“Seek to understand, then to be understood” – Stephen Covey
A friend recently shared a disturbing article on Facebook about parents who want to ban yoga in school because they consider it to be ‘prayer’ and religion has no place in school. The hardest part of this for me to swallow isn’t the lack of understanding about yoga philosophy, but that they’re willing to take away a valuable physical education and stress management tool from their children without seeking to understand. Meditation is not prayer, and there are other things it isn’t that I’ll get into.
The Pope on Meditation
To depart,and take the ‘religious’ route for a moment, the foundation for many anti-meditation arguments from Christians is the belief that meditation is a religious cult. Pope Benedict XVI himself, however, begs to differ. In fact, he advocates meditation as a means for Christians to clear their conscience. So, for fundamentalists who have a misunderstanding about where the church stands, this post from the Catholic News Service ought to clear that part up.
Now, onto the point of the post. As someone who’s practiced and studied various forms of meditation for several years, I’d like to think I’ve gained a fairly substantial understanding on the topic, what it is, and what it is not. Of course, my experiences are personal to me, and my interpretation is what I’ve gleaned from reading (translated) ancient and contemporary text.
What Meditation IS…
At the basest level, meditation (one of the 8 limbs of yoga) is simply sitting in silence, breathing consciously, bringing awareness to the present and allowing the mind to become still. There are a number of types of meditation such as walking, moving, transcendental, but all of them are variations of allowing the mind to come to stillness. In fact, according to Patanjali, yoga is the settling of the mind into silence. In fact, meditation is the state of doing nothing. Nothing. Not prayer. Nothing.
Meditation is a state of deep peace that comes when the mind is calm and silent.
The physical and mental benefits of yoga and meditation are well studied and documented. Growing bodies of evidence cite decreased risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, pain management, sleep problems, depression, fatigue, appetite management, and so on.
So, now that we’ve discussed what meditation and yoga ARE, and the benefits, let’s talk about what it isn’t. I’ve compiled my own list of answers to misconceptions based on criticism from friends or conversations I’ve witnessed.
Meditation is NOT…
- Meditation is not prayer
- Meditation is not witchcraft
- Meditation is not a cult
- Meditation is not brainwashing
- Meditation is not concentration
- Meditation is not relaxation in and of itself
- Meditation is not a state of mind
- Meditation is not self-hypnosis
- Meditation is not thinking
But don’t take my word for it. Tibetan monks, philosophers, theologians, and scholars have all defined meditation. Many of them have to begin or include what meditation is not due to a vast misunderstanding. Do a search, pick up a book, call a theologist or professor, but choose to be informed.
From a meditator’s point of view, Decartes quote, “I think, therefore I am” is not true. A meditator will say – ” I am, therefore I think”
– Your Charmed Yogi
- The cha-cha of meditation
- Drain the dirty bathwater with meditation
- Meditation and pain
- Derail your train of thought with meditation
- Transcendental meditation is like Alka-Seltzer
(Photo: Kelly Angard