MEDITATION AS MEDICINE
"Everything that happens in your mind is reflected in your body, so meditate on the good!" -- TKV Desikachar
A lot of people are doing postures, but are they happy? They can do a beautiful headstand but their life is a big headache. Mastery of yoga is really measured, Desikachar says," by how it influences our everyday living, how it enhances our relationships, how it promotes clarity and peace of mind." He cautions us not to confuse the word "mind" with "intellectual mind" It is the center of awareness, the heart.
A pioneer of modern therapeutic yoga, Desikachar is founder of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, a center in India which offers yoga therapy to thousands of people from around the world. The therapy is based on the fundamental belief that practices must be adapted to suit each person's needs and abilities.
Ancient yogis developed numerous techniques including meditation, to calm the mind and channel its power into physical, emotional and spiritual healing. "Meditation acts the way medicine does," Desikachara says, "by transforming the mind's agitation to peace." Sages sought to understand the mind by identifying its different states. In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the sage Vyasa cites these five states of mind:
1. Ksipta. The lowest state. A person is agitated and unable to think, listen or keep quiet. It's like a monkey jumping up and down.
2. Mudha. In this state, the mind is dull and information doesn't seem to reach the brain. It's like having our glasses on top of our head and asking where our glasses are.
3. Viksipta. Here, the mind receives information but is unable to process it. The mind oscillates in confusion like "should I do this or that?"
4. Ekagra. In this state the mind is relaxed but not sleepy. Here we are ready to focus and pay attention.
5. Nirodha. Here the mind is not distracted by random thoughts but is fully absorbed in the object of focus. This can occur in meditation or when a person is fully engaged in something.
"Meditation holds four major benefits," says Desikachar. The first is Arta (lessening of suffering). We meditate so pain is reduced. Pain is not necessarily physical but can be emotional. Next is Jnanam (transcendent knowledge). You may get a flash, a moment of clarity or wisdom. Meditation can also result in extraordinary powers called Artharta. For example, Krishnamacharya, who died in 1989 at age 100, was apparently able to stop his heartbeat at will. The final benefit of meditation is Bhakta (realization of the highest truth where we can discover our true nature).
Not everyone is ready for meditation and it's especially difficult if our mind is distracted, agitated and unable to think, listen, or keep quiet. Desikachara says that this is the time to do asana and breathing practices designed to bring the body and mind into stillness. Not until the mind enters Ekagra is it ready to pay attention. Here the mind is relaxed but not sleepy. We can meditate on virtually anything - a natural object such as the waves, the sun, a breeze, a flower, a tree, a mountain, person, sound, deity, a color or our breath.
We don't have to spend an hour on our cushion for meditation to have a profound effect. "If we have just five minutes we can spend one minute on preparation (some gentle asana), one minute on breathing exercises and then three minutes in meditation," says Desikachara. I personally learned this first hand when suddenly, a few years ago after a hip-opening workshop, my body began to fail me. My five-day-a-week Ashtanga practice slowed to gentle Vinyasa classes and then, after many doctor visits and a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, to a restorative home practice only.
My inability to sweat on the mat caused me emotional distress. I couldn't sit still for meditation, my mind was agitated and my body ached. I couldn't sleep, most foods I previously enjoyed bothered me, and a "cleanse" made everything worse. I turned once again to scripture and the sutras for comfort and guidance. I needed to return to "beginner's mind" and to allow myself to do nothing. Even my walking meditations became difficult.
I purchased an infrared sauna and began with short five-minute meditations in there. Soon, I could stay there for twenty to thirty minutes and my body began to heal. My intuition which I received from meditation guided me to changing my diet completely, eliminating supplements in pill form, healing my adrenal glands, and eventually having the courage to stop taking the thyroid medication I had been taking for over twenty years. My five minutes of asana, five minutes of breathing and fifteen minutes of meditation was all I could manage. Letting less be more became the key to a more peaceful me.
Yoga helps us to create the conditions in which the mind becomes as useful as possible for our actions. Desikachara says that this can only happen gradually and every shortcut is an illusion. It is a step-by-step process that includes a great number of techniques and wisdom that we learn over time. Every person is different and has a unique set of life experiences, so that is why there are so many suggestions for helping the student on the yogic path.
Through meditation, the mind can catch a glimpse of what lies beyond normal observation and experience. Therein lies the basis of yogic wisdom: "A yogi has not seen something others can never see; rather, he or she sees what others do not yet see." Desikachara says that healing meditations should be simple and useful. This translates to easy movements, easy breathing and comfort that brings healing throughout the body, and concludes with offering healing to the entire world. By allowing less to be more, we enable meditation to become our medicine.