30 November 2009

retro India

Thanks to Nadine I found some cool software that is a free download.
If you love the retro look of old Polaroids, say hello to PolaDroid!

It's addicting but fun! Enjoy!

(37 more day 'til Ma India!!)

25 November 2009

a Buddhist thanksgiving

Even if you are not a vegetarian or a vegan, please remember to practice compassion and mindfulness in how and what you eat.

I know that His Holiness the Dalai Lama eats meat, but the longer I'm on the yoga/Buddhist path, the closer I get to becoming a total vegan. I still eat fish. Occasionally.

Please dedicate the merit of your Thanksgiving meal tomorrow to all sentient beings, especially those who suffer in cages and factory farms.

OM MANI PEDME HUM...may all beings be free from suffering

On this Thanksgiving I am thankful and grateful for everything in my life, even terrible things in the past -- because everything is a teaching and I am a survivor. I am also grateful and thankful for my upcoming adventures in India and Africa, whatever they may bring.

24 November 2009

study + practice = balance


(The Prajñāpāramitā Sutras are a genre of Mahayana Buddhist scriptures dealing with the subject of the Perfection of Wisdom.)

Brenda Feuerstein was kind enough to give me permission to publish this article by Georg Feuerstein. Georg has authored over forty books including The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga, The Yoga Tradition, and Yoga Morality. You may also know Georg and Brenda from their Traditional Yoga Studies website: "Traditional Yoga Studies (TYS) is dedicated to promoting authentic yogic teachings based on scriptural and oral transmission, as well as solid research, and to bringing out their relevance at the present time of severe environmental and social crisis." You can visit for distance learning courses on:

1. 800-hour course on the history, philosophy, and literature of Yoga;
2. 250-hour course on Patanjali's system of Classical Yoga;
3. 250-hour course on the Foundations of Yoga; and
4. 120-hour course on the Bhagavad-Gîtâ

Brenda also told me that they have received an anonymous donation and have decided to pay it forward and give away 10 partial scholarships for their 800-hour Philosophy, History and Literature of Yoga Course. Applications are due by the end of January 2010. If you interested in applying for the course scholarship program which is 50% off the regular price ($600.00 off), you can email Brenda the following information: full name and mailing address, email address, and tell them about yourself, why you want to study the course, and why you require a scholarship for the program.

In light of reader comments on my last post, I thought Georg's article was especially timely.

Talk amongst yourselves!

Studying Yoga by Georg Feuerstein

Everybody talks about practicing Yoga. Few Westerners talk about studying it, and many believe that the study of Yoga is unnecessary and even a waste of time. They like to quote Sanskrit sayings about the uselessness of book learning. These are typically taken out of context, and other, more pertinent statements are either ignored or not even known.

Then, again, there are those who—like the majority of academics—maintain that one must understand Yoga objectively and that by practicing it, one automatically jettisons any claim to objectivity.

Both attitudes are wrong. The belief that studying Yoga is redundant is self-evidently mistaken, because unless we know what we are practicing, we cannot really hope to be successful in our practice. This is like wanting to build a computer without expert knowledge of its component parts and how they interact. Perhaps a more pertinent example would be to want to remove a brain tumor without any medical knowledge and surgical skill.

Thus, the Vishnu-Purâna (6.6.2), a medieval encyclopedic Sanskrit work, rightly and unequivocally states:

"From study one should proceed to practice (yoga), and from practice to study. The supreme Self is revealed through perfection in study and practice."

The belief that objective knowledge is possible and highly desirable is just that: a belief. Philosophers have considered at great length whether the common ideal of scientific objectivity is in fact possible, and many have come to question this. Many have, in addition, expressed doubt about whether such objective knowledge, even if it were possible, would be desirable. Their thoughtful works are readily available, and so I won’t argue this point here.

My present focus of attention is on the study of Yoga, which tradition tells us is indeed essential to success in the practice of Yoga. Study is treated as an integral aspect of Yoga practice. Thus, Patanjali lists study as one of the five aspects of self-restraint (niyama), the second limb of his eightfold path.

The Sanskrit word for study is svādhyāya, which means literally “one’s own (sva) going into (adhyāya).” It stands for the serious and systematic study of both the Yoga tradition and oneself. Both knowledge of the tradition and self-knowledge go hand in hand.

The traditional scriptures contain the distilled wisdom of sages who have climbed to the pinnacle of self-knowledge, and therefore these texts can contribute to our own self-knowledge. Study, in the yogic sense, is always a journey of self-discovery, self-understanding, and self-transcendence.

Yoga does not call for blind faith, though it stresses the superlative importance of real, deep faith (shraddhā), or trust. Mere belief cannot help us realize that which abides beyond the conditional or egoic personality. Instead, Yoga has always been intensely experimental and experiential, and study is one aspect of this sound approach.

Many Western Yoga practitioners, especially those with a dominant right brain, shy away from study. They much rather polish their performance of this or that posture or, more rarely, learn a new breathing technique. Yet, it would seem they often miss the mark, because they do not know the proper context in which these techniques must be cultivated. The state of Hatha-Yoga practice and teaching in the Western hemisphere is a good case in point: What was once a profoundly spiritual discipline has been demoted to physical health and fitness training. [emphasis supplied.]

Often Western Yoga practitioners do not even have an accurate knowledge of the techniques themselves. They sometimes seek to compensate for their ignorance by trying to reinvent the wheel and by producing their own versions of yogic practices. While innovation is commendable — our whole civilizational adventure is based on it — in the case of Yoga, we would do well to be modest. After all, the Yoga tradition can look back upon the accumulated wisdom of at least 5,000 years of intense experimentation.

Just as a predominantly right-brain (action-driven) approach to Yoga has its pitfalls, a purely left-brained (thought-driven) approach is equally precarious, if not altogether futile. “Armchair Yoga” cannot replace actual experience.[emphasis supplied.] If our practice is merely nominal, so will be our attainments. In Yoga, both theory and practice form a continuum, like space-time. It requires from us a full engagement, as the Buddhists put it: with body, speech, and mind. Yoga, as the Bhagavad-Gītā (2.48) reminds us, is balance (samatva). Hence we ought to engage both cerebral hemispheres when applying ourselves to the yogic path. Let us also recall here that one of the meanings of the word yoga is “integration.”

An ancient scripture, the Shata-Patha-Brāhmana (, declares that, for serious students, study is a source of joy. It focuses the student’s mind and allows him or her to sleep peacefully. It also yields insight and the capacity to master life. What more could one ask for?

Copyright ©2009 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

20 November 2009

this is my real yoga

“You are a life saver. Without you I would be a stressed out 20 year old bitching about everything. Now I live my life and I’m writing my own story and I have never felt better. I tell everyone about you and how you guide people to find not only happiness but themselves. I thank you for opening my eyes to that.”
[college student, 2009]

With all the yada yada about how old yoga really is (see discussion in comments), the name-branding of yoga and the Show Biz Yogi Lifestyle (TM of course), what is "real yoga", Bikram's desire to have yoga (uh, asana) competition in the Olympics, ad infinitum, it all makes me want to scream "STOP!"

Don't get me wrong, I love a good discussion, but I have to ask: when is enough, enough? Buddha (basically) said not to take peoples' words as gospel, that you must experience things through your own lens and judge for yourself.

I know what works for me and I've written about it on numerous occasions. Brenda made an excellent point when she asked "if you just boil it down to asana without any kind of inner reflection, then isn't it just floor exercise?" I love her one word opinion about that.

But I will play devil's advocate and say, so what? So what if someone does some stretches when they get out of bed and calls it yoga? I asked Tom Pilarzyk that question when I heard him speak on whether American yoga is in crisis.

He said that he would compare that to the idea of Christmas. He asked, what if a person said "so what if I only like lots of presents on Christmas?" Tom said, OK, if that's all you want, but isn't the idea of Christmas really about something more?

I believe that yoga must contain certain things in order for it to be called yoga. Notice that I did not say any type of spirituality must be a requirement; I don't even say namaste at the end of my classes. I don't care if you've never read a yoga book and think Bhagavad Gita is the name of the guy who fixed your computer.

As I've heard Desikachar say, if yoga does not contain X, then you're just doing acrobatics. Nick Rosen, the "star" of the movie Enlighten Up said "yoga’s anything you want it to be and that’s very freeing..." Uh, OK...I'm going to swing from a chandelier in my chakra underwear and trademark it as "SwingYoga." Yup...just call something "yoga" and that makes it "yoga." Uh-huh. And if you steal this idea I'm going to sue your yoga butt.

Sometimes all this yada yada makes me want to go off and live in a cave. OK, not really, but it does make me question being a yoga teacher, especially when stuff like this happens. I tell myself, why bother, when people aren't getting it. I know a few teachers who have just given up. Then I remember what I heard Seane Corn say in a workshop: that she'd rather teach to the two who get it than the 10 who don't.

But then a student tells me what my college yogi told me. Or the hearts of the domestic violence survivors crack open when they know that maybe just for this moment they are loved unconditionally.

That is my real yoga, and frankly, I don't care what you do. I used to care, but I don't anymore. You do your "yoga" and I'll do mine. But please...don't insult me and my teachers and my teachers' teachers going all the way back to Patanjali by calling your morning stretches or your posing, yoga.

Don't insult the original yogis, the sramanas, those renouncers of the Hindu rituals who around the 8th Century BC to the 2nd century CE used their bodies and minds as laboratories for the direct experience of yoga and nondualism.

If something isn't changing for you off the mat, then don't call it yoga.

Instead of a Christmas analogy, I'll use food. If you want to make a chocolate cake but leave out the chocolate, can you still call it a chocolate cake? Or is it just a poor imitation?

Just askin'.

15 November 2009

Aum Gan Ganapatye Namah

O Ganesha and Kali Ma, bless our yatra!

I have one more train ride for which to buy tickets. What's so hard about that you may ask? Well, if you have ever dealt with the Indian rail website, believe me, I repeatedly chant Ganesha's mantra to remove any and all obstacles!

One can book tickets 90 days before a trip excluding day of travel and we have been lucky. My friend was afraid we would be "waitlisted" (where you basically wait for seats to become available) for the train from Delhi to Haridwar because of the mass of humanity (check out the satellite photo) traveling to the Mela. But Ganesha and Kali have smiled upon us because I was able to book us seats in First Class Air Conditioned for $18 a ticket (yes, you read right. $18 for First Class train travel) with a minimum of hassle (and that's another story about using the website.)

Our third train ride (the first being a 7 hour trip from Kolkata to Bhubaneswar) is returning from the Mela, Haridwar to Delhi, nine days later. We will chill out in Delhi for a few days before my friend flies home and I fly to Africa via Qatar for another adventure. The 90th day is Wednesday so wish me luck that I can get our last train tickets. I'm ready to chant Ganesha's mantra 108 times....and view the video to get a taste of my adventure....

13 November 2009

the ups and downs of teaching and why common sense ain't too common

"Repeated frustrations and disappointments, Sama, are always a reflection of repeated misunderstandings and presumptions. Oh, darn." - The Universe

Some of the most frequent search phrases for this blog are about "teaching yoga" or "how much does a yoga teacher make" or "I want to teach yoga." I've written before about the trials and tribulations about teaching for yoga studio owners, so this is another taste of what real life yoga teaching is all about. Gather 'round, children.

Besides teaching privately, I also teach at two community colleges and rent a room at a massage therapy business. I will be gone for two months next year so I needed to get subs for my classes. The two colleges are covered and the persons in charge of my classes are very thankful that I did not leave them in the lurch; both wished me well and told me they would welcome me back, no problem. In fact one woman told me that I was the best yoga teacher they could ever have....sigh (hug.)

Some of you may recall my misadventure with a young studio owner which prompted me to find the room that I rent. I started teaching in this space in January and the dedicated yin students followed me there from the studio.

As a renter I am under no delusion that I will be there forever. You rent at the whim of the landlord. It seemed like a great fit since the owner does massage, reiki, has meditation classes, etc.

When I started using his space the first thing I did was invite him to my class on Sunday mornings to experience what yin yoga is all about and to learn more about me. I thought he would be all into it considering he is a massage therapist and teaches meditation classes (in other words, he talks the talk.) He never did.

I told him that I study yoga therapy at one of the leading yoga schools in the world, so I encouraged him to suggest yoga therapy to his clients. I encouraged him to promote the fact that he had a highly trained yoga teacher working out of his space and it could be a win-win situation for both of us. The situation that I describe can really be the best of both worlds for a yoga teacher and a holistic practice if there is communication and give and take between the parties. During the year I also suggested different workshops but he never showed any interest. I am the only yoga in this small town, which will soon have no yoga. A big fish in a little pond with lots of room for growth. Unfortunately, as much as I would like to have my own meditation center that offers yoga (instead of the other way around), I can not afford to rent a space large enough to do this.

I said that I would be gone for two months and asked whether it would be OK to continue the classes (my students were already worried about what would happen to the classes) with my friend subbing. After all, it's not my place, so I teach there at his whim. I asked three times about it and I never received a response. I finally received this email:

"When Metta-Yoga started at the Center, I was thinking about it more from the perspective that it would be of benefit to some of the Center clients. So far, it doesn't seem like there has been very many that have taken up on the opportunity. The additional exposure would have been nice too, but as far as I can tell, there have only been one or two students who have sought sessions. Also, I need to start teaching classes on Saturday and Sunday days which would end up conflicting with the class room use on Sunday. From a philosophical perspective, I am slightly more comfortable referring clients to a style of Yoga such as Svaroopa as it is more spinal and joint opening then core strengthening. I think a restorative / repairative style would be more attractive to some of my older, chronically impaired clients who have spinal & joint issues. Therefore, I am thinking that at the end of the year we should end the use of the space for the classes you are teaching."

Now let me break down this email for you, kids....

1. Other than being mentioned on the center's website, to my knowledge my sessions were never advertised to their database, so how would his clients know what I offer and take advantage of it? I always asked whether my new sessions would be announced and I never received any response. In fact, I used to teach two classes and had to drop one because of lack of attendance. I also could not depend on coverage in the local paper -- the editor told me my press release could always be superseded by an announcement for let's say...a hog calling contest. ahem.

2. As for needing to use the room, I understand that, it's his space.

3. My students did not utilize his services, which is too bad, but I could not help that.

4. But as for the part in bold....HUH?!?

Like I said, even after more than a few invitations the owner never came to my class (which he could have taken for free!) or ever asked me what I teach or how I teach, so he had no basis for making that statement. Yin yoga is "core strengthening"? Whaaaat?

As for Svaroopa yoga, I started becoming suspicious when I saw cards for a Svaroopa yoga teacher next to my cards on the front desk. Hmmmmmm, I thought, what's that all about? I know nothing about that style of yoga, only that it uses chairs and lots of props and is considered restorative. But my point is: the owner never made any attempt to learn what I do or what I can offer.

"Spinal and joint opening"? This was my response to that:

"I do not teach a style of yoga that is "core strengthening." I invited you a number of times to come experience yin yoga, but you never did.

All yoga is "spinal and joint opening" just as all yoga is therapeutic if applied in the right manner. In fact, the style of yin yoga is not only practiced by senior citizens with limited mobility, but is also used in addiction and trauma recovery programs. The concept of "yin" means that it is "still" as opposed to "yang" or moving."

Common sense tells me that if I, a holistic practitioner, was renting space to a yoga teacher with my training in yoga, yoga therapy, meditation, and energy work, that I would want to take advantage of that and work with that person to grow both our businesses. He would have been the only alternative therapy business for miles around to offer yoga therapy. As my friend who was going to sub for me told me, his loss. But common sense ain't too common anymore. What was I thinking?!?

Don't kid yourselves. As much as we yoga teachers like to think that yoga has gone mainstream, that people will be rushing to yoga therapy, or that other holistic practitioners will knock down your doors begging for your services...think again.

So let this be a lesson for you, children, on the ups and down of yoga teaching. But am I upset? Actually I'm not. For some reason that I have yet to figure out, I am relieved. Sure it was a nice chunk of change every 6-8 weeks, but the energy was off. When I offer my services to someone and say let's work together, and I am not respected and worse, underestimated, it's time to get the hell out.

This yoga business journey has shown me time and time again to do my own thing and don't count on (and never completely trust) anyone but me. The words of my astrologer keep ringing in my ears: find my own tribe.

06 November 2009

decisions, decisions....

Hmmmm....should I blog about teaching in Tanzania to global yogis....

...or totally disappear once I hit blogging, no Facebook updates, no tweets (which I'm beginning to think tweeting is a huge waste of time anyway.)

The Yoga Adventure in Africa is sold out -- but no one from here (USA) is going. Too outside the box and (I'm assuming) too expensive to get to Africa. That is too bad because that means no money whatsoever for the eye clinic in Moshi, Tanzania (except my donation.) I had hoped that enough people from here would have signed up to give Seva $1,080.00. I sent my business newsletter announcing the trip to over 100 people all over the country. YogaChicago magazine (where I placed my ad) has a circulation of over 25,000 readers. A few bloggers (you know who you are! thank you again!) wrote about the trip. In spite of all that, no American takers.

However, within two days of an email announcement, a dozen people from the Tanzanian yoga community signed up. We only have room for 15, so that's 12, my friend who organized it, her friend who owns the property where I will teach, and me. Full...and me bringing yin yoga to Africa. Paul Grilley told me, "you go, girl!" I'm global, baby.

A friend told me I might fall in love with Africa the way I did with India. I'm not ruling it out...because I've asked Maithri if I could teach yoga to HIV/AIDS patients in Swaziland.

Hmmmmm....I like going off the grid....

I step onto the plane in 60 days.

04 November 2009

slipping over the edge

What is it about "restorative yoga" that gets me so agitated?

I wrote here about my experience with restorative yoga at my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training at Spirit Rock. I definitely was not the only person who had a strong reaction (aversion) to the practice and I believe it was because of what we were doing -- sitting for many hours every day -- that made a restorative yoga practice inappropriate for our situation.

I know that there are many people who love this style of yoga and I also understand how it is very beneficial for some and in certain situations, recovering from an illness for example. Some people think yin yoga is a "restorative" practice but I believe that is a huge misunderstanding. I can easily stay in supta virasana for 15 minutes in a yin class with no agitation whatsoever -- my mind is as still as a placid pond. Yin yoga is not restorative yoga, different concepts are involved.

But once you add three blankets, two bolsters, a strap, two blocks, and shoulderstand on a chair, I start grinding my teeth. There is something about fiddling around with all those props that puts me over the edge.

I went to a class this morning that is taught in the style of Rod Stryker. The teacher announced "because of the time change and the full moon" (huh? I don't even pay attention to the moon phases) "this will be a restorative class." I almost walked out, but out of respect for the teacher, I did not. I'm not dissing the teacher -- she's an excellent teacher and I've known her a long was the yoga. And my reaction to it.

I was on edge throughout the entire class. Nothing restorative about it. Fold the blanket, buckle the strap, adjust the bolster, hang over a chair. Faggedaboutit. Shoulderstand in a chair made me very nauseous and I normally stay in shoulderstand for a minimum of 5 minutes. The only part I liked was savasana because I was done messing around with all those damn props.

I'm a vipassana person who is very accustomed to watching whatever comes up, all physical and emotional sensations. I don't run from them. So I keenly observed what came up during class: "agitation is like this. examine it. where is it? it's temporary, let it go, things will always change." I have to admit that the class was good mind training.

My yoga behind closed doors is like this:

I play some cool music and start moving, flowing, feeling. Maybe I drop into yin asanas, maybe not. For me, there is stillness in motion and I treat the asanas as mere shapes and forms that are constantly changing and evolving.

So I think maybe that because I'm a meditator, because I treat my movement as a meditation, that I'm already there. That I don't need to force myself to slow down for 90 minutes in a restorative class as some people do because...I'm already there.

My other thought is maybe just like there are certain pranayama techniques that affect each dosha differently (I was told at KYM that I should not do much kapalabhati), maybe restorative yoga affects some people adversely. Why not? Even good medicine can kill you if not taken in the correct way.

Or maybe it's just because I'm a rebel yoga grrl who doesn't like being told to fold that, tie the strap here, put that bolster there, now rest -- even if it is not appropriate for your physical, mental, and energetic bodies to rest at that particular time. It offends my free spirit and it stifles me.

I'm going now. I have to meditatively move.

03 November 2009

Krishnamacharya, Desikachar, Indra Devi

Here is an amazing video of Krishnamacharya, his son Desikachar, and Indra Devi from 1988. Sri Krishnamacharya was 100 years old in this video.

When I am at the Mandiram I love listening to Desikachar's stories about his father's students. Desikachar told us a story about how perturbed he was when he saw his father hugging a western woman, on the street no less. If you know anything about South Indian culture, especially Brahmin culture, that is absolutely not done! Then his father told him it was Indra Devi, his student.

Desikachar told us how when he was growing up he was not interested in learning yoga. He was not like Jois or Iyengar who started their studies when they were young. Desikachar was an engineer, he wanted to make money. Then one day he saw his father stop his pulse for two minutes, he had such control over his body. He told us when that happened he fell to his knees and asked his father to teach him everything he knew about yoga. The rest is history.

I am honored and blessed to have such a close connection to the source, to the heart of yoga.

Sixty-four more days and I am back in Ma India's arms. My friends keep asking me if I am going to come back. Studying yoga at the source, climbing Mt. Arunachala, Kali temples in Kolkata, the Temple of the 64 Yoginis in Bhubaneswar, culminating my India trip at the largest spiritual gathering in the world, the Kumbh Mela....

A few years ago an akashic record reader told me (before the Mela was even a thought in my mind) that what I experience on one of my India trips will be so profound that I will have to go to a "place with palm trees" to recoup.

I am. Zanzibar has palm trees.

01 November 2009

yoga wisdom from my teacher

Meditating on Meditation by Srivatsa Ramaswami

"I was watching a live television program in India some 30 years back
when TV had just been introduced in India. It was a program in which
an elderly yogi was pitted against a leading cardiologist. It was
virtually a war. The yogi was trying to impress with some unusual
poses which were dubbed as potentially dangerous by the doctor. Almost
everything the yogi claimed was contested by the non-yogi and soon the
dialogue degenerated. The yogi stressed that headstand will increase
longevity by retaining the amrita in the sahasrara in the head and the
medical expert countered it by saying that there was no scientific
basis for such claims and dubbed it as a pose which was unnatural and
dangerous and will lead to a stroke. The Yogi replied by saying that
Yoga had stood the test of time for centuries; it had been in vogue
much before modern medicine became popular. Thank God it was a black
and white program; else you would have seen blood splashed all over
the screen.

Things have become more civil in these three decades. Now neti pot,
asanas, yogic breathing exercises and yogic meditation have all become
part of the medical vocabulary. There is a grudging appreciation of
yoga within the medical profession. Many times doctors suggest a few
yogic procedures, especially Meditation, in several conditions like
hypertension, anxiety, depression and other psychosomatic ailments.

Ah! Meditation. The Yoga world is divided into two camps. On one side
we have enthusiastic hata yogis who specialize in asanas and the other
group which believes fervently in meditation as a panacea for all the

But how should one meditate? Many start meditation and give it up
after a few days or weeks as they fail to see any appreciable benefit
or perceivable progress. The drop out rate is quite high among
meditators. The mind continues to be agitated and does not get into
the meditating routine. Or quite often one tends to take petit naps
while meditating. Why does this happen? It is due to lack of adequate
preparation. Basically one has to prepare oneself properly for
meditation. The Yogis mention two sadhanas or two yogic procedures as
preparations. They are asanas and pranayama. Asanas, as we have seen
earlier, reduce rajas which manifests as restlessness of the mind, an
inability to remain focused for an appreciable amount of time. But
another guna, tamas also is not helpful during meditation, manifesting
as laziness, lethargy and sloth and this also should be brought under
control if one wants to meditate. Patanjali, Tirumular and several old
Yogis advocate the practice of Pranayama to reduce the effects of
Tamas. Patanjali says Pranayama helps to reduce avarana or Tamas. He
along with conventional ashtanga yogis also mentions that Pranayama
makes the mind capable of Dharana or the first stage of meditation.
Pranayama is an important prerequisite of meditation.

There is evidence that pranayama has a salutary effect on the whole
system. In an earlier article I had explained the beneficial effects
of deep pranayama on the heart and the circulatory system. Further,
when it is done correctly, it helps to draw in anywhere between 3 to 4
liters of atmospheric air compared to just about ½ liter of air
during normal breathing. This helps to stretch the air sacs of the
lungs affording an excellent exchange of oxygen and gaseous waste
products. These waste products are proactively thrown out of the
system by deep pranayama, which yogis refer to as reduction of tamas.
Thus soon after pranayama, the yogi feels refreshed and calm and
becomes fit for the first stage of meditation which is called Dharana.

What should one meditate on? Several works talk about meditating on
cakras, mantras, auspicious icons, various tatwas and on the spirit/
soul etc. But, the method of meditating, only a few works detail.
Perhaps the most precise is that of Patanjali in Yoga Sutras.
Patanjali details not only a step by step methodology of meditation
but also the various objects of prakriti and ultimately the spirit
within to meditate on. Hence his work may be considered as the most
detailed, complete and rigorous on meditation

For a start Patanjali would like the abhyasi to get the technique
right. So he does not initially specify the object but merely says
that the Yogi after the preliminary practices of asana, pranayama and
pratyahara, should sit down in a comfortable yogasana and start the
meditation. Tying the mind to a spot is dharana. Which spot? Vyasa in
his commentary suggests going by tradition, a few spots, firstly
inside the body, like the chakras as the Kundalini Yogi would do,, or
the heart lotus as the bhakti yogi would do, or the mid-brows as a
sidhha yogi would do or even an icon outside as a kriya yogi would do.
The icon should be an auspicious object like the image of one’s
favorite deity. Many find it easier to choose a mantra and focus
attention on that. Thousands everyday meditate on the Gayatri mantra
visualizing the sun in the middle of the eyebrows or the heart as part
of their daily Sandhyavandana** routine. It is also an ancient
practice followed even today to meditate on the breath with or without
using the Pranayama Mantra.

(*Namarupa published my article “Sandhyavandanam-Ritualistic
Gayatri Meditation” with all the routines, mantras, meanings, about 40
pictures, and also an audio with the chanting of the mantras in the
Sep/Oct 2008 issue.)

What of the technique?

The Yogabhyasi starts the antaranga sadhana or the internal practice
by bringing the mind to the same object again and again even as the
mind tends to move away from the chosen object of meditation. The
active, repeated attempts to bring the mind back to the simple, single
object again and again is the first stage of meditation (samyama)
called dharana. Even though one has done everything possible to make
the body/mind system more satwic, because of the accumulated samskaras
or habits, the mind continues to drift away from the object chosen for
meditation. The mind starts with the focus on the object but within a
short time it swiftly drifts to another related thought then a third
one and within a short time this train of thoughts leads to a stage
which has no connection whatsoever with the object one started with.
Then suddenly the meditator remembers that one is drifting and soon
brings the mind back to the object and resumes remaining with the
“object”. This process repeats over and over again. This repeated
attempts to coax and bring the mind to the same object is dharana. At
the end of the session lasting for about 15 minutes, the meditator may
(may means must) take a short time to review the quality of
meditation. How often was the mind drifting away from the object and
how long on an average the mind wandered? And further what were the
kinds of interfering thoughts? The meditator takes note of these. If
they are recurrent and strong then one may take efforts to sort out
the problem that interferes with the meditation repeatedly or at least
decide to accept and endure the situation but may decide to take
efforts to keep those thoughts away at least during the time one

If during the dharana period, the mind gets distracted too often and
this does not change over days of practice, perhaps it may indicate
that the rajas is still dominant and one may want to reduce the
systemic rajas by doing more asanas in the practice. On the other hand
if the rajas is due to influences from outside, one may take special
efforts to adhere to the yamaniyamas more scrupulously. Perhaps every
night before going to sleep one may review the day’s activities and
see if one had willfully violated the tenets of yamaniyamas like “did
I hurt someone by deed, word or derive satisfaction at the expense of
others’ pain”. Or did I say untruths and so on. On the other hand if
one tends to go to sleep during the meditation minutes, one may
consider increasing the pranayama practice and also consider reducing
tamasic interactions, foods etc.

Then one may continue the practice daily and also review the progress
on a daily basis and also make the necessary adjustments in practice
and interactions with the outside world. Theoretically and practically
when this practice is continued diligently and regularly, slowly the
practitioner of dharana will find that the frequency and duration of
these extraneous interferences start reducing and one day, the abhyasi
may find that for the entire duration one stayed with the object. When
this takes place, when the mind is completely with the object moment
after moment in a continuous flow of attention, then one may say that
the abhyasi has graduated into the next stage of meditation known as
dhyana. Many meditators are happy to have reached this stage. Then one
has to continue with the practice so that the dhyana habits or
samskaras get strengthened. The following day may not be as
interruption free, but Patanjali says conscious practice will make it
more successful. “dhyana heyat tad vrittayah”. If one continues with
this practice for sufficiently long time meditating on the same object
diligently, one would hopefully reach the next stage of meditation
called Samadhi. In this state only the object remains occupying the
mind and the abhyasi even forgets herself/himself. Naturally if one
continues the meditation practice one would master the technique of
meditation. Almost every time the yagabhasi gets into meditation
practice, one would get into Samadhi. Once one gets this capability
one is a yogi—a technically competent yogi-- and one may be able to
use the skill on any other yoga worthy object and make further
progress in Yoga. (tatra bhumishu viniyogah)

The consummate yogi could make a further refinement. An object has a
name and one has a memory of the object, apart from the object itself
(sabda, artha gnyana). If a Yogi is able to further refine the
meditation by focusing attention on one aspect like the name of the
object such a meditation is considered superior. For instance when the
sound ‘gow” is heard (gow is cow ), if the meditiator intently
maintains the word ‘gow’ alone in his mind without bringing the
impression(form) of a cow in his mind then that is considered a
refined meditation. Or when he sees the cow, he does not bring the
name ‘gow’ in the meditation process, it is a refined meditation.

The next aspect-after mastering meditation— one may consider is, what
should be the object one should meditate upon. For Bhakti Yogis it is
the Lord one should meditate upon. According to my teacher, a great
Bhakti Yogi, there is only one dhyana or meditation and that is
bhagavat dhyana or meditating upon the Lord. There is a difference
between a religious person and a devotee. A devotee loves the Lord and
meditates on the Lord, all through life. The Vedas refer to the
Pararmatman or the Supreme Lord and bhakti yogis meditate on the Lord.
The Vedas also refer to several gods and some may meditate on these as
well. By meditating on the Lord one may transcend the cycle of
transmigration. At the end of the bhakti yogi’s life one reaches the
same world of the Lord (saloka), the heaven. Some attain the same form
as the Lord. Some stay in the proximity of the Lord and some merge
with the Lord. The Puranas which are the later creation of poet seers
personify the Lord and the vedic gods. Thus we have several puranas as
Agni purana, Vayu purana and then those of the Lord Himself like the
Bhagavata Purana , Siva Purana , Vishnu Purana. Running to thousands
of slokas and pages the puranic age helped to worship the Lord more
easily as these stories helped to visualize the Lord as a person,
which was rather difficult to do from the Vedas. Later on Agamas made
the Lord more accessible by allowing idols to be made of the Lord and
divine beings and consecrating them in temples. Thus these various
methods helped the general populace remain rooted to religion and
religious worship. So meditating upon the charming idol/icon of the
Lord made it possible for many to worship and meditate . Of course
many traditional Brahmins belonging to the vedic practices stuck to
the vedic fire rituals, frowned upon and refrained from any ‘form
worship’, but millions of others found form worship a great boon.

Meditating on the form of the chosen deity either in a temple or at
one’s own home has made it possible to sidestep the intermediate
priestly class to a great extent. One can become responsible for one’s
own religious practice, including meditation. The ultimate reality is
meditated on in different forms, in any form as Siva Vishnu etc or as
Father, Mother, Preceptor or even a Friend. Some idol meditators
define meditating on the whole form as dharana, then meditating on
each aspect of the form as the toe or head or the arms or the
bewitching eyes as dhyana and thus giving a different interpretation
to meditation. Some, after meditating on the icon, close the eyes and
meditate on the form in their mind’s eye (manasika).

Darshanas like Samkhya and Yoga which do not subscribe to the theory
of a Creator commended ‘the understanding of one’s own Self’ as a
means of liberation. The Self which is non-changing is pure
consciousness and by deep unwavering meditation after getting the
technique right, one can realize the nature of oneself and be
liberated. Following this approach, the Samkhyas commend meditating on
each and every of the 24 aspects of prakriti in the body-mind complex
of oneself and transcend them to directly know the true nature of
oneself, and that will be Freedom or Kaivalya. Similarly the Yogis
would say that the true nature of the self is known when the mind
transcends(nirodha) the five types of its activities called vrittis to
reach kaivalya, by a process of subtler and subtler meditation.

The Upanishads on the other hand while agreeing with the other
Nivritti sastras like Yoga and Samkhya in so far as the nature of the
self is concerned, indicate that the individual and the Supreme Being
are one and the same and meditating on this identity leads to
liberation. They would like the spiritual aspirant to first follow a
disciplined life to get an unwavering satwic state of the mind. Then
one would study the upanishadic texts (sravana), by analysis (manana)
understand them and realize the nature of the self through several
step by step meditation approaches (nidhidhyasana). The Vedas, for the
sake of the spiritual aspirant, have several Upanishad vidyas to study
and understand It from several viewpoints. For instance, the panchkosa
vidya indicates that the real self is beyond (or within) the five
koshas (sheaths). It could also be considered as the pure
consciousness which is beyond the three states of awareness (avasta)
of waking, dream and deep sleep, as the Pranava(Om) vidya would
indicate. The understanding and conviction that Self and the Supreme
Self are one and the same is what one needs to get, before doing
Upanishadic meditation following the advaitic interpretation.

Summarizing one may say that traditional meditation warrants proper
preparation so that the mind becomes irrevocably satwic and thus fit
for and capable of meditation. Secondly it requires practice on a
simple object until the meditation technique is mastered and such
meditatin samskaras developed. Then the Yogi should set the goal of
meditation based on the conviction of a solid philosophy—bhakti,
samkhya, yoga, vedanta, kundalini (or if comfortable, nirvana) or

Thank you Ramaswamiji!

I can't credit this as my own question, but it's a good one: "why is it that all these people practice yoga (also known as "stretching") but never seem to meditate?"

This morning I asked my class (a class that has 15-20 minutes of meditation at the end -- and no one leaves) if they are using meditation to gain something or to get rid of something.

My personal yoga practice is almost all meditation nowadays. Yes, I still move, but asanas are merely shapes and forms to lead me into formless quietude.