Although most people have already heard about meditation, only a few have any true conception of what it is about, and even less have actually experienced it. What is meditation?

Several definitions and techniques exist for those who are willing to try. According to the Patanjali's Yoga sutras, yoga is the process of stilling the thought waves of the mind. If you have started doing yoga, you have already begun the process of quieting your mind, and you will most likely come to a point where you will want to go further and meditate. A practice of yoga postures and breathing, which are aspects of Hatha yoga, is the perfect preparation for meditation. Meditation belongs to Raja yoga - "the king of yoga" - because developing the meditative mind is the ultimate goal of every yoga path.

Four stages of meditation are clearly described in eight limbs of Patanjali:
1. Withdrawal of Senses (Pratyahara) - sensory inhibition that enables you to watch your mental activity.
2. Concentration (Dharana) - inner focus on one point, which helps you not to get involved in your thoughts and to reduce their number.
3. Contemplation (Dhyana) - defocusing or effortless focusing, the state in which you keep one single thought effortlessly.
4. Meditation (Samadhi) - the state reached when the meditator is no longer aware of meditating and identifies himself with the object of meditation.

Some techniques as mudras and mantras that lead to pratyahara and help with dharana are gradually introduced at HYFC and HYIC courses. The success of yogic meditation depends largely on the sincerity and strength of the yogi behind it. Process of meditation can't be learned through reading about it but only through practice. You need to put in a sincere effort every day, and gradually increase the time you spend in meditation as you continue. Be patient with yourself and one day you will reach a state where the mind is quiet and steady, the respiration calm and balanced, and the feeling is that of deep peace. With regular practice, this may be achieved, and you will enjoy welcome changes in your mind and your life, getting to a state of consciousness, where the mind is free of scattered thoughts and various patterns.
As your meditative mind grows stronger, you'll come to realize who is in charge of your being. You'll develop a panoramic awareness of yourself, and you will be neither led by your uncontrolled emotions nor confused by your thinking mind (remember, you are not your thoughts!). One day you will gain the power of choice about how to respond to life at every moment. And that equals freedom.

When we meditate, our brains emit different brain waves, implying relaxation, both physical and mental, at a level that few of us experience even during sleep. For this reason meditation brings excellent health and can alleviate and heal many types of diseases. People who meditate regularly experience drop in cholesterol levels (high cholesterol is associated with cardiovascular disease) and levels of cortisol and lactate - two chemicals associated with stress. When practicing meditation, heart rate and breathing slow down and blood pressure normalizes. Meditation enhances the immune system - research has revealed that meditation increases activity of 'natural-killer cells', which kill bacteria and cancer cells. It improves flow of air to the lungs resulting in easier breathing which has been very helpful to asthma patients. It increases serotonin production which influences mood and behavior: low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, obesity, insomnia and headaches. Meditation helps to reduce free radicals - unstable oxygen molecules that can cause tissue damage and to slow down the aging process. It helps in decreasing any pain due to muscle tension, in post-operative healing, and chronic diseases like allergies, arthritis, arteriosclerosis etc.

Meditation is wonderful in that it's free, always available, and amazingly effective in short-term stress reduction and long-term health and quality of life improvement. The time and effort it takes to learn and practice is well worth it in terms of the benefits it provides.


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