Meditation with exercises not exercises with meditation

Category : Asanas (Postures), General advice, Philosophy 1st October 2018

Workplace Yoga
Inside Yoga 243 (1/10/2018)

Last week I was talking with a few people who had just finished a class with me, and one them said that her partner says she should do yoga all the time because when she gets back from my weekly class she is so calm etc. She said he asks her what she did to get into such a good place, and she said she tells him, she doesn’t know!

When she said this I responded that her reply was a good response, because yoga and its results are not about one particular exercise but the whole practice and the approach we take.
The positive results we gain from a yoga practice are due to the meditative awareness we establish while practising. During a group class what is important to me is that the group is focussed and paying attention, not just to what I am teaching but to what they are doing in the class. I am asking them to move into stillness.
From the first moment of the class to the last moment we are aiming to establish and maintain a meditative awareness. The physical exercises help us to focus on our body and breathing, which in turn quietens our minds as we concentrate on the exercises. Paying attention is the key to meditating.
Simply put, it is better to see yoga as being a meditation practice with exercise as opposed to exercises with meditation, because the latter approach means there is a risk that we spend most of the practice distracted and occasionally remembering to focus on the breathing and a quiet mind. So my advice is to turn this approach on its head, and see this as meditation while doing some exercises. Start as you mean to go on, start with focussed and meditative mind.
One way of achieving this is to focus on our breathing: from the moment we start our yoga practice we aim to cultivate a deep and flowing rhythm of breathing, and then as a result of this our concentration levels deepen, and then we become more absorbed in the exercises we are doing – we establish a cycle. The eight limb of yoga is Samadhi which translates as absorption.
This sense of absorption is what a yoga practice aims for because when absorbed in what we are doing – yoga practice in this case – we will feel a union with ourselves and it is this state of union that we can feel calm, bliss, contentment – there are a lot of words to describe this ideal state of being but the one theme which unites them are that they are positive.
So back to the comment at the start, by placing faith in the methodology of a yoga practice we find ourselves feeling better with ourselves and as a result others notice it, but can we explain how we did it? Probably not because we do not need to, like so many experiences in life, sometimes we cannot explain but we know it worked and feels good…. That is why we call it a yoga practice… it takes practice to achieve what we seek! The exercises are just part of the practice, they are the techniques and the tools we use to strip away unwanted feelings, thoughts and experiences, leaving behind quietness, calmness and serenity which might, and will, sound clichéd but this is beyond words! Yet it works!
There are numerous analogies and explanations which help the practitioner to understand the practice: and if we condense them all into one, it is the practice of “neti neti” (translates as “not this, not that”) which works on removing all the thoughts and labels we have about who we think we are, by asking “am I this, am I that?”, with each thought which arises, we respond with “not this, not that”, and after time what is left is silence and stillness. In this moment we can experience the bliss of being and the clarity of knowing… the state of Samadhi (absorption)… this might be a fleeting moment or it might feel longer but the practice teaches us how to be there and return there.
Like a computer that has been rebooted after a crash, this sublime state of Samadhi is our reset, which offers us the opportunity to feel clearer and better in ourselves, ready for the world beyond our practice. Hence the point of mentioning the comment above where the lady’s partner noticed that she is good place when returning from yoga class, it is more important to notice and appreciate how we feel as a result of practice instead of going backwards trying find out what happened.
To read related blogs:
Yoga is meditation –
Yoga is not a workout –
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