Classical yoga under Patanjali has 8 different "limbs" of yoga. The first "limb" is the Yamas or social contracts. The second "limb" are the Niyamas or contracts with oneself. The third "limb" is Asana or yoga poses, there are hundreds! The fourth "limb" is Pranayama or breath. The fifth "limb" is Pratyahara or turning inward! The sixth "limb" is Dharana or concentration. The seventh limb is Dhyana or meditation.
When I was training for my 500 hour yoga certification there was one weekend completely dedicated to meditation. I remember really looking forward to it. It was a 15 hour weekend, 3 hours Friday night and 6 hours on Saturday and Sunday. By the 3rd hour of Saturday I was frazzled. I remember breaking for lunch and a fellow yogi asking how are you? My response went something as follows: "I have never spent so much time with myself and its interesting what rises to the surface"
We would sit in silence and meditate. Mostly in a crossed legged seated position. After some time, as feet and legs fell asleep, one would change to another seated position for comfort. Sometimes we would meditate while mindfully walking. For the most part it was 15 hours of seated meditation. It was a fascinating experience -- I don't remember ever spending so much time just with myself! At first it was uncomfortable then moving past that I reached a place of calmness. An eye in the center of the storm so to speak.
To use a simple analogy, think of your brain empty of anything at birth (apart from the human trauma of childbirth). Then you live for x amount of years. You fill the memories of your brain with happy and sad memories -- memories of traumas and loves. All that data for most of us flowing in through your five senses (smell, taste, hearing, touch, sight). Some of it stored in places forever deep, deep, deep inside.
Now visualize your brain as a vast ocean and each of these memories are like bubbles of air. Most of them come to the surface to serve us in our life’s day to day survival and business, educational, artistic interactions Some, however, get anchored to the bottom of the ocean. They are chained there without knowledge, waiting to be released to the surface. A lot of the time they become released when we are triggered by a loved one or someone very close to us. For example deep intimacy can trigger all sorts of wounds.
Meditation simply lets us sit and focus on one thing or random thoughts and in time all the bubbles stuck on the ocean floor become free. This sets you free. Meditation that is!
Meditation sets you free from your own self!
Why be free from your own self? Who or what is the self? Maybe I don't want to be free from my self? Maybe my self is fine the way it is?
These are all great questions. And we all will determine that for ourselves. In my opinion, the self is the sum total of all your experiences in your life. There can be traumatized self and there can be loved self and everything in between. So who is self? Why do you do what you do? Really? What makes you? Why do you choose what you choose? Do you have free will? Or are we all just acting out our past traumas and loves? Is my past determining my present and future? Is it determined already?
If I have a self, how can my self best serve me, my family, my community, my town, my city, my state, my country, my earth, my solar system, my universe?
Meditation helps us free ourselves from our past and allows the self to be in the present! By being in the present we learn to let the past go, (the bubbles rising to the surface) and be more fully engaged. By fully engaging the present we are more aware, more empathic, more compassionate, more mindful, more connected. As a smart human once said, "everything is just as it is supposed to be in this moment." You can't change the past. You live in the present time wise. You can do your best for the future. We all are simply doing our best and meditation is here to serve you.
How to meditate 1: simply focus on your breath. Inhaling, exhaling. When the mind wanders simply return to the breath!
How to meditate 2: simply focus on a single concept, person, place or thing?. "I will be content with what I have."
How to meditate 3: simply focus on random free roaming thoughts. Let the mind wander and fascinate in it's direction!
Over time try 1 minute, then 5, then 10, then 20, then as much as you want!
Once a day 1x per week. Once a day 2x per week. Once a day 3x per week. And so on.
Enjoy your own private, freeing, mindful, compassionate and non judging meditative journey which simply centers you in the middle of this great big universe. A Universe that took 99.99% of known time to make you.