Trance is an altered state of mind, the properties of which differ based on the type and circumstances. It can happen without our consciously being aware of it happening. It is also said to be a state in which our conscious minds are engaged and the subconscious mind dominates our being.
A long meeting, a boring lecture, an interesting phone call or just day dreaming are all instances of events that can induce trance.
When we practice meditation, the aim is to first enter a state of trance. This puts us in closer touch with our subconscious minds. Why do we want this to happen?
From one point of view, we are designed to protect ourselves from shock and trauma and have evolved to create different mechanisms for doing so. Additionally, we also usually have quite a few unanswered questions, that while still relevant, are no longer in our conscious memories or active priorities.
Sometimes, these questions are difficult or the answers are unpleasant. At other times, the process of finding answers can involve emotional turbulence, that we may not be comfortable undergoing or our protective mechanism thinks we aren’t ready to do so. Due to various psychological states and properties, we may continue to be shielded from this potential hurt and end up never really approaching the subject or question.
Many times, these questions are about childhood trauma and related experiences, which raise questions or cause behavioural changes in us. So when we ask ourselves, why do I behave in so and so manner, and answer lies in a connected memory, getting to the answer isn’t usually as simple as we might think.
Meditation via different levels of trance allows us access to a great deal of the past, in manner that most of us can deal with, slowly, gradually and over time, help us answer questions, access memories that we might not otherwise want to see, provide solutions to issues that we ourselves are both, the lock and the key to.
From another point of view, much of our being is embedded in our subconscious, and accessing it is key to many objectives of meditation, which simply put, include peace, calm, focus and insight. Trance is the key to accessing this area of ourselves – the subconscious.
There are many ways of entering trance, based on who we are and how we respond to various stimuli.
The simplest and first method I suggest for nearly everyone, is breath awareness. As mentioned in my Hindi podcast about choosing a location, find a suitable place to enter your first purposely entered state of trance. If you haven’t heard it, or aren’t sure, a quiet place is your best bet to begin with. Later, when you understand yourself, and trance a little better and have listened to the podcast, you could refine your choice. Your choice of location and posture do matter, though we’ll work towards those later. Small, definite steps are a good way to move forward.
Breath awareness involves two largely simultaneous processes.
- Type of breathing
- Observation of breathing
1 – Type of Breathing: Dhirga Pranayama or Three Part Breath
Mentioned in the Yoga Sutras in a period before 400 CE by the Indian sage, Patanjali, I found the following, very interesting phrase in the book.
As the movement patterns of each breath – inhalation, exhalation, lull – are observed as to duration, number, and area of focus, breath becomes spacious and subtle.II.50, Yoga Sutra, Patanjali. Translation by Chip Hartranft
Dirgha Pranayama involves breathing into three distinct areas, in one continuous action. While there are specifics associated with this as with every aspect of Yoga, my descriptions and directions here are for ease of initial implementation. Whenever you’re practised enough, you’ll find many resources out there to improve specific aspects of this technique.
- Focus on your tummy. Place your palm over your navel if you wish to increase conscious awareness of the area.
- Breathe in to inflate your tummy.
- When about 50% of your breath has gone into the inflation of your tummy, focus on the lower end of your rib cage. Place your palm there if it helps.
- Now use about 25% of your remaining breath to inflate this area. The rate of inflation of your tummy should reduce at this point.
- Shift focus to your chest, again placing a palm there if you think it helps.
- Use the remaining 25% of your breath to inflate the chest.
- Pause for a moment or two.
- At all points, remain conscious of the breath moving through your system. Observe everything that happens inside you; feelings, sounds, emotions, everything.
Initially, you may find the three parts to be quite distinct and somewhat jerky, but with a few sessions of practice, your breathing this way will become seamless.
2 – Observation of Breath
This part is easy. All I’ll ask you to do, is to consciously note the beginning of every inhalation and the beginning of every exhalation, while also following the steps and methods mentioned for part 1 above.
Both steps combined, you’ll find yourself in an altered state of mind within a few minutes. I have used this method to reduce blood pressure, reduce heart rate, induce sleep, bring calm, enhance focus, begin meditation and manage pain among other aspects in my life.
Once you’re able to do this for a few minutes each day, we’ll proceed to the next stage – exploring the subconscious mind. If this method doesn’t work for you, my next article in the series will have other methods that might help.