Tag Archives: Dhyana

The Problem of Thoughts & Yoga’s Solution

To quote Eckhart Tolle, “Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don’t realize this because almost everybody is suffering from it, so it’s considered normal. This incessant mental noise prevents you from finding that realm of inner stillness that is inseparable from being. It also creates a false mind-made self that casts a shadow of fear and suffering.”

To put things in proper perspective takes real intelligence (Buddhi – to be awake; to understand; to know), not more mind chatter. Then it is possible to realize that thought is only a tiny aspect of our intelligence. Tolle goes on to say: “All the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind.”

The obsessive thinking mind and yoga practice – a bad mix

When the ego-self (established by the thinking mind) is the one performing asana, the mind is actively engaged in self-criticism, comparing your performance with others, thereby judging yourself and those around you. Your mind becomes restless, agitated and engaged in internal conflict while your body is engaged in performing asanas. This internal conflict causes you to be emotionally reactive to whatever is happening at any given moment during your practice and you are engaged in the posture of ego which is contrary to the purpose of yoga – the deconstruction of the ego.

In the Yoga Sutras (1:2) Patajali defines the purpose yoga by saying, “Yoga means stopping the mental modifications.” (chitta vritti nirodah). There is no exact English translation, but roughly translated these Sanskrit words mean… chitta = stuff of the mind, vṛitti = modification (altering perception) and niroda = to control (find tranquility).

Basically this means that whatever form of yoga you are practicing, the highest priority and the fundamental purpose for the practice is to eliminate mental agitations and emotional reactions. Whenever performing yoga asanas, it is necessary to change from an ego-driven posture that is externally placing the body in a so-called “yoga asana,” while internally, the mind is engaged in conflict. This equates to practicing conflict and calling it yoga. So it stands to reason that in order to convert this ego driven posture into true yoga asana, you need to remove the ego-mind (which is continually engaged by external motivation).

Whenever a student of yoga is able to connect with the part of themselves that is aware beyond any ego-conditioned perception, they have an opportunity to change their reactions to external circumstances. These “knee-jerk” reactions are automatic and unconscious, arising out of the past (or the anticipated future) and can only be dismantled in the present moment. Even though these unconscious reactions tend to happen automatically, there is a part of us that is conscious and can become a witness, thus changing the reaction. When we are able to change our reaction, we can change from our very core and that will change us from the inside, instead of simply altering our external conditions. This is your divine potential, your inherent “Self”. Accessing this Self (or divine potential) has nothing to do with what we’re doing, but how (or from where) we are doing what we’re doing. 

Five kinds of thoughts

According to Patanjali, there are only five kinds of thoughts. Although there are countless thought impressions that come into the field of the mind (chitta), which form the source and substance of the barrier (or veil) covering the true Self (Divine consciousness), they all fall into one or more of these five categories. In other words; while there may be many individual thought impressions, there are not countless types of thoughts to deal with, but only these five. This can help students and practitioners of yoga greatly in seeing the underlying simplicity of the science of Yoga, without getting lost in the apparent multiplicity in both the gross and subtle realms. These five thought impressions are:     

The Problem of Thoughts & Yoga’s Solution1. Pramana/right impressions (or though

The Ego According to Yoga Philosophy

Sooner or later everyone asks the question “what is the ego?”, and the general definition is usually something like this: “the ‘I’ or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.”

But yoga goes a little further and sees it as reflected consciousness; a part of the soul’s pure consciousness that reflects in the mind and functions as the subjective knower, establishing the dichotomy of the observer and the observed, the experience and the experiencer. Therefore the ego is a fictitious character established by the mind, and the mind is simply a subtle form of energy (it has no consciousness of its own). The mind however, acts “as if” it’s a conscious entity, because of soul’s consciousness reflecting on it, or working within it.

Only a very small part of the sun’s light, when reflected from the moon’s surface, makes the moon appear as if it generates a light of its own. We may say “by the light of the moon”, but that light in reality is actually the sun’s light reflecting from the moon’s surface. Similarly, only a small part of soul’s pure consciousness, when working in the mind, identifies itself with the mind and its limitations, and thus feels itself limited. So then, the ego is not only reflected consciousness but also limited consciousness. Limited consciousness naturally equates to limited intelligence, limited understanding and limited ability of perception. Our eyes are not all-seeing and have a limited vision. From the eye’s limited perspective the earth seems flat; but the truth is, the earth is round. Since we see only a small portion of the earth’s circular surface (the horizon) it appears to us as flat, but when seen from a jetliner at 36,000 feet our perspective is expanded and we begin to appreciate the “roundness” of the earth’s horizon. This correlates to the ego’s limited ability to perceive things in the bigger perspective, so instead of seeing the whole (or undivided “oneness”) it sees everything in parts and falsely identifies each part as being separate and independent of the other parts.

The ego is the self or ‘I’ in our mind around which all our thoughts, feelings and experiences seem to revolve. The ego-self is the author, writing the script for all our thinking, feeling and desires. It is the subjective enjoyer and the “experiencer” of all our activities and the results of those activities. Whenever we say “I think, I feel, I see, I love, I enjoy, I hate, I fear, etc.” we are referring to our ego-self. This ‘I’ with which we are so familiar is our limited duplicate ‘I’ not our true ‘I’. It is this false (reflected or duplicated) ‘I’ that experiences all our pleasures and pain, all our joys and suffering. Our real ‘I’ – the Self (with a capital “S”) is the Soul in us that lies behind the ego. This limited ego-consciousness needs to be withdrawn from the mind and dissolved in the Self (like a baby salt doll thrown into the sea) or else have its effects annihilated by non-identification and non-attachment with the physical body and the thinking mind.

Yoga and meditation practice both teach us to slowly and steadily drop this identification and all its attachments. As the ego-self is gradually and progressively trained through yoga and meditation to drop its attachments, it becomes free and spontaneously withdraws inwards. Step-by-step, in deep prolonged meditation the ego-consciousness first withdraws from the body and then it withdraws from the mind. As it begins disconnecting itself from the activities of the mind and withdraws inwards it becomes aware of its original source and its oneness with that source. This process continues until the ego has expanded itself to the point of complete annihilation in the Soul (again, like the salt baby in the sea). Once the duplicate or reflected ‘I’ has merged with the real ‘I’ this is called Self-realization, samadhi or illumination, and this merging (union) is the object and true goal of all yoga and meditation practice.

“The I-ness or egoism (asmita), which arises from the ignorance, occurs due to the mistake of taking the intellect (buddhi, which knows, decides, judges, and discriminates) to itself be pure consciousness (purusha).”Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2:6

And, we’ll end this article with a quote from Krishnananda “The ego is trying to practice yoga. Oh, what a pity! The ego cannot practice yoga, because the ego is to be destroyed in yoga. So how can it practice yoga? Here we have a strange difficulty, and it has to be overcome with a strange technique; that is yoga itself. Yoga is achieved by yoga itself; there is no other means.”

Of related interest, click on: The Wisdom of Patanjali

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and Advaita Vedanta

Basic differences and similarities of the two

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (Raja Yoga) posit the Purusha and Prakriti which basically categorize the sutras as a dualistic philosophy, representing both the manifest (Purusha) and the un-manifest (Prakriti). Whereas the philosophy of Advaita (literally non-dualism), is the premier and oldest of the Vedanta schools of Indian philosophy and was expounded by Adi Shankara (aka, Shankaracharya) historically, the most important teacher of the Advaita school of Vedanta.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s, the nature of the problem (of Union) is that the individual is identified with his body, senses and mind which are seemingly mixed because of five klesas (aka obstacles, colorings or impurities) among which the primary one is Avidya (ignorance). The sense of ego-I established in a body/mind complex, accompanied by longing and attachment to life, are products of the klesha “Avidya.” In order to remove Avidya, one must know reality (as it is), which according to Patanjali is to separate Purusha (the individual) from Prakriti (the entirety of the cosmos, including mind, senses and elements). In other words, to reach liberation, the aspirant needs to realize (by discrimination and practice) that he is a pure and isolated spiritual entity (purusha) completely distinct from the changing (and as yet un-manifest) processes of nature (prakriti) presenting themselves in his physical body, senses and mind. According to Patanjali, Purusha and Prakriti are both real and independent, although he does say that Prakriti exists for the sake of Purusa.

So, if Purusha and Prakriti are both real and independent of each other, how can they be reconciled through the practice of yoga (union)? Normally Purusha and Prakriti are seen as one and the same, united from time immemorial. But, if through yoga the two are separated, the Purusha will recognize its original, divine glory, and on becoming liberated, reunites with the Atman, Brahman (or Self). So, the practice of yoga, especially the “Eight Limbs of Yoga,” found in chapter II of the Yoga Sutras, is a step-by-step scientific method of separating Purusha and Prakriti attaining this liberation. The Eight Limbs are commonly known as Ashtanga Yoga practice, literally defined – (ashta)-limb, (anga) practice.

Advaita Vedanta

Advaita is a Sanskrit word that means ‘not two.’ Advaitists insist on ‘not two’ rather than ‘only one.’ Osho explains: “The danger in saying ‘one’ is that it gives rise to the idea of two.”

Sri Shankaracharya defines the fundamental tenet of Advaita Vedanta as follows:

“Brahman is the Reality, the universe is an illusion,

The living being is Brahman alone, none else.”

His statement, although it presents the core teaching found in all the Upanishads, has evoked much criticism. Most people are naturally unable to accept the world in which they live and the things they directly perceive and experience throughout their lives as illusion.

But a spiritual aspirant may ask, “Is there a higher state to which I can wake up, so that this illusory, waking world will disappear, just like a dream world?”

The answer is a resounding “yes.” But ironically, what that higher state is no one can describe precisely. This is because non-dualism does not allow for the dichotomy of an experience and one who experiences. The experiencer is lost in the process.

The modern day teachings of Advaita Vedanta, especially as revealed by Sri Ramana Maharshi focused on the practice of Self-inquiry, called Atma-vichara in Sanskrit, which is the most important meditation practice in the Vedantic tradition. It is the main practice of the yoga of knowledge (Jnana Yoga), which itself is traditionally regarded as the highest of the yogas because it can take one most directly to liberation.

Sri Ramana seemed to teach and practice transcendence devoid of any Ashtanga Yoga overtones, except pranayama. When asked about pranayama Sri Ramana said: “This vichara brings about the desired result. For one not so advanced as to engage in it, regulation of breath is prescribed for making the mind quiescent. Quiescence lasts only so long as the breath is controlled.” And when asked; What is the need then for pranayama?

He replied: “Pranayama is meant for one who cannot directly control the thoughts. It serves as a brake to a car. But one should not stop with it but must proceed to pratyahara, dharana and dhyan. After the fruition of dhyana, the mind will come under control even in the absence of pranayama. The asanas (postures) help pranayama, which helps dhyana in its turn, and peace of mind results. Here is the purpose of Hatha Yoga.”


It is significant that there is really nothing much within the Eight Limbs of Yoga practice which is anti-thetical to Advaita Vedanta; in fact, the Yogic path actually seems to fit quite nicely with Advaitic metaphysics. In samadhi, the eighth and highest limb, the mind loses ego-awareness and becomes one with the object of meditation, but this non-dualistic experience is only “temporary” in Yoga (savikalpa Samadhi), since the ultimate goal of Patanjali’s yoga system is the discrimination of pure consciousness from all those objects it identifies with. But this experience accords very well with the Advaitic aim of “realizing the whole universe as the Self.” (nirvikalpa Samadhi).

Of related interest, click on: The Wisdom of Patanjali

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500 

The Importance of Meditation to Yoga Practice

Meditation (known as Dhyana in Sanskrit) was part of ancient yoga and remains one of the most essential features of yoga practice. Meditation is basically the most direct way to connect to supreme or essential “Self” (Atman) through developing deeper consciousness. And in addition to its spiritual significance, meditation and yoga are practiced together to establish and maintain optimal health and wellness.

In these modern times the practice of yoga training has become more estranged from meditation than in the past, with the primary focus often being on asana (poses), but nonetheless meditation still remains crucial to even the most fundamental understanding of the science of yoga. With the widespread attraction to yoga from today’s contemporary students, the question frequently arises as to whether meditation is really necessary to appreciate the full scope of what yoga practice has to offer.

This question will easily be answered once the student realizes that yoga and meditation are bound together as intimately as breathing and air. It is futile to attempt to practice one without the other. The very question of whether meditation is necessary to perform yoga properly indicates a general lack of understanding in regard to both subjects.

Yoga is meditation. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s fast or slow, hot or cold; all forms of yoga practice rely on the basic principles of meditation to occur. Yoga practice is a form of exercise as well, but it is exercise at its most highly evolved level, meaning yogic exercise is, in itself, a form of meditation.

Meditation brings consciousness to every action taken. In order to correctly perform yoga asana the mind needs to be active along with the body. This consciousness in action takes the form of counting breaths, holding poses, correcting alignment and smoothly sequencing from one position to the next. This activity takes place in accordance with a deliberate “mindfulness” that is the true essence of every yogic session.

Meditation recognizes that the mind is supervising this physical activity, but there is much more that the mind can be occupied with. The addition of Mantras, Mudras, introspective thoughts and even visualization will more fully occupy the mind so that the energies expended by the body are all working toward a single constructive purpose, to bring complete mindfulness and total awareness into every action.

Once these concepts are fully grasped it it becomes apparent that for people who chose to practice asana, meditation is absolutely required. Meditation cannot be some abstract idea that is separate from the whole of yogic science; meditation in fact, is the beginning and end of all yogic methods and techniques.

If you are among those who are confused (or even disturbed) by the concept of meditation, it may be helpful to think of it in a more straightforward manner. So consider this; meditation can be looked upon as a means of encouraging and hastening the attainment of the state of enlightenment through mental concentration, clarity of mind and self improvement.

Additionally, meditation is something that returns us to being in the present moment. It is a deep connection, through a heightened awareness of oneself, in relationship with the things and people all around. Meditation and yoga combined are known to be helpful in recovering from breathing problems, boosting the immune system, reducing cholesterol levels and increasing energy and stamina, resulting in an improvement of overall health and an enhanced sense of connection to the Divine Spirit within.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 8 – Samadhi)

The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 8 – Samadhi)Samadhi is a Sanskrit word which is the state of consciousness induced by complete meditation, derived from the verbal roots “samā” (the state of total equilibrium) and “dhi” (of a detached intellect).

Samadhi is the eighth and final of Patanjali’s “Eight Limbs” of Raja Yoga (or classical yoga). Patanjali’s commentary on Samadhi (Yoga-Sutras 1.41): “Just as the naturally pure crystal assumes shapes and colors of objects placed near it, so the Yogi’s mind, with its totally weakened modifications, becomes clear and balanced and attains the state devoid of differentiation between knower, knowable and knowledge. This culmination of meditation is Samadhi.”

Samādhi is the primary focus of part one (Samādhi-pada) of the Yoga Sūtras. Patanjali intended for the last three steps in his eightfold path (Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi) to be studied and practiced together because there is no clear dividing line between any of these three stages. Collectively they are called “Samyama” (Control). When practiced progressively, concentration (Dharana) merges into meditation (Dhyana) and then into non-dual union with the Divine (Samadhi).

A general definition of Samadhi is a super conscious state in which an individual experiences his identity with the ultimate Divine Reality (Brahman).  However, there are a number of technical variations (stages or states) of Samadhi depending upon whether it is in Vedanta philosophy or in Yoga philosophy. Some of the most commonly recognized variations are…

  • Savikalpa Samadhi: In Vedanta philosophy this is the first stage of transcendental consciousness and is where the distinction between subject and object persists.  The spiritual aspirant in this state may have mystic visions, either with or without form.
  • Nirvikalpa Samadhi: Literally means, “changeless Samadhi,” and in Vedanta philosophy refers to the transcendental state of consciousness where the spiritual aspirant becomes completely absorbed in union with the Divine, so that all sense of duality is erased.
  • Savichara Samadhi: According to Yoga philosophy this Samadhi refers to the state in which the mind achieves identity with an object of concentration (either internal or external), this object will have a name, a quality, and can be known as such.
  • Nirvichara Samadhi: This is a term in Yoga philosophy referring to the state in which the mind achieves identity with a subtle object of concentration; something beyond name, quality, and knowledge, where knowledge, knower and the known become one.
  • Nirbija Samadhi: Translated literally as, “Seedless Samadhi.” In Yoga philosophy this is the non-dual state of consciousness which is unconditional because all projected conditions have been transcended. Nirbija-Samadhi has no conditioning cause since all causes have all been transcended, and all conditional activity has been surrendered. The mind is now a radiant formlessness empty of both specific and generalized impressions, including the seer and the seen.

In conclusion: The mind is a bundle of mental “patterns” of awareness. When all these patterns of awareness have been rejected and annihilated, what remains is an ultimate form of consciousness – Samadhi.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 8 – Samadhi)

Mental “patterns” of awareness

Related article, click on: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 7 – Dhyana)

Check back soon for an elaboration on each of the five “Yamas”.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 7 – Dhyana, W/Video)

The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 7 – Dhyana)Dhyana is a Sanskrit word which means to meditate, derived from the verbal root dhyai, Dhyana  it is the most common designation for both the meditative state of consciousness and the yogic techniques by which it is attained.

Dhyana is the seventh of Patanjali’s “Eight Limbs” of Raja Yoga (or classical yoga). Patanjali describes Dhyana as the repeated continuation, or uninterrupted stream of that one point of focus (Dharana) is called absorption in meditation (dhyana), and is the seventh of the eight steps (Yoga-Sutras 3.2).

There are two distinct stages that precede the practice of Dhyana. The first leads to sense withdrawal (Pratyahara), the second to concentration (Dharana), and finally, after these first two stages have been achieved, the yogi or student is prepared for the practice of true meditation (Dhyana).

Without such prior preparation, the efforts to concentrate the mind, often leads only to an inner and frustrating battle. The vrittis of chitta (fluctuations of the “mind stuff” or constant chatter of the mind) leads people to say they cannot meditate, and they intend to learn to meditate later. But the key is not to merely put off meditation practice until some future time, which never seems to come. Rather, the truth of the matter is that preparation is needed. With preparation, concentration and meditation arise naturally. Without the preparation, little or nothing of value happens.

The student is instructed to always to begin with concentration (Dharana), and then proceed to meditation (Dhyana), which finds fruition in Samadhi. This triple process is called samyama. During this process the yogi (or student) may become aware of higher powers (Siddhis) and become captivated by them, but Patanjali warns they are obstacles to the full or higher samādhi. Only by non-attachment to even these things, however great they may seem, may the seeds of bondage be destroyed, and independence or freedom attained.

In summary: Dhyana is the unbroken stream of concentration, where little to no “sense of self” remains. At this stage, it becomes increasingly more difficult to use words and reasoning (thoughts), or the conscious mind to describe these inner experiences of yoga. After all, the state of meditation, by its very nature transcends our material human experience and everything that is related to it. Meditation (Dhyana), is concentration (Dharana) taken to “perfection”; in other words, the meditative state is the natural consequence of “perfect concentration”. So it is by prolonged concentration, that produces this “spontaneous”, “free-flowing” meditative state, where nothing except the object of concentration fills the mind’s space; and where the observer and the observed merge into one.

If you are unfamiliar with meditation the following video (Andy Puddicombe: All it takes is 10 mindful minutes) may be helpful…

Related article, click on: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 6 – Dharana)

Check back soon for “The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 8 – Samadhi)”

The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 6 –Dharana)

The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 6 –Dharana)Dharana is a Sanskrit word which means immovable concentration of the mind (or that which gives stability”) from the root Dhar, which means to “bind together”, “to make stable”. Dharanais  the willful act of concentration of the mind.

Dharana is the sixth of Patanjali’s “Eight Limbs” of Raja Yoga (or classical yoga). Patanjali describes Dharana thusly: “When the pure mind is kept focused in the desired desa (region) by the seeker, it is called Dharana.”

Patanjali considered Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi to be the last three steps in his eightfold path and that all three aspects considered together are collectively termed “Samyama” (Control). We should also keep in mind, that Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are progressively advancing stages of concentration. The highest stage of mental concentration described by the Western psychologists is similar to the description of Dharana which Patanjali designated as the initial or primary stage of concentration, with Dhyana as the intermediate and Samadhi as the final or highest stage.

Characteristically there is no dividing line in between any of these three stages. When certain progress is made in the practice of Dharana, Dhyana stage is automatically entered into and so on with the progress through Dharana stage, the student or yogi automatically enters in the Samadhi stage. The three stages are said to mingle into each other as easily as three colors are mixed together on an artists palate.

In this article we will consider only the first stage; Dharana, (Dhyana and Samadhi to be considered in upcoming articles).

The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 6 –Dharana)

In practicing Dharana, the student creates a condition conducive for the mind to focus its attention in one direction or on one object rather than of radiating out in a multitude of different directions. As concentration deepens, the focus on a single chosen point becomes more intense and the other preoccupations of the mind cease to exist.

The objective in Dharana is to steady the mind by focusing its attention efficiently on one subject or point of experience. Concentrate on any object (within the body or outside) that is appealing, selecting any object that’s pleasant and brings in concentration of the mind easily. Now if the student chooses to focus on their inner energy flow, they can directly experience the physical and mental blocks and imbalances that remain in their system, in other words, the obstacles to their progress becomes obvious.

Once established, this ability to withdraw the mind from all its “fluctuations” (or modifications), and concentrate on a single point produces psychological health and personal integration and should not be considered an escape from reality, but instead, a positive movement towards the realization of the true nature of the Self. This prepares the student for the next stage (Dhyana), where concentration becomes meditation and the one meditating becomes one with the object of meditation.

In summary: The practice of Pratyahara creates the setting for Dharana or concentration. When one is relieved of outside distractions, they can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. In the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation, a student can learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object. The goal is to become aware of nothing except the object of concentration, it can be a candle flame, a flower, a mantra you repeat to yourself, a specific energetic center in the body, a picture of a guru or an image of a deity, any of the chakras can also be used as a focal point for concentration. The ultimate purpose of Dharana is to train the mind over time by eliminating all the extra, unnecessary superfluous thought. Extended periods of concentration will naturally lead to meditation (Dhyana).

The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 6 –Dharana)

Related article, click on: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 5 – Pratyahara)

Check back soon for “The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 7 –Dhyana)”