I’m often confused when people people say they “don’t do yoga, but do meditation”. Why? Because, they are one and the same. Meditation is a part of a yoga practice. If you have a meditation practice, you have a yoga practice. In the West people are lead to believe that yoga is just the bendy poses [asana] seen on instagram. And yes, that’s also a part of yoga. But, you see yoga isn’t limited to one thing.
The word yoga has been taken over to encompass something that is only a small part of it (the physical). Having a yoga practice is not necessarily something you do. It’s something you are. It’s a lifestyle. People are doing asana and thinking that’s all they need to DO yoga, rather than thinking what do I need to BE yoga.
The 8 limb path of yoga – meditation is yoga
Reading Pantanjali’s 8 limb path, we can see that yoga is a practice. This path guides you to live a life where you can reach your fullest spiritual potential. The end goal is Samahdi, finding balance, peace, discovering your true self and bliss/enlightenment. As you can see below in the 8 Limb Yoga path. Notice that it includes meditation. So meditation is yoga!
People often ask the difference between dhyana (meditation) and dharana (concentration). The two are linked. I liken it to learning to walk before your run. Dhyana is the practice for Dharana. The difference subtle.
Dhyana is the practice of focusing, albeit momentarily, on an extrinsic or intrinsic thing. If you’ve ever tried to sit in meditation you’ll probably be aware of the random thoughts that enter your brain. Dhyana is the practice of bringing your thoughts back to focus on the one thing. Instead of snapping back to reality, you refocus your thought to the present task. It’s focus and concentration.
Dharana is focusing your thoughts one thing for a prolonged period of time. However, it’s uncommon initially to be able to focus long-term on one thing without thoughts arising. Hence the need for Dhyana first. This means that many things can be meditative if we allow them to be. Ever had the experience where time flies, and 3 hours feels like 5 minutes? That’s Dharana. When I was young, I used to become so engrossed in reading books, that everything else seemed to simply cease to exist. My Mum would be calling my name but I was simply not there, I was present only in the book. All else ceased to exist.
The benefits of meditation
If I had to pick one of the parts of the 8 limb path that is most useful in modern society it would be meditation (and its precursor concentration). Technology has our attention spans reduced to that of the proverbial goldfish. Swami Vivikananda reported that the mind is “a drunken monkey” when he introduced meditation to the United States.
Meditation teaches us that being present is the way to resonate on a higher frequency and reach our true selves. We unlearn the need for constant stimulation and instead learn patience, and the ability to respond vs react. It’s my belief that if we want our children to sit and focus in schools we need to teach them how.
So how do we meditate?
We start with dhyana, concentration, first. Many people believe that multitasking is possible, when it isn’t. Instead of completing ONE task at a time. Instead, we have many tasks unfinished. We’ve all been there right? Say it with me “multitasking is a myth!”. Step one in meditation is to realize that we need to stop trying to multitask.
One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that you have to sit crossed legged. If you thought that too, let me know in the comments! The fact is that you can sit however you want. You just need to sit, be still, be quiet, and focus on one thing. Be it the the third eye, a mantra, or the breath. Observe other thoughts as they rise and redirect your attention to your practice. You simply need to be able to notice, and bring the focus inwards again (Dhyana). And once that begins to occur for longer periods, you get glimpses of true meditation (Dharana).
There are so many ways to meditate. Many people do it in silence. Generally that’s not for me. I prefer some sound, be it a sound bath, gentle music, or a guided meditation. Yes, guided meditation is ok! In fact it’s a great way to train your brain to be present.
Other forms of meditation
Others ways include walking meditation. Honestly many activities can become meditation if you do it with focus, undivided attention, and with your whole being. Like I said before, reading and writing for me is meditative. But I’ve also had meditative painting or gardening sessions. I’m sure musicians have experienced it too. I’ve got friends that swear by swimming laps or running/cycling as meditation. I would add that for these activities to be meditative it needs to have a feeling of effortlessness, and zero thought interruption. Often referred to as “the zone”. Again considering the multitasking myth, it also needs to be single point focus.
There are many that say meditation cannot be taught, but it simply arises. I’m not sure it can be taught, but it can be trained. However it cannot be forced. I believe this because as soon as we think we’re in meditation then we’re no longer there. It’s an ebb and flow, in and out from dhyana to meditation.
I’ve only had a few occurrences of what I would call true meditation. I describe it as an experience where there are no thoughts, and time is no longer linear. While in this experience I’ve seen colors, sheet music, and pages of words. The colors I let come and go. I have in the past tried to read the music or words. But when I do, in an instant, they are gone. And I am no longer in meditation and back in concentration because instead I am controlling. I’m chasing something, rather than letting it simply arise. When it happens now, I just let it come and go. Allowing it to occur without judgement, control or longing.
Free Download: 5 minute guided meditation
I know many struggle with meditation, so I decided to offer a free download for a 5 minute guided meditation. Just download. Import to your phone and you’re ready to begin your journey inwards.
All I ask in return is that you share this post. This way we can encourage more people to reach their fullest potential, and get in touch with their higher selves. Plus we can share the message that meditation IS yoga!
- Do you meditate? If yes do you prefer silence or guided?
- What are your thoughts on the 8-limb path?
- Are you interested in more guided meditations?