MEDITATION IS INVISIBLE INNER YOGA.
Asana is visible yoga, but meditation is invisible and internal – so how do we help people learn? If a yoga student is
in a posture, her teacher can see her alignment at a glance,
come over, and offer a gentle adjustment. But what if she is
sitting there meditating? How can you see her inner asana
flow, the way she is dealing with the continual stream of sensations, emotions, images, internal conversations, and inner
choreography of her to-do list? And if you sense that she is
frustrated and doesn’t know how to deal, how do you “
adjust” her meditation? This is another one of the challenges
facing all meditation teachers.
This “invisible” inner yoga is half of yoga, if we use Patanjali’s brilliant conception of ashtanga (ashta=eight, anga=a
limb of the body). The first four angas (yama, niyama,
asana, pranayama) are considered bahir anga, or “relating
to external, outer, exterior.” The next four angas are considered antara (being in the interior; near, related, intimate;
soul, heart), pratyahara (the senses turning within),
dharana (holding, supporting, “holding a thought”), dhyana
(from dhi, thought, reflection, meditation, devotion, splendor), and samadhi (putting together, joining or combining
with). Our English word “meditation” refers to the process
of moving through these four angas.
In an interview with Yoga Journal, Desikachar said, “Yoga
was primarily evolved for inner limbs such as mind, senses,
emotions. Unfortunately, many yoga teachers themselves are
not aware of these techniques to be able to guide students in
these domains. It is my sincere wish that both teachers and
students of yoga move beyond their obsession with the body
level, to actually experience these subtle and more powerful
dimensions of this ancient wisdom. This requires patience
and commitment and a serious search to look at oneself.”
I disagree a little bit with Desikachar here, in that it seems
to me that many students actually go into meditative states
during asana practice and in the savasana that follows. It
seems to me that savasana is often too short, and people are
not lingering in the profound symphony of sensation created by the asana practice.
I don’t know if it was true a thousand years ago on the
other side of the world, but here in the modern West people
drop into meditation very quickly. Through research conducted at Harvard Medical School over the past 40 years
(by Herbert Benson and his associates), it has been established that people with a minimal amount of training in
meditation enter deep meditation in three to five minutes, as
measured by their physiological instruments. Think about
that for a moment: Those who meditate enter a state of rest
measurably deeper than sleep in three to five minutes. That
is the external physiological correlation. Inwardly, they are
shifting through the inner angas more rapidly. Most people
cycle into deep meditative states, and then out of them in
this three to five minute cycle. If someone meditates for ten
minutes, he might have three or more cycles of in and out,
inward and outward, restfulness and restlessness. Therefore
an important aspect of teaching meditation is showing them
how to ride these rhythms, surf these inner waves.
THERE ARE A HUNDRED AND TWELVE WAYS.
There are a hundred and twelve ways. A classic yoga meditation text, the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, lists 112 yuktis
(methods of meditation). The classic mindfulness and
breathing awareness meditations are here, plus techniques
involving kundalini, chakras, spinal awareness, mantras
– and also wild practices with music, dancing, sex, being
alone in nature, and witnessing the flow of passion and
emotion. You can be in any mood, any life circumstance,
and find a doorway into meditation. This is great because
there is something for everyone. Wherever you are, you can
go inside and refresh yourself in the essence of life. (If you
are interested in this tantra, check out The Radiance Sutras,
When we consider how each of the classic practices needs to
be modified to be suitable for a particular individual, there
are thousands of combinations. This is a challenge for both
teachers and students, because there is not enough time to
try all of them on. In fact, there is no one teacher who can
know all hundred and twelve ways intimately. The teachers who are greatest at leading people on wilderness trips
to meditate under the stars, are probably different than the
ones who are best at teaching singing meditations, dancing
meditations, or chakra meditations. In the Vijnana Bhairava
Tantra, the Goddess uses the word bharita, (nourished, full),
“Lead me into that nourishing state of fullness.” Thus, both
teachers and students need to be aware of the whole buffet,
the vast salad bar of possible approaches to yoga meditation, so that each of us can find the most nutritious practice.
PEOPLE OUTGROW THEIR PRACTICE.
I often work with people who have meditated for years in
one approach – a sitting meditation, or mantra meditation
– and then one day they just feel like they are over it. They
did not want to meditate anymore. When they come for a
private session, we discover that they are just over that particular technique, for example, they are tired of just sitting.
It’s as if their prana body is saying, “Got that stillness thing.
Now let’s dance!” They actually are called to a different
type of meditation practice, one they may not even recognize as meditation.
In terms of asana, there are thousands of skilled yoga teachers who have learned to adapt the standard poses to the
diverse bodies of students who are coming for instruction.
You can go to them for private sessions and receive wonderful individualized teaching. Now we need to train meditation teachers to have this same skill. Let’s get going.
Dr. Lorin Roche was lucky enough to
begin practicing asana, pranayama, and
meditation in 1968, and he still feels like
a beginner—every day. The Radiance
Sutras, a new version of the Vijnana
Bhairava Tantra, is available from
Lorin’s website: lorinroche.com.
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