Meditation is often included in modern hatha yoga classes in a relevant-but-not-essential way. Many who utilize meditative elements do so by drawing upon Buddhist Mindfulness practices without realizing that Buddhism arose out of yogic tradition and that the latter is steeped in vast meditative wisdom. A long-time disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda (author, Autobiography of a Yogi), I encourage hatha practitioners to re-investigate classical yogic meditation methods and start ‘bringing the pillow to the mat.’
Meaning and Purpose of Yoga
The root word for yoga, “yuj,” means to yoke and implies a state of union or uniting. This is not, as common understanding would have it, a reference to integrating physical and mental health. That stance is understandable in a culture where people are leery of religious dogma or faith-based language. The truth, however, is that yoga is a millennium-old, universal spiritual science that charts the way by which the soul descends from Spirit into bodily consciousness and how, by specific meditative practices, can be returned from a state of isolated embodiment to liberated oneness with Source. Classically speaking, then, yoga refers to yoking or reuniting the individualized divine, soul, with the infinite divine, Spirit. Again, yoga is not to be trivialized as a physical health system yielding flexibility and mental balance. It is about something much more, self-actualization or Self-Realization. And what is that? According to Yogananda, Self-Realization means, “the knowing — in body, mind, and soul – that we are one with the omnipresence of God; that we do not have to pray that it come to us, that we are not merely near it at all times, but that God’s omnipresence is our omnipresence; that we are just as much a part of Him now as we ever will be. All we have to do is improve our knowing.”
At the end of the day this commentary is not about turf, Yoga vs. Buddhism, but education. The role of yoga has always been spiritual and it behooves those enamored by its physical disciplines to understand and practice its meditative ones as well. Doing so will enhance overall benefits and in a way consistent with the core purpose of practice, optimal happiness and fulfillment.
*(Also posted on Coffey Talk Blog on 4/9/16)