Friday, August 22, 2008

Starting Meditation: Yoni Mudra, Mantras, OM

There are several techniques to help you meditate. Some use the power of sound, others use visual symbols or even breathing. But all have a common aim: to focus the scattered rays of the mind on a single point, so as to lead you into a state of self-realization. Repeating a mantra or japa is a highly recommended technique. But if you are a newcomer to meditation, you may wish to make use of the other meditation techniques to discipline your mind. Some of these include:

Yoni Mudra

Yoni Mudra is an exercise in Pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses. Blocking off your ears, eyes, nose and mouth you retreat inside yourself like a tortoise drawing its legs under its shell. Only when your senses are brought under control and the mind is no longer pulled constantly outward, can you hope to concentrate.

How to do: Close your ears with your thumbs. Cover your eyes with your index fingers. Close your nostrils with your middle fingers and press your lips together with your remaining fingers. Release the middle fingers gently to inhale and exhale while you meditate.

Category Concentration: When learning to meditate, narrow your field of concentration to a category of objects. In the category concentration exercise, you can choose four flowers as objects of concentration. After concentrating on one, you can move to the next when your mind starts to wander. If you don't feel at ease concentrating on flowers, choose a different category of objects, such as fruit or trees. It is important that you restrict your mind to a group of objects and that the objects you choose are ones you can regard with detachment. Practising this exercise will hone your focus and teach you single-minded concentration. Once you can stay focused on a category of objects you are ready to concentrate on one single object.

Steady Gazing or Tratak

Tratak is an excellent concentration exercise. It involves alternately gazing at an object or point without blinking, then closing your eyes and visualising the object in your mind's eye. This steadies the wandering mind and focuses you to pinpoint your attention with accuracy. Though primarily intended to strengthen your powers of concentration and purify the mind, Tratak also improves your eyesight and stimulates the brain via the optic nerve.

Targets of Tratak: Tratak is most commonly performed with a candle but you can use other objects as targets for your gaze. You can mark a black dot on a piece of paper and attach it to the wall or use a chakra or a yantra. Yantras are geometrical diagrams that serve to focus the mind. Like a mantra, each yantra has a specific mystical meaning. Alternatively, you can try gazing at a symbol, such as OM, or at the image of a deity. In the daytime, a flower or a shell can act as a target of attention, while at night you might try fixing your gaze at the moon or a bright star. As long as your object of concentration is fixed and relatively small, focusing on it will produce the desired effect.

Frontal and nasal gazing: Yogis often use the space between their eyebrows and the tip of the nose for Tratak. Gazing between your eyebrows, or at the tip of your nose strengthens your eye muscles, besides improving your concentration. To start with, it is sufficient to gaze for one minute, gradually building it up to 10 minutes. However, if your eyes feel sore or tired, close them at once.


Mantras are Sanskrit syllables, words or phrases which, when repeated in meditation, will bring you to a higher state of consciousness. They are sounds or energies that have always existed in the universe and can neither be created nor destroyed. There are certain qualities common to any true mantra. Repeating a mantra or japa not only provides you with a tangible point on which to focus your mind - it also releases the energy encased in that sound. The energy literally manifests itself, creating a specific thought pattern in the mind. Correct pronunciation of the mantra is therefore very important. With sincere practice, repetition of a mantra leads to pure thought where the sound vibration merges with the thought vibration. In this way the mantra will lead you to true meditation, to a state of oneness, of non-duality. It is believed that mental japa is the most effective, though at the beginning you can start by voicing the mantra, then whispering it, before turning to mental repetition. Whichever form of japa you use, it is helpful to co-ordinate the mantra with your breathing. In addition to a japa, there are three other techniques to aid your concentration:

  • Using a mala:You can use a string of beads repeating your mantra as you count along the beads. A mala has 108 beads plus a larger meru bead. Holding it in the right hand, start at the meru and roll the beads along one by one between your thumb and third fingers while repeating your mantra. When you reach the meru, roll the mala in the opposite direction. Don't cross over the meru bead.
  • Finger-line counting :You can use the thumb of your right hand as a pointer to count along the lines between your finger joints. Place your right thumb on the top line of your little finger and move it on each time you repeat the mantra -- first to the middle line, then the lowest line, then on to the lines of the fourth finger, and so on.
  • Writing down the mantra (Likhita Japa):You can write the mantra down at the same time as repeating it mentally. Set aside a special notebook for the purpose. Before you start, decide how many times you will repeat the mantra or for how long. The aim is not to write as quickly as possible, but to give due consideration to every single repetition. You can either use Sanskrit or the translated version to write your chosen mantra. Instead of just working from left to right, try making patterns with your mantra writing too.

To a yogi, no symbol is more powerful than the syllable OM. It is described as the "eternal word: what was, what is and what shall be". In Sanskrit, the long lower curve represents the dream state, the upper curve stands for the waking state and the curve originating from the centre symbolises a deep, dreamless sleep. The crescent shape stands for "maya ", the veil of illusion and the dot for the transcendental state.

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