I recently started up a class at Bloomington Power Yoga that consists of 30-minutes of Sun Salutations, followed by 30-minutes of sitting meditation. This is sort of an experiment to see what it would be like to really use asana (posture) as preparation for dhyana (meditation), instead of just focusing on the physical aspects of yoga, which is the typical paradigm of yoga classes in America today.
When I used to live and practice in LA, I remember being struck by the fact that none of my yoga teachers incorporated any meditation into their classes. They would often tell us about how Astanga Yoga is an eight-limbed system, and that asana was only one component of this system. But then they would go on to teach the class with a 90-100% focus on asana. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we might do a little bit a pranayama (breathing exercises), but, for the most part, the yoga classes I’ve taken, not just in LA, but all over the US and Canada, have really neglected meditation.
Why is this? I have a few guesses.
First, money. Many yoga studios need to pack in one class after another, and do not have enough flexibility in their schedule to do, say, an hour and a half of yoga followed by thirty minutes of meditation.
Second, money. I think a lot of people are hesitant to pay money for meditation class. The mentality seems to be, “Why should I pay money to sit around and do nothing?”
Third, time. People today are constantly in a rush; it never ceases to amaze me how many people come out of yoga class and are immediately on their cell phones, on their way to some appointment, dinner, a date, etc. They think that sitting around “doing nothing” – i.e. meditation – is a waste of time, and can’t bear the thought of wasting precious minutes of the day justing sitting in total stillness. In other words, it doesn’t seem like there is much demand among consumers for meditation. This is perhaps related to the fact that many students don’t have a full grasp of the whole eight-limbed system that is Astanga Yoga (and, by extension, I’d say, Vinyasa Flow Yoga), or they just don’t care to understand because they are totally satisfied with yoga as mere exercise. This is perfectly okay, of course, but my suspicion is that people would actually get a lot more out of their asana practice if they (a) were able to see it as part of a larger system of enlightenment, salvation, or what have you, and (b) augmented their asana practice with an equally dedicated meditation practice.
Lastly, I think studios tend not to offer meditation as part of their yoga classes because many yoga teachers don’t practice meditation themselves and are either uninterested in teaching meditation or simply unable to lead a group in meditation. This is perhaps the result of the way teacher training program are being run here in the US. Hopefully this will change in time, although the prospects for change are looking slim as more and more yoga teacher training programs seem to emphasize yoga as a form of exercise.
After reading and studying Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra, I’m starting to feel that a yoga practice without meditation is not a yoga practice at all. “Stilling the fluctuations of the mind” is the objective of Patanjali’s eight-limbed system of yoga, and although we take an important step towards this when we do asana, it’s only a small, first step. Doing just asana and never doing meditation is comparable, I think, to spending lots of time tuning, shining, cleaning, polishing, etc. a musical instrument but never actually playing it. In other words, we’re sort of missing the point when we just focus on asana. Although we may enjoy the physical aspects of yoga, we are selling ourselves short, in a way, by becoming attached to asana while neglecting other important aspects of our self-development (or self-liberation, or what ever you want to call it). Of course, not everyone is ready to or willing to get more out of their yoga practice than exercise and stress relief. And that’s perfectly okay too. As a yoga teacher, I’d like to simply provide the opportunity for students to move beyond asana, if and when they see fit, and I hope in time to see more meditation being integrated with the asana practice at other studios and by other teachers.
If you live in the Bloomington area, the new Sun Salutation and meditation class is on Tuesdays from 6:00 – 7:00. It’s a donataion based class, and all proceeds are going to a local charity. Like all my other classes, this one is being held at Blooming Lotus, 106 E. 6th St., Bloomington, IN 47408.