Yoga Exercises As Meditation

C Christian DahindenStarred Page By C Christian Dahinden, 7th Mar 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Health>Exercise & Fitness

This article explores a commonly held notion that the yoga postures and meditation are somehow different stages of yoga and should be practiced separately. It is my experience that the two complement each other very well as a single practice. Though taking the time to consciously care for ourselves should be a priority in our lives, it isn't always possible. In todays fast paced world many practitioners simply need an efficient way to attend their bodies and minds.

The Purpose Of Practice

Practice is the transformative aspect of yoga. Without it our understanding of yoga remains merely conceptual.

An analogy:

Thinking about an apple tree doesn’t bear the actual fruit of an apple to eat no matter how vividly we picture it. Similarly, each of us has to cultivate the tree of practice for ourself. Starting where we are, we place the seed of practice into the earth of our daily living. If we water and nourish it, it grows. If we prune it carefully, it yields a healthy crop. Just like a tree, our practice is met with the storms and droughts of life, undergoing many “obstacles” to growth along the way. If we can find the determination to practice again and again, no matter how bad the storm or how long the “drought”, then our practice can become truly useful and profound for us. As the poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī, better known in the west as Rumi, wrote:

Come, come, whoever you are.

Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving — it doesn’t matter,

Ours is not a caravan of despair.

Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times,

Come, come again, come.

The What, How And Why Of Meditation

Dhyana, or meditation, simply means to see reality as it is, not how we would like it to be. It is essentially an art of honest reflection and contemplation based in experiential observation. That said, there are many different types of meditation practice.

The type of meditation practice we will be exploring in this article, is the practice of intentionally observing the interaction between the body and the mind. That is, between the sensations present in the body and how the mind reacts and interprets those sensations. A certain determined poise and equanimity is required here. This is because when the mind is concentrated on observing any experience, the experience tends to intensify. And when observing the myriad ways in which we create and perpetuate suffering in our lives through the development of habitual craving and aversion toward pleasant and unpleasant thoughts, feelings and situations, the experience can reach intensities that can send a meditator packing.

This type of meditation is usually practiced formally, sitting upright with crossed legs on the floor. It involves remaining conscious of the dialogue that ensues in the mind in reaction to the sensations present within the body. This is the kind of meditation practice that makes people say, “Meditation is so uncomfortable, every time I try to concentrate I can’t because my knees hurt or my legs fall asleep or my back burns between the shoulder blades and my mind, oh don’t get me started…that thing never shuts up!.”

Because of this, many people think that the technique is too difficult or doesn’t work for them. Unfortunately, it escapes them that there is a good reason why this particular form of meditation is done in this particular way. It is supposed to be uncomfortable!

Now I know this sounds masochistic but hear me out. It is supposed to be uncomfortable because those unpleasant sensations will cause the mind to react with aversion and escape. That means the process of pain becoming suffering (psychologically) is not turned into an abstract concept, but rather, is put into a living context. This enables us to observe the process as it actually occurs. The method is based upon the simple observation that: when we get what we want we want more, that doesn’t happen and so we become unhappy; when we don’t get what we want we become unhappy; when we don’t want something and manage to avoid it, we expect to be able to avoid all the things and situations we don't want all the time, and we can’t, so we become unhappy; when we don’t want something but we get it anyway we become unhappy. Silly isn't it?

We are often dissatisfied with our lives and ignorant of the process of habitual reaction that is causing our unhappiness. We don’t see reality as it is, we try to make it into what we would like it to be, and when we can’t, we escape into a world where we are the heroes (or martyrs) of our own private mythology. This process accumulates over time and results in blind reactions to bodily sensations of pleasure and pain that increasingly unconsciously influence how we think and feel.

But by consciously observing this process instead, choosing, with calm determination, to “watch without reacting”, not wanting to change anything about the experience, the mechanism is disrupted and the mind slowly begins to free itself from the clutches of its habitual patterns of destructive behavior. The result is increased happiness, patience, peace and an ability to handle the ups and downs of life gracefully.

That said, I would still like to express something to you before we move on. If it is a bigger bite than you can chew, don't worry about it. Just keep up your practice, the moment will come of its own.

Every form of yoga practice, regardless of what it is, is preparatory. The same is true for Buddhist yogis. All practices are preparatory precisely because they are practices. There is still a practitioner, a persona, who must practice something in order to attain or achieve something. It is a just a game that we play in order to develop our ability to stay present with what is, as it is. To come to the final seeing, nirvana, enlightenment, what ever you want to label it, the identification of your essential Being with mind/body personality must be recognized as inherently limited, thus false. That is, once we have learned to watch the play of the body/mind without constantly getting caught up in its dramas and stories, we can begin to distinguish between the storyteller and the one to which the stories are told.

Asana As Meditation

That brings us to the yoga postures as meditation. I often hear yoga teachers and practitioners talk about yoga postures and meditation as if they were two separate disciplines. When I ask them how they meditate the answers usually involve some form of visualization, chanting, relaxation, intentional breathing exercise or a combination thereof. When I ask them how they practice asana, their answers are just as diverse.

Some people focus more on movement or balance, others on relaxation and flexibility. Some practice asana first and then meditation in the same session, others enjoy meditating in the morning and practice asana later in the day or in the evening. Yet asana doesn’t have to be different, or practiced separately, from meditation. In fact, asana is the perfect medium through which to practice meditation.

To practice meditation while in asana, we apply determined, calm, equanimous observation to the physical sensations and resulting mental dialogue inspired by the asana in which we are engaged. For the same reason that sitting for hours with crossed legs on the floor becomes uncomfortable and, thus, offers us a chance to watch the inner drama of desperate craving and aversion (desperately craving for the pain to be over and the pleasure of comfort to return), the challenges that asanas present us also activate our habitual reaction patterns, creating a similar inner theatre.

Over time, we get better at being patient observers. Difficult asanas become easier, and can be performed with a greater sense of inner poise. Our practice becomes more peaceful, our formal sitting meditations more profound and eventually that patient and peaceful awareness spills over into every aspect of our daily lives. Suddenly washing dishes, traffic jams, waiting for the bus, even being fired from a job becomes meditation. I know it sounds crazy. 20 years ago I would have said the same thing. But now I am on the other side of that process and can only challenge you to find out for yourself.

As I mentioned at the end of the previous section, these types of meditative exercises begin the process of unifying our seemingly fragmented lives and personalities into a single graceful movement of awareness. Once the noise and distractions of craving and aversion are transcended ,through simply seeing and understanding what is happening, the still center from which they are witnessed becomes naturally self-evident. That doesn't mean that thoughts and personality never assert themselves as ego again, they do. Your just not interested anymore. The drama doesn't hold your attention. The result is sat-chit-anand (true, conscious, joy of existence). And to me that sounds rather like the definition of another Sanskrit word we are all familiar with yoga.


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author avatar Retired
7th Mar 2013 (#)

Outstanding and bravo on your star. Even daily life is meditation in action once one has a foundation of practice and Yoga-meditation is a good, too. Well voiced! Namaste, rd

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
9th Mar 2013 (#)

In-depth treatise and profound, Christian, thanks. Though not a yoga practitioner, I try to change what I can and accept those I can't - and that gives me balance in life. Then, others are entitled to their views just as I am - siva

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author avatar C Christian Dahinden
10th Mar 2013 (#)

Thanks for the time you took to read it Siva. I will be posting more articles on yoga as well as the poetry, possibly on diet including lots of recipes. If you find anything here of use, I am most pleased. Have a good one!

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author avatar spoonstix
23rd Mar 2013 (#)

Voted up, love meditation. It keeps me centered and great for self awareness.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
15th Mar 2014 (#)

Good evening, C Christian Dahinden, as I commented on another of your pages, and called you by the wrong name, I appreciate your approach to your topics. Informative and I like the subtle humor you weave through your articles. ~Marilyn

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