In the eight steps of Raja Yoga, the sixth and seventh are concentration and meditation. These two are often confused for each other as well as confusingly defined. You need to go back to the Yoga sutras for a clear definition of each.
The sutras define concentration as: ‘When the attention of the mind-stuff is directed in a single stream to a chosen field, without being dissipated and thus distracted that is concentration‘.
So concentration is focusing on a single object and retaining the attention there. Concentrating is a great way to relax the mind. This seems counter-intuitive. How can the mind relax when it is working on something? To test this out, observe when you aren’t doing anything in particular and the mind is wandering from topic to topic. This happens all the time. After sometime you will notice that you feel tired. Conversely, when you are focused on doing something, say as simple as watching a bird fly or a baby crawl, you will feel relaxed. That’s it!
Thus a good way of relaxing the mind is to focus on something. In yoga, we choose an object that is easily available such as your breath. Sit in a quiet place, with your back relaxed but straight. Slowly start to observe the breath, how it flows, how deep it is, the sound it creates, the path in and out, etc. Only just observations of the breath. During this time, it is natural that the mind – being the monkey it is – will start to wander. It is important to notice this distraction and slowly bring it back to observing the breath. Hear more and more of the sound of the breath. If you find it hard, push your chin into your base of the neck. Then you will hear the breath more. Practice this technique for about 3 minutes to start with. At the end of three minutes (or so), you will notice that the mind is getting less distracted and more relaxed. This technique is called Ujjayi or victorious breath. I have found this technique to be very powerful and if practiced regularly increases your concentrating abilities. It also improves the quality of your sleep if practiced before going to bed. You have to try it to believe it.
Will write about meditation later on.
Thanks for reading.