Yoga for Meditation – how they are integrated
When you think of yoga you may think of it as physical positions and body beautiful. However, if you delve a bit deeper it is also about breathing and meditation.
For most of us today yoga is a form of exercise, a way of releasing the tension the body accumulates from, for example, long hours sitting in chairs hunched over desks. While there is nothing wrong with using yoga to release physical tension, yoga can and was intended to be much more.
How Yoga Began
The word Yoga means unity and originates from the Sanskrit phrase “to yoke”. Yoga is way of balancing the body and mind through practice of Asana (postures), Prananyama (breathing techniques), Dhyana (meditation). The practice of yoga is capable of transforming a lazy body into a vibrant body and a dull mind into an active, observant and aware one.
Yoga existed in India more that 10,000 years ago and has been developed over the years by sages all over the world. Unlike today where yoga has become easily accessible to the masses through classes and literature, in the early days it was kept secret and was only passed on from guru (teacher) to student by word of mouth. Yoga only took on a more definite shape in The Upanishads (circa 900BC), the ancient scriptures written by sages whilst in deep meditation.
The Yoga Sutras
The Yoga Sutras, the first comprehensive account of yoga was composed by a sage called Patanjali who is thought to have lived in India sometime between 500BC and 200BC. Patanjali wrote 196 sutras or aphorisms. Each sutra contains a wealth of wisdom intended to guide the student towards knowledge of their true self. Although the sutras were written centuries ago their wisdom is still applicable today. They include:
- Postures (asanas)
- Breath awareness (pranayama)
- Sense withdrawal (pratyahara)
- Concentration (dharana)
- Meditation (dhyana)
The Postures (asanas)
There were originally more that 8 million asanas, most of which were named after animals. Observing how animals lived in harmony with their environment and their bodies, sages started to imitate them so that human kind could acquire this knowledge and also learn to live in harmony with themselves and the environment. They came to understand how different physical positions have different effects on the body and mind and how certain postures contribute to the strength and flexibility of the body and induce a peaceful state of mind. The more effortlessly postures are practised the more the energy channels of the body are opened, releasing blockages and tension both mentally and physically.
The Breath (Prana)
Prana (breath) is a word often used in yoga and is the vital life force. In any asana, breaking down the posture with the breath and using the breath with posture is pranayama. By consciously taking long deep breaths and simultaneously placing you attention on different parts of the body, impurities are removed from the mind and body. There are also a number of specific breathing practises used to cleanse the body. The body and the mind are not separate entities and every mental knot has a corresponding physical knot and vice versa. The aim of Yoga is to release these knots and integrate the body and the mind.
Quietening the Senses (pratyahara)
Bringing the mind and senses under control is known as pratyahara. By silencing the senses and taking the mind inwards, one can unite with the self. Various practices help coax the mind to move inwards and include meditation and remaining in silence.
Dharana (concentration) is described by Patanjali as “concentration on a single point or attention on what one is doing” i.e. what we refer today as mindfulness. The mind becomes still and you just “be” with the experience without resorting to words so that the experience becomes deeper and is felt within you. It is a state of mind that becomes a “way of being”.
Dhyana or meditation takes us back to that space of being where deep rest can be experienced and enormous energy and vitality gained. While physical effort is required to build the body, a relaxed, quiet and still body and mind is required in order to meditate.
Yoga can be interpreted as a physical form of meditation and is often referred to as “active meditation”. It enhances your physical and mental body which in turn can and deepen your meditation practice.
Yoga Teacher, Lifeflow