Why do so few American yogis practice meditation? And, if they do, why do they often practice Buddhist meditation? Why do so few American yogis know how to practice the meditation techniques Patanjali wrote about in the Yoga Sutras?
American yogis may know the philosophy of Asthanga Yoga; they may have read the Yoga Sutras many times, but when they want to learn meditation, they often end up learning Buddhist meditation. Why?
Because very few American yoga teachers know how to teach the meditation techniques Patanjali outlined in the Yoga Sutras.
Also, the Yoga Sutras is not an instruction manual in meditation.
The meditation techniques integral to the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Asthanga Yoga are still largely taught personally and for free by a guru in the old Tantric fashion. Very few yoga teachers in the West knows how to teach Asthanga Yoga, because they largely know how to teach only one of the eight limbs of Asthanga Yoga, namely asanas, or yoga postures.
Here is a list of the most common and classical meditation styles integral to Asthanga Yoga, Kriya Yoga or Tantra Yoga. This list is not an instruction manual, but it gives you a brief overview of how they are practiced and what some of their benefits are.
1) Sadhana: a general Sanskrit term for spiritual practice or meditation. Sadhana means to make an effort, sustained spiritual endeavor, spiritual practice. In a sense, this term is synonymous with the English word meditation and may refer to many different practices; the whole shebang of yogic meditation styles.
2) Dhyana Mantra: A Sanskrit verse listing the attributes of a deity and used to visualize that deity in meditation.
3) Pranayama: the process of controlling or regulating the breath or prana and thereby increase concentration and intuition.
Hatha Yoga pranayama is generally performed without fixing the mind in a certain chakra and without Dhyana or repetition of a mantra.
Yudhistira pranayama, which is commonly performed in Tantra, is performed while concentrating on a chakra, repeating a mantra and ideating on Supreme Consciousness/God/Sprit. Pranayama is the fourth limb of Asthanga Yoga.
4) Pratyahara: a yogic practice of withdrawing the mind from the physical senses and the mind itself in order to experience deep concentration and peace during meditation.
Pratyahara is the fifth limb of Asthanga Yoga.
In Tantra Yoga there are three forms of Pratyahara:
A) Bhuta Shuddi: a process of withdrawing the mind from the external world.
B) Asana Shuddi: a process of withdrawing the mind from bodily sensations and concentrating the mind in a chakra.
C) Citta Shuddi: a process of withdrawing the mind from thoughts and meditating on a spiritual or sacred idea.
5) Dharana: concentration; fixing the mind in a certain point or chakra during meditation while repeating a mantra or performing visualization.
Dharana is the sixth limb of Asthanga Yoga.
6) Dhyana: advanced meditation; meditation on Supreme Consciousness/God/Spirit, unbroken flow of mind moving toward union with Supreme Consciousness/God/Spirit. This practice is also common in Buddhist Tantra and is the seventh limb in Patanjali’s Asthanga Yoga.
7) Chakra Niyantrana: a specific meditation technique used to control the chakras.
8) Chakra Shodana: a specific meditation technique used to purify the various chakras.
9) Madhuvidya: often termed “the sweet science; using a mantra with ideation on Supreme Consciousness/God/Spirit before performing an action, and thus making the action free of karmic reactions.
10) Madhya Sadhana: a system of Tantric meditation used to stimulate the production of amrita, an intoxicating hormone from the pineal gland.
11) Maethuna Sadhana: a system of Tantric meditation to control the kundalini energy.
12) Samadhi: the final result of meditation; absorption of the mind in Supreme Consciousness/God/Spirit; union with same; various stages of spiritual absorption and bliss; a natural attainment and state of mind as a result of long term meditation practice; the eighth limb of Ashtanga Yoga.
The five limbs of Asthanga Yoga mentioned above represents various forms of Yogic or Tantric meditations. The three remaining limbs of Asthanga Yoga are 1) Yama (social ethics), 2) Niyama (personal ethics) and 3) Asanas (physical postures, or hatha yoga, for health, wellbeing and meditation).