Ancient Hindu and Buddhist traditions teach that meditation is comprised of a series of steps. The following are Sanskrit terms for these steps. Other traditions use other words to describe similar experiences:
Asana – posture. Finding our natural posture for meditation. Becoming aware of the subtle forces of the body and learning how to consciously relax.
Pranayama- breathing exercise. Learning how to breathe correctly, using the breath to relax and control the mind, cultivating and balancing prana
Pratyahara- serene observation. How to observe, separate and comprehend our thoughts.
Dharana- concentration. Developing a natural, spontaneous concentration through deep relaxation of the mind.
Dhyana- meditation. To place full attention on the object of investigation. This can be meditation on a facet of ourselves we want to understand, meditation in silence, mantras, remembering our dreams, prayer, etc.
Samadhi- absorption. The consciousness itself attains the Gnostic experience: where there is nothing between us and the thing we know. Direct knowledge.
Each meditation, whether as a beginner or an experienced meditator, starts with the first step and proceeds with the following steps to the extent possible, depending on the capacity of the person meditating. The first five steps can be practiced at any time in any order, but a deep experience of each step cannot be achieved without fully mastering the preceding steps.
Samadhi, the sixth step, is not something that can be practiced on a shallow level, but rather is state of consciousness produced through regular discipline with the first five steps.
I’ll create additional blog posts that provide more practical information about each of these steps. They will include specific elements that can be added to a meditation practice, for example counting of the breath, that will help deepen our level at each of the first five steps.
For further reading go to gnostic meditation.