Meditation à la carte
I want to briefly explore the interdependent connection between meditation and yoga. Practicing “yoga” involves meditation, in fact, meditation is essential for achieving the ultimate goal of yoga. However, a non-yogi can still derive benefits from meditating. Surely if some self-proclaimed yogis heard me say people can extract meditation from yoga they’d disagree. That sentiment is similar to a professional athlete telling someone not to exercise because they don’t play a sport. We don’t need to study data that proves exercise helps people physically, we already know that. So, don’t let the whole ancient philosophy of yoga prevent you from trying meditation.
First, let’s explore meditation, despite an upward trend in the US, the concept tends to confuse people. Meditation is a process by which an individual trains himself or herself to still the mind. Achieving stillness of the mind isn’t exactly the same as meditation, it’s a byproduct. Think about it like this, a painting isn’t painting, painting is the process by which an artist creates a piece of art. Someone paints to create art; someone meditates to achieve stillness of the mind. Through continual meditation you will develop deeper self-awareness, additionally, research now indicates meditation improves cognitive function and emotional control.
Meditation is the fundamental component of yoga. Like meditation, yoga is commonly misunderstood. When most people think of yoga, they picture a class full of students practicing various poses, but the poses only comprise one aspect of yoga.
What is yoga? Here’s a brief overview:
Around 400 CE, Patanjali began compiling various texts pertaining to yoga. This eventually became the Yoga Sutras. Patanjali defines yoga as, “Yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah.” Okay, so what does that mean? Yoga is used to still the mind. The Yoga Sutras detail an eight-limbed system, these eight limbs lay the groundwork for actually achieving stillness. The first seven limbs are essential for attaining the final limb, Samadhi – the citta-vrtti-nirodhah.
1. Yamas – there are five yamas, or ethical rules
2. Niyamas – there are five niyamas, or virtuous behaviors/observances
3. Asana – this is what people equate yoga with, the poses
4. Pranayama –breath extension/control
5. Pratyahara – process of withdrawing thoughts from external objects
6. Dharana – concentration, one-pointedness of mind
7. Dhyana – contemplation/meditation
8. Samadhi – oneness with the subject of meditation/mental absorption
I discovered meditation after I began practicing yoga. Initially, like many other people that regularly take yoga classes, I wasn’t aware that yoga involved more than a physical practice. I began to meditate because of yoga, but there are multiple paths to, or reasons for meditating. Yes, several religions utilize meditation as a means for reaching spiritual enlightenment, but universities are increasingly researching the scientific effects of meditation, independent of religion or philosophy. Here are a few recent studies that detail benefits of meditation.
Whether or not you have a spiritual practice, practice a specific religion or live a secular life, incorporating meditation into your daily routine can improve your physical and mental health. Think of it as meditation à la carte, you can take your life with a side of meditation.