Meditation practice

Here is a detailed description of my initial meditation practice and some complementary practices. My practice has been gradually changing after this was written. I have added updates without disturbing the original description. 

Place
I sit for meditation in my bed room, at the same spot every day, facing the window through which the early morning sunlight comes in. In the warm season, I sit on a sheet of cloth spread on the carpeted floor. In the cold season, I sit on the bed itself, at the foot end, so as not to sag the bed at the head end and cover myself with the same blanket or comforter that I used at night.
See update at (2).

Timing of practice
During the initial phase, my time schedule did not allow meditation in the morning, as I used to sleep late and wake up late, with just enough time to get ready and go to work . So I practiced only at nights, just before lying down for sleep, however late it may be. I definitely sacrificed part of my sleep hours for doing meditation. When I felt significant relief from stiffness in back, neck, shoulders and legs and feel quite sleepy, I lied down and slept. From my experience, I can say an hour of meditation can substitute an hour of sleep with better effect. On Saturdays and Sundays, I practiced whenever I found free time during the day or night. I wish to emphasize the importance of practicing at any possible time, rather than aiming at the best time and doing nothing.

Over a many years, my routines have changed slowly, without my conscious effort.  I have been sleeping earlier and waking up earlier. As a result, most days I am able to practice in the morning consistently, deriving far better results. The days I have to skip the morning meditation, I try to do it before dinner, if it is a weekend.

Duration of practice
The duration has been at least one hour and mostly 1 1/4 hour to  1 1/2 hour. I settled on this time period, based on the time for my body to change from a stiff or painful initial condition, to a relaxed and flexible condition, from finger tips and toes to top of the head. I have not been guided by the clock time, unless I have to go to work or have some other commitment.
See update at (2).

Eyes
I keep my eyes closed, not making any attempt to look up or down.

Siting 
I sit cross legged which is difficult for beginners, as the legs, hips and back hurt a lot. Sitting on the bed takes away some of the pains, specially the pains in the feet and ankles.

I sit  either in the yoga pose Vajrasana, as this posture keeps the back straight or sit cross legged on the edge of the same pillow I used at night, raising my hips above the level of the knees (1). This posture automatically makes my back  curved inward, to its natural shape. When I sit in  this manner, it is impossible to slump.

In the beginning, sitting in Vajrasana caused a lot pains in my ankles, knees, hips and back. Whenever the pains were unbearable, I used to come off the posture for a while and get back to it when the pains became bearable. This happened very frequently. As the practice continued, the pains gradually softened and disappeared.

For sitting in the cross legged posture, initially I positioned my feet away from the hips, to reduce the pains to a bearable level. In about 20 minutes, the initial severe pains softened. Then I reversed the leg positions, placing the top foot lower and the lower leg higher. New pains would begin and these also softened in about 20 minutes. Over a few months, the leg muscles and joints softened due to daily stretching, combined with breathing. The pains have been lower even in the beginning or were high but came down quickly. Then, I positioned the feet closer to the body and reversed them after about 20 minutes. After a few months, I placed one foot on the thigh and the other on the floor. After some time, I reversed the leg positions. After a few months of this progressively demanding positioning of the legs, I am able to begin directly with the feet on the thighs. After a few years of this practice, I am able to transition to the Lotus pose, in about 30 minutes. The pains were bearable initially and disappeared after a few months (3). In the lotus pose also, I reverse the leg positions every 3o minutes.

There are two secrets behind this thrilling success. First secret is to begin with a less demanding posture, causing only bearable pains and spending enough time being still in each position, to let the pains soften gradually. Add only a little more stretch in each successive posture.
The second secret is counting breaths, to divert the mind away from the pains, letting them subside on their own.

I refuse to change the position of the legs, in spite of great sense of urgency arising out of the pains, as I realized from actual experience that the pains disappeared on their own, if I continued to sit undisturbed in the same posture.

For some period, I experienced spasms in the leg muscles making it impossible to sit on the floor. During that period, I sat on the edge of the solid seat of a folding chair, on which was placed a multi folded blanket, about two inches thick, thus elevating the hips by about two inches relative to the knees. When the spasms were gone, I switched back to sitting on the floor.
See update at (2).

Hands
I tried four modes of positioning the hands and found that each of them had a different effect on my shoulders, arms, neck and face. One: Place the palms down on the thighs. Second: Place the palms up with the backs of palms resting on the thighs. Third: Place one palm inside another in the lap, with the tips of thumb touching. Fourth: Place them in the Namaste posture (4), palms raised, facing each other, finger tips touching each other and the bases of thumbs touching the chest. For best results, I follow this sequence – palms down, palms up, palms in the lap and Namaste position at the end. In positioning the hands in the first two positions, I make sure the hands do not help in keeping the back straight. The back should be able to remain straight on its own strength. This can be better understood by considering the back as the trunk of a tree and the arms as the branches. The branches do not support the trunk! They simply hang down from the trunk. Similarly the arms should not support or help in keeping the back straight. This is ensured by keeping the upper arms by the side of the body with the elbows touching the sides and the palms loosely resting on the thighs or lap.
See update at (2).

Head
I keep my head straight balancing itself nicely on the shoulders or a bit inclined forward.  I keep the tip of the tongue on the ridge inside the roof of the mouth,  where the upper row of front teeth meet the gum. Lips are lightly touching each other or separated slightly. This separates the teeth and releases the muscles in the jaws, shoulders and arms.

Thoughts
I experience four mental phenomena during meditation.

The first type is the sensations of breath: Cool when going in and neutral or warm when coming out – cool – warm – cool – warm –so on. I am able to focus on the changing sensations without losing track due to long practice. Sometimes when the mind wanders too much, I count breaths till I am able to retain the concentration.

The second type of thought is sensations of pain, stiffness, numbness, itching, warmth or coolness, felt in different parts of the body. Most of these sensations keep on changing gradually. Some of them get milder as time passes and disappear at the end of the meditation period or become negligible. During the period, new pains start and increase to a high level after practicing for some time. The reason for these new pains may be because as some tight muscles relax, the connected stiff muscles get more load of the body than before. These new pains also dissolve as more time passes. Sometimes, the pains appearing during meditation become very intense and unbearable. But I persist without changing the posture and watch these pains. If too severe, I use the 911 mode 5 to 10 times and alternate it with counting breaths. I realize that these pains were not present before meditation and hence are not a permanent feature of my body. I feel confident of this due to my initial experiences when I found that they reach a peak like a wave in the ocean and totally disappear on their own gradually. The frequency and initial intensity of such pains is coming down.

The third phenomena is related to the past words or actions of myself or other people. Some of them flash through the mind and some build a chain of related thoughts and intense feelings.

The fourth type is my self chosen chant or mantra (3). Sometimes this chant comes on it’s own and disappears. Sometimes I become aware of the ticking sounds of the digital table clock in my room – tick-tick- tick …. In the beginning, I used to treat this ticking sound as an irritating distraction. But I changed my attitude and now use the ticks as an aid for my practice. I match these ticking sounds with the words of my chant –
(Tick) – Hare
(Tick) – Rama
(Tick) – Hare
(Tick) – Rama
(Tick) – Rama
(Tick) – Rama
(Tick) – Hare
(Tick) – Hare
(Tick) – Hare
(Tick) – Krishna
(Tick) – Hare
(Tick) – Krishna
(Tick) – Krishna
(Tick) – Krishna
(Tick) – Hare
(Tick) – Hare

The above cycle goes on and on and the time passes easily. Read my detailed article on chanting practice.
See update at (2).

What do I feel during the meditation?
After about half the period of meditation, the bothering sensations in my body become mild. Sometimes, I become aware of the faint pulsations of my heart in the chest, finger tips, or legs. I match these heart pulsations with the words of the above chant.

These 4 types of phenomena appear randomly, one at a time, in my mind. I may say the phenomena are like shadows appearing in my mind which is like a screen. I just watch these shadows passively, like an audience, not showing any response to them, except on two occasions –

One occasion is when a negative thought or feeling becomes intense, dominates and sticks on too long. Then, for a moment, I stop playing the role of a passive witness and switch to the role of an active director, bringing into the mind, the neutral and relaxing breath sensations. Then these intense disturbances subside and I go back to the role of a passive audience.

Another occasion I play an active role is when some strong body sensations do not soften at all, even after 30 minutes. For example – a strong sensation of pain in some part of the body, not reducing at all. On these occasions I use the 911 mode for 5 -10 times.

During the 1 to 1 ½ hours, I do nothing but sit still and watch the discomforts in body and mind gradually transform into neutral sensations. Once in 20-30 minutes I interchange the crossed leg positions and hand positions, as described before. Towards the end, when my shoulders and hands feel stiff, I interlace my  fingers and stretch them up fully or massage my face and neck.

(1) Vajrasana
(2) Updates: Aug 2015  Oct 2014  Dec 2012
(3) The full text of my chant (mantra) is

“Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare”

Related article
Chanting – My article

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Parent page: Meditation- (Level III)

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