Many people think of yoga as physical exercise, but the original purpose of yoga was to release energy through the stretches and asana postures so a person could sit in meditation for long periods without feeling restless. Over 2,000 years ago, the Indian sage Patanjali wrote in the second Yoga Sutra “Yoga chitta vritti nirodha” which means “Yoga is the stilling of the whirlpools of the mind.” Simply put, our mind has waves and fluctuations due to thought and brain activity not the least of which are worry and fixation. Yoga or any form of conscious physical exercise can help calm the busy mind and prepare the way for quiet contemplation.
Meditation is an inner training of our mental processes in order to attain a calm state of centered balance, awareness, and spiritual expansiveness. The Buddha described the human mind as normally being filled with drunken monkeys all clamoring for attention. We can’t always control what goes on around us, but through a process of focused concentration and inner training, we can learn to control how we react to and internalize what happens in our outer world. There are many ways to practice meditation, but one of the most basic is by ‘watching the breath.’ By becoming aware of our breathing, we slow down the incessant parade of thoughts crossing our mind. By controlling the breath, we can control the mind.
We need to place a guardian at the gate of our awareness to keep the demons of our mental processes from distracting us, and mantra is one way to do this. The word mantra means ‘mind protection’ in Sanskrit. A mantra is a short sacred sound or phrase, usually with spiritual significance. A mantra carries a vibration and frequency that extends beyond the simple meaning of its words. A person can also create a short personal mantra that expresses their own issues or values. Whether it’s an ancient mantra or a personal affirmation, repeating a meaningful mantra can be helpful in overcoming mental chatter and preparing the way for an expansion of consciousness.
Affirmations are simple, positive statements declaring specific goals in their completed states, even if the desired way of being seems unattainable at the moment. Fortunately, with enough repetition and focused intention, declaration can become reality. Since the subconscious mind processes affirmations as truth, it is important to be aware of one’s thoughts and constantly edit out unwanted negative suggestions. By replacing random or unhelpful self-talk with positive affirmations, we direct our consciousness to create the life of our highest values and dreams. When we can truly visualize and feel the reality of the spoken word affirmation in the present tense, we enter into a cooperative contract with the universe to make use of this powerful tool.
Toning is a practice that uses the vibration of the human voice to make elongated vowel tones, humming sounds or other sounds. Exhaling the breath vibrates the vocal cords causing the voice to be sounded in sustained tones. The sound puts a brake on the breath enabling the exhalation to be sustained for a longer duration. Since toning is a neutral sound with no verbal associations, it helps the mind minimize thought and become quiet. We tone up the muscles with physical exercise. We can also tone up the mind and tune up the spirit using our breath and voice. Toning can be done alone or in a group. It is an especially good practice to do with a partner.