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Yoga as a method and guide to living has a complex array of forms and styles. Many people are familiar with the schools Iyengar, Ashtanga and Vinyasa, which represent some of the approaches to practicing yoga that align body, mind and spirit through physical poses. Surat Shabd yoga is a meditative practice that focuses on the concept of inner light and sound. It can help you experience the relaxation response vital to stress reduction.
Origin and Benefits
"Surat" means attention. "Shabd" means word. The notion of God as "word" or a sound principle is found in the Christian gospels, as well as in the writings of saints and mystics such as Rumi, Kabir and Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism. But you can practice Surat Shabd meditation regardless of your religious beliefs. In the early 1900s, clinical studies by Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard University found that meditation produces a relaxation response which has a profound effect on physical health. As Benson discovered, meditation changes physical and emotional responses to stress. It reduces blood pressure and heart rate and releases muscle tension. As an add-on to yoga posture practice, or any exercise regimen, Surat Shabd is one of the many styles of meditation that can help your body combat the stress of daily life. It may help to have a teacher to guide you through this practice.
According to Darshan Singh, a renowned Surat Shabd teacher, "anyone can have this experience." The ultimate goal of Surat Shabd is absorption of consciousness into a celestial sound and inner light, and it is done through drawing your attention away from your physical body during meditation, a practice called "dying while living." Any technique which relaxes the body and takes your attention away from mental activity is beneficial to your health, as Benson points out. You can focus on a phrase, or a sound like "Om," or on a single point in your mind's eye. In Surat Shabd classes the teacher shows the pupil how to meditate on inner sound and methods for turning the attention inward and upward. Essentially, during meditation the practitioner withdraws his attention from all the physical entrances to the body, for example, eyes and mouth, and focuses on the inner third eye in the center of the forehead.
Teacher and master Darshan Singh, in an interview with "Yoga Journal," says that what you might experience during Surat Shabd meditation is similar to the physical process of dying. He describes the withdrawal of feeling from the lower extremities, such as numbness in the legs and feet that travels up the body, followed by the loss of the senses. Singh says that if you watch a person dying, the eyes turn inward and upward right at the end, and attention or consciousness leaves the physical body. He says that during sleep, we go part of the way to withdrawing our attention in this way, but in the morning, we can't remember the experience. In Surat Shabd meditation, practitioners say, you achieve the experience of dying and merging with light and sound in a state of full consciousness.
Basic Meditation Technique
Surat Shabd teachers encourage students to meditate early in the morning before breakfast and just before going to sleep at night. Teachers advise finding a comfortable sitting position, and it can be in a straight-backed chair. Comfort is crucial because you need to relax and draw your attention away from your physical body. Close your eyes and focus attention on the center of the dark screen you now see in your mind's eye, and imagine that screen is about eight to 10 inches from your forehead. Most importantly, keep your eyes and forehead relaxed while focusing. Eventually, lights and colors replace the inner darkness. Relaxation is vital to the experience. Daily practice increases your ability to enter a state of deep relaxation that may have benefits for your overall physical and mental health. According to the Benson-Henry Institute, meditation that relaxes you should be "as much a part of your day as brushing your teeth."