Why Has Meditation Become So Overlooked In Most Western Yoga Practices?


Feb. 12, 2016, Toronto, ON - What we now call "yoga" in the west, without any emphasis placed on meditation, is just exercise. Similar in nature to that of going to the gym, partaking in a strenuous martial arts class, or going for a run in the woods; if no attention is placed on meditation, one is missing out on the most fundamental part of the entire yoga practice: to accept and leave the mind. 

I'll admit it, my own first impressions of yoga were that it was nothing more than physical discovery. Studying martial arts for some-odd years, I thought "yoga" was a great way to strengthen different muscle groups within the body that I had never used before --- but that was only a small piece of the real story.

What is it that yoga can offer us that no other discipline can? Meditation. Going within. For, at its core, yoga is meditation (Bhagavad Gita). So, why have so many schools chosen to forgo this most essential and important part of the practice?

Here are my 5 main understandings as to why I believe meditation has come to be so overlooked in today's yoga practice:

1. No one really knows what meditation is --- let alone, is able to teach it.

Seemingly esoteric in nature, appearing to be only fit for the most holiest of holy’s atop a great mountain peak, meditation has come to earn a very bad rap. Meditation is simply doing nothing. Providing the mind with zero-stimulus to the point that it, itself, disappears. But how does one accomplish this? By exhausting the mind until you come to realize that there really was no mind at all, there were only thoughts. The mind is an amalgamation or culmination of thoughts. Deceptively indivisible from the whole, when one learns to slow down long enough, one can begin to see the slight space, or pause, between each thought. This space is akin to a clear sky peering out behind a cloudy day. If a single cloud represents a thought, then a myriad of clouds would represent the mind (Osho). However, a clear sky, like a clear mind, will always persist just above. A clear sky of no-mind.

The reason why this is so difficult to teach is that it is impossible to bring someone there. One can only be shown the door, but it is up to them to walk through it (The Matrix). A great yoga teacher can only instruct their students to be still, to focus solely on the breath, and to begin observing the mind. But, beyond that, it is up to the student to go the rest of the way. Even the greatest teacher cannot hold back their student's thoughts for them. That is why it is a self discipline.

2. Meditation is boring.

You literally do nothing. You just be. This concept may seem alien or irrational to some, but those that know the true state of yoga will not see this activity as boring at all. Boredom is a thought; boredom is a product of the mind. It is a safeguard for the mind. Attempt to quiet down the mind long enough and it will jump back out at you. It will try to confuse you with thoughts and bombard you with ideas and scenarios that you may not even realize are still a large part of mind. The moment a thought has become aware to you is the moment you realize you have been thinking it for quite some time. We don’t actually address our thoughts as soon as they arise; rather, we imbibe in them until we go, “oh crap, I was thinking that thing the whole time!” 

3. No one likes going inside.

Going inside is one of the scariest, most rewarding, practices for anyone with the patience enough to sit still. You can deceive others through your words, actions, and ideas, but you cannot deceive yourself once you are face to face with your own reflection in your internal world. By going inside, we can come to see the true nature of mind; where our problems really lie; what is actually bothering us the most. But, this is not pleasurable. It can be difficult to relive or redress one's own suffering. Once alone in a space of one's own thoughts, one is forced to deal with what they may have been trying to hide for so long.

The good news is, however, that knowing is the first step to healing. In order to fix a problem, one must first realize that there was a problem to be fixed in the first place. By going inside, we can begin to observe and accept our past misdeeds; the things we dislike about ourselves; and ultimately come to understand that “I am not my thoughts.” There really is no "me" to hold on to anything, it is just the mind. Let the mind go, and so too will your problems go with it. Though, the caveat to all this is: even if you let something go, unless you make the necessary changes to fix the problem externally, you will be destined to relive that same suffering over and over again until it has been addressed. 

Think of going inside like looking into a bathroom mirror. We go inside, we see what’s really going on, and we fix it externally so it never bothers us again. It's like realizing, “darn, I’ve had something stuck in my teeth this whole time and I didn't even notice it." Without looking into the mirror, there would have been very little chance you would have ever known to get anything out.

4. There is no external gratification from others.

We are an externally motivated society. The west is completely built up on accolades, awards and separation. Class systems do exist, but less overtly than in places that have established them into law; places like India. Marketers love this externalization. It serves as their playground. They utilize this externalized obsession to create differentiation, prestige, and the promotion of a false sense of superiority. “You are much better than everyone else around you.” "This product will show everyone that you are special." So, what can meditation offer you that will help you to appear better than everyone else? Nothing. It will only help you to realize that you are a part of everyone else. 

The west likes separation, while meditation stresses non-separation. There is no me or you, there is only we. And yet, from what we can see, there is still a me, with a little too much focus on you. 1 + 1 = 2 in Oneness (Life Cosmic).

Now, if only we could receive a badge of honour to show everyone how good we are at meditating. Then maybe people would give it a better try. The simple truth is that no one will ever know how good of a meditator you really are, they can only think it. True meditation is up to you and the eternal; it's between you and what you choose to see as “god”.

5. “Yoga is not about meditation.”

Pick up any sacred text and you will come to see that they are all pointing to the same truth. Meditation. The non-separation of separation. Yoga is meditation, but meditation is not just yoga. Or, what we “call” yoga. 

In the west, we have come to an understanding that yogasana (physical practice) is the be-all, end-all of spiritual life. However, there are four paths to yoga: Jnana, scholarship; Karma, giving back; Bhakti, worship; and Raja, physical practice. All ways will lead you to the same source, but only if you come to realize that it is just another way.

It's like fixating on a finger that is pointing at the moon and missing out on all that heavenly glory. Look not at the finger, but at the majesty of the moon (Bruce Lee). In spiritual and daily life, we can get so caught up on the little things that we completely pass over the true lesson at hand. We are non-separate in our apparent separation. There is in fact a me and there is in fact a you. But there is also a we. There is in fact a universe and there is in fact a self. But they are one in the same. Who, then, has come of whom? And how can we be separate from something we have always and will forever be a part of? It's like The Blanket Truth. Everything resides within the blanket. Everything is one.