Meditation is central to yoga, as it improves the well-being of your body, mind and life.
My favourite Swami told of the time that a neighbour asked her, “You teach exercises, don’t you?” Swami was most indignant and replied, “No, I do not. I teach yoga!!” For though yoga includes movements and postures (the asanas), it certainly doesn’t end there. In fact when I was doing my weekly yoga classes in Brisbane, my ever-patient teacher told us that the asanas make up just a tiny fraction of yoga! I – the “know-it-all” that I was – assumed that the teacher was delusional; after all, everyone knows that yoga IS the postures and putting your body into strange positions!
Well, guess what? It turns out – surprise, surprise – that the teacher was right! Fancy that!
A few weeks, and a few blogs ago, I mentioned Patanjali and his little book, “The Yoga Sutras”, the second verse of which is “Yoga is to calm the fluctuations of the mind”. In our fast-paced world, finding solitude is more precious that gold and diamonds; finding peace of mind can be like finding Heaven.
How many of the West’s health problems stem from stress? Heart disease, high blood pressure, poor functioning of our immune systems, some cancers, many mental illnesses and respiratory diseases. How often do we hear of someone who has died, whose close friends are shocked because “He/she was so physically fit!” In all likelihood, the muscles were fit, but not the vital organs or the mind.
Enter stage right, the brain. I assume that all kids are taught in primary school – as I was – that the brain controls the body. It stands to reason, then, that for our bodies to be in top working order, our brains have to be also.
The brain and the body work synergistically. In yoga we say that the body is the gross form of the brain and the brain is the subtle form of the body. As we work on our body, we simultaneously work on our brain. When we work on our brain, our body is affected also.
Unlike other standard forms of exercises – which focus entirely on the body – yoga is all about encouraging brain and body to move together for optimal health. A good example of this is the balance practices. As we improve our physical balance, our mental balance and concentration are improved; when we improve our concentration, our physical balance improves.
To work directly on the brain, we have meditation. Meditation – as we garner from the quote by Patanjali – is the raison d’etre* of yoga.
Through meditation practice we can get to know our true selves; we can gradually learn to stop the steady flow of thoughts. You know, the ones that keep circling around in your head sometimes for decades: “Why did that person do that awful thing to me?”, “Why did I say that embarrassing thing ?” , “That person must hate me because…..”, “If only I’d done this instead of that”. We can learn to get past all that and sit in stillness, complete stillness.
But its not just the clutter in our mind that meditation can help with – it can also assist us to move beyond the urges that are triggered by heightened emotion and instinct. For some of us, these “instincts” could be the urge to over-eat or over-drink, or to get angry and act out destructively.
A few weeks ago, my big dog got out. Being a hunting dog, within seconds she had sniffed out, terrified and chased my poor cat. Although I was cross with her for terrifying the cat, I knew that she couldn’t help it. She acted on instinct. But we humans don’t have to. We can train our brains to override what might be an instinct – it may not really be an instinct but a behaviour we learned when very young, but we call it an “instinct” so we don’t have to do anything about it. These “instincts” might be anger, or greed or aggression, or anything.
But almost invariably, they can be modified or eradicated; they don’t have to rule our lives.
* Reason for being
Image credit: https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/bright-brain_796482.htm