Those who seriously pursue spiritual life have to take into consideration, a few points. The first one is our breathing. Slow breathing and ability to hold the breath within (kumbhaka) are two important factors to evolve in spiritual life. By doing so, mind is brought under control and induces a good meditation. Samādhi states are attained only with the help of breathing and in particular, kumbhaka. Sage Vasiṣṭha said that flow of breath means activity in the mind and if flow of breath is controlled (slowing down of both inhalation and exhalation; holding the breath within and pausing the breath before inhalation), mind is without activity, which means that there will be no thought processes in the mind. In fact, prāṇa is also called sūtrātman, which refers to limited consciousness by aggregate of subtle bodies. “The prāṇa indeed is sūtra (thread), which holds together this world, the next world (higher worlds) and all the beings. Prāṇa and the mind are concomitants. It is difficult to control the mind through other means. If we manipulate prāṇa, mind is automatically controlled.” It is further said, “Having drawn the breath, it should be expelled very slowly.” Unless we master techniques of prāṇāyāma, quality of meditation will always be hampered. Apart from prāṇa, another important factor that controls quality of spiritual life is consumption of food. “Neither over eat nor fast and eat moderately”, say our ancient Scriptures. Prāṇāyāma makes our mind ready for realization and consequent absorption.
Mind has to cross five stages in spiritual practice – distraction, dormancy, constraint, concentration and absorption. Active state is distraction; sleep state is dormancy; a mind that is restrained is called constraint; a mind that is in contemplation is known as concentration and when we are in trance, it is called absorption. For spiritual practices, distractive and dormant minds are of no use. In order to make the mind suitable for trance or samādhi, practice of prāṇāyāma is a must. Between mantra japa and prāṇāyāma, latter should be given more importance in spiritual life. Samādhi is attained when the distracted mind transforms into the stage of concentration and later on into the stage of absorption. From the stage of concentration to absorption, one experiences different stages samādhi. As we know, all the sensory organs cause impressions in the mind and unless these sensory organs are controlled effectively, mind will continue to be active. In other words, unless the five senses are controlled by our will, sixth sense, the mind cannot be controlled. Regular practice of prāṇāyāma controls our senses as well as the mind and this control depends upon sincerity in practicing prāṇāyāma. When mind is controlled, consciousness flows without break and sometimes with breaks. When consciousness flows without break, it is called samādhi (nirvikalpa samādhi) and when consciousness breaks frequently, it is the stage of infantile meditation and when the flow of consciousness breaks randomly, it is called meditation (savikalpa samādhi). When consciousness is fixed on the Self within, It can be realized in nirvikalpa samādhi. There are no other methods to realize the Self. Various types of samādhi-s are discussed elsewhere in this site.
It is the power of avidyā which produces illusion in the mind, which leads to imaginations. Once imaginations enter the mind, they produce various types of desires and if desires percolate into the mind, it is extremely difficult to control the mind, as desires leave lasting impressions in the mind. Such impressions hamper the flow of consciousness which in turn affect meditation and consequent samādhi. Avidyā also stimulates our ego, which affects consciousness. Instead of understanding and realizing that Self alone prevails everywhere (omnipresent), ego makes us to take credit for whatever we have achieved. There are two types of ego – individual ego and cosmic ego. Individual ego is identification of a person with a name and form (this is also called essential ego). Comic ego is the cause for “I am” or “I”. Both the types of ego lead to discrimination and make us identify ourselves with the material world and indulge in all types of actions therein.
When the consciousness remains uninterrupted either by the mind and its associated sensory organs or ego, what is achieved is Bliss, which is inexplicable joy of being one with the Self. This Bliss is experienced only during deep states of samādhi, when the mind is completely incapacitated and no feeling of body consciousness at this time. That is why, yoga is described as the suppression of the transformation of thinking principle. When this suppression is firmed up over a period of time, which is called sādhana, he enters into the state of jīvanmukta. He is not affected by any acts that unfold in Prakṛti. A jīvanmukta who encounters this material world successfully, attains Brahman at the time of his death, which is known as videhamukti.