the mind will build a block of tension, and, from the moment you even think of meditating, it might create psychosomatic illnesses. You might feel a little headache or a stomachache. The mind has that power. You shouldn’t force the mind up to any level, but, at the same time, don’t give it too much rope either. It’s kind of a middle path. Be firm and, at the same time, gentle.

Choose a conducive atmosphere and be regular in your practice

You should choose a nice, clean place for your regular sitting, on something that is a non-conductor of electricity. You may have heard of Yogis in India who sit on a wooden platform or on a certain grass that does not conduct any electricity. This, more or less, acts as insulation from the gravitational force of the earth.

Have you seen pictures of Yogis sitting on animal skins? They didn’t kill those animals for the skins; they just used what was available. If the animal has died naturally, the skin will still have the quality or the nature of the animal. If you use a deer skin, you get the soft or gentle nature of the deer. Unfortunately, those old practices have descended to a low level today. Many people want to meditate on an animal skin, and this has been propagated by the people who are selling the skins. Certainly, you can’t get helpful qualities from animals that have been slaughtered. I personally don’t like to use a skin for meditation. I don’t know whether the animal has been killed or if it died naturally. If I buy it, I will be encouraging people to kill more. I would suggest a clean, white sheet, folded over a blanket or carpet. Use this only for your meditation practice and it will built up wonderful vibrations.

Prepare the body

Preparing the body for meditation is also important. In meditation you are trying to keep the mind steady and one-pointed without shaking too much. To do this, you begin by making the body steady. This is possible only if you make a firm decision. Just tell the body and the limbs, “I’m not going to move any part of the body until I finish the meditation.” The decision you make will be heard by every cell in your body. If the decision is very strong, the body will obey you without complaining. Imagine your mind and body as little children. If you want them to obey, you must be a little firm.

It’s best to sit in a cross-legged posture. Sit straight. Keep the spine erect but not stiff. Spread the chest well. Beginners may find this position easier if they sit on the edge of a firm cushion. If this isn’t possible, it’s all right to use a chair, but keep the spine free by not leaning back on it.

It’s normal to feel some pain in a cross-legged position when you begin. Slowly, slowly, you will get over it. The minute you feel the pain, change the position of your legs. Sit some other way that’s more comfortable for you and continue your meditation. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid sitting or meditating. Each day, sit to that point where you feel the pain, then shift to another position. You can even get up while meditating and walk around a little. Then, sit a while longer. Once you find the real center of gravity—your equilibrium—you’ll have victory over the position and be seated in a steady and comfortable pose. Build your meditation little by little.

How long should you sit? If it’s a deep meditation, five or ten minutes is enough. If it’s not deep, stay longer. Begin by sitting for fifteen minutes. In fifteen days, you can easily sit twenty minutes each time. Twenty will become twenty-five, then thirty. Nothing is built in one day. Everyone who has learned to meditate has gone through these same steps.

Use your intelligence

If in meditation you are sometimes bothered by intruding thoughts or desires, sometimes the best thing to do is to meditate on the very desire itself. Of course, you can first try to ignore it. But that might not work. A simple example: you are in a room and you are doing something intensely. All of a sudden, somebody walks in without am appointment. You look at the him out of the comer of your eye and realize that this is not the time to see her now. You could say, “Don’t come in without an appointment—get out!” Then he won’t be going away happily. You are making an enemy. He might bang the door as he leaves and go outside and shout. If you reject a strong desire, it won’t go away but will wait for another opportunity to pounce on you when you are a bit weak. Don’t force it out.

If you know that someone is there, don’t even look at her. Seem to be very busy, deeply interested in something. Even when she says, “Hello!” you do not seem to hear her. You are very busy. Get even more involved in your concentration. She will wait some time, then say, “I see. Seems to be very busy. I will come another time.” And she’ll walk out.

On the other hand, if she’s persistently waiting for your attention—even beyond your patience—then turn to her, “Yes, ma’am, what can I do for you?” Analyze the desire. If you can’t do what she wants right away, tell her, “Yes, I will certainly do that, but not just now. Come again another time.” By analyzing it, you can either dispose of the desire or settle the matter quickly. Suppose you are meditating and you feel the desire to eat or go to the movies, a desire that you can’t ignore. Then face it: “All right, you want to take me to the movies. How many films have we seen lately? With what benefit? What’s new today? Will this be greater benefit than that from meditation?” Analyze, argue, educate the desire itself. “Well, I see that the benefit from the film is not so great,” it will say. “Then why can’t you wait? I will certainly oblige you sometime later, maybe tomorrow.” Don’t always be so adamant. It’s necessary to give in a little now and then. But you can’t give in for anything and everything. If something gentle is desired, give in.

It’s like giving in to a little coffee once in a while. I usually advise people that coffee and tea are not too good because of the stimulants in them. But if you feel a coffee desire in the morning, you can still give in a little. “You want coffee? All right, I’ll give you some.” The mind is satisfied. It had coffee. Treat your mind like somebody who is a little naughty and wants this and that. Use your intelligence. Educate your mind. Argue with it. Don’t just give in to everything. Once in a while let it run. All these are just tricks, but they are very useful in training the mind.

Active and passive meditation

As you continue your practice, you will experience different degrees of accomplishment. In Hindu scriptures, the Lord says, “Fix your mind on Me alone. Let your thoughts dwell on Me. You will hereafter live in Me alone.” That’s perfect Yoga and the highest form of worship. If you’re not yet able to fix your mind one-pointed on God, then when the mind wavers, bring it back again and again and again to God. This is the next best practice—concentration—that leads to steady meditation. If you’re not yet able to practice this, just keep doing things, but while doing them, say, “I’m doing them for You.” When you get the results, at least give a little to God.

If you can’t just sit and meditate, don’t despair. Get up and do something. Get into something. It’s like trying to sleep. If you can’t fall asleep, don’t just roll around in bed. Get up and do something until you feel sleepy. Then, when you go to bed, you’ll sleep easily.

Not everybody is interested in sitting and meditation. Many active people can’t do it. That’s all right. There’s still a meditation for them. It’s called Karma Yoga, meditation in action. Even when you’re physically doing something, your aim can be meditation. After all, what is meditation? Focusing your entire mind on what you are doing. If you think of your friend or your business when you wash a dish, the dish can’t be washed clean. You might leave a spot on it. So, doing one thing at a time and doing it well is a form of physical meditation.

Sitting is a mental meditation. You allow the body to relax while you sit and do everything with the mind. Sit quietly. Focus the mind on the object you have chosen or just repeat a mantra. Do nothing else. Forget everything. To hear the inner sound, close your ears, eyes, and mouth and listen to the sound of life within. Be still physically and mentally. Be totally relaxed. Then, simply look and listen for something within. Don’t open your eyes but try to feel something vibrating within you. You don’t need to do anything. Instead, be completely still and watch what’s happening within. You’ll enjoy that.

You may combine the mantra with the breath in any way that is comfortable, either splitting the mantra sounds on the incoming and outgoing breath or doing one repetition with the inhalation and another with the exhalation. If you watch carefully, you can feel the breath saying the mantra. Then, you can stop repeating it and just listen for that. This needs the complete attention of an indrawn mind.

As the breath comes in, feel it going deeply to strike at the base of the spine. Then, as it comes out, feel it roll upward through the spine to the crown of the head. Don’t feel the breath flowing out through the nostrils. In the beginning, it might be difficult to follow the breath up and down the spine, and you will just feel it coming in and out of the body. But, after a few months’ practice, you will be able to follow the breath along the spine. As your meditation gets deeper, you can feel the breath and energy moving upward to strike at the top of the head. If you carefully observe the path along the spine, you will be able to feel a very mild heat or a gentle warmth that is very pleasant. Try not to miss that. Once you feel it, put your entire attention on it.

Following the breath

The purpose of following the breath is to become conscious of the psychic energy traveling along the spine, passing through the chakras, or spiritual centers. These nerve plexuses, located along the spinal column, can be used as a focus for your mental gaze during meditation. However, it’s inadvisable to keep the mind focused on the lower chakras. If you become aware of a warmth there, feel it but don’t allow the mind to become fixed there. Bring the mind to one of the higher centers, such as the heart or eyebrow center. Draw the energy upward.

All the psychic nerve centers meet at a place between the eyebrows—not outside, but deep within, almost at the central part of the skull; to be precise, at the location of your pineal and pituitary glands, which are called Siva and Shakti in yogic symbolism. They have the bull as a vehicle—the thyroid gland. Siva rides the bull, so we say that he is the Commander-in-Chief, since the thyroid commands the whole system. It is a replica of the whole body itself. You may choose to focus your meditation either in the loving heart center or at the central tower between the brows, which is the location of the holy of holies, or sanctum sanctorum.

Knowing what to expect

Sometimes in meditation you may hear a subtle humming sound. But when you try to hear it better, it disappears. It’s like a lover. If you see her, she won’t see you. But if you keep on doing something, she will look at you. When you hear that hum, that’s a sign of true love. The sound of the God in you loves you when you are not aware of it. It’s not that you shouldn’t be aware, but the moment you become aware, you become a little excited or frightened and disturb the serenity out of which the hum is generated. It’s like seeing your face reflected in a large basin of water. As soon as you see the beautiful face there, you may reach for it, disturbing the calm surface and causing the reflection to disappear. Just wait patiently. Keep looking. Slowly, you will begin to see the face again.

So, know what might happen in meditation. Then, when it happens, you won’t be excited or anxious to have more, both of which disturb the mind. You may wonder, is this really the cosmic sound I am hearing? Even if it’s your imagination, there’s no harm in that. Even if it’s an illusion, it’s better than other illusions. You are not imagining a demon, but something nice. Ultimately, you become what you imagine. Until you actually see or hear something, you have to begin with imagination. Later, it will come by itself—maybe a little different from how you imagined it. Don’t think that these experiences are illusions.,

To come out of meditation, slowly increase the duration of your inhalation and exhalation. Make the breath longer. Feel the air flowing out through your nostrils. Inhale and exhale deeply a few times. OM Shanthi, Shanti, Shanti.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda