Monday, 7 March 2011

'Some kind of meditative practice' :Meditation confusion

Ramaswami said something in one of the podcast's ( 2nd one) I featured in a previous post.

' don't get out of the class just doing asana. After asana you do Pranayama, after pranayama you sit down and do some kind of meditative practice. If you do them all in one sitting then you combine Hatha and Raja yoga'. ( loosely transposed)

'Some kind of meditative practice'

This is behind my thinking on an 'off the cuff' a comment I've just left on Claudia's blog, something I'm trying to get clear in my own head. I've reproduced the comment in full below mainly because I want to continue trying to get this clearer about this and come back to it later.

Ramaswami stressed how Book 1 of the Sutras was for the 'born yogi' who didn't really have to work at it, kind of an ideal. For the rest of us , and he said 'us',including himself in this, we have Book 2 of the sutras, on practice.

I'm starting to see a confusion around meditation. I think, in the west, if we haven't studied or practiced it, we tend to have a simplistic Zen model of meditation, as if any second we're going to experience nirvana which, on encountering yoga, we equate with samadhi. So as good yogi's we do our asana, our pranayama, possibly a little pratyahara and then settle down for meditation.

However, Ramaswami reminds us that the 'meditation section' of the limbs comprises three elements the first of which is concentration (Dharana). That's why he talks about japa mantra meditation (repeating a mantra over and over) as a concentration exercise, but also chanting or focussing on the study of an appropriate text, all concentration exercises and that the previous limbs help prepare us, get us into a fit state for concentration, not for liberation, not yet, just concentration.

Only once our concentration is sufficiently developed are we able to then focus it on the divine or absence of self ( Dhyna) and supposedly achieve liberation.

Current SKPJ Ashtanga then makes more sense, the stress on tristana as a concentration exercise, the tristana (breath, movement, gaze ) as dharana. It also explains perhaps why Jois didn't think we were ready for meditation, because what we were really talking about/asking about was Dhyna (the 2nd stage of meditation) not understanding the importance of the previous stage Dharana (concentration) that we were already working on in the practice. Same with Pranayama. Ashtanga, with it's strong ujaii breathing and use of mula and uddiyana bandhas seems to be trying to work on the tamas (lethargy, negativity) at the same time as the rajas (agitation and restlessness for example) which I guess are supposedly being reduced as the practice goes on, it's a clever approach.

Vinyasa Krama seems to keep the different limbs separate, some asana for health and to reduce rajas, pranyama for the tamas, pratyahara to withdraw the senses THEN Dharana/concentration practice ( japa or chanting or text study) which will, sooner or later, prepare you to practice Dhyna,

Vipassana of course works on Concentration/Dharana, through the focus on the breath, sensations, emotions, thoughts. Maybe we like it in the west because it also seems to work as an inner shrink ( kind of). Pranayama too in it's own way in it ability to work as a check and even control of the emotions. there's something almost comic about how we need something extra, some extra benefit to get us to sit still.

The question then shouldn't be whether gym yogis are working on meditation but are they working on concentration and does their practice prepare them for it ( this relates to the opening question on Claudia's blog post on whether modern yogi's practice meditation).

This is how I'm understanding it at the moment, seems to be making a little more sense.
I think it explains some of my own confusion recently and some of the conflicts and consternation that arose from my trying to integrate Ashtanga, Vipassana and Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama, which is a post in itself.

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