Meditation & Mindfulness

Training the mind will have a significant impact on our everyday lives. Being able to bring the mind at will to a task, and hold it there stops us easily becoming distracted. We can accomplish so much more by controlling the fluctuations of our mind.

Meditation classes at Yoga Dharma follow the steps laid out by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras are the first written record of yoga, and are said to have been compiled around 2,000 years ago.

The Yoga Sutras describes an eight-limbed system of yoga, beginning with sets of personal and universal codes of conduct. The next two limbs make mention of posture and breath, but is mainly concerned with yoga of the mind. The last four limbs of the yoga sutras describe the path to Samadhi, from simple mind focus through to full absorption.

The limbs are set out as:

Pratayahara, which means independence from external stimuli. We are aware of what our senses are informing us of, but they have no effect on us. This is the first stage of our meditation practise. We may just sit and observe our breath at the tip of the nose, bringing the awareness back as needed.

Dharana, is described as the practise of holding the mind at a single point. It is the nature of the mind to attach itself to the next thought that arises. Our practise of Pratayahara has prepared the way to start detaching ourselves from the outcome of our senses. This then leads into Dharana, where we start to focus the mind on a single point. There are exercises to help with this such as Tratak, which means focusing the mind on a single point. This may be a candle flame, or a simple dot. With practise, we develop the ability to hold the mind on a single point.

Dhyana, occurs through the practise of Dharana, and we develop the ability to hold the mind on a chosen point for extended periods. This is what most of us mean when we speak of meditation.  We become absorbed in our practise, but remain aware of ourselves.

Samadhi, is described in the Hathayogapradipika as, the union of Jivatman and Paramatman which eliminates all mental activities. Jivatman is who we are beyond our ego or asmita, it’s our individual soul. Paramatman is the supreme Consciousness that unites us all, I like to refer to this as the ultimate observer. For some it may be Brahman or God. The term Brahman is used to describe a force that is beyond human description, the term God often comes with fixed preconceptions. The state of Samadhi is beyond human description, for once we attempt to describe it we are talking from the ego.

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Posture plays an important part of meditation practise. We can provide advice on this, and offer props where needed. Meditation should be practised in an upright seated position, with the spine erect. This upright posture helps us remain alert, and less likely to feel drowsy. There is also a very important reason around the subtle energies of yoga. Our spine is the main channel for the subtle energies of yoga. We have two opposite energies called Apana Prana. Prana is our life giving up energy, and Apana is located below the navel and is a downward energy. An upright seated posture with open hands and feet, encourages the down energy to rise, keeping us upright. The significance of posture and the many reasons for this are discussed in our classes.

Training the mind will have a significant impact on our everyday lives. Being able to bring the mind at will to a task, and hold it there stops us easily becoming distracted. We can accomplish so much more by controlling the fluctuations of our mind.

Martin Thompson