The Evolution of Yoga Meditation

Kripalu School of Yoga

In our modern world, many yoga practitioners who are interested in meditation turn to Buddhist or mindfulness meditation. Most yoga students are not even aware that there is a rich tradition of meditation within yoga. As yoga evolved throughout the ages, meditation evolved with it.

The evolutionary process that led to our modern yoga and most influenced yoga meditation can be divided into four stages:

1. Vedanta—a philosophy and set of practices that appear in the early Upanishads, and teach that within us there is an Unchanging Self.

2. Sankhya—one of the six schools of Hinduism; Sankhya philosophy regards the universe as consisting of two realities: purusha (consciousness) and prakriti (phenomenal realm of matter)

3. Tantra—founded on the view that the world and its pleasures do not have to be renounced for spiritual awakening; enjoyment and human fulfillment can be stepping stones to higher awareness 

4. Tantric Hatha Yoga—developed in the 10th century as a simplification of Tantra; its three most instrumental practices are asana, pranayama, and mudra.

Kripalu Yoga practitioners and teachers have inherited teachings and practices from these traditions. Some of the practices have survived intact; others have blended with later teachings and practices. Each tradition held a clear idea of what spiritual growth and enlightenment were and how one could move toward them through meditation.

The Kripalu Yoga Definition of Meditation

We recognize two forms of meditation:

  1. Spiritual work to find the essential Self 

  2. Respite from the stress of responsibility or challenges of structured activity.

In the Buddha’s time, meditation was spiritual work developed to cut through the ego, maya, desire, and illusion in order to penetrate the essence of the Self. In our modern, complex technological society, many people feel overstimulated, over-challenged, and hyper-stressed. To unplug from sensory stimulation or move to an unstructured environment for a short period of time can be balancing, healing, and integrative. To soothe the mind from the constant chatter of thinking can feel like coming home to our Self.

Having an understanding of the stages of meditation’s development, as well as the purposes and goals the ancient meditators sought, allows modern teachers and practitioners to construct a greater variety of meditation experiences. Understanding these traditions permits teachers to draw from them with integrity, in order to customize techniques for that are in alignment with and borrow from ancient wisdom. 

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