As I pass through yet another solstice and the modern winter holiday celebrations, I appreciate my own meditation practice, however sporadic it is at times. So I thought today would be a good day to begin introducing the topic of meditation on this blog.
Even trying to introduce the topic of meditation is a bit daunting, however, because there are many eastern traditions that have varied and unique approaches and emphases when they define meditation. So let’s narrow the scope and look at hatha yoga or even classical yoga, where we first find Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras placing dhyana or meditation within the context of the eight limbs of yoga, or the Ashtanga Yoga.
In this model, meditation is considered the second of two stages, beginning with dharana, or one-pointed concentration, and then moving onto dhyana, or continuous concentration or focus on an object. An analogy that Mr. Iyengar and others have used to explain this goes like this: If the mind were a water faucet and the object of my meditation was the bucket below it, when I first begin to focus, the water comes out in drops and moves towards the bucket, but with breaks in between, which represent distraction of the mind from the object. If my practice gets stronger and steadier, a time arrives when my focus is unbroken, represented as a continuous stream of water flowing toward the bucket. This is the stage of “meditation” or dhyana. I am still aware of “me” as the faucet, and the thing I am observing, the bucket, as separate from me, but I am really starting to understand what “bucket” is on a deep level.
|Mushroom at Silver Beach by Brad Gibson|
For us, the process begins on a more practical note, when in our first yoga asana practices we are encouraged to simply follow the flow of the breath with our minds to the exclusion of other possible things to focus on. This is essentially the first stage described above: dharana. Anyone who has tried this, if they are really honest, will admit how hard it is to stay on track. One of my teachers used to say that if you could follow the breath for three full cycles of in and out without another distracting thought breaking your concentration, you would reach enlightenment immediately—his way of saying that this is really hard to do, even though it sounds easy. However, despite this difficulty, I’ve found it to be well worth the effort. On a very basic level, it is one direct way to elicit the relaxation response we’ve talked about in past posts (see here). And if it could eventually lead to some bliss state the yogis also talk about, bring it on!
In future posts we will discuss other meditation techniques, but for the holidays ahead, stick to the basics of simple breath awareness, done seated or in Savasana, and I’ll talk to you in the new year.