Sunday, October 27, 2019

Seven Yogic Practices - Tyaga - Letting Go

We all have our attachments and they are the root cause of most of our disappointments. We may like to believe that we remain unaffected or that our love is pure, devoid of attachments to people or things. The truth is, your degree of detachment can only be ascertained once you are removed from the object of your attachment. 

There is a specific yogic practice to help you in cultivating the art of letting go. 

The word is tyāga in Sanskrit. It means to let go, to give up, to renounce, to detach, to set (yourself) free from the attachment to the object. The practice of tyaga is a powerful one and the effect is profound. It is capable of igniting a radical transformation in you.

How to Do It Right

The practice of letting go starts with identifying what you love the most and then picking one to begin with, deciding to let go for a certain period. It can be one week, a month, one year or any other duration you decide. 

Please see the chart below: 

Practising to Let Go

The complete practice of tyaga means abandoning consumption, desire, contemplation and thoughts of the object of attachment.

When you let go, you gain freedom. It further leads to a state of independence, peace and fulfilment. Ultimately, if you can let go of everything that gives you grief, every agonizing emotion, every discursive thought, you can well imagine your blissful state. 

When you learn to let go, you are effectively learning to let yourself go free.

Seven Yogic Practices - Ekanta - Solitude

Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita, 

The one who dwells within and is contented within is indeed a yogi. The seeker who has turned inward finds greatest bliss in solitude. In such a state, he can uninterruptedly enjoy the bliss within. 
If you are in solitude and have engaged your mind in reading, writing or other similar activities, that is still solitude. It is not the finest type though, it is more like pseudo solitude. The ultimate solitude is when you are aware of each passing moment, you are not dull and you are not sleepy, you are awake and alert, and, at that, you do not feel restless; you do not feel the urge to always do “something”. You are at peace within. When you are face-to- face with your own mind, sharply looking at it directly, you are in solitude. A yogi who has mastered the art of living in solitude, without fail, will always be in solitude even amidst the greatest crowd. His quietude remains unaffected by the noise outside. His inner world stays insulated from the outer one.

How to Do It Right 

The practice of solitude, naturally, incorporates the practice of observing silence as well. You can start your stint of solitude, by opting for short periods first with a minimum stretch of 24 hours.

Please see the chart below. 

Practising Solitude

Seven Yogic Practices - Mauna - Silence

We all have our attachments and they are the root cause of most of our disappointments. We may like to believe that we remain unaffected or that our love is pure, devoid of attachments to people or things. The truth is, your degree of detachment can only be ascertained once you are removed from the object of your attachment. 

There is a specific yogic practice to help you in cultivating the art of letting go. 

The word is tyāga in Sanskrit. It means to let go, to give up, to renounce, to detach, to set (yourself) free from the attachment to the object. The practice of tyaga is a powerful one and the effect is profound. It is capable of igniting a radical transformation in you.

How to Do It Right

The practice of letting go starts with identifying what you love the most and then picking one to begin with, deciding to let go for a certain period. It can be one week, a month, one year or any other duration you decide. 

Please see the chart below: 

Practising to Let Go

The complete practice of tyaga means abandoning consumption, desire, contemplation and thoughts of the object of attachment.

When you let go, you gain freedom. It further leads to a state of independence, peace and fulfilment. Ultimately, if you can let go of everything that gives you grief, every agonizing emotion, every discursive thought, you can well imagine your blissful state. 

When you learn to let go, you are effectively learning to let yourself go free.

Seven Yogic Practices - Sankalpa - Resolve

The singular most important, by far the most significant quality that a meditator must have is willpower, the resolve to not give up in the face of challenges. Irrespective of what path you are on, your determination to persist and persevere, your resolve to tread the path, determines the outcome.

How to Do It Right 

The only mantra for successfully keeping the practice of sankalpa is to not give up, no matter what. 

Let us assume you vow to sit still for 30 minutes every day for the next 40 days. You decide to sit still like a rock in the same posture for those 30 minutes no matter what. For that half hour, with great will power and determination, you are going to build your concentration with great mindfulness. You are going to make every attempt to remember that during the hour of your practice, each time your mind wanders off, you will gently bring it back to your object of focus. 

A certain degree of determination is required to do the aforesaid. As you progress with resolve, you will find your conditioned mind becoming feeble. You will experience an inexplicable inner strength. Such new found strength will enable you to reach sahaja, an emergent natural state of bliss ultimately.

During your period of sankalpa, if you miss your practice even once, it is a hundred percent breach of practice and requires restarting. As part of the practice, you can resolve to do anything at all. Sitting still is merely one example.

Seven Yogic Practices - Shravana - Listening

The Sanskrit term is sravana. It means to listen. The practice of listening is a simple and powerful way to build your concentration. The one who practices the art of listening undergoes a rapid transformation in their ability to remain concentrated. 

Listening requires that you be alert and attentive in the present moment.

A man approached Buddha once and said, “I want to become wise. Please tell me how do I operate better in the world? What do I do to not mess my relationships?” 

Buddha spoke, “It is very simple. You only have to be mindful of two things – listen attentively to others when they are talking and even more attentively to yourself when you are talking.”

How to Do It Right 

  • Put on your favorite song, at home, while driving, jogging, anywhere. 
  • Promise yourself that you’ll pay full attention to the song. 
  • Listen to the song with complete mindfulness and alertness. 

This is the art of active listening. This is the practice in a nutshell.

Seven Yogic Practices - Trataka - Still Gazing

An unfailing sign of a true yogi is stillness of the gaze. Even some advanced meditators struggle to keep their eyeballs still (even when their eyes are closed). Stillness of the gaze has a remarkable effect on the energy flow in your body. 

There is a specific yogic practice to perfect your gaze. The method of fixing your gaze on an object is called trāṭaka

Movement in the eyes, flickering of the eyelids represent a subtle flaw in your posture as well as meditation. Practice of trataka is the best practice to eliminate this flaw. Like all other yogic practices, do it every day for at least 40 days to benefit from it. 

How to Do It Right 

  • Assume the standard yogic posture for meditation, preferably cross-legged. 
  • Light a candle, at a distance of about three feet, in front of you. You can also keep any other object than a candle if you prefer. 
  • Ensure the candle or any other object of focus is at your eye-level. 
  • Watch it unblinking for a minimum of seven minutes. You can gradually increase the duration.
  • During the actual practice, try to be aware of your wandering thoughts and gently bring your mind back to the object. 

Please see the chart below: 

Practicing Still Gazing

The right practice of trataka helps one still the mind and calm it down. It acts as a catalyst in building one-pointed concentration with better memory retention and recall.

The right practice of trataka helps one still the mind and calm it down. It acts as a catalyst in building one-pointed concentration with better memory retention and recall. However, these are not the only benefits. As stated earlier in this book, your body is run by ten different energies, five primary and five secondary. The five secondary ones are called naga, kurma, krkara, devadatta and dhananjaya; they are responsible for belching, sneezing, blinking, yawning and twitching respectively.

The practice of trataka stills the five secondary energies giving you control over the aforesaid involuntary functions of the body. Such control is necessary for the advanced seeker who wishes to enjoy uninterrupted tranquil equipoise. During meditation, if any of the above five occurs, an awareness of the body emerges instantly, abruptly breaking the state of oneness.

Seven Yogic Practices - Ekagrata

Ekagrata - Concentration

The term is ēkāgratā, single-mindedness, for concentration. If I split this word for better understanding, it is comprised of ek, one, and agra, proceed. It means to proceed with oneness, with focus, with synchronicity, in a channelized fashion.

Do not hold long sessions of concentration initially. Instead, hold sharp, short, crisp and lucid sessions of no more than ten minutes each. You can gradually increase the duration. Sitting still for an hour while your mind is wandering off all the time will not bring results as quickly as you holding your posture and lucidity for ten minutes but practising rigorous concentration with utmost alertness.

How to Do It Right

It's best to sit in the standard yogic posture, with your legs crossed preferably. 

The practice of concentration is almost identical to the practice of concentrative meditation with only one fundamental difference. When you practice concentrative meditation, you allow yourself to slip into a state of ascending consciousness. While doing the yogic practice of concentration, however, the sole focus is to improve the duration and quality of your concentration (which you can then use to enjoy better meditation). 

The other important thing is that in concentrative meditation, you are allowed to take a break every now and then to rejuvenate yourself. You could meditate for five days in a row and then take a break over the weekend. In the yogic practice of concentration, absolutely no break is allowed. It must be done every single day without fail for at least 40 days in a row. 

The chart below shows the important elements of this practice and their impact on the quality of your concentration.

Meditation is your performance on field where as a yogic practice is your trial runs off-field. Concentrative meditation is what you do flawlessly after you have corrected your mistakes in the practice of concentration.

Virtues of a Good Meditator


When you choose compassion over any other choice, you naturally elevate your consciousness. When you sit down to meditate, after a random act of kindness or a show of compassion, you will discover that your mind is naturally quieter than usual. It starts to gravitate towards its natural state. This peace is already present in your heart like fragrance in rose.


Between truth and compassion, I personally choose compassion. That is not to say that I would tell a lie but I would rather hurt myself than hurt the other person. Putting the other person before yourself, that's what compassion is. Truth on the other hand is putting your principle before the other person. Sometimes that is more important.

Once, Prince Abhaya asked Buddha if he ever spoke harsh and disagreeable words. At first, Buddha said there was no categorical yes or no answer. However, when pressed by Abhaya, the Venerable One, referring to himself in third person as Tathagata (the one gone beyond) spoke: 

  • In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be un-factual, untrue, unbeneficial (or: not connected with the goal), un-endearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them. 
  • In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, un-endearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them. 
  • In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but un-endearing and disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.
  • In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be un- factual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing and agreeable to others, he does not say them. 
  • In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing and agreeable to others, he does not say them. 
  • In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing and agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. 

Why is that? Because the Tathagata has compassion for living beings.39 It’s hard to find a better and clearer teaching on truth. If our words are true, factual, beneficial but not endearing or agreeable, we should think a million times before stating such truth as it’s unlikely to accomplish anything at all. It’ll hurt the other person and won’t benefit them in any way.

Next only to compassion, truth is the most potent quality of a true saint, a noble human being. Next time you are tempted to tell a lie, just pause for a moment, reflect on it and choose your words carefully. It’ll go a long way in ensuring that your speech, thoughts and actions are in harmony.


Being Grateful to God 

Some people are grateful to God, to the Supreme Soul, to someone they feel is up there. It can give them a huge psychological boost, help them survive difficult phases in life, give them the motivation to stay course among numerous other benefits. Those who believe in the existence of God, regardless of the religion they follow, have someone they can be grateful to. Even daily prayer is a form of gratitude. Being grateful to God is not complete gratitude, though. Imagine being thankful to the mother who is never careless, indifferent or irresponsible towards her children. It is of little use. Far more important than being grateful to God is to be grateful to his children, his creation. This leads to the gratitude of the second type. 

Being Grateful to Others 

Love and gratitude are soulmates; happiness and harmony are their offspring. It is not possible to be grateful unless you accept that someone has done something for you. If you feel, out of ego or ignorance, that it was your right, you will fail to feel grateful. Consequently, you will not experience any happiness, much less peace and bliss. Any relationship with gratitude present in it is bound to flourish. Gratitude is not always about grand gestures, it may range from a sincere thank you to an act of extraordinary compassion. The important thing to remember is that you must consciously express your gratitude without any expectations for reciprocation; it is hard but doable. True gratitude makes one generous, compassionate and infinitely loving. 

Practice of gratitude lends incredible emotional strength. If you are emotionally strong, you can succeed at anything, anything at all. Gratitude makes you emotionally pure and such purity in turn allows you to love unconditionally.


But empathy is about just being there. It is the art of easing the pain of the other person by just being there for them in the most non-judgmental manner. Empathy is about being a good listener.

Nature has bestowed upon us an extraordinary emotion, empathy. It is the seed of compassion. Simply put, empathy is a genuine effort to see the world from the perspective of the other person. It is to step into their shoes to see where exactly it hurts. Empathy requires that we empty our mind and listen to the other person with our whole being. No understanding is possible unless we take in all that the other person is trying to tell us.

You don’t have to feel a certain way to act a certain way. The reverse is more practical and effective; start acting a certain way and you’ll start feeling that way. Empathy is an act before it becomes an emotion. It is, however, not possible to develop a sense of empathy without being sensitive towards others around us. In fact, it's hard to practice any virtue without having a degree of sensitivity.

A good meditator is always mindful of his thoughts, actions and words. One of the most beautiful rewards of meditation is that it makes you more sensitive. It’s a natural by-product.

Sensitivity is knowing the difference between being emphatic and being empathic. As they say, resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.


As you begin to shed your ego, you become humble naturally. A humble mind is a beautiful mind. It's far more receptive to spiritual growth and attainment than an egoist mind, no matter how learned.


Faith is designed to give you the confidence, the courage to lead your life with grace and conviction. It doesn’t mean we can just confess and be done with our bad karma, rather, we should have the strength to do the right karma at the first place.

Faith is the understanding that not everything is in my control. I'll do everything in my reach to do whatever I can about things that are in my control and leave the rest in the hands of this vast universe. 

As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in The Serenity Prayer. 
God, grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Meditation Practice: Spirited Meditation

When you use any form of music to enter into a meditative state, it’s called bhava samadhi, a tranquility of the purest sentiment devoid of any negativity.

Spirited meditation is not about losing your consciousness and falling flat on the floor in a daze, in ecstasy. Instead, it is about rising above your body consciousness, it is about providing an outlet to your physical energies resulting in a complete and total harmony of your body and mind.

How to Do It Right

In order to do spirited meditation correctly, you will need a piece of music, any genre, that starts out slow, builds to a crescendo and then flows gently, slowly like a river murmuring in autumn. You can take three different pieces of music and combine them, make a playlist of your choice, or simply pick anything that fulfills the criteria above and play it. There are four primary stages roughly spanning 10-15 minutes each. 

The build-up stage: In this stage, the music is playing slowly and you build up the energy by being aware of your breath and your movements. You can recall past incidents, negative emotions, or joyous moments, anything you like during the first stage. 

The release stage: The second stage is about dancing hard and wild (without hurting yourself or others if you are in a group) so you may release the built-up of stored energy. 

The let-go stage: Once you gently sway to the slow music and you completely let go off all that you've just released. You forgive, you surrender, you let go. With each gentle movement, with each sway, you experience the lightness of being, slowly aligning yourself with your energies. You remain in that state even after the meditation has ended. One of the important things in the third stage is to play a different music than the first stage even though both are slow-tempo pieces of music. In the first stage you are aware of your breathing, your thoughts and emotions. In this stage, however, you are just being present in the present moment. You are just enjoying ‘being’. 

The rest stage: In the fourth stage, lie down on the floor in shava-asana, the corpse pose to internalize what all you have just done, experienced and assimilated. There’s no music in the fourth stage. You just listen to your own breathing – inhalation, exhalation, inhalation, exhalation. 

Follow the steps below to begin the spirited meditation: 

  • Loosen your body by gently shaking your limbs. 
  • Breathe deep a few times to normalize your breath. 
  • Turn on the music and start dancing to its rhythm. 
  • Start by gently swinging and swaying to the music. This is the first stage. Pay attention to your breath. You may not be able to hear your breath since there’s music playing in the background, and that’s fine. Just be aware of your inhalation and exhalation as you dance to the slow rhythm. 
  • In stage two, as the music builds up, follow your heart’s voice (or your body’s movements) and simply just dance. Dance away all that’s stored in you and causing you any grief at all. Release the energy inside you. 
  • Slow down again to a different piece of music in the third stage. Just flow. Follow the six principles of meditation. You are just dancing and flowing with the melody, rhythm and notes of your music. 
  • When the music stops, in the fourth stage, simply lie down on your back. Just rest and watch your breath and it’ll harmonize your energies. 

Spirited meditation is a wonderful way of releasing the pent up energy and even excess calories in the most meditative way possible. It is a great way of introducing meditation to youngsters. Even as adults, some days when you feel restless or too full of energy, when you just can't sit down and meditate, you could do this meditation instead. A wave of joy will wash over you making you feel light both physically and mentally.

Meditation Practice: Observant Meditation

In line with the six principles of meditation (no recollection, calculation, imagination, examination, construction and digression), observant meditation is about watching your thoughts in the most dispassionate manner possible.

This meditation is also called witness meditation for you are simply playing the role of a witness while you meditate. The soul of this meditation is to simply watch your thoughts as if you are watching a movie on a screen, as if whatever comes to your mind is not something that happened to you but to a third person. You realize that when an actor dies on screen, he or she isn’t truly dead. In the same manner, you realise that all thoughts are empty, they are devoid of any true essence, and that you don’t have to react to those thoughts.

This is the underlying principle of being a witness while operating in this world that can be very difficult at times: watch yourself and that is it.

How to Do It Right 

  • Sit in any comfortable posture. The standard posture of meditation is even more useful as channelizing the energies while your mind is empty is extremely helpful in swiftly moving towards a state of complete tranquility of the mind. 
  • Take a few deep breaths. 
  • Remind yourself that you are simply playing the role of an observer, a passive spectator who doesn’t cheer or jeer. 
  • You can close your eyes and wait for your thoughts to emerge, or you can open your eyes and fix your gaze at any object, close or distant. 
  • Simply watch your thoughts as they come. 

Now wait for the thoughts to come and knock on the door of your consciousness. The first thing you’ll notice is that that the flow of thoughts is immediately checked when you sit there anticipating their arrival. If you maintain the lucidity of your passivity (which means, be a good witness), you will be able to observe your thoughts lot more clearly. 

Let any thought come, of any nature, just don’t entertain it. Just let it come and let it go, repeatedly. Don’t analyze them, don’t pursue them, don’t reject them – just don’t react. They are like billboards and banners you see on the road while you are driving, just don’t pay attention as they are not important to your journey. 

Intrinsically, these thoughts are immaterial and barren. One by one they will come incessantly, let them. When you no longer react to your thoughts with this meditation, a strange thing starts to happen. The gap between one thought and the next increases. That gap is a type of quietude, a variety of mental stillness that’s priceless. Immerse in it by being aware of such quietude.

Meditation Practice: Mindful Meditation

Children, our daily life is just like a tangerine. Just as a tangerine is comprised of sections, each day is comprised of twenty-four hours. One hour is like one section of a tangerine. Living all twenty-four hours of a day is like eating all the sections of a tangerine. The path I have found is the path of living each hour of the day in awareness, mind and body always dwelling in the present moment. The opposite is to live in forgetfulness, we do not know that we are alive. We do not fully experience life because our mind and body are not dwelling in the here and now

This is the fundamental issue with our minds. It's eternally living in another moment, a moment we crave for and desire. In doing so, we completely miss the beauty and bliss of the present moment. The current moment is called 'present' for a reason, it's a gift. A restless mind, however, is either dwelling in the past of dreaming abut the future. The practice of mindful meditation brings you to the present moment, the moment of truth

Mindfulness is about paying attention to every thought (for every action stems from a thought) without discriminating a good thought from a bad thought. When you will begin to watch every action of yours, as you become more mindful, a remarkable thing will happen to you: your mind will start downplaying depressing and hurtful thoughts of the past. Your reaction to anything thrown at you will become a mindful act rather than a knee-jerk response. This leads to a great sense of ease and calm, and you begin to feel more in control. 

On a daily basis, we do so many things mindlessly, without paying attention to our thoughts, emotions, action and inaction. Mindful meditation is the art of doing everything with a sense of awareness and the only way to master this art is by way of practice. 

Mindful meditation is one of the proven and tested ways to break your age-old habits, to shed your old tendencies. Awareness does that naturally, it transforms you into a calm, centered being. This is the easiest way of becoming superconscious of your own actions. With practice, as you transform most of your actions from instinctual to conscious acts, your intelligence gets sharpened because, unlike instinctual actions, performing any conscious act requires a degree of intelligence. The more you use it, the brighter it gets. Mindfulness makes you alert, attentive and watchful.

How to Do It Right

Mindful meditation does not require you to sit in a certain posture. You need not take deep breaths before you start it. On the contrary, it is a practice you have to inculcate in your everyday life, in every waking moment. 
At the heart of the practice of mindful meditation is a simple question: what am I doing now?
Your question and the answers to it, both are in the present continuous tense. In this manner you capture the essence of any moment as it’s passing. 

Within a matter of weeks, you will find yourself calmer, sharper and more alert. You will slow down only to become a lot more efficient. You will eat less but you will gain more (not calories but nutrition) from each bite. Most people forget to chew their food, you won’t. As you become an adept at this meditation, you will get most of your work done without the slightest of stress. As you progress, not only do you become aware of your actions, you become increasingly aware of your emotions, feelings and thoughts.

Next time you have trouble sleeping, ask yourself, what am I doing right now? Now, I’m sleeping. Your mind may feel restless and wander off to thoughts to keep you awake, ask yourself the question again and answer it again. Keep doing it each time your mind drifts away and before long, you will be fast asleep. This meditation is the easiest way to remove distractions. Practicing it also makes you better at other methods of meditation because you are able to filter out distractions. 

If you choose to practice this meditation in a timed session of meditation, where you are sitting on your cushion and meditating, the question will change. 
Instead of saying what am I doing now, you have to ask: “Which thought is on my mind right now?” 
As soon as you will ask this question, you will experience a subtle thoughtless state for a few moments. It is a beautiful experience, addictive even. After a little while, your mind will wander off into its world of thoughts again. Repeat the question. It will come back to the present moment. Keep bringing your mind back to the present moment with the imperative question: “Which thought is on my mind right now?” Gradually, the duration of thoughtlessness will increase and you will become increasingly joyous and composed. 

The mindful practice is a powerful way of staying in the present moment. And the present moment is always stress free. 

It is complete in every sense of the word. Above all, the present moment is the only one we are actually in touch with. It’s the only moment in which we can act or do anything to affect a change.

Similar to the story of Buddha eating tangerine, there’s a famous tea ritual in Zen meditations, where you make, pour, and take every sip with utmost awareness. In Zen, there’s also another form of meditation called kinhin or walking meditation. It’s a type of mindful meditation where you take each step with complete awareness, feeling how your body weight shifts from one step to another. It’s a remarkable way of building mindfulness in the simple act of walking that we take for granted.

Let’s not lose the present moment for this is nature’s greatest ‘present’ that we are alive in this moment. This moment is the only guarantee of life. Put it to use, mindfully.

Meditation Practice: Contemplative Meditation

The basis of contemplative meditation is that eventually you become what you meditate on. 

The seers realized this thousands of years ago and figured out that, by the same logic, if someone meditated on compassion, he would become an embodiment of compassion and that those who contemplated only on the negative aspects of their life keep attracting and manifesting more negativity. Mind does not understand good-bad, right-wrong, moral-immoral. These are the definitions we have fed into our conscious mind. At its root, mind only creates, understands and reacts to a thought.

Contemplative meditation leads to remarkable insight into the true nature of things, the realities of different planes of existence and into many things beyond words.

The term acala vipāśayanā is used in meditation texts. It means the insight devoid of mental activity. Yasyaka, a Vedic scholar who lived before the eminent Sanskrit grammarian Panini in 700 BCE, defines vipāśaya as unfettering, or without a trace. 
And this is the key: when no trace of conditioned mind is left, you gain an insight rising above your intellect and calculations of the conditioned mind. This transcendental knowledge, true insight, comes from within. It is not the product of some conditioning, cogitation or deliberation. It is not some information you’ve gained from any book. Instead, this is the output of contemplative meditation. It springs forth from the primal source within you. 
In truth, meditation is doing away with all labels and conditioning so the real you may rise to the surface.

The primary method of contemplative meditation is done by way of self-enquiry which is further divided into two types. 

Self-Enquiry: who Am I? 

It begins with the fundamental question, “Who Am I?”

Eliminative Contemplation 

In the practice of eliminative contemplation, you get rid of all the labels that you are not. You keep searching for that one permanent label that actually defines who you really are.

Affirmative Contemplation

After you have negated what you are not, reinforce what you are. Affirmative contemplation is the reinforcement of your true identity and it is this reinforcement – this knowledge – that will help you stay calm and blissful while operating the world.

Objects to Meditate On: Meditation on Formless

If you wish to meditate on the formless, there are two ways to do so.

Here’s how to do it correctly: 

  • Assume your yogic posture. 
  • Deep breathe a few times to normalise your energies. 
  • Simply close your eyes and remain thought free. That’s it.

Please note that being thought free is not the same as observing your thoughts. You must not observe or watch your thoughts while meditating on the formless. Instead, it is a practice where mind is directly looking at itself. Meditation on the formless is the hardest to do without guidance because there are a few subtle points which can only be demonstrated and not documented. A master is a must if you wish to champion this form.

The other form of meditation on the formless is called expansive meditation. In this you experience yourself merging in the supreme consciousness.

Here’s how to do it right: 

  • As always, sit comfortably in the yogic posture.
  • Deep breathe a few times. 
  • Visualise a bright, effulgent light or a dark infinite universe. This is the expansive aspect in this meditation. 
  • Gradually visualize that your body is disintegrating and merging in the vast, expansive, infinite universe.

Objects to Meditate On: Meditation on Sound

Meditation on sound requires you to meditate on a repetitive sound. It can be a mantra or any pleasant sound you like – vocal or instrumental. The only condition is that it must be repetitive because you are training your mind to stay on one thing for very long periods of time.

There is a subtle but significant difference in chanting or meditating. Even if you are chanting out loud, whispering or mentally chanting, it is still an act of speaking. It will not allow you to merge in the sound. The auditory consciousness will be a hindrance. Meditating on a mantra means recalling that mantra gently, one after another. Recollection is quite different from speaking. Recollection requires certain visualization. Before you recall, your brain visualizes it. It happens fast but nevertheless it happens.

Here is how to do it right:
  • Sit comfortably in the yogic posture. 
  • Listen to the sound for a few minutes if you are meditating on an external sound and then turn off the source, or simply chant the mantra a few times if you are meditating on a mantra. 
  • Breathe deeply for about five minutes with both nostrils. 
  • Close your eyes or half-close them if you like. 
  • Start recalling the sound you just heard. Or start recalling the mantra you just chanted if you are meditating on a mantra.

When chanting on a mantra, if you simply maintain the same pace during a session, you may experience periods of restlessness and torpor more quickly and frequently. Feel free to vary your pace to retain freshness and clarity.

Objects to Meditate On: Meditation on Breath

Meditating on your breath is the easiest form of concentrative meditation. While strengthening your mindfulness and alertness, it also has great calming effect on the mind. It is particularly useful in tackling restlessness that one experiences during meditation. While meditating on the breath, do not practice pranayama (alternate breathing) or any other yogic forms of breathing. Just breathe normally and watch your breath, pay attention to inhalation and exhalation. Concentrate on your breath. You can keep your eyes open or closed as you like. 

Here’s how to do it right: 

  1. Sit comfortably in the yogic posture. 
  2. Breathe deeply and normally for a few minutes with both nostrils. 
  3. Close your eyes, or lower your eyelids a bit if you don’t wish to completely close your eyes. 
  4. Simply listen to your inhalation. 
  5. Pay attention to the small pause that occurs when inhaling ends and exhaling starts. 
  6. Listen to your exhalation. 

It’s the best meditation to do when you feel restless or anxious. It empties your mind and calms you down. Please note that you must not hold your breath after inhalation (as done in some breathing exercises). Instead, simply just listen to your breath going in and breath going out. Over time, the duration of your breath (both while inhaling and exhaling) extends automatically helping you retain more prana, vital life force, from your breathing. 

On a side note, sometimes when you can’t fall asleep at night. Just lie down in your most comfortable posture. Be absolutely still and meditate on your breath. A great calmness will come over you and you will fall asleep. Some sleep on their left or right side, some like to sleep on their tummy and some on their back. Before meditating on your breath to fall asleep, it is important to lie in the posture you normally go to sleep in. Whether trying to meditate while sleeping or meditating while awake, physical movements disrupt meditation.

Objects to Meditate On: Meditation on Form

In reality, meditating on a form is one of the most difficult and tiring form of meditation but it does result in superior concentration. Regardless of whether the form you are meditating on is external or internal, it is always an internal visualisation.

For example, you may have a pebble in front of you. It’s a simple form and you decide to meditate on the pebble to build your mindfulness and concentration. Here’s how to do it right, step-by-step:
  • Sit in the yogic posture correctly and comfortably. 
  • Observe the pebble for a couple of minutes. Be mindful to not analyse the pebble for why it’s shaped a certain way or has a certain color and so on. Simply observe it with the intention to hold the image in your mind. 
  • Close your eyes and begin visualising the image of the pebble. 
  • After a while, a few seconds, the image of pebble will fade. At that time, gently bring it back to your focus and you will be able to visualise it lucidly again. 
  • When you hit a point that you simply can’t bring the image of the pebble in front of your mind, gently open your eyes, stay in the posture and look at the pebble again for a minute or two and then follow the same process of visualisation as above. 

Initially, the image will fade every few seconds but with practice, you’ll be able to hold the image for much longer in front of your inner eye. After a while, your mind will get tired and you may feel exhausted. You are free to open your eyes and gaze at the pebble again to regain the lucidity of your object of meditation. It is important to visualize internally because remember you are meditating on a form and not simply concentrating on it. Let me explain the subtle difference between the two. When you are meditating, your mind is flowing like a continuous stream and you become more mindful of the boulders of thoughts that may come your way. Meditation is the art of being aware, super-aware in fact. Concentration is simply a way of maintaining your focus. Good concentration leads to great meditation.

Meditation Practice: Concentrative Meditation

One of the greatest rewards of concentrative meditation is the irreversible transformation it brings in you. Your habits, thoughts, emotions no longer provoke you like the earlier times. Internal or external triggers don’t throw you off balance.

Your mindfulness and alertness rises to a degree that you are able to choose your response at all times without falling prey to negative emotions. It comes naturally from the stillness of body and mind. The noise of thoughts become feeble and they lose their steam. 

In concentrative meditation, you settle your mind on your chosen object of meditation which could be an image, breath, a mantra or plain void. While the other five methods of meditation are a lot more lenient about your body posture, concentrative meditation requires complete mastery of your posture. This is mostly because success in this form of meditation demands complete stillness of the body.

How to Do It Right

Stillness of the body and mind comes with great practice. Here’s how to perform concentrative meditation: 

  1. Sit in a comfortable posture, preferably crossed-legged. 
  2. Keep your back and head straight. Neck, slightly bent, just only. 
  3. Abandon all body movements. 
  4. Yoke your focus on any object. 
  5. Maintain great mindfulness. 

Please review and follow the eight elements of a yogic posture and the six principles of meditation. They are entirely applicable to the practice of concentrative meditation. Once seated comfortably but correctly, start building your focus on your chosen object of meditation with complete alertness and mindfulness.

Madhyamaka Hridya states, 
“If one is overcome with distraction, one should retreat and regard it as being a harmful sign of perceptive diversion.”
Thus, whenever you discover that your mind is getting bombarded with other thoughts and emotions (which it will), simply understand that they are distractions. Ignore them and carry on with your concentration. Remember that thoughts are merely thoughts, devoid of any essence. Don’t analyze, pursue, accept, process or examine any thought whatsoever. Our goal is to build non-discriminatory, unblemished, sharp and lucid concentration. If you are meditating correctly, the craving for sensory pleasures will disappear on its own. 

Each time your mind wanders off, bring it back to the point of focus. Over time you will develop razor-sharp awareness; so that, you will become aware of each emerging thought before it turns into a distraction. 

If you find yourself slouching or leaning in any of the four directions, just gently correct your posture. Don’t forget to maintain a gentle smile and steadily retain focus on your chosen object. 

I must reiterate that it is absolutely critical to note that during concentrative meditation, you must stay away from all intellectual examination, contemplation and cogitation.

Do not accept, reject, examine, follow, engage in or pursue your thoughts. Simply do not act or react. Just gently maintain your concentration. Maintain short but crisp and lucid sessions of meditation. An untamed mind cannot stay on a thought for any longer than a few seconds. I would recommend that rather than doing one session of 45 minutes, do three lucid and crisp sessions of fifteen minutes. They will bring much greater benefit. Over time, as you get better, you can gradually increase the duration. 

I would also like to tell you that there is no joy in concentrative meditation, in the actual practice. But once you start to experience a quiescent mind, you will be addicted to meditation.

Elements of Good Meditation: Alertness

The mindfulness and alertness you cultivate during the meditation stays with you long after you’ve gotten up and resumed your daily activities. 

If mindfulness is the watch guard at the palace door then alertness is the police at the city gates. It is on patrol to see if there’s anything suspicious going on anywhere in the kingdom. It arrests any bad elements before they can reach and harm the royalty.

When you continue to practice correctly, there comes a time when you are able to detect the emergence of the thought even before mindfulness has to guard it from interfering with your meditation.

When you naturally develop an all pervading mindfulness because alertness is doing its job, the effort in meditation disappears. This is the stage when meditation stops being an act. It becomes your second nature. And after a while, it becomes your state of mind.

Yogic texts, notably Buddhist sutras, give a wonderful name to alertness. They call it saṃprajñā. It means a state of even awareness. Saṃyutta Nikāya defines alertness as knowing both events in the mind and activities of the body as they are happening:

And how is a monk alert? 
There is the case where feelings are known to the monk as they arise, known as become established, known as they subside. Thoughts are known to him as they arise, known as they become established, known as they subside. Perceptions are known to him as they arise, known as they become established, known as they subside. This is how a monk is alert. 

And how is a monk alert? 
When going forward & returning, he makes himself alert; when looking toward & looking away… when bending & extending his limbs… when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe, and his bowl. when eating, drinking, chewing, and savouring… when urinating and defecating… when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and remaining silent, he makes himself alert. This is how a monk is alert.

It is pertinent to add here that alertness not only allows you to detect and check the flow of thoughts, but also all other flaws including, but not limited to, emotions, dullness, restlessness, loss of clarity, random images and sleepiness.

Elements of Good Meditation: Mindfulness

Active mindfulness aids a meditator’s concentration to remain lucid, sharp and strong. Its function is to ensure that the mind of a meditator is focused on the object of meditation without getting distracted. Active mindfulness checks the emergence and flow of discursive thoughts. From here on, unless otherwise specified, whenever I use the term mindfulness, please know that I mean active mindfulness.

When you nurture and master active mindfulness in meditation, contemplative mindfulness emerges automatically in your daily life. It is a natural outcome of good meditation. Mindfulness in meditation is not a state of passive receptivity that you are simply observing your thoughts or that you are mindful of what is happening around you, or that even you are mindful of your thoughts in a non-judgemental way. 

It is not bare attention. 

On the contrary, mindfulness must be looked upon as the ever awake watch guard standing at the door of your mind. As soon as a discursive thought or a disturbing emotion emerges on the canvas of your mental imagery, mindfulness is the guard that alerts your mind. Along with alertness, it closes the door to your fortress so you may continue to concentrate uninterrupted. 

It is stated most beautifully in Thannassiro Bhikku’s translation of Aṅguttara Nikāya, 7.63

“Just as a royal frontier fortress has a gatekeeper – wise, experienced, intelligent – to keep out those he doesn’t know and to let in those he does, for the protection of those within, and to ward off those without; in the same way, a disciple of the noble ones is mindful, endowed with excellent proficiency in mindfulness, remembering and recollecting what was done and said a long time ago. With mindfulness as his gatekeeper, the disciple of the noble ones abandons what is unskilful, develops what is skilful, abandons what is blameworthy, develops what is blameless, and looks after himself with purity.”

Mindfulness, as a good guard, knowing that the emperor has forbidden any and every one from entering the palace, will not communicate with any visitor (thought). Its job is not to discriminate and find out who is fit to go in. The guard of mindfulness is deployed to keep the door shut for all outsiders.

Elements of Good Meditation: Concentration

Concentration is focus with precision–one careful step at a time, one moment at a time. The only way to retain your concentration is by retaining it in this moment, the present moment, and then the next moment, and the next, and the next and so on. If you maintain the sharpness of your concentration from one moment to the next, you stand to gain extraordinary rewards from meditation.

Becoming a good meditator requires great concentration and to become a great meditator requires supreme concentration. Concentration, especially one pointed concentration, comes with practice. Quality of practice leads to abundance of results. Please note the term ‘one pointed concentration’. This is the primary form of concentration we are concerned with.

One-pointed Concentration

One-pointed or single-minded concentration is the most important ingredient in attaining the tranquillity of mind through meditation. In fact, it is your road to the pinnacle of meditation.

Merely staring at an object is not pointed concentration. When it comes to meditation, meditation, it is how focused your mind is on the object of your meditation that determines how good your concentration is.

Absorptive Concentration

Absorptive concentration, as the name says, is when you are deeply absorbed in doing something. You are in a kind of flow. It’s a beautiful form of concentration. It happens due to your interest in the matter at hand and not because you are trying very hard to concentrate.

One of the unique rewards of this concentration is the sense of independence that you attain. The more absorbed you are, the less you need the world around you. It brings a certain calmness in you. 

If you build one-pointed concentration, the quality of your absorptive concentration improves automatically and significantly. Meditation can unlock your creativity in unimaginable ways.

Analytical Concentration

You can also think of it as an investigative or contemplative concentration. Your brain is constantly calculating and analysing in this form of concentration.

Elementary Concentration

This is not even real concentration, it is more like pseudo concentration but it’s what most of us utilise for the most part of our lives, especially in this day and age.

Passive Concentration 

Everyone’s mind is always maintaining this form of concentration – the passive concentration.

In all forms of concentration, a degree of alertness and focus is required because that’s what concentration is about – forging ahead with focus and alertness. One pointed concentration for meditation requires both alertness and focus in equal degrees. Lose alertness and you will experience laziness. Lose focus and you experience restlessness. The two greatest demons in meditation – restlessness and laziness. The former robs you off your patience and the other costs you your lucidity.

Elements of Good Meditation: Posture

According to Patanjali, it is only after perfecting one’s posture that one advances on the path of yoga. Breath regulation (pranayama), withdrawal of senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and realization (samadhi) are only possible for a meditator if he is able to perfect his posture.

On the question of what posture one should sit in, Patanjali states sthiram sukham asanam. It means any posture you are comfortable with. This does not mean that you can completely ignore the basics of posture.

Correct posture is about perfect stillness of the body. Think of an archer, a chess player, a mathematician, a scientist; how still they are when they are busy in their respective vocations. Stillness of the body fuels stillness of the mind and in turn stillness of the mind helps you be more still physically. They complement each other.

Perfection of the posture is essential for a serious meditator. It’s the prana of meditation.

An important point to remember is that your ability to sit still, the duration of staying in one posture increases gradually.

There are eight key elements of a good posture:

  1. Cross Legged
  2. Straight Back
  3. Relaxed Arms
  4. Joined Hands
  5. Straight Head
  6. Still Gaze
  7. Gentle Smile
  8. Position of Tongue and Teeth

With your legs crossed, hands joined, still gaze and straight back, channelization and retention of the energy occurs most naturally. With a comfortable posture and natural stillness, it becomes much easier to build the concentration required for great meditation.

Elements of Good Meditation: Attention


The ability to direct your attention and keep it yoked to the object of meditation is fundamental to good meditation. This is the singular most important instruction, the only way to keep your mind in the present moment.

Master Vasubandhu gives nine critical instructions on the art of settling your mind so that you may meditate. In his commentary on Sutraalankara, he says: 

  1. Stabilize the mind 
  2. Settle it completely 
  3. Settle it firmly 
  4. Settle it intensely 
  5. Clear it of obstacles 
  6. Pacify your mind 
  7. Completely pacify it 
  8. Channel the mind into one stream 
  9. Settle the mind in equipoise 

Once you reach the ninth stage, you are ready to meditate.

Positioning of Attention

Scriptures call it cittasthaapana. It also means placement of the mind. This is the first stage in the life of a meditator.

You sit down with an alert mind and position your attention at your object of meditation (which could be breath, sound, form or void, but more on that in later sections). This stage corresponds to the first instruction: stabilizing your mind.

Intermittent Attention

This stage is called samsthaapana and it also means comforting or encouraging attention.

For most part, you’ll discover that your mind wanders off. Every time it does, bring your attention back with the second instruction: settling your mind completely. You had stabilised your mind in the first stage and now you are focused on settling it.

Constant Attention

This stage is called avasthaapana, which, interestingly, also means to expose.

To strengthen your attention and improve its quality, follow the fourth instruction: settling your mind intensely

Fixed Attention

It’s called upasthaapana. Literally, it means to be ready, and that’s what this stage is all about: getting ready for the real meditation. In this stage, the aspirant is mostly able to hold his attention during the session but is still bothered by periods of restlessness and dullness. 

If you follow the first four instructions properly, then by this stage your mind will start to retaliate a bit. It doesn’t want to be restricted. It wants to go its own way. At this stage, if you follow the fifth instruction, you’ll experience fixed attention, and the fifth instruction, as I said earlier is – clearing your mind of obstacles.

Lucid Attention

The meditator is able to experience deep tranquillity of the mind. This stage is called damana in Sanskrit, which means tamed or passionless.

Pacification of the Mind

This stage is called shamana and it means extinguished. By this stage, thoughts extinguish in the mind of this meditator, and, the mind is clear of most mental obstacles.

Complete Pacification of the Mind

It’s called vyupashamana. Most interestingly, the term vyupa means the one who eats out of his own hands. This is one of the finest stages of meditation. In this state, the mind is looking at itself sharply. It’s able to recognize dullness, restlessness, thoughts, emotions and all the other distractions. It is completely pacified and is not afraid to remain established in tranquility.

Intense Attention

The mind attains single-pointed concentration at this stage. It’s called ekotikarana. The meditator can carry out an uninterrupted session of lucid meditation lasting nearly two hours in the steadiest posture. There is practically no dullness or restlessness.

Profound Absorption

It’s called samaadhaana and it means perfect tranquil equipoise. The meditator meditates effortlessly and can remain in tranquil equipoise for an average of four hours at a stretch, including maintaining the posture. And let me tell you four hours of tranquillity can keep you calm for days at end without the slightest ripple of mental disturbance. In the context of meditation, however, the ninth state of attention prepares you to slip into an insightful and blissful session of meditation. 

This stage corresponds to the ninth instruction: settle the mind in equipoise. With a mind that’s settled in equipoise, you are ready to either take deep dives in the ocean of bliss or perform penetrating analysis with discerning wisdom and unearthing a wealth of knowledge and insight for the welfare of those around you.

Six principles of Meditation

The golden rule of meditation is: you cannot not think about something by thinking about it. It’s impossible to avoid thinking about anything by telling yourself that you are not going to think about it. 

If you follow the golden rule of meditation, following the below mentioned six principles will become much easier.

  • No Recollection: Don't Pursue Thoughts of the Past
  • No Calculation: Don't Pursue Thoughts of the Present
  • No Imagination: Don't Imagine what May Happen in the Future
  • No Examination: Don't Analyze Your Thoughts
  • No Construction: Don't Try to Create an Experience
  • No Digression: Don't Wander; Simply Stay in the Present Moment

In a nutshell: while meditating, don’t brood over, don’t resent and don’t repent your past. Don’t examine what’s going on in your present life. Don’t imagine any future. Don’t analyze any thought. When a thought comes, don’t run after it. It’ll disappear. It’ll wither away on its own. Don’t crave for any specific experience or else you’ll end up mentally constructing that experience, thereby jeopardizing your meditation. Don’t let your mind wander. Simply maintain your awareness with alertness. Just be here now, in the present moment and you’ll see the beauty of meditation soon enough.