Hatha yoga is the union of working with the body and the breath. It brings about suppleness, strength, control and flexibility of the body. The question one needs to ponder is why anybody would want these attributes. However, there are certain yoga postures that do more than this. If you stand on one leg in a balancing posture you need to concentrate, or else you will fall over. There is no way that you can balance and not focus the attention on what your body is doing. This stops the mind from wandering out of your body and jumping around; thinking about what you are going to have for supper or what you have to do in the office tomorrow. Someone can have their body in an absolutely perfect yoga posture, but if their mind is wondering off somewhere they are not doing yoga. They are simply doing exercise. Hatha yoga forces you to concentrate. Yoga requires intense mindfulness and awareness.
Then, there are certain yoga postures, like the Spider and the Pose of Tranquillity, that focus the concentration more intensely. These are postures that bring about sensory deprivation; where one no longer hears the outside sounds, where the eyes are closed and where external stimuli are not heeded or perceived. This is called withdrawal of the senses.
Meditation consists of three steps; concentration, withdrawal of the senses and then comes meditation. So, the way that I see it is that Hatha Yoga is like a stepping stone to meditation. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras possibly offers the best explanation of what meditation is – ‘Meditation consists of the intentional stopping of the spontaneous activity of the mind’ – in other the words the ability to make your mind quiet at will, or to stop the internal conversation that is almost continuous in the human mind. This induces a feeling of immense and intense calm, serenity and liberation, as meditation brings about numerous changes in the brain, mind and nervous system.
Meditation is made easier when the person is sitting comfortably on the ground with the spine erect, in its natural curves, and perpendicular to the ground. This aids the flow of natural energy or prana, which is what one is working with when meditating. There are several recommended sitting yoga postures for meditation. The Lotus Posture, Padmasana, is the one that everybody aspires to as it is the most effective pose, sending the energy up the spine and creating special circuits of prana. However, some people prefer the Accomplished Posture (Siddhasana). Other postures are the Half Lotus Posture (Ardapadmasana), The Comfortable Posture (Sukhasana) and the Auspicious Posture (Swastikasana). If the body is uncomfortable because your back is getting sore or your leg is going to sleep because you have to sit still for half an hour then it is very difficult to meditate. Meditation props are available as an aid to comfortable sitting. However, the regular practise of Hatha Yoga, and the flexibility, control, strength and suppleness that it brings to the body is an enormous aid for training the body to be comfortable in an upright sitting position for meditation. Maybe this is the answer to the question ‘why would anyone want the attributes that come from doing hatha yoga?’ When one is in deep meditation they become completely oblivious of the body.
There are many aids to meditation; repetition of a mantra, prayer, focus on a mandala, concentration on one thought, repetition of an external sound, visualisation, concentration on the breath. With meditation there are many roads that lead to the palace.
One has to be patient with meditation. The more you chase it the further away it seems to get. I went to many meditation sessions and always walked out wandering what on earth I was doing there. I sat with my eyes closed, trying to visualise a light or colour or gazing at the flame of a candle, and nothing seemed to be happening. But I still went back. And then one amazing day I was sitting in the meditation session and I heard the teacher’s voice ending the class. It felt as though I had only been there for two minutes. I did not know where the hour had disappeared to. I had been oblivious to time, to my surrounding, to my body and to all external stimuli. It was as though I had been away and the teacher’s voice called me back from some distant place. It had finally happened! That day I experienced deep meditation for the first time. What an amazing joy it was. The more you practise the deeper the meditation becomes. My tool is the intense focus on a colour situated between my eyebrows, and I now see vivid colours while doing my yoga postures. I think that the tool one chooses is highly personal and one has to experiment and see what works for you. What works for one person may not work as well for another person.
Meditation does not only still the mind it reduces stress levels throughout the entire body, from the internal organs and the muscles to every system of the body.
Meditation falls under the Raja Yoga branch of the Yoga tree. Raja means king – so we can say that meditation is the king of yoga. Stilling the mind is the ultimate goal of all the different forms of yoga.