What is meditation?Meditation is the science and art of keeping a check on the vagrancies of the mind and bringing it to a state of thoughtlessness... a state which is conflict free, and at once blissful. It is essentially an Oriental spiritual practice, now borrowed by relaxation therapists.It is believed that the human mind produces innumerable thoughts in a sequence, at any given time (no wonder we are such nervous wrecks). The art of meditation is aimed at capturing that moment in the mind which is free of thought. The thoughtless state exists between two successive thoughts, ie., between the end of one thought and the beginning of the next. Because this state is thought-free, it is naturally conflict-free, jealousy-free, fear-free, lust-free and anger-free. That is the desirable state of blissful being, for all of us.Human mind is undoubtedly like a monkey, as restless, as fidgety and as destructively experimental. It needs to be controlled. Meditation is one of the most effective disciplines to control this monkey mind.Types of meditationThere are different schools of thought which advocate different techniques. Some call it ‘Vippassana’, some, ‘mantra meditation’, and others call it pranayama and yoga. But essentially the basic dynamics and the final goal are the same.Techniques of meditationThe chief technique is to focus/observe one activity (such as breathing in Vippassana), or repeat one word or set of words (called mantra), or practice the rhythmic breathing exercises of yoga (called pranayama). This focus diverts the mind from the other unnecessary thoughts, and thus calms the mind. A calm mind slowly becomes thought free, even free of the mantra, towards the end. A thought-free mind becomes spiritually powerful. An idea, a word or a thought that is expressed by such a steadied mind hits its target like an arrow. That is why spiritual gurus advise their disciples never to direct aggressive words or thoughts at anybody.Patanjali yogasutras ... the eightfold path to yoga consist of certain prerequisites for the practice of meditation. Chief among them are non injury to others by thought, word or deed, non stealing, physical cleanliness, healthy harmonious attitude towards all, contemplation, surrendering oneself to God etc. These attitudes help one in relaxing. In a nutshell Patanjali’s yogasutras prompt us to relax all the muscles and be stress free before starting meditation. This relaxation can never be attained if one is harbouring negative emotions such as anger, revenge, jealousy, guilt, greed or lust.The necessity of a guruIt is very necessary that a person who wishes to practice meditation or pranayama/yoga should seek the guidance of an appropriate teacher. It is best for him to follow the same sectarian family practices and belief system that has a lineage of gurus. This avoids unnecessary conflicts. Otherwise they may approach any school of thought which may initiate individuals in a secular way.How to practice meditation if there is no guru availableFor those who are yet to find a guru, I would advise the following: After taking care of physical cleanliness and fostering the right frame of mind (do not read newspapers or watch news channels before meditation), be seated cross legged on a mat, preferably facing the east. Sit straight (but not stiff) with the neck and spine perpendicular to the floor. Relax and take deep breathes, taking advantage of abdominal breathing (ie., stomach should bloat out when you breathe in, and become flat when you breathe out). Do this slowly for atleast five to ten minutes. It would be excellent if you chant ‘Ommmmmm.......’ while breathing out. At the end of a few minutes, the mind becomes calm and almost thought free. You may continue enjoying this blissful state, or you may continue your session by repeating the name of your favourite form of God. Valmiki was initiated into the mantra ‘Ma-Ra’ which when repeated constantly until it became Rama. The same mantra can be uttered in your mind, without moving the lips and the tongue. Slowly you would go into a deep state of relaxation, and the mantra, at some stage of the process, may cease. During meditation, it is possible that either pleasant or unpleasant thoughts, from the unconscious mind, resurface. They should be observed with equanimity just like how you watch a movie without getting involved. They would soon disappear. ‘Ma-Ra’ is a simple mantra that transformed Valmiki from the state of a highway robber to that of a yogi. It may be chanted silently in the mind even while cooking, walking or travelling. Slowly the Stress of Kama would evolve into the Bliss of Rama. Go on and try it.But whatever method you practice is personal to you, and should be kept confidential between you and your guru; it should never be open for frivolous discussions with worldly people.Is meditation scientific? What are the benefits?Apart from the fact that meditation improves mood, memory, sleep and other autonomic functions of the body, Electroencephalographic studies conclusively proved that there is a predominance of theta waves in regular meditators, suggesting that they are, most of the times, in a state of deep relaxation even while actively performing their duties. Such individuals are not overwhelmed by adversities; they are forgiving, adjusting, altruistic, creative, self disciplined and truthful. Wouldn’t you like to be one among them!