Yoga is Meditation and Meditation is Yoga. These two paths are intimately linked and one can even say that they are the same. Nowadays many people perceive Yoga to be a physical stretching practice, separate from Meditation. This division creates more duality and misunderstanding to the truth and the authenticity to The Laws of Nature. Yoga is all about wholesomeness, oneness, union and non-duality. The mind and the body are so intimately connected that ultimately there is no difference and they are telling us identical stories. Being the more visible aspect of our inner workings, the body often speaks more eloquently than the mind can speak for itself. When the body is aligned, calm and still, so too is the mind and vice versa. The body is a projection of the being - it does not lie.
Perfecting Yoga postures for Meditation comes not so much from action but from reflection. In Yoga and Meditation, we need to align the spine when standing in Tadasana or when sitting on the buttock bones so that we are centered and steady. Yoga and Meditation is an active form of doing nothing, of consciously ceasing to place any effort into the pose, whether you are balancing on your hands upside down or simply sitting cross legged. This conscious effort to release can be felt experientially and internally on a physical and energetic level. The goal of Yoga asana practice is not flexibility, cardiovascular fitness or to develop muscular tone and strength (although these may occur as a ripple effect,) but to restore to the body and mind its fundamental state of well-being, freedom, vibrant awareness and alertness and complete connection to all living ‘beings’.
Yoga and Meditation increase our awareness of self and encourage and facilitate a willingness to 'let go' of all the boundaries of our conditioning and the material world. Once we become aware of these limitations through Yoga and Meditation we become more open to universal truth thereby allowing us to be freed from societal rigidity and rules. As these boundaries dissolve more and more, we begin to live from our hearts and are inspired by compassion, love and for what is good for ‘the whole’ instead of just the individual needs.
Yoga Asana (postures), which we can define as the physical component of Yoga, has now become known as 'Yoga'. A common misconception is that Yoga is all about tying yourself up into knots and becoming super flexible and maybe even lean or strong. All this type of Yoga practice does is inflate one's Ego and create tensions in the body because it turns the practice into something external and only increases our desire for more ability on a physical level. There is always a more challenging and unnatural way to bend and push the body and so the cycle begins. Of course, the postures are working on a physical level but the intention is to work on all the levels of the mind, and take us into the study of the science of all mental activity.
Meditation is understood by many to be either when you sit with your eyes closed in Padmasana 'lotus position' and don't think or move or when you lie in Savasana 'corpse position' at the end of a yoga class to rest and reflect for a few minutes. While in fact the more one becomes self aware and alert, meditation is part of everything that you do. How you walk, talk, sleep, eat, all activities included. Its ‘doing’ things with full awareness of doing them, being totally present and aware of the breath and bodily sensations constantly. Instead of meditation being something separate when the eyes are closed and time is ‘set aside’ specifically for meditation. The first stage of meditation has often been described as the ability to concentrate and keep a single pointed focus. The mind’s function is to think, and this is happening all the time. The mind is multidimensional, it likes variety. The thoughts don’t stop, but through the discipline of Yoga and Meditation the frequency of the ‘thinking’ appears to slow down and a practitioner moves into a phase of observation instead of reaction. In Yoga asana it is the same. Sensations and or emotions come up as we move through the postures but the training is to keep the mind sharp, alert and directed to keep attention in one place. Either on a specific place on the body, for example the heels or the shoulder bones, or on the natural flow of the breath. In Yoga and Meditation, we are training the mind to be sharp and not get distracted by any of the sense organs, either touch, taste, sound, sight or smell or past memories and future imaginations.
Yoga postures give us the tools to experience freedom, space, alignment and balance in our bodies. One can feel and experience this in the body after trying even a simple pose such as Virasana bending forward with the forehead resting. While practicing the physical postures it is imperative that the intention is using the body as a vehicle for mediation and the focus is directed inwards. The postures are used to learn about the mind and mental activity, using the body as a vessel for this understanding. Tightness and tension starts to leave the body and a feeling of unending space and awareness is created. This happens because the physical movement increases the circulation of blood and oxygen, which isolates and dissolves the areas that are tense allowing them to become relaxed and one with the whole again. If an area is stiff and you stretch that tense area you bring about relief for a few moments or even hours. Space allows relief and release on the physical and mental level. If practiced regularly and correctly with awareness, Yoga and Meditation bring health and vitality to the practitioner on all levels. As Guruji Iyengar said - "Yoga cannot be explained in words it needs to be experienced."
When Yoga is done on only the physical level with an intention that is not one of Balance, then it is not correct to call it Yoga, it can only be described as another form of movement or exercise, which is outward looking. Yoga is turning the focus to the inner environment and intended to bring peace on an individual as well as on a universal level. Yoga and Meditation allow us to touch silence, be still and go deep within. The practice of Yoga and Meditation teaches us to be less reactive to our external environment, through understanding that we can only control our own emotions and how we behave in the world. The combination of asana practice and focusing and quietening the mind is meditation, which is Yoga. They go hand in hand, it's not correct to think of them as individual entities.
It sometimes takes a concerted effort to shift the mind and allow full vitality and balance to occur. Accepting that every part of life – from our physical history, to how we interact with others, every attitude, action, opinion and belief that we carry inside, affects our biological makeup, and is only the first stage in the healing process. That acceptance of being totally responsible has to move from the mental level into the physical level, into the body, and be felt viscerally and cellularly and believed wholly. Yoga and Meditation give us the tools to start and continue on the path towards health, balance and harmony. When we are able to see who we truly are – that is Yoga.
“Observe…, but don’t react.”
Yoga Master Teacher Sharat Arora
December 2015, Arambol, North Goa, India