It is thought that meditation practiced regularly has many benefits. It is said that meditation lowers the levels of blood lactate, which can reduce the occurrence of anxiety attacks. It can build self-confidence as you feel more centered and can concentrate better; it can increase levels of serotonin which influences moods and behavior, helping with depression, headaches and insomnia; it helps regulate blood-pressure, reduces stress and tension and can help with PMT. Research has shown that meditators shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex – brain waves in the stress-prone frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex, resulting in becoming calmer and happier than they were before meditation. (Allen, 2003)
For me, meditation is just ‘sitting’. The pure and unadulterated act of sitting as still as is possible, until body drops away and mind becomes still. Of course, this is far from what actually happens when I meditate. My body is still. Well, still until I feel the need to re-adjust my spine and just work a few niggles out resulting in a few ‘clicks’ which then my mind gets all caught up in and starts thinking, ‘man, these clicks weren’t there before I started this yoga business’, and ‘maybe I should hold off on all that back-bending work, kapotasana is such a bit** anyway..’ etc etc. Then there’s this issue of settling the mind. That bloody ‘citta vritti’, that ‘monkey mind’! In a normal 40 minute sit, 30 minutes is normally settling in, the last 8 are normally getting somewhere near settled and peaceful and the last 2 are normally when I peak out of one eye at the timer, realise there’re only 2 minutes left, then punish myself for the next 1 minute 56 seconds because I’ve just looked at the clock…. Does this sound familiar?!!
Nevertheless, the pure act of getting up early than thou, sitting and trying to become still, physically and mentally, is making me a better person…to whit: I think it’s making me a better person. More mindful of how I treat myself in order so I can get up so early in the morning, my reaction towards external influences and my general compassion and actions towards other sentient beings.
Preferred Conditions and Postures for Meditation
“The room of sadhana should have a small door, without window, holes or cracks, being neither to high nor to low. It should be spotlessly clean, wiped with cow manure and free from animals or insects. Outside there should be an open platform with a thatched roof, a well and a surrounding wall or fence. The appearance of the hermitage should be pleasant.” (HYP: 43)
Whilst the above description of the yoga hermitage as prescribed by the siddhas for yoga practitioners may have been well and good back then, these days the yogi generally finds him or herself in in a quiet (or not, due to pets/ambient noise of crying babies, husband hoovering etc.) room in their house, relatively tidy (or not!) and warm (if you can afford to have your heating on these days)! Some yogis, including myself set up a little shrine, this is generally if you are lucky enough to have a room dedicated to your practice, maybe with a statue of the Buddha, a statue of Ganesha (the maker and removed of obstacles), some incense and some candles.
However, whether one has the perfect yoga room or just a few minutes spare away from the family, whatever is going on ambiently around you and one should accept that that is what one has to work with at that given moment.
There are a number of postures (asana) recommended for meditation. Strenuous, asymmetrical, intense or ungrounded attitudes of the body would be unsuitable, since they tend to agitate the mind and cause fatigue. Asana traditionally refers as well to a seat or cushion used to support the body. For most body types a level of steadiness and ease commensurate with samadhi is hard to attain without such support. It is even said that the Buddha, a highly accomplished yogi, bundled grasses into a comfortable and supportive cushion before sitting down to the contemplation that led to his enlightenment….(not just me then ;) (Hartranft 2012: 37)
Asana opens us up to some of our deepest personal conditioning and the suffering it generates, which has a direct connection to citta vrtti, our minds. Thus asana must embody steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha) not only in an active and external sense, as in selecting a posture but also in an interiorised sense. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika recommends siddhasana, padmasana, simhasana and bhadrasana as the 4 main asana for meditation. But it also then says, “Always sit comfortably in siddhasana because it is the best”. (HYP: 101)
However, as we in the west have issues with being still for long periods of time (both physically and mentally!), due to tight hips and hamstrings, sitting in a kneeling position or kneeling whilst sitting on some blocks is also a satisfactory position, which will not put too much strain on the hips or knees and will enable one to relax. It is not recommended to lie in savasana for meditation. As the HYP states, savasana is meant to enable removal of tiredness and relax the entire body and is essential for developing dharana and dhyana. I have found that meditating in savasana has the tendency to induce sleep, obviously not conducive for meditation.