Set the mood

Use sights, sounds and fragrances to help you in your meditation

Meditation forms an integral part of many oriental cultures. It has always been a keystone of Buddhism and Zen and also has a place in Sufism, Christianity and Judaism. In Hinduism, meditation is considered a way of life. "Once seated, strive to still your thoughts. Make your mind one pointed and your heart will be purified," says the Bhagwat Gita.

Numerous studies show that meditation dramatically alleviates diseases and helps awaken dormant abilities. Often, you find answers to life's mysterious questions in meditation. Some of the greatest inventors, philosophers and scientists conceived their life-transforming ideas during their meditation sessions. The Buddha reached his enlightenment in meditation. Both, in the eastern and western world, people are increasingly seeking to learn meditation.

Meditation is replete with ample benefits but they don't come easy. It's a process that requires perseverance, dedication and, of course, the right technique. There are external factors too that can play a role in helping you. Here are some practical tips to achieve the perfect setting to help you embark on your path to self-awareness.

Whether you are a novice or an amateur meditator, these tools come handy. They help bring your mind under control and keep external chatter at bay and harmonise the left and right sides of the brain to produce Alpha wave patterns. Even advanced commuters on the path vouch for them.

Important tools for meditation

Place

Reserve a quiet place for meditation and maintain the sanctity of that place. It need not be spacious, but shouldn't be cluttered either. Do not use that space for anything else, so that it creates an aura that makes your mind calm and focused. It will also help you establish your meditation habit. Also set aside a specific time to meditate, and preferably stay with the routine. You could create a peaceful ambience by closing the drapes and lighting candles. Begin your meditation with an affirmation about the objective of meditation; it helps focus your mind.

Posture

Posture is important as it allows energy to flow freely. Ideally, sit cross-legged keeping your back and head straight. Cup your palms and rest them lightly on the knees. Initially you might find it difficult, and it's OK to use back support. Older people and those with back problems can even sit on a straight-backed chair with their feet flat on the floor and legs slightly apart. The Japanese adopt a thunderbolt posture—sitting on heels keeping the spine straight. More advanced meditators can sit in the lotus posture. If you are a beginner, you may keep your eyes slightly open, as closed eyes may lull you to sleep and mar meditation. Whatever position you chose for meditation it should be the one you are most comfortable in and should take attention away from your body. Avoid meditating while lying down; you might drift off to sleep.

Sights

Flowers, a candle flame, a religious icon or a Yantra or Mandala [specially designed symbols representing the order of universe] are excellent tools for meditation. They are used to focus your attention on. If you are contemplating a mandala, imagine travelling through the concentric circles in a spiral to reach the oasis in the centre. Buddhist novices use mandalas that are ephemeral, often created on sand. The great temple at Borobodur in Java is also used as a mandala.

While gazing at a flower, look at it long enough to absorb every aspect of its appearance—its form, colour, and texture. Then close your eyes and recreate the image in your mind's eye.

Similarly, if staring at a flame, close your eyes and recreate the image in the mind's eye—it would help to have all other lights in room dimmed while doing so. Epileptics and those suffering from migraine, however, should avoid focusing on the flame as it may elevate their problem.

Meditate on the chosen object for about 20 minutes a day or as long as you feel comfortable. If stray thoughts intervene and they will, don't try to chase them away, allow them. Simply bring your wandering attention back to the object.

Sounds

Sounds of nature have a wonderful effect on your mind—the sea waves hitting the shore, a running river, the gurgling of a spring, chirping of birds, wind rustling the autumn leaves, the rhythmic symphony emanating from rain drops are all relaxing. Listening to these natural sounds combined with binaural brain wave frequencies—a practice in Zen meditation—is another effective option. You can even listen to something as mundane as ticking of the clock or tinkling of the bells or esoteric as the deep resonant sound from a Tibetan singing bowl when a wooden wand is stroked around its rim. Chanting a mantra is another hypnotic way to prepare the mind for meditation.

Smells

Most fragrances have the power to release emotions and memories. In many cultures, aromatics such as incense are used to elevate the spirit or even to induce an altered state of consciousness. You may burn incense sticks or fragrant oils to create an atmosphere conducive to meditation. Fragrances such as sage, cinnamon and jasmine are popular choices that create an atmosphere of positivity.

These external influences are only supports that help you before you take off on your own and might not need them any longer.

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