Yoga Asana and Meditation: Mutually Exclusive?

Meditation is “making its way back
onto the yoga mat,” proclaims a recent NY
Times article
, following years of yoga’s frenetic usurpation by the fitness
industry. The New York yoga community is cited as an example of practitioners
maturing in their practices, evidenced by an increased interest in seated
meditation. While an encouraging trend, the Times makes an unnecessarily rigid
delineation between asana (postures) and meditation. Some tantric and kundalini
yoga paths—for instance, Kripalu yoga—teach that asana may reflect and serve as
a path to higher states of consciousness. However, asana can be a hindrance and
source of mind disturbance if practiced in the absence of mindful,
compassionate awareness.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines yoga as stilling the waves of
the mind
. In modern forms of yoga that hearken to classical lineages, yoga
is frequently viewed as preparation for meditation or a meditation unto itself.
But tantric adepts found another reason to practice: to celebrate the body as a
vessel of the divine, and in so doing, to invite kundalini energy to awaken and
rise upwards, thus imbuing enlightenment. In the throes of kundalini awakening,
Swami Kripalu would
frequently experience spontaneous yoga postures, dance, mudras, and meditation.

Are the stilling of Patanjali’s mind waves and Swami
Kripalu’s deeply meditative, kundalini-saturated experiences one and the same?
Many tantric buddhists and hatha yogis believe kundalini awakening is necessary
in order to better integrate or transcend the ego, while others feel it’s a distraction
that may foster more power and attachment, but not enlightenment
.

It is important to remember that postures alone, taught and
practiced with the correct context, intention, and container, can serve as both
vehicle to and expression of awakening. Practiced in their absence, however, as
is done in many fitness-oriented yoga classes, asana may strengthen maladaptive
thoughts/behaviors (vrttis). Swami
Kripalu notes
, “Regardless if you’re worshipping
God or drinking a glass of water, it’s all yoga, provided you act with
concentration of mind … we can choose whatever we want and that will be
meditation, but the type of action we choose should be sattvic or pure in nature so it doesn’t create any disturbance in
our mind.”

In our appearance-driven society, many struggle with body
acceptance, much less view the body as a vessel for divine expression. Yoga
asana is thus a double-edged sword; it can facilitate greater communion with
the sacred, conjoining body, mind, and soul, but the inability to twist into a
pretzel or becoming distracted by appearance-related goals may validate an
underlying sense of inadequacy. These represent opportunities to strengthen
your practice through observing inner dialogue, thus engendering mindful, compassionate
awareness internally no matter the type of yoga class you might be attending.
In so doing we begin to practice meditation—in motion.

Do you think meditation can be practiced while doing yoga
postures? What are your thoughts on kundalini? Have you had a kundalini experience?

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