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  • Writer's pictureBharat Ranjan

Yoga & Meditation

"Atha yoga anushasanam" / "And now, Yoga"

Patanjali, Yoga Sutras

 

Many of the Eastern teachings of spirituality are misunderstood in the collective "west", often grossly so. An example we saw before is that of Karma which is generally understood as a system of committing a deed and either getting reward or punished for it. But Karma is nothing of that sort, as was explored in detail. There is something about the west, specifically America, where any concept needs to be taken to exaggerated extremes and made goal oriented. There is no room for a journey or experience with no ending or one where you are not measuring progress against others or yourself. Everything is a goal and must be done with utter excess and flair. Even something as simple as food this is true as seen with turmeric which is used in India as part of cooking. Turmeric has many health benefits when used in this manner where maybe a tablespoon is used across many dishes. Imagine my shock when I was in Costco (a major retailer in the US) and saw a huge half-liter bottle of liquid turmeric extolling how each serving was equivalent to 10 tablespoons and far easier to consume. I am sure at that concentration, turmeric is probably poison to the body. Anyway, coming back to Yoga, an ancient science with many levels of practice, has been distilled down to trying to contort your body into impossible physical postures. Or the terrible variations such as Hot Yoga or Beer Yoga which are abominations of the science of Yoga. I am not saying they are bad per se, but they are definitely not Yoga. They may use some of the elements of Yoga, but Yoga they are not. The sad state of much of what is passed as Yoga today in the world has been reduced to an exercise form of postures, with some parts of meditation or breathing thrown in. The best analogy I can offer is running a marathon. You fixate on the warm-up phase and only do the preparatory mild stretches or the light jog around the track and say you have done a marathon. And hundreds of businesses and "studios" spring up that teach warm-up stretches or offer the post-run massages and call it a marathon. You can even do a Beer Marathon where after each stretch, you have a beer. Having run two half-marathons, I can tell you the mental and almost spiritual experience of the run itself is the magic. Of course, finishing is the glory, but the journey is required for the ending.


What is Yoga?

There are many detailed books and ancient texts written on this subject and I am definitely not going to recreate any of those. My goal here is to present to you with what I have learned in my journey so far and break down these complex, scientific concepts so you may become better informed to make the choice to go down the path of becoming a practitioner. The first thing to realize is that Yoga, meaning 'Union’, is a science that, at its most basic level, seeks to form a union between our physical, mental, and energy bodies. It seeks to offer ways to break from the illusion (delusion) of separateness between our own awareness and the Universal Consciousness. The latter can be called God, but I am going to avoid doing that as that has religious connotation and Yoga is most certainly not a religious practice. The goal is to allow you to eventually experience everything as part of yourself which is really where other things like Universal Love take you. Yoga originated in ancient India and was first documented by the sage Patanjali around 400 AD. Prior to his 'Yoga Sutras', the practice was handed down from teacher to student since ancient times. Even more ancient texts hint that over 15,000 years ago, predating all religions, the Hindu god Shiva transmitted the science of Yoga to his seven disciples. Sadhguru has a detailed explanation of this here. Note that while Shiva is a major god in Hinduism, in Yoga he is a guru or teacher. Known as Adiyogi, or the first Yogi, he expounded 112 ways through which humans can transcend their physical and mental limitations and reach their ultimate potential. These ways and processes became Patanjali's recorded teachings as the basis of Yogic science. It does not matter if Yoga came from Adiyogi or not as only what was recorded by Patanjali is used as the basis of all (real) modern Yoga.

 

As I described in my exploration of Quantum Mechanics, all of creation is just one energy at the most fundamental level. The religions of the world say this in one form or another by stating 'God is everywhere'. Both are saying the same thing, but Quantum proves it via "spooky" science (Einstein's term) and religion tells you to just believe it. Yoga offers a third path by offering the science of how you can experience it for yourself. A Yogi, one who practices Yoga, is nothing more than a person who has decided they want to experience energy, or God, or spirituality for themselves versus looking at experiments about it or believing what is stated in books and preaching. Yoga also implies the science or process it is attached to is a complete path onto itself. What this means is that any path of Yoga (we will explore these later) offers a way to experience oneness by itself and does not require external processes or beliefs. Much of life is cyclical and these cycles are ingrained deeply in our physical selves. Sleeping/waking, eating, working, exercising, day/night, and even your mannerisms and habits all reflect the cyclical nature of life. Many Eastern teachings also state that life itself is a cycle with death (of the body) only leading to yet another incarnation or cycle, with a new body. We explored that in 'Karma' if you need a refresher. Yoga aims to take that circle, break it, and make it into a straight line so that you finally go somewhere new vs. in circles. The processes that allow one to start the journey towards the line are called sadhanas or practices.

 

These cycles that we have are driven by memory which are present in every aspect of our lives. From when we are conceived, genetic memory takes over and makes you into the baby with a head, body, arms, legs, etc. that is born. There is evolutionary memory, atomic memory, articulate/inarticulate memory, and many others, all trying to ensure you stay wedded to the cyclical nature of life. But memory is always a product of the past. Even a movie or video game is just memory, where a reality was created in the past and recorded onto a medium. But when watched or played, it is bigger than life and draws you deep into another reality, if only for a short while. What we call our life is also largely memory; likes/dislikes, love/hate, habits, mannerisms, etc., all learned in the past and remixed and executed in the present. The Sadhanas of Yoga are processes that work to slowly put a distance between you and these memories and thus the cycles. By doing this, you can slowly move from unconscious and compulsive living to a far more conscious and aware existence. The memory is still there and can be accessed anytime, but you have moved it from occupying the entirety of your mind to the cloud, so it can be put away when not needed. Yoga aims to dissolve all of your identities and expressions and help you determine for yourself who you really are. What is left when the dad, a millionaire, tennis pro, vice president, house in a nice neighborhood, handsome, well dressed, identities are all stripped away? Only by reconnecting with who you really are can you begin the process to connect with the universal whole. But even starting the process of uniting the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of ourselves, allows one to experience deep states of physical liberation, inner peace, and self-realization.

 

Yoga is not a philosophy or an intellectual pursuit. Today, especially after the Internet + Smartphone (I+S) revolution, we are gods of our own worlds created on a small screen or in our own minds. We have become so utterly part of the mental and virtual diarrhea, that we no longer even participate much in the real world that houses our bodies. We are kings of our feed on Tik Tok or have gathered a thousand likes on a LinkedIn post but we can't remember the last time we watched a sunset. In Yoga, there are no philosophies, ideologies, or rigid belief systems, only processes to lift the veil of illusion and allow one to perceive reality just as it is. Yoga is not about postures though they play a small but vital part of the process. Just like warming up before a marathon is a small but vital part of running the course. Yoga is neither a practice, posture, nor an exercise form. But Yoga does offer a lot of physical and mental health benefits as a side-effect of the journey towards union. Even after a short amount of time, practitioners experience more peace and joy and less stress and anger. Physical pain and even chronic issues go away based on processes that are followed. But that is not the goal of Yoga which is really to help you connect with life in such a fundamental and inclusive way. It aims to correct the gross misalignment we have created between our body, mind, emotions, and energies. Just as in the Quantum world when particles in a system become coherent, massively benefiting the whole, so too can happen to the human experience.


Types of Yoga

While there are many ways to practice Yoga using defined processes, there are primarily four types. Because the goal of Yoga is union with the universal energy (God, Love, or whatever you want to call it), these four are really just pathways to get there. Each path offers a particular journey, complete with practices, processes, and focuses. But all have the same ending which is for the practitioner to know the union of existence by experience. These four types also map to the basic four realities of life which are body, mind, emotion, and energy as follows.

 

  • Karma Yoga: This is generally understood and taught as the path of service through action that is selfless and of benefit to others. An example would be Mother Theresa who sacrificed her life to better the ones of others. But there is a nuance here in that just doing this type of action is not actually Yoga. Karma means action but the action has to be one that is liberating and not entangling. What is meant by this is you should be very involved and engaged in a process of Karma Yoga, but not get entangled with it. From my personal life, an example is the work my wife and I do at a cow and dog rescue center in Goa, India. We get great joy and satisfaction from helping these poor creatures, many of whom are injured or disabled. But the work needs to be performed with joy and abandon, with NO expectation of an outcome or entanglement via emotions. For example, if a cow that is friendly to us and we pet it or care for it and it dies tomorrow despite what we did, that should have the same no-reaction as if the cow lived for 25 more years. It is entanglement which creates Karma so Karma Yoga is the opposite of that. So yes, go do selfless service for the benefit of others but do not get attached to the work or entangled with the beneficiaries of your work. What you are doing and how much of it does not really matter. How you are doing it is what matters and is the difference between further accumulation or Karma or liberation. Joyful involvement without expectations or emotions.

 

  • Bhakti Yoga: This is a path of love and devotion by using emotions as a path towards union. Practices in this path includes things like singing, praying, chanting, ceremony, and celebration. But the thing with emotions is that they can take a variety of forms, from beautiful to absolutely horrific. And the latter tends to be far more powerful and expressive, which is usually to one's detriment. For example, think back to the last time you were really angry and the emotion (and energy) coursing through you. Rage is the extreme form of anger and is very, very intense. But the goal here is to train your emotions via Yoga to be peaceful and beautiful via devotion. An example is people who have recently fallen in love. They seem to float through the day and nothing negative seems to affect them. It is just that love has caused their emotions to become beautiful, so their life is peaceful. But humans always fail in the art of being perfect and this type of love-induced bliss is fleeting. So those who choose the path of Bhakti Yoga fall in love with the divine (or God if you wish) because it is a simple, consistent, and loving relationship. The resulting peaceful and loving emotions tend to stay and grow, and life becomes beautiful as a state of being. This is devotion, which is also another dimension of intelligence. Whereas the intellect tries to conquer and analyze the truth, devotion just embraces it. Devotion may not be able to provide intellectual outcomes, but it can allow you to just experience. Intellect can provide outcomes in your head, but it cannot provide the experience. But devotion is not something you can practice but rather it is a state you reach. Things like love, humility, compassion, and gratitude are elements that can lead to devotion. Simply being in awe of the infinite vastness of the cosmos is a step towards being devout. Starting to realize that everything in the cosmos is made of the same stuff as you and thus equal is another. What each of these do, almost subconsciously, is start to put away the self and slowly start to transform you into realizing you are part of the whole.

 

  • Jnana or Gnana Yoga: This is the path of the intellect and wisdom, and the word literally means 'to know'. To goal of this path is to work to create a sharp and alert intellect. This path is not about philosophizing about things but rather to really examining life with eyes wide open. The goal is to sharpen the intellect to a point where it misses nothing, can understand inner experiences, but allowing nothing to stick to it or influenced by external factors. Most of us live lives that are completely built on a framework of conclusions, the millions of judgements we have formed about everything. Jnana Yoga, practiced correctly, allows for the shedding of the ego and gaining knowledge of the true Self through study and analysis. From this deep awareness of 'self', you are able to understand the difference between what is real and what is not. This is not about the pursuit of information or intellectual discussions about the nature of life. Accumulation of knowledge, while valuable, can inflate the ego and thus becomes tied to identity. Jnana uses learning and knowledge to know truth, not inflate the ego (further). As the practitioner goes deeper through self-inquiry via the intellect, attachments, identifications, and entanglements fall away. All the labels such as VP and possessions such as the fancy car, no longer really matter. Space opens for inner reflection and growth of wisdom to understand the greater whole. Three simple but powerful practices are core of Jnana; gaining wisdom (receiving knowledge and understanding it), reflecting on the teachings, and meditating on the Self. The first step would be opening the heart and mind to yogic knowledge and teachings by reading texts such as the Bhagavad Gita. The second is to reflect on the words and deeper meaning behind the words and practices and to use the results of these reflections to determine what is truth of not. The final step is to use meditation and observe the workings of the mind and go deeper, beyond thoughts and emotions, towards the source of your consciousness. Over time, this inner space will become one of stillness and oneness.

 

  • Raja Yoga: Also known as the 'Royal Path' refers to the journey towards union by calming the mind and the stories and illusions it has created to mask our true essence. While one can say meditation is the primary way offered by this path to calm the mind, it is a bit more involved than that. Using the Ashtanga (8 limbs) system as outlined by Patanjali in the Raja Yoga sutras, this path is most suited for those who resonate with a method-based practice. In a way, Raja Yoga is an amalgamation of the other three paths by using the 8 limbs to move the practitioner toward Samadhi, the ultimate state of bliss or union. The 8 limbs can be thought of as part of the tree of yoga which is grounded and nurtured by its ancient roots. Each limb has leaves which represent the techniques for that limb. As one goes higher up the tree, they get closer to Samadhi and thus the practices become more subtle and deeper inward. The limbs are as follows;


1. Yama: Refers to guidelines for ethical and moral conduct via non-violence, truthfulness, not stealing, moderation, and non-attachment (also lack of greed or hoarding). The practitioner needs to make these elements as a way of living.


2. Niyama: These provide guidelines for 'inner' duties via cleanliness, contentment, burning of desire, self-reflection, and finally, surrender to a higher power. These are intended to build character.


3. Asana: These are the physical postures that prepare the body for the deeper aspects of yoga. This is also one of the most misunderstood parts of yoga as, in the west, it has been turned into a set of exercises. The meaning of Asana is 'seat', specifically the seat you take for meditation. Patanjali instruction for Asanas is only to find a posture that is steady and comfortable. The idea it to be able to sit in comfort and not put the body into a position that create aches and pains. Asanas are important techniques to ensure the body facilitates deeper exploration and is not a hinderance.


4. Pranayama: Prana refers to energy or life-source but is all about the breath at a practical level. This can mean breath control or breath freedom as we are able to do both. Different ways of breathing alters the mind in different ways which is necessary for meditation and also physical health.


5. Pratyahara: Pratya means to 'draw in' and ahara refers to the inputs from our sense organs. This is the first major step in meditation where we draw inwards and let the outside fade to the background. This practice changes our state of mind so that our focus becomes intense and things outside of us no longer bother us, thus enabling meditation. An example would be to hear a dog barking while meditating. You hear the sound but don't react or engage it.


6. Dharana: This is the next step beyond not reacting or engaging but being able to concentrate and focus. The focus could be your breath or a chant but whatever it is, you focus on it and nothing else.


7. Dhyana: This is the actual process of meditation where we use both of the previous limbs to become meditative. The key here is to observe whatever you are focusing on without judgement and getting entangled with it. Limb 5 gets rid of distractions, limb 6 teaches us focus, and limb 7 is all about observing. Nothing left to interrupt.


8. Samadhi: The goal of Yoga which is union with the Oneness. It is a state where your level of meditation is so deep that you forget about yourself (your Self!). Patanjali makes it clear that this is not a permanent state as you would need to let go of all attachments to achieve that (explored in Karma).

 

The following picture is a great way to visualize these 8 limbs of Yoga.

 

 

Image 1: The Limbs of Yoga. [Image Source: Human Kinetics]

 

I want to touch on a type of Yoga called Hatha Yoga which is a combination of limbs 3 and 4. The word Hatha comes from a combination of two Sanskrit words, 'Ha' signifying the sun or masculine energy and 'tha' representing the moon or feminine energy. Balancing these two energies is key to preparing the body for the deeper limbs of Yoga. There are many variations of Hatha Yoga practices and most blend elements from various styles. Two of the widely known styles of Hatha Yoga are Iyengar and Ashtanga, and most other variations borrow from these two. But many have also just taken specific Asanas and made them into a stand-alone exercise form. The best example of this is Bikram's "hot Yoga" which is a set of Asanas performed in a very hot environment. While it may be a great exercise sequence like Orange Theory, it is not Yoga. That is because Hatha Yoga is only 2 of the 8 limbs of Yoga and preparatory in nature. Bikram's uses only specific sequences from the Asanas limb of Yoga. But, practicing Asanas and doing Pranayama will achieve the goals of preparation, which are good health and general well-being through deeper self-awareness of the body. After all, that is the end result of these limbs which is to ensure the body is prepared to allow the practitioner to go deeper inside via limbs 5-7.

 

Another practice I want to call out for limb 3 (Asanas) and one that I do daily is called Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation. This is one of the best-known Yoga practices and is part of many different types of Yoga including Hatha. Since the sun is regarded as the source of all life in Indian/Hindu culture, this sequence of 12 asanas is considered one of the most important Yoga practices. It is usually done in teh mornings in order to harness the prana shakti or life energy, which is most abundant early in the morning. This sequence stimulates muscles and organs and uses a combination of poses and breath to provide a complete workout for the body, mind, and spirit. It is often used as a preparatory step for other Yoga practices or before meditation. But, since it is also meditative, it can also be done after meditation. If you do nothing else with Yoga, I would highly recommend you at least do Surya Namaskar every morning. Since the combination of pose AND breath is so important, it is critical you do both correctly. This is my favorite instructional video for those who want to learn. Note that slow and graceful while minding the breath is the way to go instead of just trying to do it as fast as possible.

 

Meditation

Like Yoga itself, meditation is also a very misunderstood and why most people who try it give up quickly. That is because in many places it is taught as an intellectual or physical effort and it is neither. The first thing to realize about meditation is that there is no such thing. It is defined as 'the action or practice of meditating'. And meditating is defined as 'to think deeply or focus one's mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.' In fact, it is really none of these though it can be associated with spiritual practices. Sitting cross-legged with eyes closed is how most people envision meditation, which is another problem because many people cannot sit more than a few minutes like that without joint or back pain. And then there is the mind which utterly refuses to have anything to do with meditation and decides to turn up the mental diarrhea when you try to meditate. So, what is it? It is the act of preparing your body, mind, emotions, and energies such that you become meditative which is a state of just being. It is only in this state you can go deeper inwards and towards the union as envisioned by Yoga. A good analogy is a fragrant rose, a smell which most people enjoy. But to get the rose you must get the soil, water, and environment just right for the rose to bloom and release its fragrance. Meditation is a quality which is a consequence of some set of actions (Yoga). And if done correctly, you can become meditative no matter what you are doing, not just sitting quietly in posture. Meditation is the path to awareness and that means you are connected to everything and your involvement in something is full and intense. From washing dishes to skydiving, you are fully engaged and doing it to the best of your ability. But you are not entangled, and the results are fine no matter what the outcome. If you can reach this state, you start the process of un-entanglement with all the myriad of things you are entangled with. Life becomes a journey of joy and love where things that normally would be called negative do not affect you.

 

So, what do you do to become meditative? That process is what really is meditation. The first thing you must work towards is to learn to deal with the mental diarrhea that is always on and becomes even stronger when you close your eyes. What this really means is to work towards a state of mindLESSness. But despite that, the thoughts will come but the methods of meditation will teach you how to ignore them and slowly still the mind. There are many, many ways to start meditating and you can find videos on YouTube to get going. To become meditative, you need to become aware of something and then maintain that awareness. Almost all methods or systems of meditation are based around the breath, or prana as it's known in Yoga. Prana is the Sanskrit word for cosmic energy that is the basis of our existence and vibrance within us. The reason the breath is chosen is because it is the most basic movement of the body and rhythmic. Because the breath happens in the body, it also moves some of the focus away from the mind. Thus, the basis of most meditation is simply to focus on the breath, the inhale/exhale, and nothing else. While this is difficult at first as the mind will not cooperate, the benefits of meditation become apparent in days to just a few weeks. Even with mental diarrhea, just the act of focused breathing causes calmness and the noise to start to fade slightly. As time goes on, the focus on the breath becomes more natural and allows you to be meditative no matter what you are doing. This is important as that aspect allows for less entanglement and thus a happier and "lighter" you. The key is to realize that it is a process that yields results over time instead of being a goal-oriented task. In today's world people want to make a goal out of everything and neither Yoga nor meditation work in that manner. It is also not a race or competition with anybody else to see who can get to awakening first. All Yogic practices are for you only and part of your path and nobody else's.

 

The immediate benefits of meditation are a sense of calm, peacefulness, and serenity. This has an impact on not only your mind and body but also your emotional state and energy body. And most of these benefits stay with you long after your focused time being meditative is over. Physical benefits such as lowered blood pressure, stress-related issues, and digestion issues start becoming better. This is because the focus of the mind on the body brings more coherence between the two and thus balance to the overall system. Many people find that meditation helps manage a host of mental issues such as anxiety, depression, sleeping problems, and other negative mental states. Over time, the diarrhea starts to fade and becomes like a TV in the background that you pay less and less attention to. And what emerges from that is a growing stillness that begins at the core of 'you' and one which makes you more aware and able to just be. Yoga is the entire process of allowing one to get to union while meditation is the main tool to enable you to get there. It is through the processes of Yoga that the stillness grows and finally allows you to put a bit of distance between what you really are and the body and mind. It is at that point you become fully alive, and it is also the end of the fear of suffering as you finally experientially realize you are neither the body or the mind.

 

Dhyana, the 7th limb of Yoga is meditation limb and uses both the breath and focus to draw ever inwards. It is part of the entire Yogic journey that culminates in Samadhi or union. But there are other forms of meditation that also provide most of the same benefits but are not necessarily structured around attaining anything more than general well-being. The following are some of the more popular ones.

 

  • Mantra: Repetition of a single word, thought, or phrase to keep out all other thoughts. Aum (not Om!) chanting and Transcendental meditation are examples of this type of meditation.

  • Guided: Using imagery or visualization to focus on calming mental images. Typically conducted by a guide who speaks in slow, low tones.

  • Qigong: Part of Chinese medicine, it uses a combination of breathing, relaxation, and meditation to achieve balance.

  • Mindfulness: Similar to Dhyana in using the breath to become aware of the present and ignore thoughts.

  • Tai Chi: A combination of deep breathing and slow, graceful movements to create focus and calmness.

  • Vipassana: A Buddhist form of meditation involving the breath and observation of the body and its sensations. I have detailed my experience with it here.

 

To start to get to a meditative state, you need to set the right conditions for it to happen. Based on trying different methods, the following is a general way to do it. Note that at some point you will want more advanced guidance, so this is just a starting point. And if you are ever going to try the 10-day Vipassana retreat, you will be well ahead if you prepare for it.

 

  • Posture: No matter if you choose to sit cross-legged in one of the traditional Yoga postures or on a chair, you will want to keep your spine straight and head slightly tilted up. I don’t think it matters if you sit in a chair as the flow of meditation is more important than the seating. But yes, all Yogic processes do recommend the cross-legged posture. Feel the connection to your seat and further to the earth. This grounding of the body helps anchor your experience and the body. But do not feel guilty about finding a comfortable way to sit as the goal is to keep the body at peace and not in pain.

  • Breathing: Start by slowly paying attention to your breath and notice how every part of the breath is unique and an experience onto itself. In the early days, you will start controlling your breath though the real goal is to only observe what your body does automatically every day. But it's ok as this will fade over time and you will get into the flow of just being an observer. You will also hear your heartbeat, probably for the first time as a conscious process. Observe that too but learn to ignore it over time as you would a dog barking outside or somebody talking in the other room. The key is to stay focused on your breath and feel every sensation it creates as it enters or leaves your body. One simple way to start is to just observe it at the tip of your nostrils, both the entry and the exit.

  • Expand awareness: Slowly expand your focus from the breath to other parts of your body. Start with the nose itself and other parts of your face. Observe each and realize that any sensation you feel is just temporary and impermanent.  Sensations come and go, cells are being created or destroyed, most happening without your conscious input. Just observe and don't become entangled with anything.

  • Thoughts: These are the most difficult to ignore but observation without entanglement is the key here. It takes time and even now I am unable to fully only observe. But it does become easier to realize that you have engaged a thought and going back to observing. Treat thoughts as you would clouds shuffling across the sky. It is ever changing and what mattered to you a lot 5 years ago is just a memory now. Thoughts are also impermanent though we give them too much importance and longevity in our heads.

  • Go beyond: Eventually, you will enter periods of neither thoughts nor sensations, though these will be brief at first (seconds). But it is in these moments that you will experience true peace as you have gone beyond the body and the mind. Let go and just let your consciousness expand into this no-thing space and just be. Even when a sensation or thought starts to intrude, you will be able to truly just observe, and it will go away.

  • Just Be: I believe this to be the end state where you can just be for hours on end without any interference from body or mind. There are Yogis who sit for days on end without need for food, going to the bathroom, sleep, etc. It is during this state that you reach union with everything and no longer have the individual experience.

  • Return: Most times you will know when you are ready to come back to the material world. Do it slowly and purposefully and start by opening your eyes. Feel the calmness in the body and mind and enjoy that state of being. Then slowly get up and put your things away until next time. Many times, you will not feel like talking which is normal.

 

The above is just a summary of what many meditation practices teach. I would suggest you pick one method and stick with it for at least 6 months. The key is to recognize this is not a goal-oriented task or anything where you can measure progress like preparing for a marathon, for example. The more entangled you are with the mechanics of life (house, job, spouse, kids, etc.), the harder it will be to focus. With time, it can happen, but it will take years of dedication and following your practice. But once you taste the feeling of just being and connecting with universal energy, it then becomes a path of love and bliss which anybody will want to follow.

 

Equipment

While the most important part of Yoga is following the teachings and techniques, environmental factors also have an impact on your ability and outcome. To this end, where you meditate, what you wear, etc. can add to the positivity of your experience. In general, go for things made with natural materials vs. synthetic. Here are some things for consideration.

 

  • Yoga Mat: Invest in a good quality mat for your asanas and potentially to sit on during meditation. I prefer ones that have natural fabrics like jute woven in and are thick enough to provide cushioning on hard floors.

  • Clothes: Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes that feel a part of your body and do not distract. Always wear clothes made of natural materials like cotton or linen.

  • Space: Choose a room or space in your home that does not have a lot of traffic. It should be quiet, preferably with a window or some way for natural light to come in, and not a busy area. If you can, light a small lamp using either ghee or vegetable oil as fuel. This is not necessary but does add to the peacefulness of the space. If you have a space to meditate outdoors and the weather allows for it, that is great. Meditation in nature is amazing though maybe not as a beginner as it will be noisier than an indoor space.

  • Mental state: The more turbulent your mental state prior to starting, the harder it will be to calm the mind. Remember that you are 100% in control of your mind and not the other way around. If needed, go for a walk, or stand in the garden to settle things before going to practice. In fact, I would recommend a long walk or some other form of aerobic exercise and then a warm shower. For me, this is the best way to get set for meditation as the body is at ease, helping increase focus.

 

The above are simple things to do but they will aid in the quality of your meditation. One last but very important thing is to put your cell phone far away from you during meditation. Or, if you plan to use the timer, put it on airplane mode so there is no signal interference with your energy. RF signals are probably one of the worst things when doing any practice that involves your energy.

 

My Yogic Journey

It is only after the ambition that is driven by desire has been somewhat quenched, can one really begin down the Yogic or spiritual path. That is because the basics of life such as food and shelter AND many of the wants of life (big house, car, vacations, etc.) must be experienced. But, once those are taken care of, you will arrive at the 'and now, Yoga' moment. This is what happened to me, but I was lucky in that Covid forced it a lot faster than I think I would have happened otherwise. It was only in 2020 when I was stuck at home for months (first time in over 3 decades) that I began to realize there was something wrong with my approach to life. Here I was stuck in a nice home with a lovely garden, still able to go walking to the forest and the lake, and generally had many of the comforts that most of the planet was locked away from. But I was still miserable. That is when I awakened to something which I had felt for a few years already which was that I had reached the end of the material road. But because I had not invested much time exploring the spiritual path other than at a basic level, there was nowhere else to go. It is only at this point, where the trappings of the gilded cage no longer provided comfort, that something like Yoga can even be considered. And it was that fateful day in late summer of 2020 that something changed inside me that I decided it was time for a far different journey, the one inward.

 

I took a more radical approach to starting that journey because I knew the slow approach would not work for me. It was for this reason that I stepped down from a senior position at my job, took a sabbatical, and then rebooted myself via a 10-day Vipassana retreat. Read those blog posts to understand what I set out to do, what I achieved, and why that was the only way to build a new foundation for myself based on a yet undetermined future versus a product of the past. It has not been an easy journey trying to unentangle myself from 50 years of life and the millions of traits and habits that have come to define who I thought was me. But now, after two and half years, I am now at a point where many of the benefits of Yoga and meditation are part of how I live. I start the day by smiling as soon as I awaken and thanking the universe for yet another day. I also give thanks and gratitude to the universe for the platform of material abundance I have in order to be able to follow this path. I then do an hour of meditation and then go out and stand barefoot in the garden regardless of time of year. I feed the many creatures in our garden (crows, sparrows, squirrels, and rabbits) that all come to say hello in their own way. I go touch and talk to the trees and just rejoice in being part of the beautiful life all around me. Near midday, I do 12 repetitions of Surya Namaskar to energize the body and mind. In the early evening, I do some form of normal exercise such as a long walk, bike ride, or weights at the gym. Post workout and shower, I do about 1 hour of Vipassana which completely calms the mind. And I end the day the same as I started it… by thanking the universe and sending love to all. All of this has made me more aware, happy, and (slowly) increasing amounts of just being. But it is still a journey and my meditations and practices are interrupted with bouts of mental diarrhea though I have gotten far better at recognizing it. Whereas I got maybe 1 minute of stillness during my early days of meditation, I now get 10-15 minutes. It is the natural sense of inner peace that lasts all day which is what I love the most. It's also awareness of all the beauty of everything in life, from the feel of water while washing dishes or watching the sun set over the lake. My words really can't fully convey this beautiful combination of calmness, stillness, and just an all-around vibrance for lack of a better word.

 

Much of our lives are spent living in realities created by our minds and seldom in the reality of the present. We suffer the greatest gifts given to any creature on earth, those of memory and imagination. As we get older, the mind-crafted realities get more complex and in many ways, we live a life of self-torment and turbulence. Yoga and meditation provide a way out of that mental prison we have created for ourselves and continue to fortify every day. Yoga offers us a chance to finally realize that not only can we break free of this prison, but it does not even exist to begin with. As we saw with the limbs of Yoga, they go from the outside, which is the self, at the start to the inside to reach a state of self-less at the end. The goal of every path of Yoga is simply to get rid of the self so that you realize true oneness. I truly believe that practice over a lifetime can enable you to shed the body at the end as easily as you do with your clothes when you go take a shower. And during the journey, it makes you calmer and loving which we need much more of in this world. If only Yoga was taught to every child before they went to a single class, what a different world we would live in. Imagine a world where we all feel the connection of universal love and the effects that would have on us as a species. I hope reading this will help lead you to the ‘and now, Yoga’ moment.

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