Why Yogis Don’t Necessarily Have To Meditate.

Via on Mar 13, 2011

Philip Goldberg’s piece Why Yogis Don’t Meditate last week expressed his confusion over the number of yogis who don’t have a regular seated meditation practice. In it, he presents the common disconnect between yoga teachers who are well-versed in Patanjali’s Sutras, yet do not practice the knowledge contained therein (which, as he points out, can be boiled down to this: yoga is nothing more than the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind). Rightly, he points out that Patanjali’s Sutras outline a method for seated meditation, and many asana teachers neither teach nor practice as such. Ultimately, he draws the conclusion that meditation is perhaps not as expertly taught as asana, for example, and consequently many yogis are not trained in a meditation style suited to them, so they don’t do it.

Within his particular paradigm, Goldberg is quite right. I know many yoga teachers who use the wisdom of Patanjali’s Sutras as the thematic underlay of their asana class, but don’t actually practice or teach meditation. I’ve seen, felt and heard the confusion amongst yogis about the relationship between asana and seated meditation. A teacher-in-training recently expressed to me that he didn’t understand why we would start class in seated meditation since “the point of asana is to prepare the body for meditation. Right?”

Right?

But what if it’s not? What if the point of your asana practice is your asana practice?

Let me give you some advance warning here: if you are a yoga teacher who likes to espouse Patanjali-isms, what I am about to say might piss you off. But, since you know so much about ceasing the fluctuations of your mind, you’ll get over it. So, read on.

While Goldberg’s conclusion is that the disconnect is between yoga teachers and their meditation practice (or lack of), my conclusion is that the disconnect is between the teachings of Patanjali, and the practice of asana. Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Patanjali’s philosophy, or that one can’t enjoy the philosophy and have an asana practice, nor I am advocating against a seated meditation practice. I simply don’t believe that there is a necessary connection between a philosophy that boils down to stilling your mind to transcend the physical experience, and a deeply physical practice that is fundamentally a highly sensory, very vibratory experience.

Like Goldberg, I was initiated into Transcendental Meditation, back in 1993 when I was 12 years old. I learned to meditate before I had a regular yoga asana practice. Though I’ve been exposed to many different meditation styles over the years, I continue to use the mantra I was given at initiation, and my seated meditation generally involves a quiet dose of mind-stilling that Patanjali would no doubt highly approve of. But my meditation practice comes and goes. At times it’s twice a day for 20 minutes as prescribed by the Maharishi, sometimes it’s once a day, and at other times it just doesn’t exist. My daily practice of yoga takes place on my yoga mat (see my January 28th article Practice, Then Preach for details). And I’ll be honest with you, when it comes to my yoga practice, there’s very little room for Patanjali.

But wait, you say! Patanjali’s Sutras form the philosophy behind yoga asana. Without the former there would be no latter. Without Patanjali, asana is just Westernized exercise! This exact belief held me back in my practice for a very long time. Like so many other yoga teachers, my first exposure to yoga philosophy was The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It formed the bridge between taking community yoga classes in local gyms, to something deeper, wiser, more than just exercise. It was the foundation of my first teacher training. It just didn’t really resonate with me.

For a long time I poured over the threads of wisdom in the Sutras and Sri Swami Satchidananda’s interpretations. I meditated with the intention of stilling my mind. I strived to withdraw my senses (Pratyahara) and initially as a teacher I encouraged my students to do the same at the beginning of class (“Stick your fingers in your ears, squeeze your eyes shut, don’t breathe in, whatever you do, try not to feel!”). I tried and failed to be unattached, but dammit I just loved too much! In all seriousness, I had moments of very real and very useful revelations about myself, such as the fact that I didn’t often give without the expectation of receiving something in return. But try as I might, I could never make a distinct connection between my Hatha Yoga practice, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The more my asana practice evolved, the harder it became to grasp the Sutras. Am I still, or am I moving? The more I move, the more I feel my physicality, then I’m supposed to transcend it? The more I move and breathe, the more connected I feel….oh, and it feels good!

Shortly after my first teacher training, I discovered Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga, quite different from what I had been studying at Integral Yoga, it was a revelation to me at the time: here was a style of yoga asana that distilled the practice down to just the practice, and it didn’t try to incorporate what felt like a juxtaposing belief system into downward facing dog. This style of yoga wasn’t my home, but it was a good place for me to hang out for a while. I let go of my grip on Patanjali just a little and let myself just move. Then, the Universe finally decided I was ready and handed me a pamphlet on Shakta Tantrism and the earth shook a little, there were fireworks, the yoga finally made sense to me. Here was a worldview that told me it was okay to feel, that my body wasn’t just a vehicle but an expression of the divine, and that the experience I was already having was worth having!

The turning point for me came with learning that there is a lot more to the philosophy of yoga than just Patanjali. There are plenty more fish in the sea, if you will.  There are in fact many, many different yogic philosophies, all traceable to the Vedas, often with similar myths and characters, but all quite different, with varying degrees of connection to Hatha Yoga. If you read Robert Love’s The Great Oom, you’ll see that Tantrism actually came to the West first. But somewhere along the line Patanjali became generally accepted in the West as the yoga philosophy, and maybe we stopped searching. It may not be so for you, but for me, Tantrism makes sense.  I quickly broke it off with Patanjali, and though we still talk, I’m Tantric all the way. And not having a regular seated meditation practice is no conflict for me.

Though the differences between the yoga philosophies range from subtle to extreme, Tantric scholar Douglas Brooks boiled it down for me quite nicely in a recent workshop in New York. As he put it, yoga philosophy can be split into two basic groups: Quietism and Pre-quietism. Patanjali’s method falls into the Quietism style, and Tantrism belongs to the noisier pursuit. Many of us are just Quietists. Our path is one of stillness and non-attachment and contentment. But some of us are just plain noisy. Maybe a little messy. We love to love and it’s the movement that connects us to a deeper intelligence. And the great news is, you get to try both.

To get back to Goldberg’s piece, I second his advice; if you are a yogi without a regular meditation practice, I suggest you find yourself a teacher and give it a whirl. There’s enough scientific evidence these days to convince even the most cynical Westerner that meditation is good for you. But if you are, as Sadie Nardini says, Patanjali’s Puppet, if you are remotely interested in yoga asana, then consider exploring other forms of yoga philosophy. You might conclude that there’s nothing fraudulent about being a yogi without a seated meditation practice, you were just reading from the wrong page.

I conclude with my promise to you: as a yogi with an occasional seated meditation practice, we will never practice asana with the intent of preparing the body to sit comfortably in meditation. The purpose of our practice is the practice. I will ask you to be more interested in your experience than you ever thought possible. I will tell you that your experience is one worth having. I will never ask you to withdraw your senses, because I’m afraid you would suffocate. I will ask you only to feel more. I will encourage you to get attached, to seek out the meaningful and bind yourself to it beautifully. And unless you die in my class, you will never transcend the worldly experience, only deepen it.

About Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a yoga teacher and writer in Vail, Colorado where she loves and plays every day. You can read her work at Friendly Universe Yoga.

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30 Responses to “Why Yogis Don’t Necessarily Have To Meditate.”

  1. Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

    "And unless you die in my class, you will never transcend the worldly experience, only deepen it." Ha ha – killer last line (pun intended!)

  2. Love this, Julia.

    I have always felt that the ubiquitous (never pass up an opportunity to use that word) Yoga Sutra, good as it is, is emphasized way out of whack at the expense of other Yoga texts with a much broader message, in particular the Bhagavad Gita. It's even become a passion of mine to help correct this perceived imbalance with Gita in a Nutshell and YogaDemystified.com.

    Having reviewed the amazing Phil Goldberg's most recent book, and also interviewed him for Elephant, I'm going to guess he's going to agree with much of what you wrote above, even though it's seemingly a rebuttal of his last blog. If there's anyone who's aware of the marvelous diversity of Yoga in America, it's Phil. But hopefully he'll check in here and respond himself.

    The Gita, of course, is very specific about your main point above, which is that there are Different Yoga Strokes for Different Yoga Folks. The Yoga Sutra actually says something like this as well, but it's only one line in a text that is otherwise almost entirely about the Path of Meditation.

    Thanks for this insightful and innovative contribution to a really interesting conversation.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

    • Miguel says:

      For Julia Clarke,

      Please receive my most sincere condolence to the people that have and are straggling with Meditation and Yoga. When you decide something works (or not) for you, then that is, in fact, what you decide. This only has meaning to you. But others may very well enjoy clarity of integrating Meditation, Yoga and many more practices as “All in One”. Life is a continuum that goes beyond time and space.

      There are no teachers, only students. The ones that share information as “teachers or master” are only really, guides. Guides that take people through an experience hoping that the information that the path contains is recognize by the student and absorbed into their own reality.

      It is like inviting a friend to the movies. We are all watching the same film, but each is absorbing the data with its own filters, programs and limitations. Don’t blame the film for your reality. Responsibility for evolution lies within each of us.

      Blessing, Miguel.

  3. Kristi says:

    Such a great article and so right on for me as well! Thank you!

  4. ARCreated says:

    The turning point for me came with learning that there is a lot more to the philosophy of yoga than just Patanjali. AMEN sister…and my study with Douglas Brooks also helped me as I too struggled with the dualistic nature of patanjali…HOWEVER I still feel that my asana practice can be both —- a way to experience and feel and be in the moment and also a way to prepare for stillness — I feel both are very beneficial and I dont' do the withdrawal thingy — I'm more a "notice" person…so often we start in seated meditation and end there so people can FEEL the shift in their energy. I don't think anyway is one right way…but I do know that I have often felt "less" because I'm not a patanjali girl…the sutras don't resonate with me…I'm drawn to tantric ideas…beyond the yamas and niyamas and the idea of "stillness" for the sake of being able to act rather than react I'm not a big fan.

  5. nathan says:

    ARCreated's comment resonates with me. I agreed with much of Philip's post because it just seems like a lot of yoga practitioners who shun meditation just don't wanna deal with it, and/or see it as useless. It's "too hard," or "not relevant."

    But I also think there are folks who are definitely too attached to Patanjali. And perhaps, fail to figure out ways to translate what is said in the Yoga Sutras to a modern setting, where people are dealing with greatly different lives than the old yogis were.

    In fact, I probably fit more in the tantric yoga schools as well – I was just in a weekend workshop with a tantra yoga teacher, and found the practice he offered wonderfully well-rounded. Lots of asana. A fair amount of meditation. Pranayama work. Even some class and group discussion. All practice in my view.

    I just find this whole split between yoga students who hate or don't care about meditation, and those who see asana practice as "nothing but warm up" to be odd. Talk about dualism.

  6. jen says:

    Love this article, Julia! It would be awesome if you did a post talking more about tantra and what it means to you.

  7. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  8. Really enjoyed this.

    Made me ask myself a lot of questions about my practice, which is a daily Tantra meditation always, and asana practice often.

    I'd hadn't clued in that Patanjali was of the transcending school of thought. Despite knowing that Tantra resonates deeply with me.

    I do know that of everything I practice, that daily Tantra meditation is a must-do. Although as it contains mantra, visualisation & mudra… I guess it's not really 'just' meditation.

    I also loved your 'practice for practice' sake line-of-thought. I love to move my body. It just feels so damn good!

    I guess it all kinda comes back to different practices for different temperaments. I guess what Phil might have been alluding to was those of us who avoid meditation pre se because we're afraid or it in some way, shape or form. That when we're practicing asana it's worth giving meditation a good shot just to see how we react/respond to it.

    Which is exactly what you say too…

    So once again, thought-provoking discussion amongst EJ authors who all share a viewpoint and end up saying the same thing.

    Beautiful!

  9. Rudy Mettia says:

    Being a Sr Power Yoga teacher at Bryan Kest studios here in Santa Monica I see about 7-800 students a week and I have experienced first hand how a great practice can help still, and de excite the mind. Is that not meditation's intention? Great article, thanks.
    Rudy

  10. Maitreya says:

    Seated meditation is CORE to most of the "tantric" schools (not to speak about the vedantic schools & co). Meditation techniques are manifold and are not just about "withdrawing the senses", there are countless tantric scriptures that prescribe seated meditation techniques. Therefore, to claim to be a "tantric yogi" by leaving out seated meditation is simply misleading.

  11. It seems like it could be both. Certainly meditation with yoga is probably better than meditation without (why not be healthy AND meditate as opposed to being less healthy and meditate). Iyengar states that the asanas basically loosen up the mind in preparation for meditation.

    In terms of the "western experience" as opposed to "eastern", the two practices are marketed by their respective teachers completely differently. Most people go towards meditation because of how its marketed: i.e. it brings peace and spirituality. Most people go to yoga because its marketed as exercise and a way to look good. I think its great when adherents of one find the other but in the western world that happens more from hardcore dedication (where you begin to see the connections between the two) then from chance.

  12. David Walker says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful article aiming to get at the essence of yoga. I've been doing asana almost everyday since I was 16 (for decades), but place more importance on my twice daily meditations.

    I think the point Goldberg was making, which this article may have under-appreciated, is this: when most people are doing 'yoga' asanas at the local 'yoga' studio, they are generally not experiencing 'the state of yoga' or anything close to it (this is evident from reports about their experiences).

    In the West, yoga has come to mean physical exercises (for which Patanjali reserves another word all togather: asana). What yoga really means, in the Vedic tradition, is the experiential union of jiva (individual or small self) with Atma (cosmic or Big Self). This is ultimately the state of samadhi where all mental fluctuations have ceased and the mind is fully awake in its total potentiality. It is not about just sitting in waking state and being quiet or feeling "high vibrations." It is a fourth state of consciousness, as different from waking state as waking is from sleep. In the Vedic literature, this state is called 'turiya,' meaning 'the fourth' (different from the other three major states: waking, dreaming and sleep).

    Patanjali, properly understood (that is, understood on the basis of the true, transcendental experience of yoga), did not promote a philosophy or set of intellectual constructs. The Yoga Sutra constitutes a *science* — theory and practice aimed at helping the aspirant experience the state of yoga. Yoga is an experience that is timeless, universal, non-changing, beyond words, beyond the intellect and beyond emotions. It is not confined to any culture, time periods or "styles" of interpretation such as "Quietism" or "Pre-Quietism" or "Noisy." Such conceptual impositions may come in handy for certain teachers who want to classify their personal interpretations, but these ideas are merely waking state, intellectual projections onto the screen of the mind — just more mental fluctuations that have nothing to do with the state of yoga.

    To experience yoga, you must leave ordinary waking state consciousness (the gross, active mind) and transcend to experience the silent, pure awareness of the fourth state. Then with repeated practice of meditation (dharana, dhyana, and samadhi experienced "over a long, long time," as Patanjali says), as the nervous system becomes more refined, the state of yoga (transcendence) becomes stabilized and rises to be lived throughout all ones waking/dreaming/sleeping hours and is never lost. One has realized the unbounded Self. One has become a yogi.

    That's why meditators who have an effective technique to transcend — to get beyond the mental fluctuations — are the ones really practicing yoga.

    I suggest that to attempt a definition of yoga without even mentioning the word 'samadhi' is to grossly miss the mark.

    I find a very clear exposition of all this at: http://www.tm.org/blog/meditation/the-yoga-sutra-

    • NotSoSure says:

      If I remember correctly, the science espoused by Patanjali says that through practice a yogi can levitate, turn invisible and have the strength of an elephant. While I am invisible as I write this, the other two are just silly.

  13. Joe Sparks says:

    Each human being necessarily builds a unique, mental model of the universe for him or herself. Even when completely rational, such a model will still be unique. The different models, yoga and meditation, however, can be brought into as close an agreement as desired. Knowing this, there are no "shoulds," "oughts," "musts," "have-tos," or other "duties" surrounding any human being that that human needs to honor in any way. People may accept or agree to any of these that they decide to, but the decision is really free choice.

  14. From Facebook:

    Amanda Heussner yogis are in a moving meditation… therefore i disagree
    3 hours ago · Like

    elephantjournal.com ‎@Amanda With me, or with Julia? ~Tobye
    3 hours ago · Like · 1 person

    Cindy Sestak Scarborough Wow, loved this. As a yogi who has been feeling guilty about her lack of meditation practice – this spoke to me. I gain my sense of peace through the asanas themselves. Thank you.
    3 hours ago · Like · 1 person

    elephantjournal.com As a devout yogi, I'm very conscious of the fact that yogis get confused between the euphoric feeling that CONCENTRATION and being in the present moment during an asana practice brings and actual meditation. Meditation is not always about a nice zoned in vibe and lots of yogis delude themselves (including me) that because they're doing asana, it negates the need for a proper meditation practice. Pranayama also quietens the mind, but it's only a practice that leads to a meditation practice. ~Tobye
    3 hours ago · Like · 2 people

    Gayle Hanson Yoga is great if you are set on achieving peace of mind for oneself. But there's nothing like sitting down and doing Tonglen, the practice of exchanging oneself for others, to light the fire of true compassion. While doing asanas might help me forget about the suffering in Japan, for instance, it's not going to change their circumstances. Actually, practicing tonglen with the intention of relieving their suffering will help.
    2 hours ago · Unlike · 1 person

    Amanda Heussner practice does lead to meditation!!
    2 hours ago · Like

    elephantjournal.com ‎@Amanda, It sure does! it leads to it and is part of it. ~Tobye.
    2 hours ago · Like · 1 person

    Amanda Heussner BINGO… Thank goodness.. I love my moving meditation…. i need my seated meditation … i need to chant.. all of these things keep me going… without my practice… lordy .. i would lose myself
    2 hours ago · Unlike · 1 person

    Johnie Beth Matthews Yoga is meditation. You hold still in different poses and breath. That is a form of meditation.
    2 hours ago · Like

    Gayle Hanson I really am trying to lose my self…
    2 hours ago · Like

    elephantjournal.com ‎@Johnie. Be careful with your wording, it gets confusing *yoga is meditation* well, yes it is, but poses are yogasana and only one part of yoga. The form of meditation you mention is Dharana "collection or concentration of the mind (joined…
    See More
    2 hours ago · Like · 1 person

    Cindy Sestak Scarborough I get that sitting meditation brings many benefits to many people but it makes me depressed and frustrated. After years of trying to work through this I have let meditation go. It has been a relief to give myself permission to practice asanas without sitting meditation.
    2 hours ago · Like

    Hasty LovesAnimals Shared.
    about an hour ago · Like

    Troy Omafray From what Alan Wallace says, it's extremely rare to find anyone taking shamatha seriously.
    about an hour ago · Like

    elephantjournal.com The Tibetan for shamatha is shiné (shi-ne). In Irish gaelic Sin-é means "that's it!" ~Tobye
    17 minutes ago · Like

  15. Doug says:

    It would be interesting to take into account David Gordon White's book, 'Sinister Yogis,' which goes a long way in establishing that yoga — as practice — was originally NOT the same as meditation. In fact, 'yoga' — as a goal-directed practice, if you will — and 'kshema' (staying put or staying still — i.e. meditating as presented in the Upanishads) were originally opposites. The Bhagavad-Gita brings this issue to a head and tries to reconcile it — why else would Krishna be taking up the question of either yoga (the path of action) OR Samkhya (renunciation and discriminative enlightenment through quiescence and meditation). He reconciles it, somewhat unconvincingly, by arguing that it's ALL yoga (with the assumption that they all had the same ultimate goal, injecting the relationship between bhakti and dharma as the 'middle way.'

    It's not surprising that many 'yogis' are indifferent to or even allergic to meditation — and it's not even justified to say that if they are not meditating, they are not 'yogis' in the fullest sense. The question is what you are looking for through your practice. If your asana is your yoga, fine — no one really has any right to argue with whether that is 'yoga' or not.

    Patanjali has indeed been blown out of proportion, and in the process we've come to a place where, relative to our assumptions, there is both less to Patanjali (than we assume — e.g. there's no reason to assume that he's talking about 'uniting' with God or Brahman in the Vedantic sense) and also there is more to him than we give him credit for.

    Patanjali's point is more than arguing that yoga means stilling the mind. His book is a full-blown psychology which is even more concerned to explain to you how and why the mind works the way it does, as well as the powers available to the concentrated mind (acknowledging in the third pada that those powers were often the goal of the practice of early 'yogis' rather than realization through meditation). Once you understand the psychology of your own mind, you'll be more motivated to look into meditation, as well as understand the psychology of the process, and how it affects your feelings, attitudes and behavior. You may not agree with where he is arguing that you should go with it (ultimately into 'asamprajnata samadhi') but you may be a little more compelled to agree that if asana alone is your practice, you may not really be taking in the full picture of your own life, and may want to reconsider that statement — entirely apart from the question of whether what you're already doing is 'yoga' or not. Meditation as Patanjali presents it is more than just a question of experiencing stillness from your practice, or even experiencing meditation as stillness. A lot more.

    Patanjali's work is not a 'philosophy' in the way that the Upanishads of Vedanta were. It's a psychology, and a normative psychology at that — and many yogis resist the 'shoulds' and 'oughts' built into it as the normative psychology designed for the ascetic.

    Asana as it's practiced today is almost entirely irrelevant to Patanjali, though we try to shoehorn our practice into his system, since after all, he's 'THE' philosopher of yoga, and therefore he MUST be talking about what we're doing, since 'yoga' is so ancient. The string of fallacies as well as falsely applied 'shoulds' implicit in this way of thinking is pretty much our own doing, and we're beating up and confusing ourselves with it.

    But put Patanjali in proper perspective, as well as the other philosophies, and we find they have something to say to us in our contemporary practice. We might listen, without being 'Patanjali puppets' or feel compelled to justify our practice using his words — or on the other had reject and resist what he has to say regarding the role of 'meditation' in our yoga

    We confuse ourselves when we equate yoga with meditation; we deprive ourselves when we separate them entirely, choosing one over the other.

    • Hi, Doug. I enjoyed reading your insightful and highly nuanced commentary above very much.

      Bob W.
      Yoga Editor

    • Kripalu Yogini says:

      Thank you so much for this insightful and wise post–it is so helpful to always be reminded of our tendency to fall into dichotomous (yes, dualistic) 'us' vs. 'them' and the fact that there is value to be had in all perspectives. I love Heart of a Yogi.

      I have a question about spontaneous flow in sadhana, where the practice or energy/prana moves you. What of the deep trances once may access in sadhana? I practice Kripalu yoga, and Swami Kripalu was known to go into deep meditation as well as spontaneous dance, asana, and mudra. I have experienced this myself and find it to be the deepest, most ecstatic experience of the divine.. I've also had experiences in seated meditation of total vastness/all one. Yes, they are qualitatively different; but each in its own right appears to access the divine (call it what you will–I've also accessed the same spacious bliss in kirtan, holotropic breathwork and entheogens).

      I am very drawn to the tantric teachings because they appear to better reflect the divinity and embrace of corporeality as it unfolds in my practice and experience. Yet I have been confused as to where all this fits in the yogic lineages, and if there are any scriptures that speak of the spontaneous flow of energy resulting in a kind of asana/dance flow and pulsation (Angela Farmer seems to speak this language, in the limited time I've studied with her–it is both deeply meditative and inward, yet also embracing the flow of sponaneous prana). I am thinking kundalini, but the practices there seem much more rigid and structured.. I never set out with the goal of accessing my kundalini, sometimes it just comes and then I am as if possessed.

      That said, I have spent consistent times meditating in my life, and I know it to be a deeply valuable practice. The clarity, spaciousness, peace, and sense of being recharged from this practice leaves me with a different flavor than the throbbing, vibrating tenor of my asanas.

      So, I sound a little crazy, but I am madly interested in all this and keen to map my experience against the backdrop of yoga philosophy. In a Patanjalean world, it's been difficult if not impossible to find the answers to my questions!! Meditators tend to say oh–that divine flow–that's the same as samadhi or nirvana. But is it really? How can one quantify transcendent experience? Is there a phenomenology of transcendence in contemplative traditions?

      Truly, my experience should be enough. But I am still desirous of understanding what the yoga traditions have to say about this energy outside of the context of transcending the body.

      Thanks!

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  24. Doug says:

    Hi Phil,
    I for one understand your point, and also enjoyed and benefitted immensely from your book 'American Veda' — and have been recommending it to students. My own comments stem from the conflict and confusion I see in the yoga world based on our own preconceptions about Patanjali and his role in particular. Indeed, you're not saying everyone should or must have a meditation practice — but when Patanjali is regarded as the preeminent (and often only studied) philosopher of yoga, practitioners feel compelled to judge themselves and others by that standard, or else declare themselves rebels, avow their choice of tantra over Patanjali, etc. etc. You're helping many to overcome these preconceptions, but it's a messy process of thinking this through, with a lot of emotions tied in, in many cases.

    By the way, while it was a great clarification for me that what America essentially 'got' from Vedanta from early onward was the 'Spiritual But Not Religious' and 'All Paths Are One' understanding championed first by Emerson, it seems (unfortunately) that 'we' never went much deeper in our understanding of Vedanta — though Emerson for one did indeed try. America embraced the message as we heard it, far more than the depth of the teachings, and that seems to be at the root of New Age spirituality, so far as it comes off as a little too easy and trivial. The Vedantic tendency you mention to declare 'just drop it' doesn't help either — and overlooks the challenges of that process.

    Do you see anyone in modern/contemporary Vedanta succeeding in getting beyond the basic message?

    I agree that Patanjali is not incompatible with Vedanta (especially when he is regarded more as a psychologist of meditation than a metaphysician) while at the same time he is not the same thing. But he is indeed expressing conceptions of the practice of meditation as it was regarded at the time, while recognizing the object and objective-oriented forms of meditation (i.e. seeking 'siddhis') prevalent in 'yoga' that went back further in the literature than the Upanishads. Tantra is also not incompatible, though the tantriks did much to 're-envision' the practice, hearkening back to earlier days.

    I myself was saying that contemporary yogis who find themselves 'allergic' to our assumed equation of yoga and meditation actually have some justification in history — there was a time when 'yoga' and 'meditation' were opposites, and even seemed incompatible with each other. What we need is a better understanding of both, rather than a requirement — which many yogis treat as an admonishment to 'eat their brussel sprouts.' Thank you for playing a role in bringing about a better understanding, especially by making the context much more clear!

    BTW I spent 14 years in Siddha Yoga, and met Muktananda on his last world tour, and your book was very close to home for me.

  25. Thanks again for your very helpful comment, Doug.

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