Within Eastern philosophies (such as Yoga) and Western research, at least three modalities of Meditation have been researched: transcendental meditation, Buddhist meditation, and mindfulness-based meditation. Research has shown that they have psychiatric benefits (Dakwar & Levin, 2009).
Hatha Yoga is a form of mindfulness. One grounds oneself, sets an intention, and practices the postures staying in the present moment. Looking inward, following breath, imploring non-judgment, and acceptance; Yoga means, “to unite” and “to tie the strands of the mind together” (Desikachar, 1995). Yoga helps bring consciousness to a state of stillness so that one can experience pure awareness.
Meditation is described by Patañjali in The Yoga Sutras. Integrating the mind, body, and soul is at its heart and a deep sense of ease develops. Deep insight and wisdom appears, a sense of being connected to every one and every thing, and then freedom from suffering can occur (Hartranft, 2003). Three routes on an eight-fold path to enlightenment describe meditation. Dhāraņā entails the mind focusing on one point. Dhyāna is the connection that is made with the concentrated object. When one’s mind becomes completely absorbed with the object, Samādhi is the merging and pure awareness results. The first five routes on this path (i.e. moral conduct, personal purity, postures, breath control, and sense withdrawal) prepare the mind for the three types of meditation above. One precedes the other on this quest to wellness and a deep sense of contentment (Desikachar, 1995).
This path is completely logical in practical Western terms. One is moral as to not attract negative energy (issues) toward oneself that further create mental anguish. One acts with pure intent and eats healthily, releasing mental and bodily impurities so the brain is nourished, supporting optimal functioning. The postures create a strong temple (body) supporting the stamina for the mind and body to engage stillness. Breath is the pathway to the internal. Desikachar (1995) stresses the importance of the breath’s ability to express our inner feelings. Consciously following the breath is a form of meditation. Siegel (a Western clinician) articulates that the breath is our interface into the internal and its rhythmic flow is essential to nervous system function (Siegel, 2009).
Siegel (2009) describes mindfulness as attention training, affect regulation training, and as a relational process. He postulates that it changes one’s view of oneself by freeing engrained experience so that the sense of self is no longer constrained by rigidity. The process is by being aware of awareness and paying attention to intention. Siegel (2009) makes an analogy that mindfulness is a part of brain hygiene, “a form of mental floss…getting the garbage out between the different synapses, loosening the hardening of our categories” (p. 146). The East and West intersect again, both Siegel and Patañjali share a similar view of the effects of meditation: being integrated brings about a sense of love and compassion for oneself, wholeness. One attunes to oneself and connects to a larger whole (Siegel, 2009 & Hartranft, 2003).
Thus, yoga is an excellent pathway to optimal wellness.
Dakwar, E., & Levin, F. (2009). The emerging role of meditation in addressing psychiatric illness, with a focus on substance use disorders. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 17 (4), 254-267.
Desikachar, T. K. V. (1995). The Heart of Yoga. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International.
Hartranft, C. (2003). The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali. Boston: Shambala Publications, Inc.
Siegel, D. (2009). Mindful awareness, mindsight and neural integration. The Humanist Psychologist, 37, 137-158.