Category Archives for "meditation"
You have attended a yoga class, or are thinking of attending one. Often the thoughts arise, “will this ever be easy, when will I ‘get it,’ and what will this do for me?” We learn how to do some poses and styles of breathing, yet often get only cursory guidance concerning the purpose of these tools and how to get the most out of them (or perhaps don’t realize this guidance is necessary!). The poses, breathing, mantras, and visualizations are not yoga itself; they are tools that lead to yoga. Yoga itself is coming to an understanding of what you are and what you are not. The tools of yoga are meant to present you with a challenge in order to reveal your personality: what are your motivations, aversions, desires, and habits of thought? And out of those, determine what is good or not good for you: what should be discarded and what should be cultivated. Advanced yoga is a mental state, not a pose or some other technique.
The goal is not for the tools leading to yoga to be easy, or even for you to be an expert (as the techniques of yoga are vast and diverse and sometimes even contradictory towards each other). If they are easy, they won’t churn up what is inside of you, and the aim is to be an expert about your own inner workings. Our mastery of the techniques of yoga is only so important as we know enough about what is safe for us, what gives us self-knowledge, and where to go from there. To know yourself is to be able to control yourself; to know what is “you” and what is not “you” is to know what is in your control and what is not. If you can control something and there’s a need to, then focus intensely on the task at hand. If you know something is out of your control, then relax and accept things as they are.
Once you have started to learn a set of yoga techniques and have found a good teacher to guide you, use what you’ve learned in solitude. Just observe your thoughts, habits, and reactions. Over time you will begin to acquire deeper and deeper insights about who you are, and thus begin to truly steer yourself towards a happy life as your true self. This touches on the need for lecture and didactic discourse in yoga studios: the willingness for the teacher to offer this, and for the students to attend.
-- Marc-Cristobal Guilarte
This is Part 1 of a 2 Part Post. Check Back Next Friday to Read Part 2.
This fall Marc Guilarte will be offering a variety of discussion based workshops about the nature of Yoga. Make sure to download our App and Follow us on Facebook to get notified about our events!
Sometimes, as a sort of game with myself, I will try to go through my morning ablutions without thinking of anything other than what I’m doing, without allowing myself to interrupt the task at hand (i.e. to check my mail, pet a cat, etc.). I enjoy playing this game because it’s always astounding how much more quickly the task at hand is completed.
It’s a reminder of the power of focus, as well as the difficulty involved in maintaining it. Keeping vows and staying equanimus regardless of the pins and pricks of life are two important virtues found in the domain of focus.
My yoga practice is a toolkit that provides me with the opportunity to struggle with and fine tune these virtues: There is a wide array of technique in yoga including and beyond asana (postures). Yoga provides different paths for different times and different people, so even an individual person would benefit from a well versed education in Yoga: a science concerned with leading people to meditation (meditation being the ultimate degree of focus). How lucky we are to already have a method for controlling our focus and consciousness. Of course the difficulty here is actually practicing, especially since everyone starts before they have such control.
Yoga provides different paths for different times and different people. - Marc Guilarte
This conundrum reminds me of something Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati said, ”One has to practise constant effort as a discipline, not according to one’s own sweet will.” We all have to go through the process of learning and growing. When I am struggling with my own focus, practice, or studies I remind myself there is a futility in shrinking away from something because “I’m not good enough at it yet.” I ask myself, “do I want to be a part of this or not?” and my answer is invariably, “of course.” So, I keep on studying and practicing.
Marc-Cristobal Guilarte - Owner and Lead Teacher
Practicing alone, on a consistent basis, has improved my ability to concentrate deeply. I’ve learned a lot about my mind’s capabilities and tendencies by practicing through many different hues and distractions of mind. I get strength from the knowledge that the difficult days, when I really have to push myself to practice, are often the best teachers of mental discipline. Allow your thoughts to spill out when practicing at home. The beginning of meditation is often a process of allowing any inner conversations to spin themselves out. Give yourself permission to forget what you were saying to yourself; the mind will finally quiet down. Just focus on the rhythm and nature of your breath, attention to your gaze, the sequence of positions…etc.
I value giving myself time to practice alone on a consistent basis; it has been very grounding.
The attention to detail in my classes can be new to some people. If you read my earlier post on meditation, Inviting a Meditative State, you’ll read that meditation often starts by focusing on something concrete (such as an object or action). The details of the yoga practice is that something: “gaze over your nose, keep your inhales and exhales of equal length, keep your chin tucked, keep your face relaxed”…etc. The details of the asana and sequence are not only for the physical aspects of the practice, but they are also there to keep you focused, to guide you into meditation. Often the first step in getting comfortable with a Krishnamacharya or Ashtanga practice is understanding the details are there to help you, meditation is the core of the practice.
As you practice the sequences more regularly they will likely become rather deep and quite athletic. People don’t often associate meditation with so much physicality, but keeping the practice challenging is a part of keeping your mind focused on the here and now. As you become more familiar and comfortable with your initial introduction to Krishnamacharya’s and Pattabhi Jois’s sequences, you will naturally begin to practice them in a deeper and more athletic manner. It’s a way to help you let go of the past and future – to help you be in the moment, in meditation. No one suddenly forces a student into demanding or advanced poses, it happens naturally over time, be it months or years.
This type of moving meditation is the same meditation as when we are sitting still, it’s just a different approach. I find it’s beneficial to have both a moving meditative practice and a still one. The video attached to this post is a great introduction to meditation, please take the time to watch it. It will help you in your journey as a yoga practitioner:
A yoga practice is a tool to meditate, but where does one start? Let us first define meditation in the simplest terms: meditation is a deep level of mental focus. For most people, the best way to begin is to pick one subject to focus on, so for the purpose of our discussion let us say that one subject will be our yoga practice.
A yoga practice already has tools in place to aid meditation, tools such as: the quality, rhythm, and synchronization of the breath (pranayama); the direction of the gaze (dristhi) in the position (asana); the precise alignment of the asana; the precise sequence of the positions and their synchronization with the breath (vinyasa). These are good details to start with. They may seem like a lot to keep up with, but that is the point. Yoga is an exercise for the mind.
With meditation, expect to start off with concrete techniques such as these. As your meditation becomes deeper perhaps you might switch to something abstract to focus on in your practice, such as: “letting go,” lightness, ease …etc. If your meditation gets still deeper, you may start to focus only on the sensation of doing the practice – moving away from cognitive thought. At last, if our mind is particularly strong that day, we may be able to experience a level of concentration to where our only focus is that we are doing our practice, with no other thought, not even the physical or emotional sensation of practicing. Perhaps we may humbly consider this progression as our samadhi samprajnata (distinguished contemplation).
Many of us struggle with meditation because we are not told two simple things: meditation is focus, and it generally starts by focusing on something in the concrete world (such as an object, or activity). Do not be deterred, you can do it. When it becomes hard for you to maintain your focus, just go back to the concrete tools of a yoga practice described above: your breath, the direction of your gaze, the alignment of the position, the synchronization of asana to asana and breath to asana. It is alright for it to feel like it’s a lot of mental work, you are doing just fine.