Friday, May 27, 2011

Better Than Sex (Yoga and Meditation)

Wisdom Quarterly and

What does the West imagine yoga is for? What is it actually for? What does Buddhism add?

“Yoga” has become a popular form of exercise and meditation. Many see yoga as just that. But yoga [spiritual union or yoking with spirit, prana, breath, energy] encompasses more than simply physical exercise and mental meditation.

Yoga is much more, a complete eightfold program for spiritual advancement. [Adding the Buddhist Eightfold Path brings it to perfection, to complete liberation from suffering.]

Yoga began in the East as a spiritual practice focusing on meditation. But in the West it is normally seen as one eighth of what it is, a physical practice for the benefit of health and vitality.

Hatha Yoga
(or the union of Sun and Moon, male and female polarities, yin and yang) is a variation of yoga that focuses almost exclusively on strenuous exercise.

It is estimated that about 16,000,000 North Americans practice this form of yoga. These types of yoga classes focus on breathing exercises, physical poses, and with any luck some form of relaxing meditation. They are especially beneficial for people with heart, back, or breathing problems.

(William A. Huston/

Studies show that yoga has helped young and old alike. Heart problems are made better with the lowering of blood pressure and increasing resistance to psychological and physiological stresses.

Yoga aids to improve physical flexibility, balance, strength, and endurance, which benefits practitioners with back problems. Yogic breathing techniques and meditative focus assist practitioners to better manage pain.

Male practitioners are referred to as yogis, whereas females are called yoginis. In the West yogin, which actually means yogi, is often used to describe both.

Yoga means to yoke or harness two things together. It may be translated loosely as “to join” or “unite.” It is a means of “union” with the divine -- the source of spiritual energy, prana, or breath. It is a discipline believed to be made up of eight limbs or factors, as popularly taught by the Sage Patanjali:
  1. postures (asana)
  2. breathing (pranayama)
  3. concentration (dharana),
  4. meditation (dhyana)
  5. restraints (yamas)
  6. sense withdrawal (pratyahara)
  7. observances (niyamas)
  8. absorption (samadhi)
The goal of traditional yoga is to achieve samadhi, a state of inward enlightenment. [In Buddhism, right-concentration or samma-samadhi is a means of preparing for mindfulness and insight-practices that lead to enlightenment. What is regarded as "enlightenment" in Buddhism is not the same. Similarly, liberation (moksha) is not the same. It is enough to reach bliss and rebirth in a heaven (or brahma-world).

Stages of yoga meditation - Patanjali teachers (

But Buddhist teachings unambiguously state that rebirth in any type of world is not liberation from rebirth. Only nirvana means the end of suffering because only nirvana results in the end of rebirth. The Buddha taught that even brahmas (divinities) will eventually exhaust the wholesome karma that lead to a heavenly rebirth. Thus beings fall from that long-lived perch and eventually continue in misery.

Nirvana, on the other hand, transcends all forms of rebirth, and there is no falling back is possible. It is, indeed, final liberation from all forms of rebirth, unsatisfactoriness, and suffering. More