A wise man once said, “If people only knew how good they would feel if they meditated everyone would meditate.”
If you don’t already have an established practice of meditation you should get started: Meditation will change your entire life experience for the better. I have used the Hong Sau Technique of Meditation for decades and unhesitatingly recommend it.
How to Sit for Best Results
Find a sitting positon that allows you to sit as comfortably as you can with the spine erect and the body relaxed. You can sit in a chair, on a kneeling bench or kneeling pillow, or cross-legged with or without a pillow. All of these positions are equally effective. Deep meditators with many years of experience often use a chair for their meditations.
If you are sitting in a chair, sit with your feet flat on the floor. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor. You can put a pillow under your feet if your legs are too short, or a pillow on your seat if your legs are too long, in order to get your thighs parallel to the floor. Do not lean against the back of the chair. Sit with an upright, unsupported spine, but make sure you are relaxed. If you are not used to sitting this way, or if you have back issues, you can place a pillow between your back and the back of the chair. If you use a pillow behind your back, the feeling you want to have is that the pillow is supporting your upright position, not that you are leaning your weight against it. Try different pillows or move the pillow around until you achieve this feeling.
Your choice of sitting position should allow you to relax your shoulders and keep your head parallel to the floor with eyes facing directly forward. Rest your hands with the palms facing up at the juncture between your thighs and torso. This position will help to keep your spine erect.
If you would prefer to sit on the floor, kneeling benches can help make your legs feel comfortable and help keep the spine straight. Finding the right size and height is important. Padding on the bench seat often helps. Adding small pillows under the knees or ankles might facilitate your comfort also. Those who are more comfortable sitting cross-legged on a pillow can try the crescent-shaped or round meditation pillows designed to help with this position, but any pillow you have that makes you comfortable will do just fine.
If you sit on the floor without a meditation pillow, make sure your spine is still straight, your shoulders relaxed, and your head parallel to the floor eyes facing directly forward. Your knees should remain close to the floor. If your knees do not remain close to the floor your spine will bend. You should also be able to place your hands comfortably, palms facing upward, at the juncture between your thighs and torso.
Where to Meditate
If possible, set aside an area where you will not be disturbed and that you use exclusively for meditation. A small room, or a corner of your bedroom — even a closet can suffice, as long as it is well ventilated. The place where you meditate should be a little on the cool side with a source of fresh air if possible, to keep you alert and awake.
Brief Preparation before Practicing the Hong-Sau Technique
Once you are sitting comfortably, I recommend doing two brief breathing exercises that will help relax and harmonize your body and breath before you begin the Hong-Sau Technique.
Tense and Relax
Inhale sharply through the nose, with one short and one long inhalation, while simultaneously tensing the whole body. Hold your breath and tension for a few seconds, then exhale forcibly through the mouth, with one short and one long exhalation, simultaneously releasing the tension in your muscles. Repeat three to six times.
Balance Your Breathing
After you complete the tense-and-relax breathing exercise, inhale slowly, counting to eight, hold the breath for eight counts, then exhale slowly for eight counts. Without pausing, inhale again, hold , and exhale, once more to the count of eight. Repeat this exercise three to six times. You can vary the count according to your lung capacity, but always keep the count equal during inhalation, holding, and exhalation. Finish your practice by inhaling deeply, then exhaling completely.
Hong-Sau Technique of Concentration
You are now ready to begin the Hong Sau Technique. Close your eyes (if you haven’t already). Wait for your next breath to come in of its own accord. When it does, mentally say hong (rhymes with song). Don’t hold the breath. Exhale naturally. As you exhale, mentally say sau (rhymes with saw). Hong sau is an ancient Sanskrit mantra. It means “I am He” or “I am Spirit.”
Make no attempt to control your breath. Simply observe the breath as it flows naturally in and out. In the beginning you may be aware of your breath primarily in your chest and abdomen as your lungs expand and contract. As the breath grows calmer, focus your attention on the cool sensation in your nostrils when you inhale and the warm sensation in your nostrils when you exhale. Gradually become aware of the cool and warm sensations higher and higher in the nasal passages, until your awareness of the cool and warm sensations of the breath is focused at the point between the eyebrows.
Now also bring your closed eyes to a focus at the point between the eyebrows. Do not cross or strain your eyes. Your eyes should be relaxed, as if looking slightly up at some distant point. Without muscular tension, let your focus at the point between the eyebrows deepen, while continuing simply to observe the cool and warm sensations of the breath at the point between the eyebrows. If you find that your mind has wandered, gently bring it back to an awareness of the breath, to your mental repetition of hong and sau, and to your eye’s focus at the point between the eyebrows.
Once you reach the point where your awareness of your breath is centered at the point between the eyebrows try to become as focused at that point as you can without inadvertently tensing the facial muscles or holding the breath in or out. Try to feel as if your entire being is focused at this point. When you can do so, you will find a wonderful world opening to you. I will describe below some of the amazing things that can happen.
Sit in the Stillness
To complete your practice of the Hong-Sau Technique inhale once through the nose, then exhale three times through the mouth. Then forget the breath. Concentrate deeply at the point between the eyebrows. Keep your mind focused and your energy internalized. Absorb yourself in the peace generated by your practice.
How Often and How Long to Practice
Try to practice the Hong Sau Technique at least once a day for 15 minutes. As you come to enjoy it more, you can increase your time to 30 minutes, then to an hour or more—always leave time at the end of your practice of Hong Sau to enjoy the peaceful and harmonious results. Ideally it is good to meditate twice a day, in the morning and at night. Find a schedule that works for you. It is good to stretch your time meditating, but don’t strain. Doing a longer meditation once a week, about one and a half times to twice as long, will help you to increase the length and depth of your regular meditation.
What You Might Experience While Doing the Hong-Sau Technique
Difficulty Staying Focused on the Breath
It is quite common to experience difficulty keeping your attention focused on the breath and on mentally repeating Hong and Sau in rhythm with the breath. Don’t think yourself not capable or not “cut out” for meditation. It is a skill to learn just like any other. When you recognize that you are no longer watching the breath, simply bring your attention back to it again. You may lose focus many times. Be patient with yourself. Your concentration will improve.
Difficulty Not Controlling the Breath
It is also quite common to have difficulty allowing the breath to come in and go out naturally. You may find yourself deliberately breathing in and out more deeply, or holding the breath in or out longer, than if the breath were flowing naturally. If this problem occurs every time you meditate, try doing more rounds of the preparatory breathing exercises before you begin your Hong-Sau practice—tense and relax six or twelve times instead of three, do the balancing breath exercise six or twelve times as well. If you still find yourself deliberately controlling the breath after you have begun your Hong-Sau practice, you can stop your practice long enough to repeat either or both of the preparatory breathing exercises before continuing the technique itself.
Other solutions: try mentally dissociating yourself from the body by imagining that you are sitting slightly behind yourself and watching another body breathe. You can also consciously relax the area around the solar plexus: Trust that the body will breathe just as it should on its own.
Difficulty in Sitting Still
Everyone who is learning to meditate has difficulty sitting still. After you’ve completed the preparatory breathing exercises, at the very beginning of your meditation, resist the impulse to make little adjustments to your position. If you successfully resist the impulse for even five minutes you will find that the body becomes more still. If you have time, as a further aid to releasing restlessness, you may also want to do yoga postures, or other gentle stretches, before you begin the preparatory breathing exercises. Also trust that sitting still will become more and more supported by rapidly forming neural meditation-habit circuits.
Your Breath May Become Deeper or More Shallow
As you watch your breath you may find that your breath keeps the same rhythm but becomes more shallow. Or you may find that the rhythm of your breath slows and that both inhalation and exhalation become much deeper. Either is good.
Natural Pauses between Breaths Become Longer
You may notice that the natural pause between inhalation and exhalation or exhalation and inhalation becomes longer. This extended pause is normal and positive. Normal because in physical stillness your cells’ lessened need to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide causes the breath to slow naturally. Positive because you will soon find these natural pauses between breaths to be very calming, relaxing, and peaceful. Enjoy these moments particularly, but with no attempt to hold your breath. Forcibly holding the breath, in or out, will throw off the calm natural rhythm of your breathing.
Breath Rate Becomes Profoundly Shallow or Slow
As you become more adept at the Hong-Sau Technique you may find that you are breathing so shallowly or so slowly that it is difficult to be aware of the breath. If you experience this it will feel wonderful. It is very rare, but possible, that your breathing can stop altogether, although that generally only happens after many years of practice. If you experience the cessation of the breath for tens of seconds to minutes, you won’t need me to reassure you that this is OK, because it will feel utterly wonderful. Nor should you be concerned that the breath will not resume—the slightest physical movement will trigger the breath to begin again.
Heart Rate Becomes Profoundly Slow
While practicing Hong-Sau you should not be paying attention to your heart rate, but for reasons similar to why the breath rate slows, so does the heart rate—in physical stillness your heart does not need to pump as much oxygenated blood to the cells nor take away as much carbon waste product. If your heart rate profoundly slows, you won’t really need me to reassure you that this is OK, because it will feel beyond wonderful. People who have mastered the Hong-Sau Technique can go for extended periods of time with no heart beat at all.
If the idea of your heart slowing down or even stopping is scary, I want to assure you that there is zero chance that, while practicing the Hong-Sau Technique, your heart could stop permanently or be damaged in any way. Your heart will have slowed or stopped because your cells’ natural demand for oxygen is reduced or has stopped. As soon as you move or inhale, your cells will call for oxygen, and your heart rate will increase or resume just as naturally as it slowed or stopped. The heart stopping is even more rare than the breath stopping. It generally happens only to the most advanced practitioners.
Your Concentration Deepens
If you haven’t already practiced the Hong-Sau Technique, or a similar meditation technique, it may be difficult to image how concentration can become deeper and deeper, but with practice you’ll find that as your body becomes still, and your breath slows, your mind will slow as well. As the usual flow of thoughts slows, emotional tensions will be released, the body will fade from your awareness, and your concentration will become more and more one-pointed.
You Will Likely See Light
Even early on in your practice of the Hong-Sau Technique, you may see various colors of light in the darkness behind your closed eyes. The light may be perceived at or around the point between the eyebrows. You may see white, blue or golden light, or a combination of all three. The light may form into a circle at the point between the eyebrows: a deep azure blue field surrounded by golden light, with a tiny white star in the center. This phenomenon, usually referred to as the spiritual eye, is mentioned in many experiential spiritual traditions, perhaps most familiarly to Westerners in the New Testament: “if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” (Matthew 6:22)
You Will Likely Experience Emotional Release
The Hong-Sau Technique enables you to relax at deep levels: physical, mental, and emotional. Emotional relaxation is generally first experienced as a sense of peace and wellbeing. The heart center in your subtle energy body may be closed against situations and conditions in your life that you do not want to experience. Deep emotional relaxation can feel as if a fist in your heart has relaxed or as if warmth is spreading outward from your heart.
You Will Likely Become Inwardly Absorbed in Subtle Transcendent Experience
When you have a transcendent experience you will have no doubts about its reality. There may be a sense of wellbeing wholly unrelated to anything happening in your life. There may be a thrill of energy rising in the center of your body that makes you feel energized, positive, and enthusiastic. There may be a feeling of sacred Joy or of the “peace that passeth understanding.” Once experienced you’ll know, as millions before you have come to know, that there is another world within you and that you are experiencing your Self in God.
Your Life Will Be Changed
The more we practice concentration in meditation the more concentrated we become in life. Concentration brings us intuitive insights we can use in all aspects of our lives. Problem-solving becomes easier and our solutions more creative. We become more focused and less easily distracted. Learning becomes accelerated. We become more efficient. Performance, in everything from sports to playing music, flows more naturally and with less tension. We become more present in the moment.
The more we practice meditation the more our life improves. Minor health issues may fade away. We may find ourselves more open, considerate, lovingly compassionate, and more spontaneously helpful toward others. We may find ourselves more centered and les reactive in our emotions. We may find that we flow through our day with less resistance. We simply become happier.
Meditate. Mediate regularly. Meditate as deeply and for as long as you can. It will change your life.
If you would like to learn more about the Hong-Sau Technique of Concentration you can find more at: https://www.ananda.org. Search within the site for Hong Sau Technique