The word meditation refers to the many modern and ancient techniques and practices that settle the nervous system and train the brain to be more focused, engaged, and less reactive. It also refers to a state that practitioners directly experience when they do these practices.
Most meditation practices have their origins in religious or monastic traditions. The English word, meditation, is derived from the Latin word meditatio, from a verb meditari, which means, “to think, contemplate, devise, or ponder.”
The yoga tradition has a long history of meditation, a tradition which includes much more than postures or stretching. Yoga means to “yoke” or to join and it includes practices designed to yoke all experiences to the awareness of one’s true nature.* The term meditation was introduced in English as a translation for Dhyana (a Sanskrit word found in the Yoga Sutras), which refers to the Eastern spiritual practices of Buddhism, Vedanta, and Hinduism.
Contemplative practices from China, such as early Taoism, and those in Christianity, such as centering prayer, have also been called meditation. It can also refer to practices from Islamic Sufism, Jewish Kabbalah, and Greek Orthodoxy. Depending on the technique used, meditation practices can:
- promote relaxation
- enhance the ability to focus
- induce an expanded state of awareness
- activate an emotional state
- build internal energy or life force (qi, ki, prana, chi, etc.)
- develop qualities such as compassion, love, patience, generosity, and forgiveness
- help a practitioner to enjoy a stable sense of well-being while engaging in any activity (mindfulness)
The word “meditation” itself can refer to a state of restful awareness reached during a meditation practice, as unique to itself as is sleep, dreaming, and waking. It’s a state which has been described as “being blissfully awake inside without being aware of any one thing “ Called Samadhi in the ancient language of Sanskrit, other names for this state are: Atma Darshan, Transcendental Consciousness, Glimpsing the Soul, Turiya, or being in the Gap,
The meditative process, as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (which you’ll read in this lesson), involves the sixth, seventh, and eighth limbs of yoga: Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Together, this practice is referred to as the practice of samyana.
*There are four paths in yoga: bhakti yoga, the devotional path or the path of pure love; karma yoga, the path of right action and selfless service; raja yoga, the royal path of self-mastery which includes disciplines for breath control, asana, and meditation; and jnana yoga, the path of the intellect which lifts the veil of ignorance for the attainment of truth.