By Guest Author James Bryan, of Knoff Yoga
For those of us who practice Hatha Yoga (asana, pranayama and meditation), when we are pressed for time, meditation often gets set aside – we want to do it, but how to fit it in our busy day? To get the full benefit of what Hatha Yoga offers, we do need to meditate and in this article, we will look at a few reasons for setting up a daily routine to include it.
Patanjali, the father of Yoga, recommends an 8-step program which includes the practice of:
- Yama – our attitudes towards our environment and consists of five restraints.
- Niyama – our attitudes towards ourselves and consists of five observances.
- Asana – the practice of body/mind exercises.
- Pranayama – the control and expansion of vital energy.
- Pratyahara – the internalization and resting of the mind by disconnecting it temporarily from the sensory organs.
- Dharana – the ability to direct and concentrate our minds.
- Dhyana – sustained concentration or meditation.
- Samadhi – self-realization or super-consciousness.
This is based upon:
- Awakening the Body
- Awakening the Breath
- Awakening the Mind
… or, moving from the gross to the subtle. Another way of looking at the intent of Patanjali’s traditional sequence is comparing it to a child’s developmental stages of crawling, walking, and running. You need to learn how to control the energies of the physical body, which is tangible, before you will have success with the less tangible breath and the ephemeral mind.
The effects of yoga practice are cumulative – that is, they build upon each other. Overall, cumulative practice is greater than what would be achieved from doing the asana, pranayama and meditation separately – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Because the body and breath have already been awakened by the time we are ready to meditate (with traditional sequencing), the meditation is more powerful and effective. Keep in mind that 10 minutes of focus is more beneficial than 30 minutes of fuzz. No part of yoga practice is about chronological time; it is always about the awareness/consciousness we attain.
A slack spine equals a dull mind
When meditating, it is vital to sit correctly with a properly activated and elongated spine. To do this we need to slightly flatten out the lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) curves. Internally we balance along the median plane by aligning the soft palate of the mouth over the perineum – then pressing down into the sitting bones and lengthening through the crown of the head.
When sitting properly, the mind is energized and meditation will be more successful, i.e. alert and attentive to whatever meditation technique we are using. With correct posture and technique, the spine should be longer after the finish of meditation than when we started. Many students make the mistake of applying Jalandhara Bandha (Chin Lock) during meditation.
In Vipassana Meditation it is recommended to sit for 2 hours per day, 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening. Because we encourage the practice of Hatha Yoga for 1 to 2 hours per day, as well as meditation, the overall time commitment is impractical for those with work, family and life responsibilities.
We found that when meditating for 2 hours (in addition to asana and pranayama), some of the time we would be mentally drifting off because we were tired, i.e. non-productive time. This experience taught us to adjust the Vipassana ‘chronological’ recommendation (doing time) and focus on the quality/clarity – “quality vs. quantity”, that is, making the best use of our limited time.
Meditation is highly beneficial BUT ONLY when we are awake, alert and attentive. If you are tired and falling asleep, go to bed!
Regardless of the type or style of yoga we practice, the ultimate goal is the same – Samadhi, which is super-consciousness or experiencing a profound sense of belonging in the universe, of oneness with the life-force sustaining all of nature. We require a strong body and nervous system in order to achieve this desirable goal. We obtain a strong body and nervous system from practising asana and pranayama. The Buddha did 6 years of austerities (yogic practices) before reaching enlightenment. By his example, we see the importance of asana and pranayama in any meditation practice.
In Patanjali’s teachings, we see that all of the 8 Limbs of Yoga are equally important, and with experience in practice it is obvious that they are all spokes in the same wheel – each contributing to the overall integrity and strength of the whole.
Once students are competent with the Knoff Yoga’s Level 1 syllabus (Beginner Level) they should easily be able to complete it in 45 minutes (including relaxation and pranayama) in order to fit in 5 minutes of meditation – for a total daily investment of 50 minutes. This is not too much to ask for health and well-being. It is possible to get up an hour earlier to make space in your life for yoga.
Once students are competent with the Knoff Yoga’s Level 2 syllabus (Foundation Level) they should easily be able to complete it in 1 hour and 10 minutes (including relaxation and pranayama), in order to fit in 20 minutes of meditation – for a total daily investment of 1 & 1/2 hours. Yes, this is a considerable slice out of the day, but it can be done by getting up earlier and dedicating yourself to becoming the best person you can be.
Make sure with your meditation, you are focusing on quality and not quantity. 5 minutes of sitting with a dull mind is 5 minutes wasted.
Experiment with the practice and see what works best for you.
Yours in Yoga,
James began teaching yoga in Auckland, New Zealand after getting hooked at Nicky’s New Zealand School of Yoga classes in the early ’80s. He’s trained in India with both B.K.S. Iyengar and Geeta Iyengar, and spent many years working and learning from Nicky Knoff.
James is now based in Cairns, Far North Queensland where he teaches public classes, private classes, yoga therapy, and assists with the teacher training courses at the Knoff Yoga Headquarters.