Meditation from a yogic perspective is simple; it is any technique which shifts the brain-wave patterns to a lower level. Any time you concentrate this shifting takes place. Simply standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) and engaging the Bandhas (muscular locks) causes a change. More involved and complicated Asanas make more change. Taking control of your breath with Pranayama causes more change again. And specific Meditation techniques like Mantra or Body Sensation Observation causes further change. The degree of change depends on the depth of concentration.
The four categories of Brain-Wave patterns are:
BETA (14 – 100 Hz) Concentration, arousal, alertness, cognition. Higher levels associated with anxiety, disease, feeling of separation, fight or flight.
ALPHA (8 – 13.9 Hz) Relaxation, super-learning, relaxed focus, light trance. Increase serotonin production. Pre-sleep or pre-waking drowsiness. Meditation, beginning of access to unconscious mind.
THETA (4 – 7.9 Hz) Dreaming sleep (REM sleep), increased production of catecholamines (vital for learning and memory), increased creativity. Integrative, emotional experiences, potential change in behaviour, increased retention of learned material. Hypnagogic imagery, trance, deep meditation, access to unconscious mind.
DELTA (0.1 – 3.9 Hz) Dreamless sleep, human growth hormone released. Deep, trance-like, non-physical state, loss of body awareness. Access to unconscious and “collective” unconscious” mind.
To more easily understand these “waves” and how yoga influences them, think of the ocean. Absolutely smooth, flat, no ripples at all is the DELTA-wave state. Wind whipped white caps, huge surging waves, to full on boat tossing storms is the BETA-wave state. The difference between the four brain-waves is simply one of degree – it is all the same mind, just in different states from turmoil to peace.
BETA is not “bad” and it is the common pattern of normal waking consciousness and is associated with alertness and concentration. You need this level of awareness to navigate normal ambulatory life. But, the higher end BETA waves occur during times of uneasiness, distress, and anxiety. Dysfunctional and addictive behaviours, neuroses, and strong feelings of separation are common experiences when the brain operates in the extreme high end of the BETA range. The extremes of the BETA range are also associated with what scientists call the “flight or fight” response.
DELTA is not “good”. If you are driving a car, operating heavy equipment, or interacting with your colleagues in a business meeting, you want to avoid having an out-of-body experience.
Yoga is like a tool box; instead of a hammer, saw, screwdriver and pliers, it contains Asana, Pranayama and Meditation techniques. Yoga also comes with comprehensive instructions called the Yamas and Niyamas.
A competent Tradesperson learns how to use the tools effectively and efficiently and Yogis apply this same approach. You don’t use a saw to hammer a nail and you don’t use a hammer to cut wood.
Because the mind is ephemeral (non-material) you cannot physically adjust it like you can the solid body. The skills you learn at the Asana level of Yoga expose you to techniques for adjusting the mind. The breath is less solid than the body but you can learn how to control it with Pranayama techniques.
All of the techniques in Yoga (Asana, Pranayama and Meditation) are designed to turn your attention inwards. To shift your awareness from the external to the internal. The moment you start to concentrate you start to slow down the Brain-wave patterns. You can be an absolute beginner and learn just one yoga pose to start this process.
A beginner practicing with full attention is doing Yoga. An experienced yoga practitioner allowing the attention to drift is back at the beginner stage.
The point of slowing down the brain waves is to give you better vision – to see things more clearly. Sticking with the ocean/water image, but shrinking it down to just a small pond – when the water is agitated the ability to look through it from top to bottom is distorted – everything is blurred. When the water is absolutely still there is no distortion and you can easily see the small rocks, plants and fish.
The practice of Yoga gives you the opportunity and ability to see Life more clearly. Deliberately slowing down the pace of Life by getting on the yoga mat is a beginning, and when you consciously slow down your mind you are able to make better choices.
Like the ocean, the mind is in a constant state of flux and moods can change quickly. It is important to practice paying attention if you don’t want to crash into things. You keep the windscreen of your car clean so you can drive safely. Keeping your mind clean does the same job.
Just sitting quietly and watching your thoughts is not meditation, it is day dreaming. Meditation requires deliberate mental focus. In Yoga we start this focus with the physical body with Asana, proceed to learning stronger techniques with Pranayama and then shift into proper Meditation with deliberate mind techniques. Yoga mind control (brain-wave
shifting techniques) is a progression much like how a baby learns to crawl, walk, and then run. It is difficult to learn how to run by skipping over the crawling and walking part of the process.
Life is a journey, not a destination. To start a journey, you only need to put one foot in front of the other. Yoga Meditation is also a journey, one that takes you deep within yourself. One of the great benefits of the Yoga approach is that you get to work with your body and improve your physical health as you improve your mental health.