Meditation is the key practice of traditional Yoga and the prime factor behind an authentic Ayurvedic lifestyle. Meditation goes to the root of our consciousness and prana, connecting us to our higher Self and aligning us with the healing and transformational forces of the greater Self-aware universe. If we don’t meditate daily we lose our ability to relate to the whole of life or to our true nature.

By Dr David Frawley

Meditation in the Yoga Sutras

Yoga in the Yoga Sutras is defined as mastery or silencing (nirodha) of the mind (chitta), which allows us to return to our true nature as the Seer or Purusha beyond the mind. This is also a definition of Samadhi or unity consciousness that is the goal of Yoga. In other words, Yoga is all about deep meditation first and foremost. The simplest way to define this developing detachment or vairagya from body and mind and the qualities or gunas of the external world.

The three inner aspects of the well known eight limbs of Yoga are dharana, dhyana and samadhi, or concentration, meditation and absorption. These three together form samyama or deep yogic awareness that is the basis of the powers and insights of Yoga practice as defined in the third Vibhuti Pada of the text. While the Yoga Sutras contains only two Sutras related to asana, more than half of the Sutras are related to these internal factors of meditation, samadhi and samyama, which are the basis of yogic Self-realization.

Yogic meditation rests primarily upon taking the attitude of the witness (Sakshi-bhava), which means aligning our awareness with our inner Self and Seer. We learn to witness the movements of the body, senses and mind from a place of silent awareness and inner light. This grants detachment and discernment that removes negative karmic patterns. Whatever we witness from the standpoint of a higher awareness we gain freedom from and can heal at a deep level. Witnessing emotions transforms them, not trying to express them or suppress them.

Beyond the Mind to Self-awareness

Meditation today is often linked with the idea mindfulness, which may suggest a mental activity. Yogic meditation, however, emphasizes an awareness of the mind, which requires cultivating an intelligence and consciousness beyond the ordinary mind and senses. Much of what we call mind is in fact unconscious or subconscious, not truly aware but conditioned often in a negative manner. This includes most of our memories and emotions. That lower aspect of the mind must be transformed by a higher consciousness. Otherwise we remain trapped in its karmic compulsions.

Yogic meditation is an internal quest for our inner immortal Self (Atman or Purusha), not simply an examination of the mind. It involves a systematic process of introspection, Self-examination and Self-inquiry, turning our awareness within. This is the basis of Jnana Yoga or the Yoga of knowledge as defined in Vedanta. Yet devotional forms of Yogic meditation are equally important, emphasizing surrender to the Divine within (Ishvara Pranidhana), including through various deity forms as in Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of Devotion.

Mantra Meditation

Central to Yoga and Ayurveda is the use of mantras. In the Yoga Sutras, the mantra OM (Pranava) is said to be the indicator of Ishvara or the Divine as the original teacher or Adi Guru of Yoga. Through OM we can access Ishvara and the power of Yoga. Yet OM as primal sound connects with the entire Vedic mantra tradition, starting with single syllable bija mantras, including Shakti mantras like Hreem, and extending to the mantric prayers or suktas of the Vedic rishis, such as the famous Gayatri mantra to the Deity Savita as the solar power of enlightenment.

There are various methods in Yoga, Ayurveda and Vedic astrology for choosing mantras relative to individual needs of doshas, gunas and karmas, which extend to meditation. There are special mantras taught in different Yoga traditions and gurus for particular sadhanas. There is no one size fits all for mantras but much like a diagnosis of the person’s constitution; an examination is necessary to determine the appropriate mantras for the individual. We find such mantra meditation traditions in many Yoga and Ayurveda groups throughout India and now the West as well.

Ayurveda like Yoga arises from the Rishi tradition of the Vedas that includes great yogis like Vasishta, Vamadeva, Yajnavalkya and Agastya. While Sri Krishna is the Vishnu avatar form for Yoga, Lord Dhanvantari is the avatar form for Ayurveda. Lord Shiva is the Lord of Yoga at a deity level and is also the ideal doctor in the oldest Rigveda. The Goddess (Deva) in all her forms is the Yoga Shakti or power of Yoga, which is primarily the energy of meditation. Such deity connections can be very helpful to our meditation practices.

Ayurveda Mantra and Meditation Therapy

Ayurveda employs Yoga in its eight aspects as part of its Sattvavajaya therapy, the second of its three prime therapies along with balancing the doshas and rectifying our karmas. Sattvavajaya aims at increasing sattva guna, the quality; of balance, in our minds. In Ayurveda rajas and tamas, the qualities of agitation and inertia, are regarded as the doshas or factors of disease at the level of the mind. Increasing sattva through Yoga practices is the prime factor in Ayurvedic psychology and the treatment of the mind, for which meditation is a primary therapy. In fact the silent meditative mind naturally has the power to heal itself. Mantra allows us to create sattva in the mind.

To successfully approach meditation we must also strive to lead a meditative life. This can be defined according to the Yamas and Niyamas of yogic thought as aligned with an Ayurvedic lifestyle according our Ayurvedic constitution and stage of life and sattvic living overall.

Right diet, right exercise, pranayama, right use of the senses, and following higher values in our behavior are essential for creating the basis in our daily lives for meditation to become truly efficacious.Such dharmic living, honoring all life as sacred, becomes the right behavioral medicine for us to help us master and transcend the mind and its disturbances, while meditation is its prime practice.

Make sure to meditate, preferably early in the morning and immediately before sleep to hold the energy of meditation and the awareness of our true Self as the foundation for our entire lives. You can inquire Who Am I?, follow a mantra along with the breath like So’ham, contemplate a deity form or great teacher, or whatever works for you, but you must meditate daily in order to sustain a dharmic life.

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