Yoga as Meditation

Note to my regular readers: After writing about eating the whole food, plant-based way for almost four years now, I have decided to expand my horizons for this blog site and write on the subject of well being, which includes eating a whole food, plant-based diet but also stretches out into other areas of our lives that affect our well being. I believe that most of my readers will welcome this change because my readers tend to be more conscious of their own well being, as well as the well being of others and our environments, than probably the majority of the population. So, this transition seems like it should be a natural one to make although change is not always easy. I will continue to write about food and nutrition when the muses lead me in that direction, but I will also expand out into new territory as well. I hope you come along with me. Today's posting is on my experiences with meditation and yoga. Enjoy!

I have been practicing both meditation and yoga for a couple of years now, but it's only been lately that I have really come to recognize the true benefits of doing so. At first, they were just unique activities to engage in, but if you were to ask me why I did either, I couldn't really give you a good answer. It might have been because others I knew were doing meditation and yoga and they seemed to believe there was some benefit in doing so.

Meditation was the hardest for me to understand. I would sit, focusing on my breath or focusing on an imagined spot out in front of me, and I would start wondering why am I doing this. Being retired and having a comfortable but not lavish lifestyle, I was really under no stress in my life. I would do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Listening to others, they would talk about meditation quieting the mind and reducing stress. But I had no stress or very little stress to relieve. And because I walk every day, mostly on the nature trail, listening to the birds communicating with the other creatures in the woods, I found that to be quieting as well.

And yet, I persisted with doing meditation. Recently, I found a very practical use for meditation though. I banged my shin really hard the other night, and the pain from that was intense. It radiated throughout my entire leg. It was the kind of pain that I would normally rush to the bathroom and find a pain killer to take. But I've come to pride myself on the fact that because I follow a whole food, plant-based way of eating and because I regularly walk and do yoga and play pickleball, I don't need medications. While I still have some old, likely outdated pain killers, I prefer not to take them.

Remembering that pain is a mental thing, not a physical thing, I decided to first give meditation a chance. I began to quietly meditate, focusing on my breath, and I swear that within two minutes, this intense, radiating pain was completely gone. And it never came back. That's when I suddenly realized the importance of meditation. Meditation can control our bodies. Not just our physical pains, but also our anxieties, our depressions, our wants and desires. The Buddhist writer and founder of The Interdependence Project, Ethan Nichtern says in One City, A Declaration of Interdependence, that meditation gives us better mindfulness, awareness and insight. The changes may be subtle, but they are there. Oftentimes, our friends notice the changes before we do. For a good understanding of meditation, readers might check out Turning the Mind Into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham.

Note: I am no longer linking to items that readers can purchase because I've learned that doing so is labelled as an unnatural link by Google, and Google then places the website with the unnatural link, as well as the business linked to, lower down in its search criteria. I didn't know this until Bragg's recently contacted me and asked me to remove a link to their Liquid Aminos product. You know it's a serious issue when the manufacturer of a product doesn't want you linking to a site where readers can buy their product. But you can search for the books and DVDs and even the foods that I recommend on sites like Amazon or Barnes and Noble and easily find them. And you can rest assured that I am not personally profiting from my recommendations. All of my recommendations come from my personal beliefs in the products I mention.

In today's posting, I want to touch on yoga as meditation though. Yoga is another one of those things I started doing several years ago without fully understanding why. Was it physical exercise, like kind of a weird calisthentics? Was it something spiritual? Or was it just a fad? You might ask why I would do something when I don't know why I do it. And my answer is that I'm always inquisitive for new things and I'm always fascinated by the benefits I receive from doing something when I had no idea that I would receive such benefits in the beginning. It's like when I bought my first computer, an IBM PC Jr. I had no idea what I was going to do with it. I had no idea of what the power of a personal computer would become. And yet, I dived in and today I can't live without my computer. It's an integral part of my life.

And so it is with yoga. But I really came to see the benefits of yoga last February after I moved my yoga practice from the studio to my home. I made the change because the studio raised its prices again, and I began to find it more unaffordable. I prefer to save my money for travel and photography by cutting out other things like cable TV, frequent restaurant meals, and in-studio yoga. At the time, I thought that I would try cutting it out and hope that I didn't lose the discipline. But not only did I not lose the discipline, but my practice got better.

It got better because I began to focus on my breath. I know in the studio, we would be told to focus on our breath, but somehow I never did. Sometimes we moved too quickly, in fact, with one substitute, it was like a race to get through the yoga positions. Sometimes, I focused more on making sure I didn't look foolish in comparison to others. Sometimes, other participants distracted me. Or I would watch the clock.

But at home, I learned to shut my eyes and to move through the yoga positions more slowly and gracefully to the music of Putumayo Presents Yoga, focused entirely on my breath and not distracted by anything else. The practice of yoga became peaceful and meditative. It became an act of meditation in and of itself. And I now understand why I do it. It's physical, it's spiritual, it induces peaceful feelings and it's meditative.

I've found this for myself. I hope you have or can find it for yourself too. And I hope that you find my expansion of subject matter worthwhile. Please feel free to letting me know what you think. Write to me at jlsmith.jim@gmail.com