As my dedication to yoga has steadily increased I have struggled to develop a consistent meditation practice
There have been points when this inconsistency has frustrated me and I try to recommit to a regular practice, only to find myself drifting after a few days. With physical yoga, the primary focus in the west many of us miss one of hatha yoga’s original intentions. One interpretation is that yogis wished to create more supple bodies able to maintain comfort sitting still for long periods of time. Things may change if we see hatha yoga as a means toward a meditation practice.
I recently had the opportunity to study with Tantric scholar Christopher Tompkins (www.shaivayoga.com). He described yoga, interestingly, less as a practice we “do” and more so as a “state of mind”. We often say, “I’m going to do yoga” implying that yoga is a practice. However, yoga may more accurately be the possible landing point. When a sense of unity occurs between mind, body and spirit, when the thinking mind and its chatter falls away we have landed in the realm of “yoga”. On or off the mat or cushion we all experience these moments of yoga in the heart. The grace of spirit rushes in while we are playing a sport, listening to music, or walking in nature. While these moments can be overwhelmingly beautiful we often do not think of them as “yoga”. If hatha yoga is intended to create a body ready for meditation, can meditation help us access yoga more regularly? If so, we must think of meditation differently.
Too often we take the limited view that yoga is confined to our physical practice for the health of our bodies. In turn, we view meditation as a more “advanced” practice intended for those seeking higher states of spiritual “accomplishment”. This subtle yet powerful assumption may be one of the reasons I struggle to sit consistently as this perception is intimidating. It sets us up for frustration, disappointment and a lack of commitment when we do not “achieve” these states. However, changing our thinking will alter our intention and we can increase the chance of experiencing the “yoga” inside meditation.
Buddhist Monk Khandro Rinpoche describes the way in which westerner’s views on meditation hinder their ability to engage in the practice. She suggests a helpful definition is to use the traditional Buddhist teaching that notes the word meditation stems from the root word “gom” meaning “to become familiar with”. According to Rinpoche the process of meditating is not intended to “calm the mind” as this goal is too ambitious. Rather, sitting can help us become increasingly observant of the self. By dropping the idea that meditation has an end point or even that it requires ANYTHING from us other than observation we set the foundation for a sustained practice. Observation need not be “pure”. Our bias and our judgments will invade the moment as years of living have trained the mind to do so. Sitting will not initially feel as if a masseuse, a sauna and a yoga class have cleansed your soul. Observation of the self is undoubtedly a challenging practice, especially for westerners raised in a culture that devalues stillness. However, each time you observe the mind drifting away is practice. We slowly, over time, become intimate with the habits, judgments, and fears that color too many of our precious few moments on earth.
I wonder if and when I will dedicate my heart to sitting with the same enthusiasm I practice asana. I have tried various routines to address the inconsistency; before my morning coffee, only for five minutes a day but every day, fifteen minutes in the middle of the day. Focus on the breath. Focus on my heartbeat. The sticking point remains the actual act of getting my butt to sit still. I am very skillful at avoiding this moment. Here’s to observing this process.