Meditation has become almost trendy today in the circles of yoga, spirituality, and self-help. However, we must not mislead ourselves into thinking that meditation is merely sitting down in stillness – just as stretching is not Yoga, and the postures are a small element or fragment of the entire Yoga system.
I say this not to deter, intimidate, or exclude anyone. It is merely my attempt to educate, so you are more able to find true benefit and a more enriching experience in your time invested in mastering the mind and meditation.
In yoga philosophy we have the concepts of Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva. It could be said that a sincere experience of meditation takes us to a deep state of sattva. Rajas and tamas are the qualities (gunas) that prevent or limit us from dropping into this state of real clarity and purity.
No doubt you can yourself relate to the experience of sitting in stillness, yet your mind is racing – distracted, busy, worried, anxious, or in just a steady stream of thoughts (rajas)? Perhaps you can relate also to the experience of sitting in stillness and feeling heavy, sluggish, dull, or sleepy (tamas)? These two extremes can be understood as rajas and tamas manifesting in the mind.
We are ultimately looking for that sweet spot in-between, that sattvic and most pure state of mind – which is not swinging like a pendulum between busy-ness and agitation or dullness and lethargy.
This knowledge may now leave you wondering: What are the key methods of stabilising the mind, to find this centrepoint of harmony and true equilibrium? How can I genuinely still the mental chatter of the mind, even for a fleeting moment?
This is where the multi-faceted system of Yoga is so relevant and useful, far beyond it’s a stereotype as a mere form of exercise.
The physical postures are generally the most common gateway to a path of Yoga and meditation (although some certainly do explore yoga coming from a meditation background). Through the wisdom of Yoga philosophy, beyond the ethical and moral guidance which we initially study (the yamas and niyamas), the next stage – or layer – is the physical postures (asanas). These poses are traditionally understood to reduce the excess of rajas in the mind . No doubt you will have experienced at the end of a yoga class that real sense of the mind quietening, slowing down. At this time both body and mind more easily slip into a meditative awareness. There is a state of calm that washes over us after an effective yoga practice. This is the reduction of rajas (and is not the same as collapsing in exhaustion!).
If one is completely immersed and present in any activity then there can absolutely be a meditative-like experience. But this is not classical contemplation, because a portion of the mind is focused on doing something. Falling asleep whilst sitting in stillness is also not contemplation because the mind then gets engaged in trying to not fall asleep!
Yes, physical stillness is required for classical contemplation or meditation – with ease in the body and no sleepiness in the mind. Laying down in stillness is not contemplation (i.e: Savasana or Yoga Nidra are not acts of meditation). Therefore, when we have obtained asana, in the true sense of the word (sitting with ease and stillness), only then is it possible to practice true contemplation and meditation. This is the true purpose of our physical practice. It is important to keep this in the forefront of your mind when you do your asana.
The next layer along the path of Yoga is that of Pranayama, or breathing practices/awareness. It is traditionally performed separately to the poses themselves. Pranayama is not only a gateway for utilising the stillness that our physical practice has provided us, but both mentally and energetically the breathing practices help to reduce the quality of tamas (sleepiness, dullness, heaviness) which you can experience sometimes after the physical yoga practice. You may feel very calm and restful, yet left also with a real sleepiness. Particularly if the physical practice has been excessive, if you have over-exerted, or if you’ve overheated. These circumstances will result in collapsing into tamas.
The physical yoga poses will reduce rajas, but often produce excess tamas.
The pranayama will be the key to reducing this tamas. And it is via this relationship, linking all the layers of Yoga, that we can start to access and understand the most refined existence of meditative stillness. After utilising a healthy, consistent physical and breath-work practice, this leads us to the next stage which is withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara). Withdrawing away from sensory stimulation of the five senses – a path of moving from the external to the internal – can lead us into the most subtle energetic layer or presence within.
Let me declare importantly that my meditation practice is far from “perfect”. Although, through my understanding of the deeper facets of the yoga system, and through learning these concepts from significant teachers, I have had a first hand experience of this real presence of internal stillness of the mind. And it was this that was the inspiration behind the creation of the Bliss Body Meditation Series – to help guide people through the subtle layers of the body (often referred to as sheaths/koshas). The meditation series will guide you through the five layers – which are just like lampshades covering the light within. Through this understanding we can open the doors to gaining sincere knowledge. Yet it is the experience or application of the knowledge where we start to cultivate true wisdom. Discipline and consistency is key. Trust is key Patience is key.
We must look at meditation as something very pure and very deep…
Far beyond and more beautiful than sitting in stillness.
Do you know someone stepping onto the path of meditation? Or someone seeking more depth in their yoga practice? Please share this knowledge with them.
Do you have any experiences or gems of insight from your path of study in the realms of meditation or yoga? I’d love you to leave a comment below – someone else may benefit from your contribution!