A while back I was in a yoga class and the teacher said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I will be guiding a vipassana meditation from the Buddhist tradition as there are no forms of meditation in the yogic tradition.Ã¢â‚¬Â I was aghast. Meditation IS the basis of the yogic tradition!
I do realize, in America, many people view yoga as only asana. Traditionally, this was not so. Yogasana was not recorded in texts until the third century C.E.. Meditation is illuminated in the Vedas, Upanishads, Epics and it is the major focus of Pantajali Yoga Sutras. Here are a few examples of scripture references:
~~Yoga, as expressed in Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras 1.2: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Yoga citta vritti nirhodaha,Ã¢â‚¬Â is about calming the fluctuations of the mind (meditation). Through calming the fluctuation, the true Self is realized. 1.3.
~~The Hatha Pradipika opens with the following statement: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I bow to Lord Shiva who taught the lore of Hatha Yoga, which is held in high esteem as if it were a flight of steps for the aspirant who looks forward to climbing the highest peak of Rajayoga.Ã¢â‚¬Â 1.1. The Gheranda Samhita starts with a similar verse. Swami Kripalu explains this by saying, Ã¢â‚¬ÂIn Hatha the organs of action are mastered: in Rajayoga the organs of the sense are mastered.Ã¢â‚¬Â
~~Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhrigu asks his father, Varuna, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sir, teach me Brahman (God).Ã¢â‚¬Â Varuna responds, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Seek to know Brahman by meditation. Meditation is Brahman.Ã¢â‚¬Â
~~Bhakti Sutras, verse 6 says, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The devotee first becomes intoxicated with bliss (meditation). Then, having realized That, he becomes inert and silent and takes his delight in the Atman.Ã¢â‚¬Â
~~Bhagavad Gita, includes directions on how to meditate.
8.8: Ã¢â‚¬Å“When you make your mind one pointed through regular practice of medi-tation, you will find the supreme glory of God.Ã¢â‚¬Â
12.6 – 7: But, they for whom I am the supreme goal . . . . and meditate on me with single hearted devotion . . . . I will swiftly rescue . . . . for their consciousness has entered into me.
6.10 -16, 18: Day after day, let the Yogi practice the harmony of soul (meditation): in a secret place, in deep solitude, master of his mind, hoping for nothing, desiring nothing. Let him find a place that is pure and a seat that is restful, neither too high nor too low. . . On that seat let him rest and practice Yoga of the purification of the soul: with the life of his body and mind in peace; his soul in silence before the One. With upright body, head and neck, which rest still and move not, with inner gaze which is not restless, but rests still between the eyebrows; with soul in peace, and all fear gone, and strong in the vow of holiness, let him rest with mind in harmony, his soul on me, his God supreme. The Yogi who, lord of his mind, ever prays in this harmony of soul, attains the peace of Nirvana, the peace supreme that is in me. Yoga is a harmony. . . . When the mind of the Yogi is in harmony and finds rest in the Spirit within, all restless desires gone, then he is a Yukta, one in God. 6.35: Ã¢â‚¬Å“The mind is restless. It is indeed hard to train. But by constant practice and by freedom from passions the mind in truth can be trained.Ã¢â‚¬Â
~~Pantajali describes meditation as a process. Sutra 2.54 and 55: Pratyahara is the process of the senses imitating the mind’s withdrawal by withdrawing contact with their respective objects. From that follows the highest mastery over the senses.
Sutra 3.1, 2, 3 and 7: Concentration (dharana) is fixing the mind to one object. Meditation (dhyana) is an uninterrupted flow of thought toward the object. That same (meditation) becomes trance (samadhi) when the object alone shines forth and there is no consciousness of the mind itself. The three (dharana, dhyana and samadhi) are internal in relation to the preceding limbs.
Many yogasana classes include relaxation, not meditation, although they may call it meditation. Not everyone understands the difference so let us begin by clarifying terminology, based on the above readings. Relaxation guides you in connecting with the inner self within the world. Meditation guides you to merging with the Spirit through one pointed focus until you and the point become one.
Relaxation is a step in the path of meditation. It allows you and/or the students to be quiet, a time out to be with oneself and begin the inner journey. Therefore, it is easy to include in a class. For many, it is the closest they have come to a form of meditation and it is very different from their many concepts.
A relaxation can be silent, with music and/or a guided visualization. The language used in the flow will be broad and permissive. People with various inclinations will relax better with different clues during the process. Visual people like to have colors and images introduced. Audio people want to have sounds. Kinesthetic people want to feel the energy. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Take a walk on the sandy beach. Feel the sand under your feet. Notice the color of the sky, the sound of the waves and birds.Ã¢â‚¬Â would be a very inclusive guided visualization.
Students walk away from the experience relaxed and less stressed. They know they have been inward and they feel they have had a meditative experience. This is not really meditation. Meditation is being one focus so we merge with our concept of a Universal Presence. I describe this process similar to the following with Ã¢â‚¬Å“TÃ¢â‚¬Â representing thoughts and Ã¢â‚¬Å“OÃ¢â‚¬Â representing focus on the object.
T T T T O T T T T O TO T T T TO T T T O T T T T O T T T O T T O T T T O T T O T T T O T T O T T O T O T T T O T T O T O T T O T O T T O T O O T T T O T T O O O T T O O O T O O O T O O O O O T O O O O O T O O O O O O O T O O O O O O O O O T O O O O O O O
As you can see, it is movement from the busy thoughts to a focus on the object. It becomes a training, not an instantaneous experience. Krishna emphasizes practice in the Gita and I feel this is the journey Pantajali refers to as he illuminates the steps for pratyahara, dharana to dhyana and samadhi.
The major issue, which comes up for many, is what object do I focus on. We hear about focusing on the void. What in the world is void! ? ! Our mind gets busy just trying to figure out the void. Let’s look at the scriptures, Pantajali, 1. 32 – 41: Ã¢â‚¬Å“For the removal of distractions and symptoms, practice on one principle is to be done. The mind becomes purified by cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the miserable, delight for the virtuous and indifference for the evil-natured.
The mind may be calmed by expulsion and retention of breath. Or else the mind can be made steady by merging it in subtle sense perceptions. Or by perception of the luminous light within, which is beyond sorrow. Or contemplation on one who is free from attachments. Or else by giving it the knowledge of dream and deep sleep for support. Or by meditation as desired. Mastery is gained when the mind can be fixed on the smallest atom as well as on the greatest infinity. Just as a transparent crystal takes the color of the object on which it rests, so a purified mind is absorbed in the object of contemplation, whether the object is gross or subtle, the senses or ego, or the pure I- sense.Ã¢â‚¬Â
This is a powerful guidance. To review, focus on one object: kindness towards others, pranayama, sensations, inner light, a deity, a dream, or as desired regardless of size. It doesn’t matter, just focus! There is a Buddhist story about a man who came to Buddha and said that every time he tried to meditate on the Buddha, he thought about his wife. Buddha’s response was to meditate on his wife. The Sutras say pick an object which works, even if it is your wife. When we realize thoughts, acknowledge the thought, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Thank you for the awareness.Ã¢â‚¬Â Then go back to the object.
If you are in a class and want to lead a meditation, guide the students to a seated position and inner focus and allow flexibility on the focus point. Visual people do better with tratak, Shambhavi and Jyoti mudra for meditation. Audio people will prefer mantra, japa and anahata nada. Kinesthetic people will do better with pranayama, observing subtle body energies such as vayus, nadis, chakras and the sushumna. Take some time and teach the various methods. Then, simply guide a group Ã¢â‚¬Å“in,Ã¢â‚¬Â allowing their inner guidance to choose the form.
The yoga tradition is rich in the path of meditation. There are many sacred writings which share the above mentioned forms of meditation (and others) plus the joys and blessings of meditation. Take some time, read the yoga scriptures and practices of meditation. Enjoy the richness of meditation in your own practice and in your classes.
Hansa is a yoga teacher and body oriented holistic health therapist in Denver, Colorado. She teaches a 250 hour Contemplative Hatha Yoga Teacher Training Program and a 500 hour Professional Teacher Training Program. She is on the faculty of Rocky Mountain Institute for Yoga and Ayurveda. Hansa is a past president of Yoga Teachers of Colorado and serves on the Board of Trustees for Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts.