How To Begin

Getting down to it

Having decided that meditation is something you would like to try, maybe for relaxation, maybe from more mystical motives, what is the next move? Before going on to look at meditation techniques, there are some basics to be considered. Posture is important, and hatha yoga will also be of great benefit in preparing for meditation

Posture

It is essential to adopt the correct position, not necessarily a sitting one, when meditating. Many practitioners of the art consider that the centuries-old seven-point posture is the most successful in helping to achieve a calm clear state of mind and has yet to be bettered Others recommend the siddhas Ana, while many beginners opt for a simple cross-legged position (the easy posture), sitting in a chair (the Egyptian posture) or kneeling with the buttocks on the ankles (the Japanese, or thunderbolt, pos true).

Easy posture

Basically, this involves sitting cross-legged with both feet on the floor. The back should be straight but not tense and the stomach muscles relaxed. With the muscles of the lower back bearing the weight of the body and with the head, neck and trunk in line, the centre of gravity passes from the base of the spine right through the top of the head. The hands can either be resting lightly on the knees or held in the lap, either one on top of the other or clasped lightly.

Siddhasana

Sitting on the floor with the back straight, stretch the legs out in front of you. Bend the left knee and, grasping the left foot with both hands, draw it towards the body until the heel is resting against the part of the lower body that lies between the anus and genitalia. Now draw the right foot towards the body until the heel is on the pubic bone. Tuck the toes of the right foot between the calf and the thigh of the left leg. Rest the hands, palms upwards on the knees. Siddhasana is some times called the perfect posture.

Seven-point posture

1 If possible, try to sit with the legs crossed in the lotus position, or varja, with each foot placed sole upwards on the thigh of the opposite leg. To get into the lotus posi tion loosen up with the exercises and then sit on the floor, legs stretched out in front of you. Now bend the right knee and, grasping the right foot with both hands, place it on top of the left thigh, heel pressing into the abdomen. Repeat the process with the left foot.The soles should be turned up with both knees on the ground

If you cannot get into the full lotus position, try the half-lotus. Do the same seven exercises before stretch ing the legs out in front of you. Bend the left knee and put the left foot beneath the right thigh, as close to the buttock as you can get it. Now bend the right knee and put the right foot, sole up, on top of the left thigh. Keep both knees on the ground and the back straight. When you find that you can maintain this position comfortably throughout the session over a period of four or five weeks, you will be able to start trying the full lotus.

2 Sitting on a hard cushion will encourage you to keep the back straight and help you to sit for longer without getting irritating pins and needles in the legs and feet. The hands should be held loosely on the lap about a cen timetre below the navel. right hand on top of left, palms upwards, fingers aligned. Both hands should be slightly cupped so that the tips of the thumbs meet to form a tri angle. The shoulders and arms should be relaxed. Never be tempted to press the arms against the body – they should be held a few centimetres away to allow the air to

circulate which helps prevent feelings of drowsiness. 3 The back must be straight but relaxed. Try to imagine the spinal vertebrae as a pile of twopence pieces, deli cately balanced one on top of the other that will crash to the ground if it is disturbed. A straight back encourages the energy to flow freely, and you will be able to medi tate for longer and longer periods.

4 Many newcomers to meditation find it easier to concen trate with the eyes fully closed. This is not wrong, but it

is better to gaze downwards through slightly open eyes. Closed eyes encourage sleepiness and dreamlike images that mar meditation

5 The jaw and mouth should both be relaxed, the teeth slightly apart, the lips lightly together. 6 Keep the tongue touching the palate just behind the up per teeth to reduce the flow of saliva and thus the need to swallow.

7 Bend the neck forward so that your gaze is directed to the floor in front of you. Don’t drop it too low: this en courages sleepiness.

The seven-point position keeps the body and mind com fortable and free of tension. Beginners should not expect to be able to adopt it right away, it takes time to master.

Seven simple exercises

Before trying assume the lotus position, try these floor exercises loosen the joints affected. Try maintain straight back and fixed head position throughout each exercise. Stretch the legs straight out in front of you. Bend your right knee so that you can grasp the right ankle with both hands and put on the left leg just above the knee so that the right foot extending beyond the left leg. Keeping firm grip on the ankle with the right hand, use the left hand rotate the foot ten times in one direction and ten times the other. Repeat the exercise with the left ankle and foot on the right Sitting same position for the first exercise, put the right knee on the left leg as before and with both hands grasping right ankle, lift above the leg and

shake the foot for twenty seconds. Repeat with the other

Place the right foot on the left leg as before. Holding the foot the left hand and wrapping the right hand around the leg ankle, lift the right high as you can and make large circle with the foot, drawing it close to the body the top of circle and pushing away at the bot tom. Repeat ten times before doing the same with other

With the palms the hands flat the floor behind and beyond the buttocks, bend the right knee and place the right foot high up the left thigh as you can comfort possible. Hold this position for minute and then repeat in the same position as for the last exercise, put the right foot as high up the left thigh as possible, place the right hand on the right knee and gently bounce for a count of ten. Repeat with the left leg.

Stretch the legs out in front of you and then slowly bend the knees outwards and draw the soles of the feet to gether. With the soles touching each other, bring the heels as close to the groin as possible and then, holding the toes with both hands, bounce the knees ten times, keep ing them as close to the floor as possible. Hold for a count

of ten. 7 Do the same as for the last exercise, but when the heels are as close to the groin as you can get them, put the hands on the knees and press them as far down to the floor as you can. Again, hold for a count of ten.

 The sitting position

Older people, or those with back problems who are unable to sit on the floor, can sit on a chair or on a low bench and lose themselves in meditation just as effectively as the more supple.

The ideal chair is one specially designed to encourage good posture: the chair is backless and has a slanted seat and knee rest. A straight-backed chair can also be used, in which case, sit on the front part of the seat with feet flat on the floor and legs slightly apart, the lower legs perpendicular to the floor. It is inadvisable to meditate while sitting in an armchair or on the edge of a bed as the upholstery encourages you to slouch and become drowsy.

Kneeling (the Japanese posture)

Some people find this a convenient and comfortable posi tion for meditation as it is easy to keep the spine straight. Simply kneel on the floor, keeping the knees together. Part the heels and bring the toes together so that you are sitting, straight-backed, on the insides of the feet with the hands on the knees.

Lying flat

This position is called shavasanaor, the corpse position. Lie flat on the floor on a carpet, blanket or hard mattress. Part the legs a little and let the feet flop to the side. The arms should be slightly away from the body, hands on the floor, palms up Some teachers encourage their pupils to take up this posi tion and relax for a short time before assuming one of the

other positions for the meditation session. Relaxing like this prepares the mind for the meditation proper. When you are in the corpse position, starting with the toes and working upwards to the brow. flex each muscle and shake each joint and then relax it before moving on to the next. When you have flexed the face muscles, go back to the beginning and tell each muscle to relax.

At first, some people feel self-conscious lying on their back and saying aloud, Toes relax!”, ‘Feet relax!’ and so on. Their self-consciousness soon evaporates when they realise that the method works. When you are completely relaxed lie still for a few minutes, simply concentrating on your breathing before starting the meditation proper or assuming one of the other positions.

Cupping the hands

Some teachers recommend that the hands be cupped if the pupil is in a posture where it is appropriate to do so. Right handed people who decide to do this should cup the left hand over the right and, similarly, left-handed pupils should cup the right hand over the left, the point being to immobilise the dominant hand.

Basic yoga exercises

you will find practical advice on the hatha postures, or asanas. It is very important to consider how intrinsic these are to meditation and it is most certainly use ful at this point to introduce a regime that involves physical yoga exercise.

 Before you begin

Before you begin, it is important to: • Establish a convenient, regular time to practise.

It is important not to have a full stomach. • Wear comfortable and loose clothing.

• Use a clean, soft blanket or mat, thick enough to protect . your spine and fit the length of your body.

• Perform each exercise slowly, carefully and mind fully

• Force and strain must be avoided. . Do not feel that a proper yoga session must include all

the asanas. You will find some of them more difficult than others, and might want to leave them until you are more supple. Also, you may only have a short time slot for your regular sessions, in which case you should select a few and create a basic programme for yourself. This programme can be altered and added to at any time. There will also inevitably, be periods when you do not feel inclined to wards yoga practice at all. If this is so, then leave it. There is no point in forcing yourself, as yoga must be pleasurable to be effective. Some people leave their yoga for months at a time and then pick it up from where they left off. You might do the same, and it is important to remember that you can go back to it, and that you have not failed by let

ting it lapse. The following are a series of suggested programmes to help you get started, but are not designed to be strictly adhered to, Yoga is a very personal thing, and not open to the dictates of others, including this book or a bossy yoga lecher!

 The warm-up

It is vital to begin any yoga session with this basic warm up routine of simple move ments.

1 Standing in the tadasana keep your face for ward, your feet together, your spine straight and your knees loose. Take a deep breath and as you exhale, slowly tilt your head to the left, your ear towards your shoulder. As you breathe in, raise your head back into the centre and tilt to the right upon the exhale. Repeat six times for each side. Concentrate on keeping these movements fluid and even. Sudden jerks could prove very painful.

Now lower your chin to your chest upon the ex hale, raising it to the for ward position on the in hale. Repeat three times,

then lower your head backwards, again as you breathe out, and return to the upright upon the inhale. Try not to bend your head so far back that you squeeze your neck muscles.

Now lift both your shoulders up and back in a gentle backward rotation, as if you were describing a small circle in the air. Try to keep these circles as perfect as possible. Do this five times then repeat this exercise in

a forward motion, again five times. Both 1 and 2 are great little exercises for releasing neck and shoulder tension throughout the day, some thing those who work over computers or typewriters are particularly prone to.

3a Remaining in the tadasana, raise your hands up above your head. Keep your arms parallel and intertwine your fingers so that your hands form a bridge. Still facing for ward, stretch your arms fully while keeping your feet flat on the ground. This will give your spine a good stretch.

3b Now return your left arm to your side, resting it palm

downward on the side of your left thigh, keeping your

right arm raised. Allow the right arm to lead you into a

sideways stretch to the left. Keep your hips and chest

facing forward and your feet flat. Now do a stretch to the

right, leading with your raised left arm. Repeat three times

for each side.

4 Allow your arms to hang loosely by your sides and swing gently to the left and then to the right in one slow move- ment. Keep your hips facing forward and your feet flat. but allow your shoulders and head to move with the swing. Repeat three times.

5 Now for a back stretch. Fold your arms behind your back, holding each elbow with the opposite hand. If this is too much of a strain, place both hands on the small of the back. Holding firmly with your hands, tuck in your but tocks, push your hips out and your head and shoulders back, so that your body forms a backward curve. Your weight should be centred on your heels. At first, you may find this uncomfortably precarious, in which case you may want to hold onto the back of a chair to steady your self. Do not, however, transfer any of your weight from your heels as you may topple over backwards.

6 For the forward stretch, keep your arms folded behind

you or resting on the small of your back, and lean for wards towards the ground. Bend from the hips, keeping your back straight and your chin forward, until your torso forms a right angle with your legs. If you need the chair for balance, keep your hands on the back and gently step backwards until your back is straight. Stop the instant this becomes a strain, even if you feel that you have barely altered your position from the upright. Even the tiniest stretch is a step in the right direction

7 Now for the legs. This exercise often requires the sup port of a chair back, which should be positioned by your right side. Facing forward, raise your right arm or hold the chair back, and bend your left leg so that your heel reaches your right buttock. Grip your ankle with your left hand and hold. Ideally the left knee should be facing downwards. This is a stretch that sprinters often do be- fore a race, and is excellent for cooling down as well. Hold for a short period, or until it becomes uncomfort able, then repeat for the opposite leg,

8 Repeat step 3. Then give your legs a gentle shake and

your arms a gentle shake.

A beginner’s regime

Before you begin, make sure that your mind is fully tuned into the idea of doing yoga. If your mind is elsewhere, try sitting down with your eyes closed and concentrating on clearing your mind. Try to hold each posture for a minute, and give yourself a ten second gap between each posture to relax and leave the posture behind. Think of how a gymnast. when performing on the beam, closes her eyes before mov ing onto the next part of her routine. She does this to clear her mind and focus her energies on the next movement; you should try to do the same.

Begin with the warm-up exercise above based on the tadasana. Remember to breathe correctly and to avoid straining as you move into the stretches. Take your time with each of the eight steps and give your arms and legs a gentle shake at the end. You are now back in the tadasana pose, so close your eyes, breathe in deeply and, as you exhale. clear your mind in preparation for the next move.

2 Move now into the tree posture, the pray ing position. Locate a spot on which to fix your gaze and remember to distribute your weight evenly across the sole of your foot. Always begin with your right side, and do so for all exercises There is no mystic reason for this, but it helps you to know where you are in your routine, and pre vents you dithering about which side to begin with. which can be surprisingly stressful. Aim to hold the pose for 20-30 seconds cach side. If you find that you keep toppling over then use a chair to hold onto lightly. Sometimes even know ing that the chair is there, should you need it, can be all you require to maintain your upright position. Concen trate on the idea of yourself as a tree, with your feet as the roots that lead into the ground, and you will increase your sense of security in this asana. Once both your feet are back on the ground, close your eyes, and get ready for the next move.

3 Lie down on your front in preparation for the cobra. With your hands un der your shoulders, lift yourself back slowly upon the inhale until your arms are straight. Think of your verte brae as like the bones of a snake, bending backwards in unison. Remember to keep your hips and legs in contact with the floor. Try to hold this posture for a minute, and then slowly lower yourself to the floor. Take a few sec onds to relax and then repeat the exercise, this time in creasing the stretch a fraction. Do not, however, bend so

much that it becomes unpleasant. Again. lower yourself to the floor and take your usual ten second break,

4 To counteract the stretch of the cobra, your next move is the forward bend  . which will allow the muscles of your abdomen and chest to contract. Roll gently round so that your are sitting upright, with your legs stretched out straight in front of you. On the inhale, bend your upper body forward from the hips. If you cannot reach your toes, then grasp your ankles or even knees. If this bend strains your back then you might want to try using a scarf to help you. Holding each end of the scarf, loop it over your feet so that you can pull yourself into the forward stretch. This will help to increase the flexibility of your back and soon you should be able to dispense with this aid. This posture should induce a calmness. If it doesn’t then you are ei ther trying too hard or not concentrating, Aim to hold the pose for a minute, and then relax, giving yourself a moment to come out of it mentally.

5 Now you are ready for the spinal twist , which begins as with the previous exercise, by sit ting upright with your legs straight out in front of you. Keep your head and spine erect by imagining a piece of string attached to your crown, pulling your slightly up wards towards the ceiling. Begin by placing the right leg over the left leg so that your right foot rests on the out side of the left knee. Allow your left hand to support you by placing it behind you at the centre of the spine, but don’t lean into it. As you twist your upper body to the left, remember that it is your shoulders leading this move ment, not your head. Hold for a minute and then repeat for the other side. This should iron out any twinges in the small of your back.

6 Once you have taken your ten second break, prepare for the shoulder stand . If you are menstruating or have heart problems, leave this asana out and move onto the next stage. Before you be gin, ensure that your neck and shoulders are going to be protected from the floor by a folded blanket or mat. Lie back with your arms stretched out by your sides and your palms flat on the floor. Allow your knees to rise up and lift the lower body into the air, and your centre of gravity to shift to your shoulders. Your weight should not be cen tred on your neck or the hands now supporting your lower back. Your legs should be straight and in alignment with your upper body. In short, your bottom should not be sticking out! Hole for a minute and then slowly unroll yourself onto the floor.

7 To release any tensions that may have built up in your neck and shoulder during the previous exercise, you are now going to do the fish . Begin on your back and gently arch your back keeping your buttocks firmly in contact with terra firma. Arch your back till your head can be lowered back to rest on its crown, and redistribute your weight so that your head and buttocks are supporting it equally. It is very impor tant that you do not feel that your head is wedged into position. When you are ready, bring your hands up to chest level so that the palms meet in the praying posi tion. Relax into this posture and hold for a minute before lowering yourself down using your arms as support. Close your eyes and give your mind a chance to clear.

8 Now stand up and place your feet at least a shoulders width apart in preparation for the triangle. Begin by raising your right arm so that it brushes against your ear, with your left arm flat against the out side of your left thigh. Take a deep breath and pull your self over to the left, allowing your left hand to slip down the thigh towards the ankle. Keep your hips facing for ward. When you are stretched as far as you can, hold the pose before raising yourself gently upright. Repeat for width apart in preparation for the triangle. Begin by raising your right arm so that it brushes against your ear, with your left arm flat against the out side of your left thigh. Take a deep breath and pull your self over to the left, allowing your left hand to slip down the thigh towards the ankle. Keep your hips facing for ward. When you are stretched as far as you can, hold the pose before raising yourself gently upright. Repeat for

the other side, and then repeat the exercise three times. This may seem a lot, written down on paper, but if you concentrate fully on what you are doing, you will not notice the time passing.

9 Now move into the thunderbolt position, remembering to keep your back and head upright. Place your hands on your knees and take a deep breath, breathing from the diaphragm. Hold this pose for a minute. Keep your eyes closed but visualise yourself sit ting here so peacefully and still, like a living statue. Take a moment or two to come out of this pose.

10 An important part of every yoga session should be the workout of the face, so prepare yourself for the cow-face posture.Link your arms be hind your back, take a deep breath and visualise that giant clock face in front of you. Without moving your head or fur rowing your brow, look up at twelve o’clock and hold for a few seconds. Move to one o’clock, two o’clock and so on until you come right round to twelve again. Now repeat the process in an anti clockwise direction, tak ing care to stop at each hour for a few seconds. It is very easy to rush round the clock, espe cially going in the anti clockwise direction.

A good technique for slowing your self down is to concentrate on visualising each number in turn, and where exactly it is in relation to the other numbers. When you are finished, rub your palms together and cup them over each eye to soothe them.

11 Slowly stand up till you are in the tadasana once again. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and think of yourself standing on the top of a high mountain. Can the cold clean air? Take a series of deep breaths and en you joy the sensation of being upright, of your body naturally balancing itself. Hold for a minute, before relaxing.

12 The final stage, as with all yoga sessions is the corpse posture. Lie down on your back, and let yourself be heavy into the floor. Close your eyes and be on that beach with the soft sand underneath you. Begin with your toes, flex ing and relaxing each area in turn. For the relaxation ben efits of this posture to work, it is important not to men tally ‘hurry yourself up so that you can get on with mak ing the tea or whatever. This is your time, you deserve it.so sink into it as you would a wonderful hot bath at the end of an exhausting day.

If you are wondering, as you read through this suggested Programme, how on earth you are supposed to remember it all, then don’t worry, you are not the first person to wonder. Some people like to read out their routine into a cassette and play it back to themselves as they practise. The only draw back with this is that the pace is dictated by the voice, unless you are near enough to the tape-deck to press pause when you feel that your voice is being a little hasty or you wish to hold a pose for a little longer.

Alternatively, you can try to memorise the routine and draw yourself a series of twelve diagrams, to be placed somewhere visible to prompt you as you go along. You will find, however, that you soon know instinctively what comes next, though don’t repeat the same routine so often that you become bored with it. Altemate your sessions, adding in new postures or changing the order Remember of course, to counter each forward stretch with a backward stretch and to repeat side stretches on both sides.