If you've read any of my posts, you probably know already, I'm a big proponent of breath meditation. I can't emphasize enough how vitally important it is to cultivate the awareness of the breath cycle. It seems so simple, but it runs very deep, and can draw you into a higher level of consciousness. A peaceful heart begins in the breath.
So many novices find that their minds distract them from attempts to meditate, and that's normal. It can be overcome gradually, so that your mind will become your servant, rather than your master. One of the things I tell my students is that meditation leads to a shift in your awareness, so that you become physically conscious of the energy of life (called chi or prana) in your body. The way to quiet the mind and experience this energy in its pure form is by learning to focus on the silent places in the body that are alive and aware, but do not think in words or pictures as the mind does.
As you advance, you will learn about the "sushumna," the metaphysical column that runs through the middle of your body, from the lower chakras, through the heart chakra and up into the head. As you breathe in, energy rises from the base of the spine, up the shushumna, interacting with the heart, on up through the throat chakra to the "third eye" chakra that's in the center of the brain (with a nerve contact point on the forehead). The crown chakra at the top of the head is not really in play until the yogi advances through a number of stages; it's the doorway to "spiritual sky," but that's for later.
For beginners, practicing breath meditation at its most basic is so important, and fortunately, it's pretty easy to do. As you inhale and fill your lungs to full capacity, your spine stretches upward, so you can follow the upward movement from your belly, feeling the breath pass the heart in the center of your chest. Some instructors emphasize the continuous cycle, but I suggest a brief pause at the top of the cycle, not holding the breath but keeping the air passage open, remaining inflated (float) for a few seconds. There is a moment of stillness there, between breaths. Then, upon exhaling, the energy of awareness can follow the deflating of the chest, down and in. The muscles around the navel contract, and it drops down, deep into the belly. It does a slow turnaround there; wait for it, don't be in a hurry to inhale again, until you find that moment where it is both necessary and comfortable. The heart, the lungs, the belly, the sushumna, they are all part of the great engine of breath that is so fundamental to life. The breath of life was the Supreme Being's first gift to animate human creatures, and a true yogi is grateful, reverent, appreciative, and attentive to it.
After many years of breath-meditation, I discovered that there is a still place, right over the heart; you can touch your chest with your fingertipes and find it, a little rise on the sternum. It's the most quiet, peaceful, deeply calm, unmoving part of ourselves. It's where you are, at all times. It never moves or changes. You can move every other part of your body, but that place is the still center that everything else revolves around. The best way to increase your consciousness of it is by feeling the breath pass through it, going both directions (in/up, and out/down).
Breath meditation has a mantra that the mind chants silently, synchronized to the cycle. Some peole say you don't need the mantra, and they are dead wrong. The mantra is the key to the whole deal. On breathing in, whisper "Sah..." That is, put your tongue in place to form an "S" to start the in-breath, then open the mouth wider so that as you inhale, the sound becomes "Sah..." Do it kind of slow and gentle. Pause briefly at the top (inflated), then exhale, slowly whispering "Han..." After you've whispered it audibly a few times, then make it quieter and quieter until it becomes silent, but you still say it and hear it in your mind: "sa-han-sa-han-sa-han-sa-han-sa-han-sa-han-sa-han-sa-han..."
This is called the Soaham Sadhana, or Hansa Yoga Meditation. If you can do this breath meditation synchronized to this mantra for several minutes at a time, several times a day, your consciousness will begin to shift into what I would call the meditative state, with improved mental acuity, improved mood, less stress, and the beginnings of authentic spiritual consciousness.
I teach the Sah-Han breath mantra because that's the one revealed to me for my own initiation into the mysteries of an advanced meditation method (with several esoteric techniques), taught by my amazing guru, many years ago. This mantra is referred to as "The Holy Name." There is a story and a symbol attached to it. "Hansa" is the name of the white swan, often depicted as the Swan in the Lotus, a symbol of the divine.
Another great Holy Name is Yah-Weh, from the Bible. The Hebrew letters analogous to Y and W in English are silent consonants. Inhaling with the mind whispering "Yah..." silently, and exhaling on "Weh..." works exactly the same way.
The point is to chant one of the Holy Names silently in the mind in synchrony to the breathing technique. The mind always wants to talk, forcing us to listen to a stream of thoughts. We give it something to SAY, and you also LISTEN to the mantra, so the mind can be occupied with this higher vibration and find momentary quiet. You learn that you are not your thoughts. You are your awareness, you are the observer of your experience, but not the words and pictures in the mind, ideas, concepts, beliefs, theories, assumptions, calculations, analysis, ego, worries, fears, etc. Those are faculties that the mind possesses, but they are not the essence of who you are.
We always want to understand, and learn ideas and concepts, and try to accumulate wisdom. But yoga (union with the true self) deals with spiritual energy in the BODY, as a way to find harmony with our true nature, to gain peace and contentment, balance, health, and so forth. There are many ideas and concepts about yoga that can be explored, but true understanding comes AFTER enlightenment, which is a condition that emerges out of the silence, the stillness, the inner peace and harmony that brings radiance to the aura, as the metaphysical reality arises from the base of the physical. Concepts are mere doodles on tissue paper, signifying not much, compared to direct perception of the essence of life itself.
PEACE and BLESSINGS