The first problem we often face in meditation is restlessness in the body. There is always some irritating sensation which distracts us from sitting still for long periods of time. This inability to concentrate can be usually attributed to past indulgences like coffee, cigarettes and alcohol that have contaminated the body. By sustained effort as well as forswearing of any further excesses, the physical body has to be molded so it can become a willing receptacle (Adhar) which can bear the power and light which pours in during Yoga. A strong nervous system is a sine qua non for any spiritual transformation.
The following is an excerpt from the book Dharana Darshan by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati of the Bihar School of Yoga, in which he discusses how to achieve physical body stability. I have appended pictures of the cover and table of contents of this useful book at the end of this post.
Swami Niranjanananda: Before attempting the following practices of dharana, kaya sthairyam (physical stability) must first be mastered. You should be able to sit without moving any part of the body for at least half an hour, then you will be ready to begin the practices of dharana. In the initial stage of kaya sthairyam, the body should be comfortable and relaxed in the meditation posture. Later on, as immobility develops, the physical awareness will gradually subside as awareness of stillness increases. At this time the concentration is shifted from the body to the natural breath, so that the mind still has a focus. Ultimately, the awareness of the breath will also subside so that there is only awareness. At that time you are ready to begin dharana(concentration)
Stage 1: Preparation: Sit in a comfortable meditation posture, preferably siddhasana or padmasana. Adjust your position so that you do not have to move any part of the body during the practice. Make sure the spine is erect. Head, neck and shoulders should be slightly back. Place your hands on the knees in chin or jnana mudra. Close your eyes. Become aware of slow deep breathing and count five breaths mentally.
Stage 2: Body posture: Switch your awareness to the body. Concentrate on your meditation posture. Feel your spine rising straight up from the floor, supporting the head. Be aware of the synchronized and balanced position of the arms and legs. Total awareness of the body.
Stage 3: Visualization of body: Visualize your body externally as if you were seeing it in a full length mirror. See your body in the meditation posture from the front, from the back, from the right side, from the left side, from the top. See your body from all sides at one time.
Stage 4: Body tree: Be aware of your whole body. Feel that you are rooted to the floor. Imagine that your body is growing up from the floor like a tree. Your torso is the trunk, your arms and head are the branches, and your legs are the roots. Your body is rooted to the floor and it will not move.
Stage 5: Sensations in the body: Be aware of any physical sensations: cold, heat, wind, itching, pain, uneasiness, tension, stiffness. Direct your awareness to these feelings. Let them be a focus for your mind. If your mind starts to wander, bring it back to the sensations in the body.
Stage 6: Body parts: Direct your awareness to the head. Be aware of the head and nothing else. Feel any sensation in the head. Visualize the head. Shift your awareness to the neck. Feel any sensations in the neck. Continue to be aware. Following the same process, move your awareness to the shoulders, to the right arm, the left arm, the whole of the back, the chest, the abdomen, the right leg, the left leg, and finally the whole body. Be aware of the whole body together. Intensify your awareness of the body. Do another round maintaining full awareness.
Stage 7: Immobility of the body: Make a resolve that, “I will not move my body throughout the whole practice. My body will not move or shake. I will remain steady and motionless like a statue.” Even if you feel an impulse to move a fmger or toe, to adjust your clothing, or to scratch, try to overcome this urge. When you feel the urge to move you must say to yourself, “No, I will not move any part of my body until the end of the practice.”
Stage 8: Steadiness and stillness: Be aware of your physical body, of your meditation posture and of nothing else. There should be total uninterrupted awareness of the whole body. The body is perfectly steady and motionless. Develop the feeling of steadiness. Be aware of your body and steadiness. Be aware of your body and stillness. Your body is absolutely steady and still. Be aware of steadiness. Be aware of your physical body. There is no movement, no discomfort, only steadiness and stillness.
Stage 9: Psychic rigidity: Feel the steadiness and stillness of the body. Gradually your body will become rigid and stiff like a statue, as though all the muscles have frozen. The body should become so stiff that you are unable to move any part, even ifyou try. Total awareness of the body, of immobility, of psychic rigidity. Feel the locked position of the body. Be aware of the body and of stillness.
Stage 10: Breath awareness: As the body becomes stiff and rigid, you will begin to lose physical awareness. At this time shift your attention to the breath. Become aware of the natural breath, without altering or modifying it in any way. Simply watch the breath as it moves in and out of the body. The breath moves in and out in a rhythmic flow. Follow each movement of the breath with your awareness. At the same time become aware of the body. Let the awareness alternate from breath to body, then from body to breath. As the body becomes stiffer and stiffer, the awareness will automatically shift more and more to the breath. No effort is required. When the body is absolutely still and motionless the breath will become more and more subtle, until it seems that you are hardly breathing at all.
Stage 11: State of concentration: As the breath becomes more and more imperceptible, you will begin to experience the pure awareness which functions through the unfluctuating mind. The breathing is responsible for the movements of the mind and body. When the breath becomes very subtle, the mind becomes one-pointed and still. This is the state in which dharana(concentration) must be practised.
Stage 12: Ending the practice: Get ready to end the practice. Gradually become aware of the physical body, of the meditation posture. Feel the weight of the body against the floor. Be aware of the hands resting on the knees. Be aware of the whole physical body. Be aware of the breathing. Watch the breath as it flows in and out. Take a deep breath in and chant Om three times.
- Mother Mirra Alfassa’s talk on Austerity(Tapasya) of Physical body
- Sri Aurobindo on Physical Culture