The Sanskrit word Yoga, has a dynamic meaning that suggests joining things together for motion and power — to get things done in the world. The first definition for yoga is “the act of yoking, joining, harnessing,” as it pertains to horses. Sanskrit words often have a central image, which is to be taken literally and figuratively. If we take this meaning metaphorically, the suggestion is “saddle up your horse and ride” –– get connected to your horsepower and go! This image is especially relevant when we consider that we all each need to learn to love and train our busy brain–a brain full of horsepower. This is where yoga–and within yoga–meditation come in to play.
The term yoga has what is called wide semantic range, or lots of meanings. Additional definitions of yoga include “Put together a team. Perform. Equip your army. Put the arrow on the bowstring. Put on your armor. A remedy, a cure. A method, a device, a way. A trick, a strategy, a fraud. An undertaking, a business, work. Gain, profit, wealth, property. Any junction, union, or combination. Exertion, endeavor, industry, care, attention. Application of the thoughts, abstract contemplation, meditation.” *
It’s clear from these dictionary listings that yoga applies to all areas of life, and the emphasis is always on skillfully connecting the organs of action and the organs of perception with the innermost soul. Get fully connected with your soul power and go live your life.
I find all these definitions useful as I attempt to cope with my busy brain, which is usually like six stallions pawing the ground, tossing their manes, and charging across the landscape. It’s always wild when I close my eyes to meditate because I never know what will happen from one thought to the next. I may have to be there, paying attention, as my horses race around the whole universe, now jumping into the sun, now zooming off to another star system, now plunging into the center of the earth, now flying across the ocean, until finally, miraculously, they come together and say, okay let’s get some work done here on Earth. Once in a while (once a week if I’m lucky) I close my eyes to meditate and I’m instantly immersed in a hum of energetic peace, a sublime vibration as if a giant invisible orchestra is playing Ommmmmmm.
I spend many hours a week listening to meditators describe their experiences, and this dynamic dimension of meditation is very common, almost the rule. We all feel like wild horses. We all are having what feels like hundreds of thoughts a minute. We all want to jump up after two minutes and run off and do stuff. The definition of yoga suggests that this is a good thing. The body of knowledge and skill that yoga represents is here to help us stay connected to our wildness and use this power to support love, play, work, and freedom.
There is an incredible power in me, in you, in all the meditation students and teachers that I have worked with, in everyone,––and this power wants to live and be expressed in the world. There is an urgency to it, because time is precious. During meditation, this power expresses itself in urges, emotions, sensations, and thoughts of all kinds, especially impulses toward action in the world. At the same time, we crave healing, we look for remedies, we long to be connected to our own essence and at the same time to be part of a team and tribe. If we look again at the definition of yoga, we see that all these are mentioned specifically.
The next time you think that your mind is “wandering” during your practice, consider instead that all the impulses flowing through you are wanting to join together into one coherent wholeness. The longing to be at one with ourselves, and at one with the life force, is one of the human beings’ strongest urges. It’s unstoppable. It will never go away. Every thought, every image, every sensation, is a tiny aspect of your longing to be at one with your essence and then somehow to express that essence in the world.
The more you welcome the speedy intensity of your mind, and bless every single impulse that comes to your awareness, the more you can feel at peace in the middle of the hurricane of thought that is a human mind. Brains are designed to think and plan, and this is no obstacle to meditation––it’s an ally. The more you welcome your speedy mind, the better it is for meditation. Each thought is a tiny package of electricity and intelligence, and when you cherish the flow of thought, you can be at ease inside. Scientific research indicates that even the simplest meditative practice lets the body rest more deeply than sleep.
Experiment with this yourself. For a month, take five minutes to meditate and approach each session with an eagerness, as if you were going to a really good party and want to hear what everyone has to say. Only, in this case, you are in a sense going in to listen to what all your chakras have to say. Consider each chakra, or vortex of power in your body, as a hum of creativity and intelligence. Each chakra has a specialty–– survival, sexuality, personal power, love, vocal expression, insight, and wide-field awareness of the wholeness of life––and each one wants to be lined up as a team with all the other chakras. You are here to listen to and feel what they are saying. Explore in this way for a month and, when you have internalized the skill of welcoming all of these powers of life, then go longer, up to 20 minutes. Learn to love your busy, brilliant brain.
*These definitions are from the Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, page 856. Similar definitions are to be found in the Apte dictionary. Both are available online, in many places, in PDF form as well as searchable and indexed text.
The Sanskrit word yoga is derived from a Sanskrit root, yuj, “to yoke or join or fasten or harness horses or a chariot. To make ready, prepare, arrange, fit out, set to work, use, employ.” Our English word “join” is based on the same root sound, and also “junction, jugular, conjoin, conjugal, injunction, rejoin.”