Yoga: meditation and focus
This time, your asana practice has brought attention to the stillness in the breath cycle and after a simple pranayama practice I have invited you to focus on an object to hold the attention. In a discussion last week, I was asked to explain about this practice further. I was tongue-tied. I have accessed three articles for you to read and the references are at the end of this blog. My own practice is still developing and I hope the following gives you something to reflect on, encourage more questions and facilitate your own practice.
Patanjali’s yoga sutras contain four chapters, each with a number of aphorisms or sutras.
The sutras are condensed explanations about (1) what yoga is, (2) how to practice yoga, (3) the gifts or special powers that can be learned and (4) ultimately, the deep integration of the self with the Universe, the state of samadhi.
The antaraya or obstacles to a state of yoga are described in chapter 1, alongwith ways to counter the antaraya. This has been this year’s journey as described in November blog. Since September, we have discussed ways to counter the antaraya. We have to find the way that resonates for us personally. This includes focusing on a single principle, regulating the breath particularly the exhale and BK, mastery of the senses, meditating on purusa and the ‘light in the cave of the heart’, being in nature, seeking counsel, looking at our dreams and cultivating a positive attitude towards others (YS1.32-39).
(This term I have invited you to focus on an object rather than purusa. Purusa is elusive at the best of times and for some is not a part of their ideology. We have also brought our attention to the breath.)
Stay with me …
In the second chapter of the yoga sutras the eight limbs of yoga are described – astanga. The practice of astanga cultivates discernment and clear perception (ie yoga). The first 5 limbs are discussed at length in Chapter 2 and the final three limbs are discussed from the start of Chapter 3 (they are gifts offered through practice). I have talked about the last three limbs but you may not have realised: these are what I have referred to as the three steps of meditation. This is not accurate in yoga terms but I wanted to give some idea of the process of meditation. It is not one thing but an interaction of stages that are not always linear. We get distracted and pulled away from yoga. My experience is one step forwards two steps back, perhaps a jump, definitely a fall and lots of deep breathing.
The last three limbs of astanga are:
- Dharana: concentration, aptitude for directing mental activity, bringing our complete attention to one object or concept
- Dhyana: meditation, being in relationship with that object/concept, where there is a deeper understanding and interaction between you and the object
- Samadi: contemplation, complete integration with the object/concept of meditation. ‘The reality of the object is so intense we forget ourselves'(Bernard Bouanchaud in ‘The Essence of Yoga’)
For our yoga practice this term, the object is a focus for your awareness. Just as the breath can be. The object will begin as a physical entity that is separate from you. The mind will offer memories of descriptions about the object: its weight, its colour, its temperature, its sound, its meaning, its uses. The mind likes to be busy and wants something to do. It doesn’t want to be quiet. It certainly doesn’t want to be ignored. Eventually, it might give up its cause and just sit with the object. The potential journey is this: contemplation – meditation – freedom.
In being free we are not detached. We are clear in our perceptions of ourselves and of the world around us. Relationships can have the space that is needed to allow each party to develop, grow and be satisfied. We need to know where we end and the other begins. In being free, we are more available to be connected without attachment or restriction.
The potential of this gift leaves me awe-inspired.
Thank you for your continued presence.