Yoga theory applied

Application and adaptation of yoga techniques and philosophy

Yoga meditation

We heard a lot about meditation. People say: " I am going to meditate ! "


According to Patanjali's Yoga-Sûtra, meditation is the 7th of the eight limbs of ashtânga yoga. It appears right after "concentration" (dhârana). So let's see what meditation means in the context of Yoga.

The way how the eight limbs are presented in Yoga-Sûtra is not sequential, in the sense you should develop a member at a time. The use of the term "limb" suggests they should be developed all at the same time. What would be of a body with an extremely well developed arm and atrophied other limbs?

But in reality there is a certain sequence. If we are going to practice âsana  with a bad conscience because we verbally rude to someone, will we be able to concentrate? Will we get peace in our mind? No!

The same way, Patanjali speaks about concentration / meditation / samâdhi (in this order), for some reason. 

Let's stay with this last three limbs of ashtânga yoga and suppose that the others are as much in place as possible. So, first we have "concentration". Concentration is focusing our mind on an object. It is something that demands our will, at least in the beginning.

Here we can learn our first lesson about meditation. We choose the object. In other words, when we concentrate on something because it attracts our attention in that moment, like a film we did not previously decide to see, our attention may stay fixed on the "object", but this is not really what Patanjali meant. In those cases, our senses dragged us to the "object".

Then there is the subtle separation line between "concentration" and "meditation". "Meditation" is the state we achieve when after being concentrated on the object, our attention stays with the object without any more effort. You can think: "But that is what happens when I see such a film!" Right, but did you choose to meditate on that film?

The situation is very delicate.  We are talking about using the will to "do" something and then "turn it off", staying with the object. We don't voluntarily "turn off" the will, that is it doesn't depend on our will. The same happens when we "want" to sleep. As long as we are thinking that we "want" it, we stay awake.

We are too much used to "do" things, that is using our will in one direction. Do we know how to "turn it off"? Usually not. And without it... there is no meditation.

Many years ago I was reading a book of anatomy applied to yoga written by  M. M. Gore, an Indian doctor. I was very curious because he was saying that after taking a pose, we should relax our mind and abstain from wanting to go further. He was saying that this way we could in a certain way relax our cortex and he was talking about the benefits to the nervous system. I think he didn't want to go far way with his explanation. I am certain he was also thinking about meditation.

It is understandable not to want (and not to know how) to let go of our will in our everyday life. But on our yoga mat it is different, it is safe. There we can allow us to be what we are, we don't need to prove anything to anybody, we are safe - especially when we practice alone, because our ego is treacherous... This kind of will is related to our ego: we want (think of raga, one of the thinks that sooner or later will make us unhappy).

So, we need to have moments when we let go of the will and calm down the ego. It is a kind of training.

In the first chapter of Yoga-Sûtra (YS. I.39) Patanjali also tells us about the choice of the object of meditation. We will spend a lot of energy trying to concentrate on something that doesn't interest us. That is why we must choose an object that means something to us; it should attract us, (but not in the same way we were talking at the beginning of this page ! ). And it must be according to what is going to be said next.

Something very interesting happens when we meditate frequently on the same object: We absorb the qualities of the object of meditation. Unfortunately this happens when we choose the object or when we are dragged to it by our senses. I am sure everyone can tell an example of what was said. And apart from the meditation subject, this should also make us be more aware of what we choose to watch, or listen, even people with whom we spend time. 

It is important to retain that we absorb the qualities of the object of meditation.  So the best thing to do is to realize what we need. This is easier with the help of a teacher or a good friend. Then we start looking for the object that transmits us what we need. Try to keep away from conventions. What is good for someone is not necessarily good for another person, or you.