Monday, December 26, 2016

Balancing Hatha Yoga and Meditation

Question: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – The first five limbs of yoga are described as the outer practice while the last three are described as the inner practice. The first five limbs relate more to lifestyle and Hatha Yoga practice. The last three relate more to meditation. Many systems of Yoga-based healing, such as TM (Transcendental Meditation) and Vipassana, focus on meditation. In the book Meditation as Medicine, Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, argues that a blend of Hatha Yoga and meditation is more effective. What is your perspective, and how would you balance Hatha Yoga and meditation in your own work?

"Yoga, as a stand-alone therapy, has helped millions of people to achieve astonishing feats.  As you may recall, recent medical research has proven that yoga alone can be powerful medical modality for many diseases. . . Of course, yoga virtually always includes breath control, which is itself a singular force for restoring health. Medical Meditation also adds the elements of mental focus and mantra, which brings the power of yoga to a whole new level.  When the postures, the breath exercises, the movements, the hand positions, the mental focus and the mantras of Medical Meditation are performed together, in the proper sequence, the resulting exercise is called a kriya. Because kriyas consist of interlocking, synergistic elements, they are immeasurably more powerful than just isolated yoga postures and movements." - (p.79, Meditation as Medicine, Khalsa and Stauth)

Because I am not a Kundalini teacher I don't use the word Kriya.  But, when I teach and practice yoga I believe in Yoga with what I call Yoga with a capital Y.  In my humble understanding, yoga was never meant to just be asana.  If you just practice asana you are only doing 1/8th of Yoga. It's a testament to the power of Yoga that so many people are getting so much benefit from 1/8th of the practice. 

Nischala Devi on Yoga With A Capital Y

"Today the word 'Yoga' conjures up the image of some difficult or contorted pose. Once relegated to a few faraway ashrams or caves, it is now practiced in gyms, health clubs and studios all over the Western World.

What is being taught under the name of Yoga is a minute part of this great tradition, a microscopic focus on the physical. Yoga in its completeness is a way of life that allows for total transformation.  But the physcial postures, or asans, can serve as an introduction to this distinguished wisdom tradition.  Asans reintroduce us to our bodies.  Once we become friends with the physcial, going inward to the spiritual becomes easier.  Yoga in its completeness is a way of life that allows for total transformation."

I just did asana practice for many years.  I didn't understand (and I probably still don't) the totality of yoga.  Although as I practiced yoga I become more and more curious and started to long for more. This curiousity brought me to Yoga Philosophy Certificate program at LMU.

When I studied Yoga Nidra in the Satyananda tradition (and I am not in the Bihar lineage although I am fascinated by it and would like to learn more) I was taught it was important to do the limbs of yoga in order.  The 8 Limbs are:  Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. 

Nischala Devi's definition of the 8 Limbs

Yama: reflection on our true nature
Niyama: evolution toward harmony
Asana: comfort in being, posture
Pranayama: enhancement and guidance of prana (energy)
Dharana: gathering and focusing of the consciousness inward
Dhyana: continous inward flow of consciousness
Samadhi: union with Divine Consciousness

When using the 8 limb model practicing asana comes before pranayama, pranayama before pratyahara, pratyahara before dharana, dharana before dhyana and dhyana before samadhi.  I try to practice in this way and teach in this way.  Maybe I never meet samadhi but I teach yoga nidra after asana and pranayama. I begin with a dharma talk that has elements of Yamas and Niyamas. I feel that the students reach the deepest levels of relaxation when sequencing reflects the 8 limbs of yoga, and so do I. 

Sometimes, I do a stand-alone asana practice, sometimes I just do breathing exercises, sometimes I sit and meditate and I think all of these modalities are wonderful, valid and relaxing.  But when I sequence with the 8 limbs the benefits are much more profound for me.

Yoga Sutra 2.28
"By embracing, Ashtanga Yoga, the Eight-Faceted Path, Intuitive Wisdom dawns and reveals our inner radiance."  (translated and interpreted by Nischala Devi)

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