Incorporating Meditation into One’s Yoga Practice

Meditation is a logical component of any yoga session. Although many Westerners view yoga as an exclusively physical discipline — an alternative to jogging or weight-training — yoga is much more than that. The U.S. Department of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine defines yoga as a mind-body practice.  The great Indian philosopher Patanjali would certainly agree- back in the 2nd century BCE, he said yoga consists of eight limbos, one of which is meditation.

Many yoga teachers schedule the meditation part of class at either the beginning or the end of the class. This is a practical choice. It’s asking a lot of students to transition seamlessly from focusing on the teacher’s instructions to stilling the mind for meditation and then switch back to the physical exercises. A clear differentiation between the meditation portion and the rest of the yoga session is also practical outside of the classroom, for the individual who practices yoga alone.

Yoga Postures for Meditation

Any time spent in quiet reflection has the potential for physical, psychological and spiritual benefits. As a result, an individual can conceivably meditate in any position, from lying prone to walking.

Nevertheless, yogic meditation is typically carried out in a vertical position, with the spine well aligned. This facilitates the flow through the body’s seven main energy centers- the chakras located from head to base of spine. By promoting a more conscious awareness of body, mind and spirit, meditation can free up blocked chakras and achieve more balanced energy.

There are three basic yoga poses that work particularly well with meditation: lotus pose, cross-legged pose and thunderbolt pose.

In lotus pose, the meditator sits on the floor, with right foot resting on top of the left thigh and left foot resting on top of the right thigh. Hands rest on the knees.  In cross-legged pose (also known as sitting tailor-style), the individual sits on the floor, with ankles crossed beneath the thighs. Hands rest on the knees.  In thunderbolt pose, with knees bent and touching each other, the meditator appears to sit on his heels. In actuality, he sits on the space formed by the feet, turned inward. Hands rest on the thighs.

Meditation Techniques that Work Well with Yoga

A Body Scan. One way of stilling the mind is to become more aware of the body. The meditator observes sensations in each part of the body, from toes to head. Monitoring pulse beats, warmth, coolness and any discomfort, he focuses on relaxing each part of the body.

Breath Awareness. The meditator focuses simply on his breathing. He observes how the chest or stomach moves with each inhalation and exhalation and how the air moves through the nostrils and into the lungs.

Chanting. Chanting is an integral part of some types of yoga, particularly the Kundalini method. Repeating a word, over and over, is also a useful way of achieving focus and avoiding distracting thoughts. The chanted word need not be the classic “om,” but might signify something the meditator seeks like “peace” or “health.”

Timing Issues

How long should the meditation portion of a yoga session last? This is entirely up to the individual. Many yoga teachers end each class with five minutes of meditation. They may signal the end of the meditation with the tinkling of a soft bell. Or they may play relaxing music or chants for the meditation. When the recording stops, the students end their meditation. Recorded music or chants similarly work as excellent “timers” for individual yogic meditation sessions.