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Yoga to Meditation: A Natural Bridge
Internationally acclaimed yoga instructor Rodney Yee has been teaching yoga around the world for more than 20 years. Known for his unique teaching style, Rodney has a way of making abstract concepts come alive by using metaphors and other poetic devices to invoke the physical and emotional sensations of yoga. While changing the lives of thousands of yoga practitioners around the world, Rodney has gradually moved toward meditation in his own practice. It's a progression he describes as a natural extension of yoga. But can it be that way for you? Yee recently talked with Gaiam Life about how he has integrated meditation into his yoga practice and his life's work.
Gaiam: How is meditation related to yoga?
Rodney: All forms of yoga are beginning stages of meditation. Even in deep meditation, there's always going to be some input, some micro-movement in the body. Meditation is observing what's going on — both internally and externally — without necessarily reacting to it. When we do the postures, we are concentrating the mind within the body. I might tell you to spread your toes, or to press your legs into the earth. All of that is a form of meditation — you're concentrating and focusing the mind on a subject, which in this case happens to be the body. That's the first stage of meditation.
You've hosted a series of meditation programs that use a sequence of yoga postures. How do these poses facilitate meditation?
We use yoga postures to go inward. The relaxation poses help the mind, the body and the nervous system to rest. All of these yoga postures aid in meditation because when the mind relaxes and begins to get quiet, it becomes able to focus on the subtle movements inside the body. A lot of people say, "When I sit down to meditate I can't still my mind; my mind is all over the place." And this is exactly why we do these postures first — because they settle the body; they settle the mind.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a silent way of looking at resistance; it's not necessarily silent inside, but basically you're sitting with the resistance. You're not running away from it — you're sitting with it, you're stewing in it, you're fidgeting with it, but basically you're trying to follow the resistance. And I think that's very interesting. You might have your own little conversation inside your head about it, like, "There I go again, I'm thinking about what I did yesterday, and I'm supposed to be just sitting here and watching my breath." You have your own little conversations in your head, but after a while in meditation you are bringing yourself back to now.
And if you feel resistance, feel the resistance. It doesn't mean you have to go anywhere with it. It's not necessarily something you have to figure out. But if the resistance is rising inside you, you really have no choice but to be with it, in some sense, until it resolves or dissolves in its own right. And sometimes you have nothing to do with it resolving or dissolving. But to live it, to be in it, is a profound thing.
Why is the breath so important in meditation?
I am moving more toward meditation in my own practice, but I've also done pranayama (breath absorption) for many years, and I love it. I go to a place in my psyche and in my body that I'm not really allowed to go any other time during the day. And I mean that not just as a personal thing but as a societal thing. People don't allow you to sit and watch your breath. You have to do that on your own time. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to be that intimate with your breath and to be that intimate with your mind, to just be there, watching your mind move.
The breath itself, as the yogis have said for thousands of years, is the ruler of the mind and body. If you control the breath, in some sense you also control the state of the mind and the chemistry of the body. By making the breath smooth and easy, you create a quiet, easy mind. Breath is what stills and quiets the mind so that meditation can take place, and relaxation is a fundamental aspect of breath.
My friend Ian, a classical musician, sometimes doesn't want to play concerts. He doesn't want to have to produce music. He wants to be with the music. I want to be with my breath, as a yogi. I want to watch it and watch it so deeply that I am it. I am my breath. I am my mind. I'm not trying to do something with my mind. I'm not trying to produce something with these postures or with this body. I'm not trying to get healthy, I'm not trying to get unhealthy. Everybody pushes you in this life: "Why are you doing that? What are you doing that for? What's that going to lead to?" I'm not trying to do something with this. I'm doing it because I love to do it and I am doing it.
When is the best time of day to practice meditation?
I find morning to be the best time of day, but many people can benefit from it at the end of the day as well. Morning is the time when you are the most quiet and the air is most pure. Taking time for this practice in the morning sends you out of the door feeling centered, present and relaxed. Everything you do is going to be enhanced by that. At the same time, at the end of the day, you're often tired. You know you need rest, and you're ready to place your body in positions that are good for it, that will remove the stresses of the day. To go from yoga postures into breath work and meditation is the perfect segue to a peaceful, restful night.
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