Meditation is the art of watching your mind think. According to the science of meditation, the mind is considered the instrument that the Self uses for perception. The mind has four functions or aspects. The lower mind is called, manas. It is the part which collects data. To utilize this information intelligently, two other functions of the mind come into operation. The first is the ahamkara, or sense of I-ness. For example the sensory mind can see a flower, but it is the I-ness that says, “I see a flower.” When information is presented to the mind, a decision, judgment, or discriminative ability is necessary and this is called the power of the intellect, or the buddhi. The fourth function of the mind is the memory bank, which stores all past experiences. This is called the chitta. Beyond the mind and mental functioning lies the inner or higher field of consciousness called the “SELF”. This is observed through the practice of meditation.
According to the yoga sutras, our pain and suffering is created by the misperception that we are separate from nature. The realization that we aren’t separate may be experienced spontaneously, without effort. However, most of us need guidance. Patanjali’s eight limbed system provides us with the framework we need.
Just as there are numerous styles of hatha yoga, so there are many ways to meditate. Remember while practicing any meditation technique that thoughts are not a problem to you, the meditator. You can just watch them and know they are waves of perception that arise, stay, and then pass. The Pure Consciousness/SELF is always present and each wave is just a modification of that. Some techniques include:
- Repeat a mantra to yourself: use a sound or phrase as a point of focus.
- Chanting: an extension of mantra with pitch and sound
- Use of Imagery or visualization.
- Gazing; such as candle gazing or tratak
- Breathing: using the breath as a point of focus
- Physical Sensations: watching your physical sensations
Overall, research has confirmed that profound physiological and psychological changes take place when we meditate, causing an actual shift in the brain and the involuntary processes of the body. When the mind calms down in meditation, EEG shows waves that are smoother and slower and categorizes them as alpha waves. As meditation deepens brain activity decreases, and the waves are then classified as theta waves. In the end, meditation may be rewiring brains to reduce stress. Studies have shown decreased perspiration and slower rate of respiration accompanied by a decrease of metabolic wastes in the bloodstream, lower blood pressure and an enhanced immune system among meditators. Furthermore, research shows a decrease in stress, anxiety, and a greater sense of inner peace.