One of the notable contadictions in yoga class attendance these days is that while something like 90% of students admit to attending yoga classes for help with stress and as an aid to relaxation, only 10% admit to an interest in yoga meditation.
This is interesting because when the great yoga master Patanjali codefied his legendary Yoga Sutras on which most of today's yoga is founded, he only gave scant emphasis to asana and stated throughout his 196 sutras that the answer to mastery of the restless turbulence of the human mind lay in the practice of meditation.
To Patanjali, yoga was a science of the mastery of the mind through meditation and not the body although this is not to say that he was not concerned with the health and purity of the body just that a range and sequence of asanas had not developed at that time.
Having said all that, in hatha yoga we do recognise that it is possible to get to the mind through the body so all is not lost by those who insist they prefer to practise a weekly variety of poses with a view to moving ever closer to tranquility, serenity or peace (shanti) without the contemplative addition of meditation.
Of course it is still important not to reduce our practice to one merely of posture and movement...but to also synchronise our posturing with our breath and be ever mindful of cultivating our sense of physical awareness in order to bring more lasting meaning to our routine....
The amazing magic of yoga is that if you only practice the asanas with the breath and some degree of closing down relaxation you will in time begin to notice positive changes in your physical comfort, as well as your thoughts, feelings and emotions. and this is even without meditation. So just imagine what an added bonus meditation can bring on your journey to tranquility.
If you are reading this and thinking that you are perfectly happy with your yoga asana practice and the end of class Savasana or relaxation is enough for you and if you practice daily in addition to your weekly extended classes then you are on the road to moving ever closer to that serenity.
If meditation is something that you would rather avoid or ignore if and when your teacher adds it on at the end of class* there are other techniques that you can add to your practice that can help you in your daily life with more pressing worries, problems or weaknesses if your asana is not addressing those issues quickly enough for you.
One technique relates to a concept in yoga known as sankalpa and this simply is a resolve to do something. The sankalpa is often used in Yoga Nidra or yoga sleep, a practice that involves gentle rotation of consciousness directed by your teacher when you are relaxing in savasana...at the outset and near the close you make a resolution or sankalpa to make a positive improvement in some area of your life that is currently bothering you...it does not have to be complex and is in fact better if kept simple....it is remarkable how effective sankalpa can be even after one nidra although sometimes several nidras are required...there is a saying in nidra "be careful what you ask for as you are likey to get it!".
For those who believe that Nidra comes dangerously close to meditation there is a way to incorporate sankalpa into your asana practice not so far removed from Nidra.
At the beginning of your practice whether you begin with a short savasana or sitting to centre yourself become introspective and think of what might be bothering you right now. It can be a long standing weakness that you wished you could turn around, a worry or negativity that you would like to turn into a positive. Think of this issue and then resolve that while you are practising your asanas and becoming aware of the energy and power of the posture together with the energy of the breath, you will bring this issue to mind while you experience that strength and energy. Over time this practice will begin to melt away that weakness and it will be a powerful experience to notice it gradually fading away.
While this is not meditation and will not work miracles it is adding strength to your preferred practice to help you deal with and come to terms with some of the every day turbulance and distractions of the mind. It may help in the war on stress and tensions and could make a difference to the quality of your day to day experiences off the mat in every day life.
Barry Todd (Hatha Yoga Teacher, Bury Mind and Body Studio)
*I came across a story from a yoga studio in California recently where teachers commented that some of their more "physical" students actually leave the class quietly just as meditation is about to start saying they have no time for that part of the practice...while teachers felt disappointed that some students were potentially missing out on some valuable practice it has to be bourne in mind that while there are some students that could benefit from meditation yet feel for some personal reason it is not for them possibly out of some misconception of what meditation is really all about, there are also some students whose needs are better served by more physical practice at that time in their life.