The Twelve Principles of Meditation
Meditation is the experience of stilling the mind and taming the waves of thought to discover the true self underneath. The secret lies in the Twelve Principles of Meditation outlined in the Sivananda school of classical Hatha Yoga.
“The wise, realizing through meditation the timeless Self,
Beyond all perception, hidden in the cave of the heart,
Leave pain and pleasure far behind.
Those who know they are neither body nor mind but the immemorial Self,
The divine principle of existence,
Find the source of all joy and live in joy abiding.”
— Katha Upanishad
Most people seek peace and happiness from external objects, such as a job, material possessions or even other people. Yoga teaches us to draw upon the well of contentment and tranquility that exists within ourselves. By training your mind to focus and concentrate, you learn to depend on the peace within so that external influences have less of an effect.
Every person has the ability to focus and concentrate. Meditation, however, is much more than just concentration. It is a focused awareness. Sivananda texts simplify it as: “During concentration, one keeps a tight rein on the mind; during meditation the rein is no longer necessary for the mind stays of its own accord on one single thought wave.”
The Twelve Principles of Meditation
With easy instructions, the Twelve Principles explain the different steps and stages involved in practice. It is important to make meditation a regular habit and to engage in it with feelings of joy and devotion. Initially, it is done for twenty minutes at a time, gradually increasing to one hour.
1. Set aside a special place.
Whether it is outdoors or indoors, choose a place with a pleasant atmosphere that is free of distractions. An uncluttered area decorated with items that calm the senses, such as incense, bamboo, mandalas or mild scented oils, can help make the place sacred and unique. Because the state of meditation exudes powerful vibrations, repeated practice in this space will eventually fill it with the right energy.
2. Choose a time.
Meditation can be done anytime and anywhere, but it is important to choose a time when the mind is free of everyday concerns and there are no disturbances. The ideal time for regular practice is during the precious hour of dawn or dusk, when the atmosphere is flooded with soothing light and abundant with serene spiritual energy.
3. Use the same time and place each day.
Just like the body becomes accustomed to sleeping or eating at specific times, meditating at the same place and time each day trains the body and mind to switch off and respond to stillness comfortably and quickly. Once the practice becomes a habit, you’ll find yourself seeking meditation instinctively.
4. Sit with the back, neck and head in a straight line.
Be seated in a steady and upright, yet relaxed position, ensuring that there is no tension in stress areas such as the forehead, jaw or shoulders. The line of the spine, neck and head should be lengthened, tall and straight. Facing the North or East attracts the Earth’s most positive magnetic vibrations.
5. Instruct the mind to remain quiet.
Consciously establishing discipline of the mind right at the beginning provides a clean slate in preparation for the meditation session. Avoid being overly concerned with what is currently happening, reminiscing about past events or dwelling upon what is going to take place in the future.
6. Regulate the breathing.
Start with approximately five minutes of deep and conscious abdominal breathing that brings fresh oxygen to the brain and aids in concentration. Then begin to slow the breathing down.
7. Establish a rhythmic breathing pattern.
Continue repetitions of inhaling for three seconds and exhaling for three seconds. This pattern of rhythmic breathing controls the flow of prana, or vital energy, and helps to still the mind.
8. At first, let the mind wander.
Trying to force the mind to focus will only make it more restless and create more thoughts. Being patient and loving with yourself, on the other hand, means knowing without a doubt that the mind will eventually settle into a place of stillness.
9. Bring your mind to rest on a focal point.
Focus upon either the Ajna Chakra, the point between the eyebrows; or the Anahata Chakra, in the region of the heart. Practitioners who tend to be more on the intellectual side may gravitate toward the Ajna Chakra, whereas the more emotional person may prefer the Anahata Chakra. (Learn more about chakras here.)
10. Hold an object of concentration at this focal point.
Choose a neutral and positive object of concentration. This can be an image, a mandala, a symbol or even a mantra, such as “Om,” that is mentally repeated in rhythm with the breath. Visualize that object in the chosen chakra and hold your concentration on it.
While still conscious of being separate from the object of concentration, allow the vibrations of focused thought or repetitions of sound created by this constant state of focus to lead to pure thought. This is meditation.
This is the state of ultimate bliss, superconsciousness, or enlightenment in which the practitioner no longer identifies herself/himself as separate from any symbols or mantra, but becomes one with the universe. Reaching samadhi takes time, practice and devotion.
Photograph by Giuseppe Iaccheo, on location in County Galway, Ireland