I am often asked about the connection between yoga and meditation. The answer is simple, but may come as a surprise. Mediation is traditionally seen as an aspect of yoga. Meditation relates to yoga like any limb relates to the whole body. Unfortunately, nowadays yoga is often seen almost exclusively in terms of its physical aspect — asana. But asana, just as meditation, is really only 1 aspect of yoga.Yoga in its broadest sense is a all-encompassing system, spanning the entire range between point and infinity. In that sense it is a system (philosophy and practical applications) that brings together (“yuj” = to unite / bring together) everything in life. It is to bring to one’s awareness the unified basis of all diverse phenomena and allow the individual to recognise his/her cosmic status. Point and infinity, individual and cosmos, unity and diversity — that is the full range and application of yoga.
Meditation is a means to experience the state of yoga (the state of unity). “Yoga is the complete cessation of the impulses of the mind” — Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.2. It is the experience of the ground state of the mind, where unity dominates and all the diverse forms of mental activity have temporarily come to a standstill. It is the experience of inner peace and harmony, the state of pure being, pure existence, pure consciousness. And that state, so say the wise, is pure bliss, pure, unqualified inner happiness.
Meditation, as one of the aspects of yoga, is a means to experience that state. As such, the yoga tradition recognizes both the state of yoga (in terms of samadhi, the unified state of mind), as well as the process of yoga. The process of yoga leads to the state of yoga. Meditation, in terms of the settling of the mind, can be equalled to the process of yoga, leading to the state of yoga. As such, meditation is present in every aspect of yoga, be it asana, pranayama (breathing exercises) or other practical applications that lead to the experience of the state of unity. Meditation is itself an aspect of yoga and, at the same time, is present in every other aspect of yoga, like oil is present in a sesame seed, as well as in a pumpkin seed or sunflower seed.
When you practice (yoga) asana, get comfortable in a pose, and allow the mind to settle down to its least excited state, a state of inner alertness, then that process may be called meditation. When, through the practice of pranayama, you transcend the activity of inhalation and exhalation and the breath is naturally suspended between the two, then that process is a process of meditation, a process of the settling of the mind.
According to this, the process of meditation is really the key to all aspects of yoga. But wait, that would give all other aspects of yoga a secondary status, right? At this stage, many yoga experts would jump and virtually reach for my throat (in a zen kind of way, of course…). What about the theory that breath is really primary and the key ingredient to other yoga practices? Can we not also look at the refinement of breath as that which drives meditation or even the practice of asana? In the many thousands of hours of my own personal practice, I often experienced that, in the process of mediation, the breath becomes finer and finer and that the refinement of breath coincides with the settling of the mind (and body). Could it be that breath really is the secret ingredient to gain the experience of yoga?
The answer may surprise you — it is a clear and resounding YES. The process of pranayama (superficially translated as “breathing exercise”) is present in all aspects of yoga as well, be it asana (physical yoga), meditation, and others. So how could meditation and pranayama both be the key ingredient to their own domain, as well as to all other aspects of yoga? The answer is, because yoga is a fully integrative system, where every aspect is present as the essence of every other aspect. It is like a hologram: Take any point in the hologram and you’ll find the entire hologram within that point. Take any aspect of yoga and you will find in it all aspects of yoga. If yoga is present, then all aspects of yoga are there. It’s like a table which has 4 legs. Pull on any one of the 4 and all others, as well as the entire table will follow. This is why many of the wise of all ages see yoga as a complete system of life, key to mastering anything in the life of an individual and even bring harmony and peace to society at large.
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