The Relationship between Meditation and Yoga
Centuries ago, not many people from Europe and the United States knew anything about yoga. People perceived it as some incomprehensible practice of the ancient Hindu people who dedicated their entire life to it. In the course of time, people all around the world recognized the multidimensional value of yoga. They noticed that the practice of ‘asanas’ improves one’s well-being, relieves the nervous tension, eases stress, alleviates the back pain, improves digestion, contributes to losing extra pounds and might even change the quality of one’s private life. It encouraged many people to go to sport clubs and private yoga sessions to achieve these aims. At the same time, people tend to underestimate the value of meditation for their yoga practice. Due to some prejudices or misconceptions, they do not see that yoga is useless without the proper meditation. Meanwhile, meditation is an integral element of yoga practice, and its value among yoga practitioners should be recognized.
To start with, the process of meditation is one of the most natural states of human mind. For example, people tend to acquire this state, while driving the car. The process of driving requires concentrations and abstracting from distractions. To some extent, it clears one’s mind from unnecessary thoughts. The same can be said about certain physical activities, such as practicing yoga or running the long distances, which also help to clear off one’s mind. Regarding physical activity, as a meditation technique, it is confirmed by the research. According to the data presented by Michael Murphy, the cofounder of Esalen Institute, “the concentration used in Western sports is itself a form of meditation” (The National Institutes of Health, 2000). Apart from the tedious work, which requires concentration, it also brings one into the state of meditation. A similar condition can be achieved via repeating mantras or counting exhalations and inhalations.
Unfortunately, misconceptions about meditation are common among the majority of urban population. When typing the word “meditation” into the search engines, such as Google, one is most likely to see the photos of girls dressed in white clothes, sitting in the lotus position, with the expression of the utmost satisfaction on their faces. The websites are likely to describe the process of meditation as a deep immersion in one’s self or grasping the essence of the universe. In general, they tend to describe the process of meditation as something exotic and obscure. People often confuse meditation with other conditions. On the one hand, one of the popular misconceptions equates the meditation to being half-asleep. On the other hand, being asleep is not a meditation, because while sleeping people do not stay awake and do not perceive what happens in reality. Another popular misconception is meditation and fantasizing to music. Fantasies, while listening to the music and attempt to fly into space, also do not lead to the desired state because it is necessary to be here and now. Meditation requires concentration, abstention from thoughts, judgments, memories, attachments and plans. After having acquired such a state, the universe opens itself to observer’s meaning, that is new horizons with an endless potential.
In reality, the yogis perceive meditation, as a special state, which requires sitting position, open eyes and concentration on the present time. The most adequate definition of meditation can be found in the book by Kathleen McDonald,
Meditation is an activity of the mental consciousness. It involves one part of the mind observing, analyzing and dealing with the rest of the mind. […] Its ultimate aim is to awaken a very subtle level of consciousness and to use it to discover reality, directly and intuitively (Mc Donald, 2005).
Under meditation, the mental oscillations decrease with preservation of the clear understanding of reality. This is an unexpectedly simple condition, which has nothing special in it. Nevertheless, this state is not as easy to achieve, as it may seem at the first glance. The main precondition for the correct practice of yoga and meditation is appropriate breathing technique. According to Andrew Weil from University of Arizona in Tucson, breathing technique brings out such remarkable results as, “lowering blood pressure, ending heart arrhythmias, improving long-standing patterns of poor digestion, improving blood circulation throughout the body, decreasing anxiety, and allowing people to get off addictive anti-anxiety drugs and improving sleep and energy cycles” (Krucoff, 2002). Though, there is little research confirming the healing power of breathing in the West, the majority of Eastern practices, such as yoga, prove it.
As Carol Krucoff puts it, “one of the few studies to examine a clinical application of yoga “belly breathing” found that menopausal women who learned the technique were able to reduce the frequency of hot flashes by about 50%” (Krucoff, 2002). Apart from that, “deep diaphragmatic breathing and other mind-body techniques […] significantly reduce […] anxiety, depression, and other forms of emotional distress, according to research by Alice Domar” (Krucoff, 2002). Another kind of yoga is called Laughter Yoga, and it is also based on breathing. According to Madan Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga, explains that this yoga combines simple yoga breathing techniques with “laughter meditation”. She claims that such yoga “relieves stress, boosts immunity, fights depression, and eventually makes people into more positive thinkers” (Kanigel, 2009).
It all shows that when combined with yoga, meditation can acquire the healing power. In particular, Dr. Herbert Benson emphasizes on the proven value of meditation. He believes that the main positive outcome of the meditation is the acquisition of inner peace, which he calls “a relaxation response”. Based on his observations, he deduces that being in this state,
People can call upon God or their particular object of faith to experience a succor unmatched by any other form of belief. When you let yourself focus, and get your harried mind out of the way of your body’s natural healing ability, calling on the beliefs that mean the most to you in life, peace that defies description may be possible (Benson and Stark, 1996).
However, “a relaxation response” is the first stage of meditation. It helps one to calm down, escape from aggression, and intuitively discover reality. Still, human mind needs something as a basis to suppress the thoughts, while being in this state. Breathing, visual images, sandal aroma can become the yogi’s basis, and many yoga practitioners often use it. However, it is not enough for the transformation yogis expect. The state of meditation should be absolute to see the nature of one’s mind, and abstract from one’s desires, fears, dreams, and spiritual sufferings. It means it should be acquired without external help of any basis. In other words, “the challenge of meditation is to reach a stage where the slogan – the deceivingly complex mantras used to focus the mind – overwhelms all other distractions” (Brown, 2008). What is more, it requires sitting for some time motionless, with straight back and opened eyes. The interesting fact is that yoga was intended as the set of exercises for preparation of the body for the meditative sitting. Transcendental meditation later arose as an elimination of some nonessential elements from yoga (The National Institutes of Medicine, 2000).
Thus, the practice of meditation is necessary, so that any urban dweller could see things as they really are without the prejudices and free of emotions. When practicing yoga, people improve their health state and receive additional strength to struggle with the negative habits of thought. Indeed, destructive habits of mind can contribute to such physiological indispositions as the pain in the back or insomnia. It means that without meditation yoga is useless. Together, meditation and yoga bring benefits to their practitioners. Meditation would help them overcome their unconscious blocks, spread their shoulders, move their joints, and stretch their tendons. The efforts that one puts into worthless affairs, would be directed into the right direction. Meditation boosts the achievement of nirvana that consists in a special clarity of mind, deprived of all kinds of desires. People need to work with their mind and their behavior to preserve the acquired changes. Thus, the acquired “relaxation response” helps yogi see the progress in their practice.
To conclude, many people recognize the value of yoga. They see the positive changes as their well-being improves. Nevertheless, many people underestimate the value of meditation, an integral element of yoga. The most common misconceptions are related to regarding meditation as half dream or relaxation to music. Meanwhile, meditation is a natural process that people often practice unconsciously. People meditate while driving the car, exercising or concentrating on some kind of work. Comparing to that, real meditation requires more efforts, and the starting point is the appropriate breathing. Abdominal breathing allows those who practice yoga and meditation achieve desired results and even more. Because of the relaxed body, people acquire the opportunity to relax their mind and develop a new mindset. Therefore, they achieve the aim of the practice of yoga, which is positive transformation in one’s life. People unconsciously meditate every day and the practice of yoga with meditation can help people benefit from such conditions, making one’s life more conscious and happy.