Breath control, sense control, reflection on the distinction between the eternal and ephemeral, practice of japa leading to samadhi (silence) – practise these with devotion, very carefully.
Having listed the external spiritual disciplines, bahiranga sadhana , in verse 27, Shankara now prescribes the internal spiritual disciplines, antaranga sadhana .
It comprises five practices:
•Pranayama : Literally translated, pranayama means breath control. In the larger sense, however, it means control over life’s activities. Every transaction with the world needs to be carefully regulated in order to avoid dissipation of one’s energies into unproductive channels. This regulation is performed by the intellect to bring about a greater awareness of your thoughts, feelings and actions.
•Pratyahara : Once you’ve develop this greater self-awareness, you learn to stay away from activities that take you away from the spiritual path, self-control in other words. Pratyahara helps you to mentally withdraw from the world and turn introvert.
•Nitya Anitya Viveka Vicharam : When the mind withdraws from extroverted pursuits, the intellect becomes free to focus on the distinction between the eternal and the ephemeral. Without this withdrawal, you remain caught up in trivial pursuits with little time and energy to pursue more meaningful endeavours. With the mind withdrawn, the intellect is engaged in the all-important exercise of sifting the real from the unreal, the truth from un-truth, the enduring from the temporary. In life you confer permanence on the world when in fact everything in the world passes. When it goes, as it must, you are shattered. This is why you need to be firmly rooted in the permanent aspect of life, your real Self.
•Japa : Meditation. When you practice the above exercises, the mind gets meditative by nature as it has no attraction for the world. It is free of desire that pushes it to various avenues of fulfilment. It seeks fulfilment within. Such a fully prepared mind is given a point of concentration, a mantra to repeat. While the mind repeats the thought, the intellect is acutely aware and in command, not allowing the mind to slip to any other thought. Thus you are totally focussed on one thought. At this stage you stop the chant. The thought flow is broken. The mind which is a flow of thoughts gets extinct. The intellect which has been discriminating between thought and silence now dissolves in silence.
•Samadhi. This is the final silencing of the mind, the goal of all spiritual practices. And it is in this silence that your real Self lies.
At the end of the verse, Shankara cautions you to proceed on the spiritual path with care and patience. Spiritual growth is a slow process and requires consistent application. Be patient with yourself, make gradual changes and the results are bound to follow.