I am wondering about the value of yoga asanas and how they help in meditation and the spiritual journey.
Hatha yoga asanas or postures are important and valuable but they do not form, in my humble opinion, too much importance on the path of God Realization. Yogic postures and breathing exercises are a part of Raja yoga, the “Royal yoga,” which includes the control of prana, the breath or vital force. In ancient times when yogis lived and practiced in the Himalayas and forests and jungles, there were no doctors. They had no ways or means to provide for themselves medically, so they envisioned a technique to keep the body healthy. These postures are not like other exercises or athletics in which you build up your bones and muscles. Yogic postures are mainly for the nervous system, to tone up each limb and improve blood circulation, but they do not necessarily increase or decrease weight or make the body muscular. Hatha yoga postures do, however, give mental power because you are dealing with your mind in this practice.
Sage Patanjali, who propounded this yoga system, advised practitioners to do only four postures. These four sitting postures are lotus or padmasana, swasticasana, siddhasana and sukhasana. The idea behind the postures is that when you meditate and remember God, you want to be lost in that prayerful mood, that meditative mood, but if your body is not in a fixed proper position you may get distracted after some time. You have to perfect at least one yogic posture so that when you sit in meditation and prayer, your body should not distract you or bring you back to physical awareness, such as legs becoming numb, and so on.
The main idea behind yoga asanas is that your body should be lighter, more energetic and more flexible, so that your consciousness can move upward through your nervous system unobstructed. Nowadays this is known as Kundalini yoga. But when you arrive at a particular posture to sit in meditation without discomfort or distraction, you need not worry about these things. In fact, very great sages have warned us not to take hatha yoga too far because it will make you more identified with the physical body. If you want to attain your spiritual goal, pay more importance to meditation. Yoga is not asanas alone. Yoga means union of the individual consciousness with Cosmic Consciousness. Physical yoga is more attractive because you can see the outer manifestation; inner yoga is not visible so it is not as attractive.
Meditation can be done through various ways, not only hatha yoga but through mysticism, the way of devotion, the path of reflection, and so on. The shortest and easiest way for each one is different, according to your temperament. Meditation is for serious seekers, intense seekers, those who mean business. If you are not serious about it, you may not achieve meditation even after years or decades. Meditation has been scientifically defined as concentration on your chosen ideal, without a break or any digression or distraction, consecutively for twelve seconds.
Do you mean that if I sit for an hour trying to meditate, I might be lucky if out of that whole hour twelve seconds of meditation occurred?
Yes, twelve seconds uninterruptedly. If you do that you will be a changed person; you will be transformed. Your whole outlook will change in those twelve seconds. You might ask, “Why don’t people change even in spite of thousands meditating?” Because no one is achieving those twelve seconds of actual meditation. When you emerge from those twelve seconds, your whole panorama will be changed. As you get deeper into that, you come closer to Enlightenment. So do not take meditation lightly or complacently. Of course we should not take anything casually. Everything should be done in a prayerful and precise manner, but much more so for meditation. Our whole life should be worship, prayer and meditation. Each thing we do must be sacred, whether it is working, cleaning, cooking, sewing, walking, writing, even talking on the phone or watching TV. In this way, the whole life becomes integral yoga.
To practice meditation we start with concentration. We do say we are sitting in meditation, but simply by closing our eyes we may be still thinking, remembering and contemplating future plans. We design many things at that time including our many successes and failures. I am simply reminding you that when you meditate, be serious and intense and true to your practice. To successfully meditate, first choose a goal and do not change it. This is very important. Whichever idea or form or symbol you choose for meditation, stick to it, whatever the daily results may be. The example has been given that if you dig a well by digging a few feet here, a few feet there, a few feet elsewhere, even if you dig hundreds of feet altogether, you may not get water. But if you dig hundreds of feet in one place you will likely get water. This is the way to grow into meditation: focus on one ideal, whether it is God, peace, love, joy, beauty, your Guru, the cross, OM, any mantra or Deity. Stick to one and grow into that remembrance with devotion.
The idea is to merge into the object of your devotion. Unless you lose the idea of even meditating, you are not going to Realize. The very “you” meditating on something has to merge and surrender. That is the goal of meditation - to lose yourself. So intensity, sincerity, love, devotion, dedication, consecration and reflection are all required. For those who are beginners there are other rules like regularity, choice of place, and sitting at the appointed hour daily so that you train your mind. We need to clean our minds at least twice daily without any excuses, except in emergencies or in very critical times. Once you have sufficient self-control over your mind, then the place and time of meditation no longer matter.
Many people concentrate mechanically upon something; I would call this concentration rather than meditation. Meditation must include devotion to the goal. What you can achieve by love and devotion, even ten thousand years of hatha yoga cannot give you. Be sure that by meditation you are not negating prayer and devotion. If you think that by meditating and concentrating you no longer need to pray to God, that mechanical concentration will not give you anything. Devotion and love are very necessary in meditation if you want to make it easy. If you want to make it difficult, then stick with mechanical concentration. So when you sit in meditation daily pray: “God help me to meditate successfully, to keep my mind humble and devoted.” In my own humble experience I have seen that devotion, love and prayer make meditation so easy that you need not fight with your mind. It just relaxes into it.
What is the most effective way of dealing with a restless mind when we meditate?
If mind is very restless, then do not sit in meditation at that time. Go for chanting, sweep the floor, tend the garden, water the plants, walk or do something until the mind comes back to a relatively restful concentration; then sit in meditation. Choose a goal, sit with devotion, and practice twice a day. Practice will bring deeper focus. There is no other way. After all, you have to deal with your own mind, whatever you want to achieve. Your mind is the apparatus through which you have to go. So you cannot escape your own mind, whatever it is: good or bad, restless or serene.
Does pranayama help in meditation?
It can help, yes. Pranayama or yoga postures followed by pranayama help, but do not read a book at that time. For successful meditation you have to prepare the ground beforehand. Bring your mind first to calm and quietude; then sit in meditation. There are three things associated with the mind: diet, rest and work. So be careful about these things. Whatever you do and eat and how you rest affects your mind. Don’t eat too much; don’t eat too little. Don’t sleep too much; don’t sleep too little. Don’t work too much; don’t work too little. Moderate living will give you a peaceful mind, and when the ground has been prepared, you can meditate successfully.
How do we cultivate love for God?
There are certain attributes that are inherent in every human being, such as love, peace, freedom and joy. These cannot be cultivated; we have to simply release them from within us. Love is full within you but you are blocking it by certain negativities, anxieties, fears, future planning, past worries, imagination, and so forth. Simply remove those negativities and your egoistic nature, and love will come forth. The three main obstacles to these inherent attributes of the soul are shyness, fear and hatred, which also includes jealousy and prejudice. If any of these are present, love remains pending. So we have to remove these blocks in order to release love from bondage. When you love God you do not fear anything, you do not hate anything, you are not shy of anything. Love, peace, freedom and joy are always within you.
Could you repeat a word like joy or bliss the same as you would a mantra?
These words can be there in your thoughts but you cannot repeat them as a mantra. A mantra is a mystic formula that opens up your chakras. The word joy is not a mantra, but the idea you have to keep. There are three stages: the thought of joy, the feeling of joy, and when you become joy. When you become that, you are joy incarnate. In the same way, supposing you meditate upon Jesus. First your thoughts are on the form of Jesus. Then you begin to love him inside; that is the second step. Third you become Christ-conscious. That is the final step.
© 2012 by Truth Consciousness. Excerpted from the Satsang of Swami Amar Jyoti: The Inner Yoga (P-46). For further information
on the audio Satsangs of Swami Amar Jyoti please see page 51 or online at truthconsciousness.org.