Much of what we know about yoga comes from an ancient text called the Yoga Sutras written by Patanjali over 2000 years ago. In the first 4 sutras, we learn that yoga is the practice of controlling the mind so that we may know ourselves as the seer, the witness, instead of identifying as the roaming tendencies of the mind.
When we are mis-identifying we get caught up in our own unconscious reactions, insecurities, and egoic stories. Basically, we are NOT in control. When something “good” happens we feel good, when something “bad” happens, we feel bad. We are identifying with our own actions, reactions, thoughts, and emotions—we are a slave to this endless roller coaster. The cure for this mis-identification? One-pointed focus.
In the Yoga Sutras we are shown an entire system to help alleviate the suffering caused from our mis-identification: the 8 limbs of yoga. They are: Yama (ethical standards), Niyama (spiritual observances), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (transcendence).
In this context, meditation is a state of mind where the flow of concentration is unerupted. When we think of the practice of meditation, we are actually referring to the preparation for creating a meditative state, sense withdrawal and cultivating one-pointed concentration, dharana. There are countless methods for practicing meditation, but all of these techniques give the mind an anchor. Instead of trying to empty the mind, which is often counterproductive and can be quite frustrating, we instead give the mind something to concentrate on.
Here’s a simple (but not always easy) example of a practice you can do right now. Take a break in reading and set the timer on your phone for 1 minute. For this entire minute, focus on your breath. Notice the inhale and notice the exhale—nothing more. If thoughts arise, notice them, and then reconnect to the anchor of breath awareness.
Take a moment to reflect on your minute practice. About how long did it take for the first thought to come creeping in, interrupting the focus on your breath? Ask yourself: who is it that observed this? And who is it that reigned in the mind and brought it back to breath?
The purpose of meditation is to mature your awareness as the witness and develop a relationship between seer, thoughts, emotions, action, and reaction. Over time, as your ability to stay in concentration grows, you will notice that the seer shows up more often than the reactive mind.
The goal of meditation is not to separate yourself from the world, but to show up to the world in a more loving and non-reactive way. Try the one-minute breath awareness meditation daily and stay tuned for more on meditation next week.
Michelle Anthony, RYT500
Does this sound intriguing? Do you want to work with Michelle? Book a session or series of sessions with her online or in person at Tuning Tree