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#1 - What are Yoga and Meditation?
Episode 117th February 2023 • Light on Yoga and Meditation • Dr Swami Shankardev Saraswati & Jayne Stevenson
00:00:00 00:32:08

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Today's podcast episode describes what yoga and meditation are, how meditation is both a technique and a state of being, and how meditation is a process of self-discovery that unfolds in stages.

The stages of meditation are described in detail, including the stage of relaxation and introversion, the stage of concentration, the true meditative state, and the state of absorption into cosmic consciousness culminating in self-realization.

The benefits of meditation are also described, as well as the types of meditation that Big Shakti offers to support you in moving through the various stages. 

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Welcome to Light on Yoga and Meditation, Big Shakti’s first podcast.

5min 05sec What are yoga and meditation?

Because this is the first episode of our podcast, let’s go back to the basics and talk about what yoga and meditation are and some of the main methods and techniques you can choose from.

What are yoga and meditation, and which form of yoga and meditation is right for you? Because there are so many forms, it can be difficult to know how to choose.

Of course, in essence, all forms of yoga and meditation have the same aim, the optimization of your physical and mental health and the development of self-awareness. Self-awareness is the key to tapping into your innate intelligence and intuition. It enables you to know what is right for you. It also enables autonomy, spontaneity, and intimacy. But more of that in a later podcast.

Let’s start by saying that yoga and meditation are practical aspects of Indian philosophy, which is a vast ocean of theories, concepts, practices, and techniques designed to create better physical and mental health and the evolution of your consciousness.

6min 22sec - So, first off, what is the difference between yoga and meditation?

The word yoga is a Sanskrit word that means union and connection. It can be the union of any two things. However, in the context of yoga philosophy, it refers to the connection between the little self and the highest Self, between individual and universal consciousness.

The word meditation is an English word, an umbrella term for many processes, including the act of thinking, contemplating, devising, or pondering. The aim of this process is to connect more and more to that which you are contemplating. Therefore, meditation is an English word that, like the word yoga, means connection, the connection between the meditator with the object of meditation.

The act of connection in meditation occurs when you use a technique that enables you to connect with and eventually feel, experience, and know the object. If you meditate on a flower, you can feel into the flower and know its nature and even its purpose. This leads to a state of meditation, an awakening to the reality of that thing you are meditating on.

So, the words yoga and meditation are synonyms. They are the same thing. Of course, in the modern world, yoga is mainly thought of as stretching, called āsana. However, any stretching postures performed without self-awareness is not really yoga. Hatha yoga, which includes yoga postures, is the yoga that enables you to consciously connect with your body, to feel where you are holding tensions and blockages, and to use a technique to eliminate that tension and blockage. This enables your prāna, your life force to flow and improve your health. All forms of yoga depend on some form of meditation technique as the fundamental process for success.

Remember, the essential point is that the aim of meditation is self-awareness, and it is from self-awareness that all the other benefits arise, such as physical and mental health and spiritual evolution.

9min 07sec - What is Meditation?

We define meditation as an exalted, joyful, and powerful state of being. Meditation is also any technique or process used for cultivating the mind and developing self-awareness. The meditative state, the exalted, joyful, powerful state of being, arises from the ongoing practice of any process or technique that cultivates Self-awareness and Self-knowledge. This is a highly conscious state in which you become fully aware and present in each moment.

Meditation can offer you a lot if you really understand what it is, what its purpose is, how to find the meditative technique that suits you best, and how to bring it into your life so that it becomes an integral part of your daily activities.

10min 04sec Let’s define what meditation is in more detail.

The yogic term for meditation is dhyāna, from the Sanskrit root dhyai, meaning to contemplate or meditate. Dhyāna is a state of unbroken self-awareness. It is an exalted state of yoga, connecting you to the highest Self. And this is the essential point to remember and why we focus so much on self-awareness when we teach meditation. if you lose yourself, that is the greatest pain, and you actually have nothing. If you have yourself, then you have yourself, and therefore you have everything,

Wikipedia defines the word meditation as “any practice in which an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.”

The problem in the western world and in the scientific community is that there is no widely accepted definition of meditation. The word meditation has been used to designate a variety of practices that differ enough from one another so that it can be difficult to define what meditation is from a Western rational, scientific point of view.

In psychological and therapeutic approaches to meditation, there is a strong emphasis on meditation as a process of reducing excessive thinking, rumination, worry, and anxiety to achieve a more relaxed state of mind.

This is why we prefer to think of meditation as synonymous with yoga, the act of union and conscious connection with the object of meditation.

Anything that does this is a form of meditation and yoga.

12min 07sec The meditator, the object of meditation, and the act of meditating

The best way to think about meditation is that it is a process in which the meditator meditates on the object of meditation. Ultimately, the meditator and the object of meditation are united within the act of meditation. Many meditation techniques can achieve this, and most lead to the goal of self-awareness.

Meditation techniques begin by teaching you relaxation and introversion and then concentration. Concentration transforms the structure of the mind in the same way that cream is transformed into butter by churning. Meditative practice churns the mind from its raw undisciplined state into a strong, dynamic, peaceful, integrated, and awakened state.

Your effort to attain the meditative state transforms the body-mind. This process results in positive states of health and well-being, both physical and psychological, as a side-effect of the process; the main aim of meditation is increased Self-awareness. This is the essential point that you need to remember if you want to really experience the true state of meditation, dhyāna.

13min 50sec Meditation is both a technique and a state of being

In popular usage, the word meditation and the phrase meditative practice, or technique, are often used imprecisely to mean the same thing. However, there is a difference. The key to understanding meditation is that it is both a technique and a state of being that arises out of the continuous practice of a meditation technique.

1. There are many meditation techniques. There are many types of meditation. They include relaxation, mindfulness, concentration, visualization, and the repetition of mantras. Each technique has its own purpose, such as to develop relaxation and a calm mind or to strengthen the mind to develop concentration and improved mental capacity. Some techniques focus more on healing, while others are used to awaken states of inner peace and knowledge. The techniques alter your state of mind and induce feelings of strength and well-being.

2. The meditative state, called dhyāna in Sanskrit, is a state of being in which you experience unbroken awareness. It is the experience of an altered state of consciousness, not just an altered state of mind. Whereas relaxation or concentration are altered states of mind, true meditation, dhyāna, is an altered state of consciousness. You enter into a completely new experience, knowledge, and understanding of who you are, what this world is all about, and why you are on the planet

Therefore, you can define meditation as a process in which the meditator meditates on the object of meditation using a technique or method. Ultimately, the meditator and the object of meditation are united within the act of meditation, giving rise to the state of meditation, an exalted, blissful state of consciousness.

The meditative state results from the continuous practice of a meditation technique that suits you and that you continue to use for a period of time. It is this continuity of practice that transforms the undisciplined and restless mind into a powerful unified, integrated state, often likened to a laser-like force. This usually requires the guidance of a skilled teacher who can guide the student through the various phases of mental development.

The ultimate aim of meditation has to be to achieve the meditative state that lasts for longer and longer periods of time and that leads to greater inner peace, mental calm, emotional resilience, life affirmation, and a sense of personal purpose, which is the key to meaning and fulfillment.

16min 11sec A process of self-discovery

At its essence, meditation is a process of self-discovery in which you use certain techniques to take your awareness into your body, mind, emotions, and spirit to deepen your experience of who you are.

The process of looking within requires a form or technique to give you a structure to go within yourself. You learn how to become aware of your strengths and weaknesses. You then need to learn how to capitalize on your strengths and better manage your weaknesses as part of a system of mind management, which is really part of the first stage of yoga meditation training.

This process is not about forcing your mind to be quiet or to do anything. It is more about forming a relationship, a mutually satisfying friendship with your mind. You need to learn to respect the power and the forces within the mind in the same way that you respect electricity within a wire. Only then can you creatively channel the power of the mind for positive growth and development.

There are many forces within the mind that can be difficult to manage if you do not have the techniques and training to do so. For example, some people become anxious when they start to meditate and are not prepared to deal with old painful emotions or unruly desires. Therefore, beginners are advised to start with relaxation meditation and simple breathing techniques that can induce a state of inner calm and well-being, thereby reducing anxiety. These should be learned and practiced prior to diving into more powerful methods of meditation.

For the majority of people who start with simple relaxation meditations, the process of meditation and getting to know yourself is easy and enjoyable.

18min 04sec Cultivating a meditative state of being

So, how do we cultivate a meditative state in our daily life? What would that feel like? The key to understanding the meditative state is that it unfolds in stages:

Once you have practiced meditation for a period of time, you feel that you can carry the calm and clarity of meditation into your everyday life and into daily activity. Over time your ability to remain relaxed and aware throughout the day increases, and you find that you are less disturbed and agitated by the things in life that cause you stress or that are challenging. This is because you are building and storing relaxation in your nervous system.

With practice, this relaxed, aware state continues to grow, supporting a greater understanding of who you are and what life is all about. Ultimately this process of learning meditation culminates in a state of meditation, which is an exalted, joyful, powerful, and highly aware state of being. Ultimately it can lead to Self-realization, which is the realization of who you truly are, and your life purpose.

19min 30sec Meditation unfolds in stages.

Now let’s look at the stages in more detail. All meditation training and practice involve learning to stabilize and expand your awareness – your ability to know, feel and experience yourself and life. The process of learning meditation unfolds through three main stages that lead to the ultimate fourth stage.:

19min 55sec Stage 1 – Relaxation and purification of the mind – pratyahāra

This stage is called pratyahara in Sanskrit. It is a process of introversion or sense withdrawal, resulting in a state of relaxation that enables the purification of old unconscious mental patterns. The techniques in this stage enable you to develop relaxation, stillness, and a more self-aware state.

As you go within and introvert your awareness, you need to remain awake and alert and able to maintain your awareness of the object of meditation, such as the breath or a simple sound or image. By keeping your attention on a neutral sound or image, you can relax and let go of old mental and emotional stuff. If you can maintain your attention on the object of meditation, you will not get caught up in old patterns. If you are caught up in the old mental or emotional pattern, you lose self-awareness and are prone to becoming ungrounded and tense. You are no longer really meditating. Becoming entangled in mental patterns is a relatively unconscious state in which the pattern is stronger than you are.

So, this first phase is all about you developing the ability to pull your attention away from the old patterns that you are habituated to and entangled in, place it on the object of meditation, and keep it there for as long as you can. Initially, this requires some effort as the old patterns are entrenched and may be strong. You will tend to oscillate between the old pattern and the new one. And it can take some time to get your bearings and build inner strength in the same way that it takes time to develop muscle strength. However, in time and with regular practice, you will find it easier and easier to remain focused on the object of meditation. Then you have automatically shifted into the second stage.

22min 20 sec Stage 2 – Concentration and stabilization – dhāranā

In the second stage, you cultivate an integrated, concentrated state of mind called dhāranā in Sanskrit. It enables grounding, balancing, and the ability to focus the mind on one point or an object for a considerable length of time. In order to enter this stage, you need to be able to remain relaxed and focused on the object of meditation for long periods of time. A combination of relaxation and concentration transforms the structure of the mind in the same way that cream is transformed into butter by churning. Meditative practice churns the mind from its raw undisciplined state into a strong, dynamic, peaceful, integrated, and awakened state.

This process of strengthening the mind during a meditation technique results in positive states of physical and psychological health. These are really side-effects of the process because the main aim of meditation is increased self-awareness. You need to always remember this.

As you acclimatize to your inner world and begin to build a strong, relaxed inner center, you feel more grounded, centered, and balanced and less pushed off balanced by the stresses and responsibilities of life. You are freed from the gravity of the lower thinking mind, called manas in Sanskrit, and can activate and access your higher intuitive mind, called buddhi in Sanskrit. You are becoming stronger than your mind.

When you can remain internalized, balanced, and centered for some time, the naturally dissipated energy of the mind coalesces and forms a laser-like quality. Instead of being trapped in thoughts and unruly emotions, you can access your creativity and have a deep sense of meaning and purpose. This eventually and automatically leads to the third stage, the true meditative state.

24min 25sec Stage 3 – The true meditative state – constant self-awareness and bliss – dhyāna

The true meditative state is called dhyāna in Sanskrit, which is defined as a constant and unbroken self-awareness and bliss. It is the dawning of a state of illuminated consciousness, called enlightenment, that is very blissful and life-affirming.

As you progress through the earlier two stages, you become more relaxed, internally still and stable, and able to maintain self-awareness. You are no longer drawn into the lower-thinking mind. Rather, your higher mind is now stabilized and is the center from which you operate. The lower thinking mind is a tool you can use when and if you need it. Your awareness expands to encapsulate body and mind simultaneously, and inner knowledge becomes more available. This is experienced as revelation, the unfolding of inner knowledge, a continuous creative and intuitive state.

Meditation also has the higher aim of uncovering the mysteries of life and existence, of attuning yourself to your life purpose, and of finding deeper meaning and fulfillment. Meditation at this level and in this stage is a form of deep psycho-spiritual nourishment. Ultimately, meditation is a process that leads to selflessness and exalted spiritual states that nourish and refresh the core of your being.

25min 55 sec Stage 4 – The fourth state - absorption into the infinite – samādhi

There is a fourth stage, called samadhi in Sanskrit, that is rarely achieved by most meditators. As you maintain the state of true meditation, dhyāna, you lose your sense of physical consciousness and merge with the cosmos. You are absorbed back into the infinite.

Your awareness of yourself as a limited ego-based consciousness is merged with universal consciousness, the fundamental ocean of being from which you as an individual have come into existence. You experience your individual consciousness as a wave that has arisen from the ocean of universal consciousness.

This can be experienced as an explosion of love from the heart center or as total awareness of the self, called self-realization, or both. This is the final stage of the evolution of human consciousness. From here on lies transcendent, divine states of being beyond the comprehension of the little mind.

27min 10-sec Combinations of the stages – samyama

The four stages of meditation can progress in a linear fashion, or there can be combinations. The combined simultaneous practice of dhāranā (concentration), dhyāna (meditation), and samādhi (union) is called samyama in Sanskrit. Samyama comes from the combination of two words saṃ + yama, which means holding together, tying up, binding, and integration. This is the ultimate state of meditation.

Remember that meditation begins with learning to introvert, to go within to relax, recharge and rejuvenate yourself. Once you can do this, you then learn to focus and concentrate in a relaxed way to gain strength and balance and then move automatically to the more advanced stages of dhyāna and samadhi.

If you can hold concentration, meditation, and absorption, you enter the state of samyama and gain deeper knowledge of the qualities of the object of meditation. This knowledge is called prajnā in Sanskrit, which is the highest and purest form of wisdom, intelligence, and understanding. It is an exalted state of wisdom that is much higher than the knowledge obtained by reasoning and inference of the lower mind.

27min 30sec The Benefits of Meditation

The greatest benefit of meditation is that it cultivates awareness. All meditation techniques increase awareness. Whenever awareness is present in a part of your life, that part can improve because you can start to see, feel, and understand what you need to do to improve that part of your life. Awareness is the key to health, greater intelligence and intuition, higher knowledge, and to uncovering your hidden abilities.

28min 05sec Physical Benefits of Meditations

The physical effects of meditation include better health and vitality. Mindfulness is an important part of any healing process as it aids in the healing of many forms of chronic illnesses. For example, mindfulness meditation is used as part of protocols to reduce pain. Improved vitality is the result of meditations that use the breath and mantra. The breath moves the life force, prāna, and the mantra soothes the mind. Meditation has been found to lower blood pressure and improve heart disease, digestive disorders, diabetes, asthma, and arthritis. It has been known to improve survival in cancer and many other serious conditions.

28min 45sec Psychological and Emotional Benefits of Meditation

The psychological and emotional benefits of meditation include an enhanced ability to relax, improved focus, and concentration, better memory, greater emotional resilience, better capacity to make decisions, more self-insight, and improved relationships. Generally speaking, meditation reduces anxiety and cultivates a positive sense of well-being by cultivating self-awareness, mental strength, and emotional resilience. The consistent practice of meditation creates a powerful, resilient inner core that is less disturbed by the problems of life and negative experiences that we all have to face from time to time. The side effects of developing a stable inner core include the capacity to transform weakness into strength, rigidity into flexibility, and ignorance into wisdom.

29min 42sec Spiritual Benefits of Meditation

In terms of spiritual benefits, meditation is one of the most important methods for accelerating your spiritual evolution and general well-being. It fosters a sense of connection to yourself and to the world around you. As you deepen your connection to yourself, you feel more connected to something greater in you. This is the transcendent aspect of you that is beyond the socially conditioned ego.

The ultimate promise of meditation is authentic Self-knowledge and Self-love. This is the beginning of healthy relationships, as you can allow yourself to feel the joys and pains of others without becoming emotionally entangled. As a result, you bring freedom, respect, creativity, and joy into all of your relationships.

30min 44sec Ending

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