Welcome to Part 11 of The Seeker’s Story, where Namit continues his exploration into yoga philosophy. This week, he discusses the point of meditation – why do we practice meditation in yoga?
Chapter 1 & 2 – Yoga Sutra – A Seeker’s Story Part 1.
Chapter 3 – What is Yoga?
Chapter 4 – Yoga’s Theory of Creation
Chapter 5 – Happiness and Oneness
Chapter 6 – Does Magic Really Exist?
Chapter 7 – Who is God?
Chapter 8 – What is Karma?
Chapter 9 – What is Spirituality? What is Spirit?
Chapter 10 – What is Prana? Is it the Same as Breath?
Chapter 11: Why do We Do Postures in Yoga?
Yoga Sutra – The Seeker’s Story
Chapter 12 – What’s the Point of Meditation?
Today yogi ji was sitting with his legs crossed and lifting himself up just using his hands. Anyway I was going to let him carry on and I carried on thinking of my question for that day. I had heard this word dhyan whilst travelling in India. It is the word that they use for meditation in India. Apparently by the time the word had got to Japan it had changed to Zen.
‘Okay so yogi what is meditation?’ I started after yogi ji had sat down.
‘I am fine Jake’ he giggled. ’How are you?’
‘I am fine too yogi ji. Now please please please can we start?’ I was so eager to have my question answered.
‘Okay Jake’ he laughed back.
‘We have too many thoughts constantly in our minds.’ Yogi ji continued. ‘Meditation helps to still these thoughts, to quieten the mind. It helps our minds to relax and it helps us to relax. It helps us to focus our energy. Some people describe this as centring yourself.’
‘What does that mean?’ I asked.
‘It means that your thoughts are not all over the place. Your thoughts become centred and focused. You become empowered and in control of your life.’
‘That does sound nice yogi ji. I certainly feel more like that when I am in a relaxed state of mind. I feel in control of my own thoughts. Okay so yogi ji how do we meditate?’ I asked. I had always wanted to know how to meditate and was even more eager to learn after being inspired by all the spirituality I had felt on this journey to India.
‘Okay Jake meditation is described in an ancient book in India called The Yoga Sutra.’
‘He he’ I giggled. ‘Lovely name. Yogi ji what does sutra mean?’
‘Okay basically sutra means thread, so any book described as a sutra has an underlying connection in all parts of the book, I mean like a thread running through the whole book. Do you understand Jake?’
‘Yes I think so, I guess you mean there is one theme that runs through the whole book.’
‘Yes Jake and in the Yoga Sutra the thread is Yoga or union and how we achieve this union.’
‘Yes Jake, but only four postures are talked about and these are seated postures. As we have discussed before the postures are really there in order to make you stronger for meditation.’
‘Okay great so now back to the my question. How do we meditate yogi ji?’
‘Good that you ask’ smiled yogi ji knowing that I was going to keep persisting with asking him until I found out. ‘One of the techniques talked about that many yogis use is to simply observe the breath. Just close your eyes and imagine you are watching your breath entering your lungs when you breath in and then imagine you are watching your breath leaving your lungs as you breath out. Keep doing this for several minutes.’
‘What do you mean by watching your breath?’
‘I mean just focus your attention on your breath.’
‘What does this achieve yogi ji?’ I asked him.
‘When you focus your mind on any one thing Jake then your mind cannot fluctuate, your mind just stays fixed. And when your mind is just fixed on one thing and your thoughts are not all over the place then you start to relax.’
‘Yes I understand this. Funnily enough that is what I have found generally in my life that if I just focus on one task then I can concentrate and I am more productive. If I think about too many things then I panic. But why focus on the breath rather than anything else yogi ji?’
‘What is the one thing that your body will always be doing no matter how much or how little you are doing in your life?’
‘Breathing I suppose.’
‘Well then why not focus on the process that your body has to do no matter what?’
‘Makes good sense I guess.’ I replied.
‘Shall we practice some meditation together?’ asked yogi ji.
‘Yes!’ I replied eagerly. Wow! I was going to practice meditation with a real yogi. I started to smile and in that moment I thought how will I focus my thoughts? Right then all I could think about was coming home to England and telling my friends that I had been taught to meditate by a real yogi in India. Wow they would really be impressed I thought to myself.
‘Okay so sit comfortably and close your eyes’ came the yogi’s voice.
So I closed my eyes and sat, with my legs crossed, comfortably on the floor.
‘Next just focus your mind on your breathing. Watch every time you breathe in. Watch the air entering your lungs. Watch every time you breathe out. Watch the air leaving your lungs. Feel yourself become more and more relaxed with each breath.’
I did as yogi ji said and sure enough I became so relaxed. I just focused my mind on my breathing and with each breath I felt almost like my mind was becoming soft. At the end of the meditation yogi ji told me to just open my eyes slowly which I did.
‘How did you feel Jake?’ he asked.
‘I felt almost like my heart was slowing down.’
‘Maybe it was you know Jake.’
‘Hey?’ I inquired as I was now a little confused.
‘Okay so the ancient yogis used to teach that if you focus your attention onto your breath then your breath actually starts to slow down. They then taught that as your breath slows down then your heart slows down too because your whole body starts to relax.’
‘So my heart was actually slowing down?’
‘Maybe Jake but you are only just starting your practice. You should practice for a few minutes every day.’
‘I will do yogi ji’ I promised him and bowed my head to him. I had always wanted to learn how to meditate and now that I had discovered that it was so easy I was definitely going to practice every day.
‘Are there other ways of meditating yogi ji?’
‘Yes Jake there are. You can practice these in time but not today. It will be too much if you try and practice other meditation techniques too on your first day.’
‘I understand yogi ji but could you explain them to me at all?’
‘Okay Jake I there is one more technique I will explain to you. Is that okay?’
‘Yes’ I replied eagerly.
‘So when we practice the other technique we basically observe our thoughts. We do not try to stop them at all. We just observe and watch them. What then happens is that we become detached from our thoughts and start to feel that we are something deeper than our thoughts. We are actually observers looking at thoughts. The thoughts are not us. We feel almost as if we are a point of energy within that creates these thoughts. We feel very peaceful inside. We realize that we are something much deeper than just our physical body. Our body is made up essentially of the food and nutrition that we eat. We are something much deeper that consists of feelings, of love, of happiness and of emotions. And when we are at that place beyond our thoughts, actually we have control over the emotions we want to feel. If we want to just feel positive we can. Ultimately we are just happiness itself. We are something very simple. Just pure happiness.’
‘Very nice yogi ji. I would love to practice this meditation one day.’
‘You will Jake and as time goes by and you practice more you will go deeper and deeper into the meditation. You will have good days and bad days but ultimately you will become really aware of what it feels like to just observe your thoughts.’
‘I look forward to that day.’ I replied. I then continued ‘Okay yogi ji it is nice to know you can have those moments in meditation but how can you constantly be in meditation? I mean not just when you are sat with your eyes closed and practising, but how can you feel this way all day?’
‘By living in the present Jake, by living in the here and the now. We waste too many thoughts, emotions and too much energy by thinking about the past or the future. Remain focused on what is happening in your life now. Then you are in the present. And of course the best way that you can come to being in the present is to focus on something that is happening in the here and now. Anytime that you are becoming stressed just focus your mind on your breath. Your breathing is the here and now. And you do not need to be sat in meditation to be aware of your breathing. Anytime you feel stressed just bring your mind back to your breathing and you will automatically be calm.’
This is the answer I had been looking for. I always wanted to know what to do about my stress when I was back in London. Just focus on the breath. That was the answer I think I had come all the way to India to hear.
‘Thank you so much yogi ji’ I smiled.
Well for the rest of that day you can imagine what I did. I sat by the lake and shut my eyes. I just watched my breath entering and leaving my lungs until I felt so calm.
And then that evening I tried the meditation where you observe your thoughts. I quickly ate my dinner with the family and then after a brief chat with them about how much I like seeing cows roaming freely in India I went to the roof garden and sat with my eyes shut just listening to and observing my thoughts. I had so many silly thoughts going on in my mind. Thoughts about mosquitoes, flies, the moonlight, about what I was doing there, about how I so far away from home, about yogi ji, I just watched these thoughts. And the more I watched them the more distant I felt from my thoughts. It was a lovely experience.
[Stay tuned for Chapter 13: Balance next week]
About Namit Kathoria
Namit Kathoria has a Bachelors Degree from King’s College London in Pharmacy and a Masters Degree in Clinical Pharmacy from Queen’s University Belfast. He is also a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain and has worked the Pharmacist Advisor to NHS Direct. He hence has a vast knowledge of health which he applies to his yoga teaching. He has studied yoga across the world including various parts of his native India including Dharamshala, Rishikesh and Mysore. He currently teaches yoga retreats in Spain at Yoga Sutra Shala in Sayalonga. To read more please visit www.retreats-yoga.com.