What is meditation? How does it work? Why are there so many benefits? How can meditation help in times when we feel insecure, unstable, fearful or nervous? How can yin yoga and meditation be a support in our everyday life? What is a good way to establish a daily practice? And much more. Thank you so much Josh, yin yoga teacher and meditation instructor. I am so grateful to share this interview with him.
Josh Summers about Yin Yoga and Meditation
There are many ways to see Yin Yoga. What is your way?
Yin Yoga is many things to many people. I see Yin Yoga, primarily, as a refinement of awareness. Within the practice of Yin Yoga, an awareness of one’s body, energy and mind will gradually become sharper and clearer. It’s this cultivation and refinement of awareness that allows for greater freedom and self-transcendence, whereby the practitioner is gradually able to transcend conditioned reactive patterns of being and develop kinder and more compassionate modes of connection and relationship.
How can Yin Yoga be a support in our everyday life?
Some of the many benefits Yin Yoga in everyday life might include: decreasing tension and inflammation in the fascia, regaining and maintaining one’s natural mobility, stress-reduction, and increased mindfulness. As simple and as cliché as it might sound, I think Yin Yoga gives people a direct experience of a profound contentment and well-being from within, and that realization will have many implications for how someone uses their energy and attention in daily life.
I have read that Yin Yoga is the last stage before meditation. Is that right? What is your point of view?
Whether or not Yin Yoga is the last stage before meditation depends on your definition of meditation. I tend to see Yin Yoga as both a preparatory practice for sitting meditation as well as a form of meditation in itself. Whenever I inhabit a posture or an activity with the intention to meditate, that is my meditation. So for me, it’s not either/or, but and/both. The practice of Yin Yoga can serve as a way to prepare for seated meditation practice, and Yin Yoga can also serve as a multi-posture meditative practice.
Do you remember your first meditation experience?
I think my first experiences of Unity Consciousness and mysticism occurred when I was a child in nature. As a child, I didn’t have the language to articulate what my experience was, nor did I have a means of reproducing those mystical experiences, but those early tastes of Unity Consciousness left an impression and sent me on many paths looking for ways to reproduce and stabilize those peak experiences of consciousness. I suspect that many people have similar experiences as children.
What is meditation? How does it work? Why are there so many benefits?
There are many kinds of meditation, all with different techniques and different intentions. For me, meditation is a process that supports a deeper connection to one’s inner and outer world. This deeper connection, in turn, supports a clearer perception of one’s inner and outer world. And from that connection and clarity, one is better able to engage with oneself and others with greater compassion and wisdom. I also see meditation as a process that facilitates a shift in identity. A conventional identity is typically generated by identification with thoughts, feelings, perceptions, memories and sensations. Within an awareness-based approach to meditation, the more one rests as awareness of those thoughts, feelings, perceptions and sensations, one directly intuits that their awareness is never defined by the content of awareness. Essentially, pure awareness is empty of all identity and yet intimately connected with every experience. This ability to access an ‘already free’ awareness is the main benefit and, I might even say, the primary goal of the spiritual path. Awareness cannot be defined by the content of what is occurring within awareness just as the space in a room cannot be defined by the objects in the room. The meditation, in some ways, becomes a way to feel into, trust and abide in the intrinsic peacefulness of awareness, itself. From there, many downstream benefits tend to arise such as stress-reduction, lower blood pressure, and stronger immunity. But, for me, the real benefit of meditation is in helping someone wake up out of the trance of being identified as the thinker of their thoughts.
Is there a difference between Yin and Yang meditation?
I developed Yin Meditation as a way to conceptualize a meditation practice that mirrored the approach to the body in Yin Yoga. Just as we relax into a pose and play our edge with receptivity in Yin Yoga, I recommend relaxing within the meditation and playing one’s mental edge with receptivity in Yin Meditation. Yang meditative approaches tend to emphasize specific techniques: focus on this, don’t get lost in thought, stay present, don’t attach. Yang meditation tends to lead with the energy or mindset of control, whereby the meditator directs their mind to do something specific, whether it be focusing on something specific, or arriving in the present moment. So, Yang Meditation tends to be characterized by directive and generative energy.
In contrast, Yin Meditation is characterized more by allowing and receptive energy. Yin Meditation is less about controlling one’s mind and more about cultivating receptivity to one’s natural state of mind and body. Yin Meditation is a ‘looser’ style of practice that gives the meditator a bit more choice in terms of how they navigate their moment-to-moment experience, similar to how a Yin Yoga practitioner would be given permission to choose the optimal alignment for their unique body. Ultimately, both Yin and Yang styles of meditation will blend into each other (Yin and Yang are never separate), and these styles can serve the greater cultivation of compassion and wisdom.
How is your personal meditation and yin yoga practice?
Most days, I try to have a seated meditation practice for about 30-45 minutes as well as a Yin Yoga practice for about an hour to an hour and a half.
What is a good way to establish a daily practice?
The best way to establish a daily practice is to establish a daily practice. For me, I found it helpful to commit to practicing meditation for 10 minutes everyday for a month. I would sit in the same spot at the same time everyday. It didn’t matter if I was tired, calm, stressed or sick. I would just put my body on the cushion for 10 minutes a day. This taught me to sit with ‘what is.’ Gradually after the first month, I would add five more minutes to my sittings, until I was sitting for 30-60 minutes. Steadiness and consistency are most important.
How can meditation help in times when we feel insecure, unstable, fearful or nervous?
Ajahn Sumedho (a western monk in the Thai Forest tradition) refers to awareness as a refuge. In meditation, by recognizing and then resting as awareness, one comes to trust their own awareness as a refuge in the storm of life. Feelings of insecurity, instability, fear and anxiety are only problems when the untrained mind mistakenly identifies with and becomes defined by them. In other words, under normal conditions, when someone feels anxiety, they assume themselves to be the ‘one’ who possesses the anxiety (“I’m anxious.”) But with meditation, the same experience of anxiety can be explored and understood from the perspective of awareness. Yes there will be a collection of sensations and thoughts that all arise within the weather pattern of anxiety, but that weather is seen to arise and cease within the open and clear sky of awareness. So one of the transformative potentials of meditation is to show the meditator that their own awareness is a real refuge they can trust.
What would you like to remind people of?
I think a lot of people either think meditation is about having special experiences (a quiet mind, a blissful body, magical lights and bells) or that meditation requires special conditions (a quiet room, no distractions, etc.) I try to remind people that if you’re waiting for special experiences or conditions to practice meditation, you could be waiting a long time. I try to suggest that meditation isn’t about special conditions; rather, meditation is a way of cultivating a new relationship to very ordinary conditions. And if someone understands that orientation, then the conditions are always perfect for good practice. As one of my teachers, Larry Rosenberg, used to say: “In practice, we take bad karma and turn it into good dharma.”
What is your favorite book?
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. My dad must have read this story to me a dozen times when I was a kid, and it’s a story that encapsulates the hero’s spiritual journey of reluctantly facing one's demons and growing beyond one’s fears.
Photos: Josh Summers
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