Yoga and Meditation are not really separate, yet they are. You can think of Yoga as the entire practice that prepares you for meditation. Before you can run, you must walk, and Yoga prepares you to meditate profoundly. Many people these days have heard great things about meditation and want to learn techniques so that they can be even more effective in their work. They want to optimise their minds so that they can learn faster think more effectively...Certainly meditation can help with this, but it's all a little bit more complicated than sitting quietly for 30mins. You didn't think it was going to be that easy did you?
Here's a little clarification from Master Desikachar:
"Mind is synonymous with experience: mind is always something other than itself. Through the practice of Yoga, one comes to see how the form of the mind is the same as its object. By projecting itself onto its objects, the mind becomes shaped and molded by them to the point where the impressions of the objects begin to hinder the clarity of perception.
The point of Yoga is to keep the mind clear of the build up of impressions. Once we understand that the mind assumes the form of its experience, we have the opportunity to choose the objects that shape our minds. Yoga is the practical application of this ancient yet simple insight." (Desikachar)
This is incidentally why you are what you do repeatedly. What is it that you do every day? Is this who you want to be?
Before you can meditate, you must have these 3 qualities:
- Curiosity about who you really are (Yogana)
- Go through a cleansing/purifying process (Sadhana)
- Have a positive attitude (Bhavana)
A consistent Yoga practice will give you these 3 things, and give you a good framework to work on all of them. The work is not purely physical but also mental, so you need to purify and cleanse your body as well as your mind before you are ready to meditate. This takes most of us quite a few years. It's a well worthwhile journey though, and improves people lives in staggering ways. Never underestimate its effects.
I often hear people say that the spiritual aspect of Yoga isn't for them, which is really like going to a therapist and saying as Brene Brown did "Here's the thing: no family stuff, no childhood shit. I just need some strategies". You have to do the work and in this case it's getting to know who you really are. This is the spiritual aspect of Yoga. There's a lot of confusion with Hinduism and Buddhism, and lets face it most western Yoga studios propagate the confusion. Yoga and meditation are not religious practices unless you make them so, that's up to you. Getting to know yourself: not optional.
What do you do when you meditate?
You don't have to sit, you can walk, whatever is comfortable, but sitting with your eyes closed is really easiest to begin with for most of us. Meditation is a practice of the mind, so you are focusing your mind on an object, whatever it may be. You may pick an image, a thought, a sound, an idea...whatever works for you. Most of us sit still and quiet because be we're so concentrated and its easier to keep concentrated this way. Other meditators can focus whilst walking or chanting. There are different practices for different minds. Keeping that kind of unwavering focus on something for a long time is very very hard at first. For most of us just sitting still is hard enough.
You can think of meditation in 4 stages:
1. Come to a stop
2. Work towards clearing the mind
3. Refine it
4. Direct it
It takes a lot of work on yourself and in your life to get to through the 4 stages. There are really no shortcuts here, and believe me I explored many different routes. I was a very reluctant meditator, because I always wanted to do things and became frustrated. I wasn't ready. I started Yoga and began by loving the gymnastics, and that's all it was for me. Until of course the practice did its magic on me and broke me down to reassemble me. A wiser, more compassionate, kinder and gentler me emerged. Some days I still struggle just to sit still and come to a stop. Most of the time I can clear my mind and focus it. On rare days I break new ground.
What's up with your mind?
Everything that happens to you is dependent on the role of your mind. Everything you see and experience is filtered by the mind. Your mind can be the source of freedom or imprisonment. Everything can either be neurosis or sanity. It depends how your mind is trained to see things. Yoga is there to help you untangle things, and meditation to help you train your mind afresh. This is why we say that Yoga is about undoing rather than doing.
What's up with your body?
It is said in the old texts "As is the food, so is the mind" for example. Mind and body are meant to work in unison. Yoga helps your body and mind remember that, because many of us have forgotten. When you eat junk food, it affects your body and it affects your mind, and not subtly. Once you are in the process of purifying both, the numbness drops away and you become much more sensitive to these things. To everything. When you say "I have a gut feeling", it really is in the gut. The body and the mind together are capable of so much. The first rung of the ladder is to reconnect them.
Ultimately, as Krishnamacharya said "You learn by being with people, by taking responsibility for them". If you think you will end up somewhere new, you may be surprised. I came back full-circle, but far better equipped to be with people and take responsibility for them, and the learning continues.