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Four Elements Basic To Traditional Meditation

There are four elements basic to most traditional meditation. These elements are:

A quiet place to meditate,
A comfortable or poised posture,
An object for attention-awareness to dwell upon,
A passive attitude.

A quiet place

The best environment for the practice of meditation is similar to that most conducive to lying down or sitting to progressively relax the body muscles. Sit in a quiet place with minimum distractions. Later, you may be able to meditate well in places where more is going on: launderettes, railway stations, doctors' or dentists' waiting rooms, on trains and buses, and so on.

A comfortable or poised posture

Assuming a certain posture has been central to many meditation techniques. Classic postures, integral to Hatha Yoga, are given in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which codify ancient yogic healing practices. Other postures appear in the Kum Nye holistic healing system of Tibet, in Islamic prayer, and in Gurdjieff movements. Posture is considered very important in Zen Buddhist practice.

A major characteristic of prescribed meditation postures in many traditions is that the spine is kept straight. This is true in Hindu and Buddhist yogas, in the Christian attitude of kneeling prayer, in the Egyptian sitting position, and in the Taoist standing meditation, "embracing the pillar." People with misalignments may feel uncomfortable in the beginning when assuming these postures. The spine is put back into a structurally sound line, and the weight of the body distributed around it in a balanced pattern in which gravity, not muscular tension, is the primary influence. It is possible, although it has not been conclusively proven, that this postural realignment affects the state of mind.

A sitting posture is better for meditation than lying down. This is because lying down is the normal sleep position and meditation lying down could easily lead to sleep. If you are not a person who easily goes to sleep during the day, you may like to meditate in a semi-reclining position on a sofa or large armchair with the back of your head supported. In traditional meditation postures, however, the back is normally kept erect, though not rigidly upright. This is called poised posture. The right attitude for meditation may itself be described as poised: alert yet also relaxed. Poised posture promotes the right state of attention-awareness for successful meditation.

In the East, the cross-legged postures, with head and back in vertical line, are considered ideal for meditation. In classic Lotus posture, the legs are crossed with feet on thighs, and imparts the right feeling of poised sitting for meditation. These postures are difficult and even painful at first for those who are not familiar with them. We will describe two traditional oriental postures, viz., half lotus and lotus posture and an easier posture called Burmese posture. For those who prefer to do the meditation sitting on a chair, we will describe a posture called Egyptian posture.

See Also: 

Half Lotus Posture
Full Lotus Posture
Burmese Posture
Egyptian Posture

An object to dwell upon

In Hindu Yoga the object the attention dwells on is often a mantra, usually a Sanskrit word or syllable. In Buddhism the focus for bare attention is often the meditator's own breathing. Both mantra meditation and awareness of breathing fulfill all the elements required for meditating for relaxation.

Some meditation methods involve looking at objects with open eyes, but in others, the subjects close their eyes which makes relaxation easier to induce.

Instructors in transcendental meditation make much of each person being given a mantra that suits his or her nervous system, but there does not appear to be any scientific support for this. Any technique used with any sound or phrase or prayer or mantra has been found to bring forth the same physiologic changes noted during Transcendental Meditation.

There is much to be said for choosing either a neutral word or a meaningless sound for mantra meditation. Some people, however, like to use a word like 'peace' which has relaxing associations. This is all right provided the word does not set off trains of associative thought. In this type of meditation the single thought-sound has the effect of quietening the mind; Maharishi Mahesh Yogi says that the thought-sound takes the meditator to the source of thought. Studies of the brain wave patterns of meditators indicate that the deepest relaxation results when thoughts are absent, or few and of no importance.

If you make awareness of breathing your single meditation method, let your attention dwell on the gentle rise of your abdomen in diaphragmatic-abdominal breathing. Your breathing becomes very quiet and even after several minutes of meditation and the gentle movement and rhythm of abdominal breathing promotes relaxation.

A passive attitude or poised awareness

This last element of meditation for relaxation is said to be the most essential. It is sometimes called poised awareness or attention-awareness because in it relaxation and alertness are in perfect balance. There is nothing exotic about it: you were passively aware when you let go from tension in the muscles of your arms, legs, trunk, and face.

A passive attitude means that distractions from environmental sounds, skin tingles etc., and the inevitable intrusion into the mind of thoughts and images are viewed casually and detachedly. Let them come and go, of no more consequence than small clouds passing across an expanse of sky. But each time you become aware that your attention has slipped away from the mantra or the sensation of abdominal breathing, and you are engaging in a chain of logical thinking or developing interest in some sounds or other sensations, bring your attention and awareness back to the meditation object.

It is really very simple, as long as you keep a relaxed attitude going. Don't force, and don't cling. With practice, moments of great calm and deep restfulness during meditation will become more frequent.

Next Topic: Simple Meditation


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