Yoga and meditation
I have to confess that I’m no yogi! I did Iyengar-style Yoga fairly regularly for several years a long time ago, and I still do the occasional class to stop myself from getting too stiff. I would like to do it more regularly, but … well you know how it is. Keeping up a regular meditation practice and running an online meditation center take up a lot of time. So I’m not setting myself up as some sort of an expert.
What I do want to do is first say just a few words about the benefits I’ve experienced from yoga in relation to meditation, and then introduce some yoga asanas (postures) taught by Dharmapriya, who is a meditator and yoga teacher from Canada who now lives in Germany.
I can see four ways in which yoga helped me in my meditation practice and life.
Meditating involves sitting still for a period of time — maybe 10 minutes, or maybe 100 minutes. The increased flexibility that yoga brings helps the body to remain comfortable during this physical inactivity.
I remember very well being on retreat, and noticing that I had more energy available to me in my meditation practice after doing yoga. Maybe it’s something as simple as endorphin release, or maybe it’s something more mysterious — I don’t know and don’t really need to know. What I found in my experience was that in the 4.30 PM meditation, in which normally I would be struggling to keep my body upright and in which my brain would tend to “go on standby” I was suddenly wide awake if I did yoga just beforehand.
More than that, I noticed that I felt full of life, as if I was plugged into the mains electricity. Those late afternoon meditations were certainly more productive than they used to be.
Awareness of the body is said to be the first “foundation” of mindfulness. Mindfulness can’t exist in the abstract — we have to have something to be mindful of. And it’s hard to be aware of what the more subtle elements of our experience are doing if we aren’t aware of what relatively substantial parts of our experience (like the body) are doing. Yoga helps us to be more aware of the body, which helps with the overall process of developing mindfulness. That brings me onto the fourth benefit that I noticed.
4. Relaxation and Calmness
Yoga helps to promote a deeper awareness of the body and of its muscles and joints. This has a grounding effect, helping to calm the mind, which in turn slows down our emotions so that we feel more relaxed. At the end of a session of yoga, I’d notice a definite emotional buoyancy accompanied by mental clarity and calmness.
All this makes me think I should get to yoga classes more often! And I want to encourage you to do the same, so I asked my friend and colleague Dharmapriya if he’d contribute some basic instruction in yoga. You’ll find his advice on the following pages, and you might be interested also in his Body Wisdom CD, which leads you through the asanas that are illustrated here.