Yoga and Medication
The title of this blog does not contain a spelling error. The fact of the matter is that many people who take up only Yoga & Meditation without proper guidance and context will wind up falling back on Medication to support their emotional well-being. What is the reason for this? Let’s take a brief look at the manner in which Yoga and Guided Meditation, Mindfulness Meditation, and Vedantic Meditation are pursued in modern culture in order to understand.
The term Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root Yuj, meaning ‘to unite, join, merge, or yoke,’ and it refers to a set of Physical, Mental & Intellectual practices intended to help one control the mind, escape suffering, and unite with the Infinite Consciousness. What most people today understand as ‘YOGA,’ however, is actually just one specific type of yoga, the Hatha Yoga. This type of yoga relies on physical techniques and is considered a preparatory spiritual practice.
The physical exercises and postures associated with yoga are known as Yoga-Asanas. These practices help one keep their Gross Physical Body fit and flexible, for the purpose of extending one’s longevity so that they may have greater opportunity to achieve the fourth human goal of reaching the Infinite Consciousness, Brahman. The discipline acquired through these practices also helps one endure the more disciplined practices associated with the other forms of yoga.
Thus, Yoga-Asanas primarily benefits the gross physical body and is meant to serve as a preparatory practice on the journey towards capturing infinity.
Meditation, especially those of Mindfulness Meditation, Guided Meditation, & Vedantic Meditation, etc. on the other hand, are of the most advanced spiritual practices involved in the pursuit of infinity. Between Yoga-Asana and Meditation, there are several intermediate practices that are generally skipped over by modern life coaches and practitioners. The discrepancy inherent in the combination of preparatory Yoga-Asana and Advanced Vedantic Meditation is the reason why many people fail to get the benefit they hope for from these practices, and eventually fall back on Medication.
The primary intermediate practices of yoga are Karma Yoga, Upaasana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Gnana Yoga. Each of these Yogas involves distinct practices and benefits the human personality in distinct ways. The reader will understand that the human personality is composed of several distinct layers: the physical, active, mental, and intellectual layers. Each of these layers asserts itself differently in each individual’s personality, and each one responds differently to different practices of yoga. Through intentional, systematic practices of each of these Yogas, one’s overall personality will gradually become meditative, qualifying one to perform the advanced meditation that precedes capturing infinity.
The problem is that most guides & gurus focus exclusively on Yoga-Asana and on Meditation, completely skipping over the intermediate stages. Without knowledge of the intermediate Yogas, the role of Intellect, and Inner Personalities – the practitioners are inevitably unprepared to embark on a lasting commitment to Meditation. At most, they will obtain some temporary peace and calmness from their efforts, although this is likely more due to the disparity between stressful everyday life and peaceful contemplation than from actual meditative practice. This just amounts to temporary Stress Management.
Dedicated practitioners may even go so far as to attend special extended retreats on Stress Management, Mindfulness Meditation etc., totally removing themselves from the agitations of life by traveling to remote locations so that they can ‘focus’ on the practices of yoga and meditation. However, once they return to regular life, their commitment to Yoga and Meditation tends to quickly wane; after a week or so, their practice will taper off—as will the temporary benefit they derived from their Stress Management retreat.
In an attempt to resist this all-but-inevitable decline, some enthusiastic practitioners may try to force themselves to continue Meditation, giving no regard to the condition of their current state of mind and intellect, or to the extent of their unfulfilled desires or emotional dependency on the world. While a genuine commitment to Meditation requires a strong intellect, such forced commitment as this ironically circumvents the intellect, and leads to poor results.
All efforts to perform Mediation that are not founded on sound preparatory practices are doomed to fail, and the attempt to remain committed to meditation by suppressing thoughts can result in the kind of rampant, unchecked thought flow that can lead to depression or other psychological distress. This is why an uncritical practice of Yoga and Meditation so often leads to Medication.
True Meditation is the capacity to direct one’s mind to a single thought—toward Brahman, Infinity, to the exclusion of all other thoughts, under the continuous observation of the intellect, and for a sustained period. This capacity can only be achieved after diligent cultivation of all layers of the personality, practicing all intermediate forms of Yoga; only then will one be prepared to plunge into the deep Vedantic Meditation that can culminate in capturing infinity!
Recall that the term Yoga derives from a root meaning ‘to unite, join, merge, or yoke.’ In order for two things to be merged or yoked, this implies that they are initially separate entities. What two entities does this refer to, then? It refers to the seemingly separate, microcosmic, individual self from Brahman, or infinite consciousness. Thus, working toward uniting these two entities is the object of the various Yogas, the various sets of procedures, systems, and actions one engages in as they attempt to get closer to achieving the ultimate human goal.
As mentioned at the start of this blog, the five primary Yogas of Vedanta are Hatha Yoga, Karma Yoga, Upaasana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Gnana Yoga. These five Yogas address all layers of the human personality, adequately preparing one for Vedantic Meditation.
However, in addition to these primary yogas there are numerous other practices taught by various gurus, life coaches, and institutions, including: Ashtanga Yoga; Samaaadhi Yoga; Kriya Yoga; Raja Yoga; Patanjali Yoga; Buddhi Yoga; Dhyana Yoga; Mukti Yoga; Sakthi Yoga; Vipansana Yoga; Kundalini Yoga; Zen Yoga; Tantra Yoga; Mantra Yoga; Vynyasa Yoga; Yin Yoga; Prana Yoga; Hot Yoga; Cold Yoga; Stress Yoga; Power Yoga; HIIT Yoga; and many more.
These additional practices are essentially derivatives of the earlier mentioned five fundamental Yogas, and most of them are irrelevant to the attempt to capture infinity. For now, let us focus on the five fundamental Yogas, as these are the practices that will enable one to enhance their qualification for capturing infinity. In this blog we will briefly touch on Hatha Yoga, while in the forthcoming book “Who Banged the Big Bang”, shall examine each of the remaining four Yogas in greater detail.
Hatha Yoga, then, is a set of physical exercises and breathing techniques focused on keeping the gross body fit and prolonging the lifespan so that one may have the longest possible opportunity to fulfill the fourth human goal and capture infinity. Vedantic texts emphasize the importance of maintaining a fit gross physical body that will help rather than hinder the attempt to capture infinity. However, care for one’s physical body does not mean that excessive or even exclusive attention should be focused on the gross physical body.
There are some practitioners who focus excessively on the fitness aspect of Hatha Yoga; they spend all their time focusing on keeping the gross body fit, while neglecting the fitness of the subtle body. This is based on a number of factors, chief among them vanity and an incomplete knowledge of the Yogas.
At most this will result in a healthy gross body—although this is not even guaranteed, as obsession with the gross body can lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as anorexia, which can wind up shortening the lifespan rather than prolonging it, as Hatha Yoga intends. In any event, such a lopsided focus on the gross body will hinder one’s progress as they attempt to pursue infinity.
This same logic also applies to seemingly responsible lifestyle choices, like becoming a vegan. While the importance of avoiding injury to other living beings is undeniable, there are even bigger issues involved in insisting on pursuing a vegan lifestyle—namely, that it can cause distress to others, and that it can involve ignorance of the effect one has on others and on the world around them, a sign of a weak intellect.
Vedanta considers hunger to be a periodical ‘Divine Disease’ of the gross body, known as Vaishvaanara; in this conception, food, or Aahaaram, is a form of medicine that serves to temporarily cure this recurring Divine Disease of the Gross Physical Body. Thus, food should not be a primary focus in and of itself, but rather should be consumed only in a sufficient amount to provide nourishment and relieve the temporary state of hunger, the Vaishvaanara when it arises for the purpose of ensuring it does not interfere with one’s practice of the various Yogas.
On the other side of the spectrum are those who discount the importance of physical fitness; such people shun Hatha Yoga, along with other forms of physical fitness activities, and instead focus their energy on only growing their knowledge of Vedanta. For such individuals, their gross physical bodies will represent a hindrance to their efforts to capture infinity and may even wind up shortening their lifespan—the ultimate hindrance to this effort.
One upside of the modern fascination with Hatha Yoga is that there are ample resources available, both online and offline, for learning about and practicing this form of yoga. The reader should explore such options in order to start to build up their physical yogic practice; however, they must always remain aware of the role of Hatha Yoga in the big picture—specifically, that it is a preparatory practice that one should engage in just enough to keep their gross physical body fit. One practices Hatha Yoga so that they may be able to spend sufficient time dedicated to the remaining four primary Yogas, which shall be dealt in detail in the forthcoming book “Who Banged the Big Bang”.