Methods in Yoga and Mindfulness

Department of Psychiatry, Cooper University Hospital, and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Camden, NJ, USA


It is wrong to blindly believe…. Just as you would take up any other science, exactly in the same manner you should take up this (Yogic) science for study. There is neither mystery nor danger in it.

—Vivekananda (Raja Yoga 1956, p. 18)

4.1 Introduction

There are two basic ways Yogic sciences are proposed in the scriptures and applied within various traditions: (i) Yoga–meditation as a psychosomatic science and (ii) Yoga and meditation as attentional sciences. The first three chapters of this book provide descriptions of these two fundamental aspects. Descriptions of the key techniques of Yoga and meditation can be found in the following excellent source books:


Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (particularly the section on samyama; Taimni 1961, p. 98–109, 111–145) which describes the Vedic and Vedantic traditions of meditation



The various literatures on the Abhidhammic (Buddhist) scriptures (particularly on the jhanas, samapattis, satipatthana: Nyanaponika 1965, p. 85–107; Santina, 1997, p. 333–339, 341–347; Goleman 1988, p. 10–38)



The classic description of meditative process by Eliade (1969, p. 162–199)



Descriptions of some of the meditative techniques (especially on samyama and samadhi) in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as elaborated by Satyananda Saraswati (1976, p. 68–77, 110–126) and Satchidananda (1978, for most parts of this book)



Descriptions of the technique-rich methods of tantra (especially on trataka, kundalini chakras, and pranayama) as elaborated by Niranjanananda (1993, p. 44–53, 156–198), Sivananda (1994, p. 41–43), and Avalon (1974, the whole book is on Kundalini Tantra)


The rich history of Yoga and meditation spans not only a few thousand years but also for many parts of the entire globe. Thus, it is impossible to describe all the techniques in detail here. The organization of this chapter will adopt the following outline:


Samyama (the combination of the last three stages of the Eight-limbed Yoga, i.e., concentration, meditation and samadhi/Yogic enstasis) as the prototype of meditation: this has been already described in the first three chapters and so will not be repeated here.



Attention-enhancing practices/concentrative meditation (Sanskrit: dharana; Pali: samatha): in this I’ll describe trataka (Sans. visually fixative and retentive concentrative meditation) as the prototype.



Mindfulness meditation (Pali: satipatthana): This was adapted and further developed by the Buddha using his knowledge of Vedic and the Upanishadic meditation. This is the samyama equivalent of the Patanjalian tradition.



The five integrated techniques adapted by the author as applied in the symptom-specific Yoga and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (Y-MBCT © ). These techniques combine elements of the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with the chief techniques of Yoga and meditation as described in the scriptural traditions, the Veda (Samkhya), Upanishad (Buddhist), and Tantra (the technique-rich and most modern school of Yoga).


4.2 Some General Information on Meditation

Meditation is a continuous undistorted experience. The objects of meditation speak for themselves, allowing us to see things clearly as they are. The aim of any meditation is to raise one’s awareness to such a state void of the restlessness of consciousness and energy. In its meditative state, the mind eventually becomes alert yet supple and relaxed—a rare combination. In this state, the mind becomes receptive to a broader consciousness, while the five objects of the mind (i.e., thoughts, feelings, perceptions/sensations, memory, and will) work together harmoniously. The mediator obtains the perfect coincidence between mental phenomena; meditation unifies the mental flux of these phenomena in one’s continuous stream of awareness by suspending every other psychic activity. The goal of meditation is to gain wisdom or direct experience concerning both the psychological and the biological life. Meditation, in the original traditions, is conceptualized as a sequential (staged) or developmental process beginning with the purification of one’s lifestyle and culminating in direct access of the experience by means of the Right Attention of the Pure (undistorted) Mind (equivalent to the Soul of the Yoga Sutras). The meditator becomes conscious of all those physiological functions he/she had previously performed automatically and unconsciously. I give the commentator’s explanation of the text: “The Yogin (practitioner) must ask himself: ‘On what are these expirations and inspirations based?’ They are based on matter, and matter is the material body, and material body is the four elements” (Warren 1896, p. 355). This procedure is not simply a breathing exercise; it is also a meditation on the Buddhist Truths, a permanent experiencing of the unreality of matter. Fundamentally, this is the art of permanent attention to one’s own life, destroying the misperceptions about one’s life and gaining knowledge or wisdom. Through all the concrete actions—gate, body posture, respiration, etc.—the meditator must concretely rediscover the truths revealed by the meditative process; in other words, the meditator, through the initial preparatory steps, must turn all his/her movements, actions and thinking into pretexts for meditation. As Eliade (1969, p. 168) puts it: “…the purpose of this meditation is to assimilate the fundamental truths completely, to transform them into a continual experience, to diffuse them, as it were, through the monk’s entire being.

As mentioned in Chap. 1, in ancient India, Buddha was the master specialist in meditation, and Patanjali was the master compiler of the whole system of Yoga and meditation. One distinct feature of Buddhism that clearly sets it apart from other contemplative traditions is that in Buddhist traditions, meditation is only the key. Alone it is not sufficient for liberation, not until the meditative wisdom has been realized through personal truths in one’s life. Meditation (which is combinations of the various jhanas and samapattis [Pali]) must be combined with the wisdom (Pali. nana) or meditative insight (Pali. vipassana) and realized in one’s daily life through practice—not as ritual, but as a way of life. Buddha always connected the knowledge with the experience in meditation. For him knowledge has little value so long as it is not realized in personal experience. In other words, according to Buddha this whole life is a meditation; this is a personal study that helps us to own our experiences. As for meditational experience, it is the Truths discovered by the Buddha that he validated in meditation on life. All the truths revealed by the Buddha must be tested and experienced through the meditation and the wisdom or direct experience arising out of the meditation. Meditation involves personalizing and owning the true experience by combining the process of meditation on one’s various life events with the resulting wisdom. One can see that meditation is like sharpening a pencil. Like we sharpen a pencil for a purpose (to write), similarly meditation is meant for sharpening the mind so that one can develop the wisdom to see things clearly. Seeing things as they are begets liberation (Pali. nibbana, Sans. moksha), the final purpose or goal of Yoga and meditation. The clear vision imparted by meditation enables one to penetrate the darkness of ignorance and see into the real nature of existence. Prior to his enlightenment, Buddha spent seven long years of constantly practicing meditation as a combination of concentration, meditation, and wisdom. This made his mind one-pointed, supple, and directed toward a purpose—the understanding of the real nature of things as they are—and able to comprehend the Truth or Reality that begets liberation from the shackle of life and from the cycles of birth and death (Pali. samsara).

As mentioned before in Chaps. 1 and 3, depending upon how one’s attention is being directed during the meditative process, meditation can be classified into two types (Cahn and Polich 2006; Lutz et al. 2008): (a) concentrative meditation (focused attention/FA type [Pali: samatha]) or (b) mindfulness meditation (open monitoring/OM type [Pali: sattipatthana]). In the FA type one’s attention is completely focused on an anchoring object to the exclusion of all other objects in one’s awareness. In the OM type, one’s attention is uniformly and nonjudgmentally distributed among all objects in one’s awareness at that moment. Meditation can be practiced anywhere and at any time. The beginning steps of meditation are simply cultivating a confident attitude of mind, developing a continuous, moment-to-moment, and attentive stream of awareness regarding the workings of one’s body and mind. Simply put, it is being aware of what we are doing at all times.

4.2.1 Concentration (Centering of Consciousness; FA Type)

This is the practice of focusing the mind single-pointedly on an object which can be either a physical or mental object. The concentration object (Pali. kasina) can be visual (e.g., a flame, an image, a flower, a dot on the wall), auditory (e.g., a chant or word or any sound), an action (e.g., one’s breathing and the rising and falling movements of the belly associated with it), or one’s bodily sensations/perceptions (e.g., one’s heartbeat). The object can even be an idea in one’s mind, such as love and compassion. When complete concentration on an object is achieved, the mind becomes totally absorbed in the object for a sustained period of time to the exclusion of all other mental activities. This comes naturally to all of us occasionally in our daily life, for example, when listening to a piece of music or watching the deep blue ocean or the vast sky. However, by regular practice we can reproduce this concentrated mental state at our will and apply it to our daily tasks that require sustained attention. One can begin with relatively short periods of concentration practice, as short as 10 or 15 min a day. One need not be a monk or live in a forest or abandon one’s daily activities. Concentrated mental state makes the mind focused and sharper. It allows the mind to see things as they really are (otherwise called direct experience). Concentration is a prerequisite for practicing the Right mindfulness or samyama and thus prepares the mind to attain wisdom. To turn our understanding of the Yogic philosophies from mere book knowledge into direct experience, we have to achieve concentration or single-pointedness of the mind.

4.2.2 Mindfulness (OM Type)

Mindfulness is avoiding a distracted or cloudy state of mind. As mentioned before, the ordinary or sensorial mind is inherently outwardly driven, running away from the inner locus of all our experience. Mindfulness acts as a kind of rein upon our minds; its practice increases our efficiency and productivity. One focuses the mind precisely on what we are doing at this very moment, whether it is interacting with people, working, studying, or cleaning the house. No matter what we are doing, we can practice mindfulness. This is why Buddha referred to mindfulness as the one way to achieve the end of suffering.

Mindfulness is simply observation of our mental phenomena (the five objects in our minds, i.e., our thoughts, feelings, perceptions, memory, and will or impulse) at any given moment in a particular way, i.e., in detached manner and with astute attention obtained through concentration or bare attention. In an unmindful state, these mental phenomena stir up complex processes inside us. This is referred to as the defilement response or unwholesome response (Bodhi 2000). In physiological terms, it is similar to what we call the arousal response. This stirring up happens only when these mental phenomena (thoughts, feelings, etc.) escape our notice or awareness and when they are indulged or identified with or clung to rather than mindfully observed. By turning these phenomena into objects of observation, mindfulness diffuses them, avoiding the defilement or unwholesome response. In this process, instead of relating to the feelings by way of habits of the sensorial mind (e.g., attachment, repulsion, or apathy), one relates by way of contemplation. Using all these phenomena mentioned above as the objects of meditations profoundly helps one to understand the nature of their origin and to realize how they rise like a wave, enter one’s awareness and eventually dissipate into the continuous stream of awareness. This experience of continuous awareness is quite different from the fragmented awareness that our sensorial mind usually operates under. It is like a movie as opposed to a snap shot. When one’s actions in daily life are governed by the knowledge obtained from this continuous awareness as applied to one’s daily life, the actions are wise actions rather than just discharge of one’s impulses. This is one fundamental wisdom in the meditative philosophies: meditation is not confined to just the prayer room; rather this whole life is meditation.

4.2.3 The Middle Way (Pali. Majjhima Patipada; Madhyamaka): The Meditative Lifestyle

It is important to realize that meditation is a process, not an act. It is a mental state. One cannot really do meditation; rather one can be meditative. To be meditative one needs some basic preparation including the cultivation of lifestyle that provides the environment in which meditative states blossom. This lifestyle is one of moderation (Buddha’s Middle Way [Pali. Majjhima Patipada]), rather than the extreme. The Middle Way has been elaborated by Buddha in the Dhamma Cakka Pavattana Sutta (Sans. Dharma chakra pravartana sutra; Eng. The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma; translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, 1993) which is considered to be a record of the first teaching given by him after he attained enlightenment. When the Buddha discussed the Middle Way, he was referring to the path to awakening that lies Right in the middle, between all opposite extremities. The Middle Way is essentially a self-awareness training that makes us aware of the extreme thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and actions of our daily lives. This simple awareness redirects us toward the middle, the moderate. The Middle Way as realized and exemplified by Buddha in his own life gives us wisdom and can lead to inner tranquility, to direct knowledge, and to self-awakening (Lama 2009). Following the Middle Way in one’s journey in life is analogous to traveling in the middle lane in a road with three lanes: as we know the middle lane is the safest lane because driving in the other two (extreme) lanes has more risk of collision. While it may seem difficult, it is fairly easy to practice. At the author’s Yoga and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (Y-MBCT) clinic, children as young as 8 years old are able to practice the middle way, at least in its elementary format. The Middle Way is not necessarily doing the things, rather it is being aware of one’s extreme reactivity in daily life and bringing that to the middle through this gentle self-awareness and self-redirection. This is essentially the mindful way (i.e., to be aware/observant, gentle, and compassionate toward self). This simple philosophy protects us against the dangers of the extremes. It conserves our energy and brings order to the chaos of life. This lifestyle includes basic ethics like nonviolence, non-stealing, and not lying, establishing a regular rhythm of sleep and appetite patterns, and developing a sense of compassion for others and a sense of belonging within the whole community. Once the meditator has cultivated these qualities, there comes a sense of joy (rapture) and ease.

4.3 Morphology of Meditation as Taught by Buddha and Patanjali

Both Buddha and Patanjali, the early champions of meditation and Yoga, respectively, have elaborated upon the morphology of meditation. As mentioned in Chaps. 1 and 3, in both the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddha and the Eight-Limbed Yoga (Ashtanga) of Patanjali, meditation is the 7th step. As reflected in the canons of Abhidhamma, Buddha has described (in oral tradition [vernacular Pali]) the various stages of meditation in terms of the various jhana and samapatti, whereas Patanjali in his Yoga Sutra has described (in text form [Vedic Sans.]) this in terms of the various stages of dhyana and samadhi. The various stages of samadhi as described in the Yoga Sutras are already elaborated to some extent in the first three chapters of this book. Because of the conceptual and technical complexities and heterogeneity involved in meditation, it is crucial to learn its morphology. One cannot appreciate the various techniques in Yoga and meditation without learning these basics. In various portions of this chapter, I’ll describe the techniques of Yoga, but the primary focus will be on meditation because meditation is essentially the most important part of Yoga. All the five limbs of Yoga preceding the meditation (Sans. dharana and dhyana, the 6th and 7th steps, respectively) are essentially preparatory steps.

4.3.1 Meditative Access States: The Jhanas and Samapattis of Abhidhamma

As elaborated in the Abhidhammic canons (e.g., Visuddhimagga), Buddha has described eight sequential meditative (mental) states as one ascends the ladder of contemplative practice in search of liberation (nibbana). In this scheme, liberation begins after one attains the ninth meditative state. All the eight meditative states are mental states of deep contemplation, among which the first four states are called the jhanas (contemplative raptures) and the subsequent four more advanced states are called the samapattis (attainments). The other two terms (in the Yoga Sutra [Vedic Sans.]) that are conceptually related to these Pali terms are dhyana and samadhi, respectively, which interestingly sound similar too. The jhanas are the means of mystical experimentation, a way to directly access the realities; that is why they are referred to as meditative access states. They prepare the meditator for the super knowledge (Pali: abhijna) of life and the final goal of nibbana.

Each meditative access state (Pali. jhana) consists of five factors of absorption (Pali. jhananga): (i) initial application of mind (Pali. vitarka), (ii) sustained application of mind (Pali. vichara), (iii) interest/motivation/enthusiasm (Pali. piti, belongs to the aggregate of volition/will), (iv) happiness (Pali. sukha, belongs to the aggregate of feeling), and (v) one-pointedness (Pali. ekaggata) (Santina 1997). These five factors of meditative absorption, through intensification of one-pointedness (ekaggata), lead one’s consciousness from the mundane types of super knowledge (Pali. siddhis or accomplishments, e.g., to read the thoughts of others and to recollect one’s former lives) toward the supramundane knowledge which eventually leads one to the supramundane sphere of consciousness (nibbana).

The samapattis (means complete absorption) are more advanced psychic states whose descriptions echo the various stages of samadhi (Yogic enstasis) described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The six samadhis of the Yoga Sutras are savitarka samadhi (samadhi with mental reasoning/debate), nirvitarka samadhi (samadhi without reasoning), savichara samadhi (samadhi with reflection), nirvichara samadhi (samadhi without reflection), ananda samadhi (samadhi with bliss), and asmita samadhi (samadhi with complete absorption, total enstasis). Samapattis, the advanced meditative stages, prepare the meditator for the final liberation (Sans. nirvana). It is beyond the scope of this book to provide more elaborations of samadhi here. For more detailed descriptions, interested readers can refer to Satyananda Saraswati (1976, p. 68–77, 110–126), Taimni (1961, p. 111–145), and Satchidananda (1978, Section I, verses 41–51).

4.3.2 The Jhanas (Contemplative Raptures)

In Buddha’s scheme, meditation begins with experiencing the four jhanas or access states of mind. Of note, descriptions of the first two jhanas (which are Buddhist traditions) closely correspond to the Yoga Sutra’s stage of concentration (Sans. dharana, the 6th limb), and those of the latter two jhanas correspond to the stage of meditation (Sans. dhyana, the 7th limb). It is important to note that at the moments of entry to or exit from these jhanas, the mind’s workings are more transparent and accessible to the clear gaze of the mindful meditator. These are crucial mental states that lead to the meditative insights concerning the objects of meditation present in one’s awareness at that moment. The preferred method for cultivating mindfulness is to first make the mind concentrated by practicing the jhanas. Morphology of the four jhanas as described in the Buddhist meditative traditions are as under:


The first jhana: This jhana starts after one has gone through the preparatory stages for meditation (Middle Way) that provide the conducive environment for meditation and its application to one’s daily life. Once the meditator has cultivated the Middle Way, there comes a sense of joy (rapture) and ease. The first jhana is the conscious awareness of this state of joy, born of the solitude, detachment, reasoning, and investigation going on in this process of self-awareness. The detachment is maintained by simply observing the continuity of the experience so far.



The second jhana: This jhana is the elevated state of joy and ease, born of the serenity of concentration. In this jhana the meditator suspends all reasoning and investigation involved in the first jhana and instead uses the power of concentration or bare attention.



The third jhana: This is the stage of mindfulness in which one develops the sense of equanimity among the mental contents at that moment and distributes the attention uniformly to all five objects presently in one’s awareness. The conscious awareness of the bliss or joy arising from the equanimity is the third jhana.



The fourth jhana: In this stage of tranquility, the five mental contents gradually dissipate until they are no longer registered by the self. In this stage, there is suspension of all relations of self with both the sensible world and with memory. One obtains a placid lucidity in one’s awareness without any other content. It is the awareness of existing. Toward the end of this jhana, the meditator begins to establish a state of enstasis (the closest meaning of samadhi). The meditator cannot receive ideas from outside and becomes established in the internal self. Thus, this state leads to the subsequent higher meditative states, i.e., samapatti/attainments (samadhi).


As one can see here, the four stages (jhanas) are meant for the following:


Purification of the mind: Isolating the mind and protecting it from the temptations of the external agents to attain the autonomy of consciousness



Suppression of the dialectical functions of the mind (i.e., constant elaborations of the mind about its five objects) by obtaining the concentration



Suspension of all relations of self, both with the external world and with memory



Reintegration to reconcile the opposites in one’s awareness so that conflict ceases and the bliss of pure consciousness ensues


4.3.3 The Samapattis (Attainments)

As mentioned before, these are advanced meditative stages that are similar to the Patanjalian samadhi and correspond to experiences too far removed from those of normal consciousness. At the end of the four samapattis, the meditator cannot receive ideas from the outside. After this state, there begins a state of the final enstasis where the monk has acquired that psychic state in which there is cessation of all conscious perceptions. The meditator who has acquired this has nothing more to do (Bendal 1902, p. 48). This final state of total inaction (and pure experience) of the mind is the highest level of action.

4.3.4 The Yogic/Meditative Consciousness and Its Various Categories in the Abhidhamma

According to the Abhidhammic scheme described by Sariputta (one of the foremost disciples of Buddha), as he progressed through the various stages of meditation, there are four stages of consciousness (Santina 1997, p. 333–339, 340–347) which are the various mental states (grades of mind) as one ascends the meditative path. These are the sense sphere consciousness, the form-sphere consciousness, the formless-sphere consciousness, and, finally, the transcendental consciousness directed toward the nibbana. Sariputta further describes that the sense sphere consciousness consists of 42 meditative stages (mental states), form-sphere consciousness consists of five stages, and the formless-sphere consciousness consists of four stages. All these states of meditative experiences (consciousness), in their pre-nibbana forms, are characterized by impermanence, transience, and insubstantiality, and thus one needs to go beyond (transcend) them in order to access the nibbana. Briefly, one proceeds by means of 40 traditional objects of meditation that include ten supporting objects or anchors (Pali. kasina). These objects are coordinated to the temperament of the meditator, i.e., specific objects are prescribed for specific kinds of temperaments of the practitioner. Thus, the meditator traverses each sphere of consciousness by beginning with an external support; gradually that external support is internalized and conceptualized, and finally that support is discarded and one enters the state of meditation proper. When all five factors of absorption (Pali. jhanaga: initial application of mind, sustained application of mind, motivation to practice, happiness, and one-pointedness, as described above) are present, the meditator has achieved one particular level of consciousness (e.g., the first form-sphere consciousness) and then repeats the same process to move to the next level of consciousness. The five factors of absorption help to elevate one’s consciousness from the sense sphere to the form and formless sphere, one by one, by removing the five hindrances (Pali. nivarana): initial application corrects sloth and torpor, sustained application corrects doubt, enthusiasm corrects ill will, happiness corrects restlessness and worry, and one-pointedness corrects sensual desire. In this scheme, when one has sequentially attained the fifth form-sphere consciousness, one experiences dissatisfaction with the limited nature of the form-sphere absorptions and then again by means of an object of meditation (one of the 10 supports or kasina) progresses to the formless-sphere meditation. One achieves this transition by extending the support until it covers the infinity of space, then discarding the support and meditating on the infinity of space (Sans. chidakasha), thereby achieving the first of the formless-sphere absorptions. As the meditator progresses through the form and formless spheres, gradually he/she has a unification of the subject (self) and a unification of the meditation object (similar to the Patanjalian samyama/knowing by fusing method): by attaining the fourth formless-sphere absorption, the meditator reaches the summit of mundane experience or mundane consciousness. The mundane consciousness is determined, undirected, and subject to law of karma and its conditionings, whereas the supramundane consciousness is determining, directed toward a goal, and no longer subject to laws of karma and its conditionings. Supramundane consciousness is determining because of the predominance not of karma but of wisdom. There are eight basic types of supramundane consciousness, four active and four passive. The eight types of supramundane consciousness can be expanded to forty by combining each of the eight with each of the five form-sphere absorptions. However, even the fourth the formless-sphere absorptions (Patanjalian nirbija samadhi) is not an end in itself; being mundane, this very high form of meditative absorption is still impermanent, and thus its power eventually wanes after which one will be reborn in a lower sphere of consciousness. So even this pinnacle level of meditative absorption has to be combined with wisdom (Pali. panna, nanna) obtained through the meditative process for the consciousness to become truly supramundane which would pave the way to attain liberation (Pali. nibbana).

4.4 Description of the Key Techniques in Yoga and Meditation

It is important to understand that regulation of attention is the common denominator among the different methods or traditions of meditation (Davidson and Goleman 1977). As mentioned above, meditation practices apply the following two types in succession or in various combinations: (a) first, focusing attention on an idea or object that serves as the anchor (the concentrative method/FA type) and, thereafter, (b) maintaining a free-floating attention as the central mental mechanism that initiates the mindfulness process (the mindfulness method/OM type). Usually concentrative meditation (called bare attention in Buddhist literature) is a prerequisite for practicing the mindfulness meditation. The techniques involved in both types of meditation are shown below.
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