Meditation Practice in Traditional Yoga:
The Purpose of Yogic Meditation
Is Private Meditation Coaching just About Relaxation? Do Meditation Teachers just Teach Relaxation & Self-Soothing? Is the Purpose of Teaching Meditation to Produce Stress Relief? And what is the Purpose of Yoga Meditation (& Mindfulness Meditation)?
In traditional yoga, yogis did not use meditation in order to produce a sense of inner peace or to destroy stress/anxiety or discomfort.
Traditionally, meditation was intended to be a tool of self-awareness. The purpose of yogic meditation is to become aware of the ways in which our attention is always already pre-occupied. In other words, the sustained practice of meditation allows us to become aware of our habitual ways of being (thinking, feeling, acting, perceiving) before we are consumed by them.
Many of our habitual ways of being are often connected to protecting ourselves from discomfort. We avoid uncomfortable thoughts and painful emotions, and we also avoid the situations that produce these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. As a result of avoiding our own inner life, our lives become narrower and narrower as we avoid whatever triggers discomfort (and as the range of emotions we allow ourselves to feel becomes narrower and narrower). We become increasingly disconnected with ourselves and increasingly self-critical. We become accustomed to (needing to extinguish) a basic, background sense of uneasiness.
Meditation and mindfulness allows us to remain with these uncomfortable aspects of our inner life so that our lives aren’t determined by them. In meditation, we develop the resilience required to remain with our inner life, however it appears. The easiest way to address our immediate stressors and anxieties is often just to be willing to feel them.
Training in yogic meditation practice begins with the cultivation of focused attention and inner stability. When we are better able to access inner stability, we then become better able to notice various patterns of our habitual self, patterns that were hitherto invisible to us but likely determining our experience, including our compulsions, anxieties, and rumination (and any related destructive and self-sabotaging behaviours).
But the point of meditation and mindfulness is not to destroy anything, including aspects of ourselves or our behaviour that we don’t like. The purpose of meditation is self-awareness. Traditionally, we do not meditate (or pursuing training in meditation) in order to produce a certain outcomes. These outcome-based goals can keep us stuck in a pattern of running from a sense of inner lack towards something that (we think) will make us feel invulnerable.
A meditation teacher knows that the traditional purpose of meditation/mindfulness training exceeds such objectives as relaxation and/or relief from stress/anxiety.
For a more in-depth treatment of the traditional purpose of yogic meditation (and mindfulness meditation), we recommend our guide to spiritual yoga.
The purpose of meditation is to become aware of the ways in which our attention is always already pre-occupied. In other words, the sustained practice of meditation allows us to become aware of our habitual ways of being (thinking, feeling, acting, perceiving) before we are consumed by them.
Yogic Breathwork vs. Breathing Techniques: The Core of Yogic Breathing Training (Pranayama) is Retraining Your Breathing
A breathing coach can help with dysfunctional breathing by training slow breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, nostril breathing, and breath control (i.e., a yogic breath). A breathing instructor (or coach) does not just teach relaxation or forms of hyperventilation.
Prāṇāyama (sometimes referred to as ‘yogic breathing’ or ‘yogic breathwork’) means “breath-control”. Breath-control means breath control. It does not mean “take big, deep breaths” or “oxygenate your brain/body as much as you can”. The beginning of yogic breathing is simply taking control of your breathing: deep, slow, smooth, and silent: subtle. In other words, the beginning of yogic breathing is retraining your breathing. Research indicates that the basic process of breathing retraining is capable of addressing many physiological and psychological issues associated with dysfunctional breathing (and the restoration of functional breathing), including (but not limited to) various types of sleep and breathing disorders, anxiety, depression and panic disorders, some disorders associated with the central nervous system and respiratory system, etc. The physiological and psychological benefits of retraining your breathing are, however, the consequences (not the purpose) of training in classical prāṇāyama. Historically, the practice of prāṇāyama has been a central feature of, and across, yoga traditions; it is one of the central components of classical yoga.
Apart from the various health benefits of addressing dysfunctional breathing by breathing retraining, breath retraining helps to establish a powerful foundation for developing a personal meditation practice. This allows for deeper levels of stillness and an ability to sit with more difficult thoughts and emotions. In classical yoga, breathwork and meditation were practiced for the purpose of achieving freedom, not for the purpose of solving the ego’s problems. To attempt to fix/change the ‘self’ was to reinforce the very thing from which these practices are attempting to free you.
But breathwork in yoga wasn’t just seen as a means to deeper meditation. Many classical texts saw basic breath-control practices as purifying the habits inscribed in the breath and body. These old habits/memories function as old maps that pre-define/restrict our engagement in/with ourselves, others, and with life in general. Yogic breathwork helps to weaken the force of these old maps—to loosen the grip of our existing perceptual habits—allowing for more direct contact with life itself. In other words, breathing retraining can put us in more direct contact with what is (actually) happening in/around us by settling our attention, allowing us to see our habitual perceptual practices and ways of being in the world. Being able to see our habits means that we are freer to choose otherwise.
A breath coach knows that the traditional purpose of breath coaching exceeds such objectives as relaxation and/or relief from stress/anxiety (and also exceeds training in just “slow breathing”, “deep breathing” and “breathing exercises” or “hacks”). A breath coach knows that the first objective of breathwork is breathing retraining; that is, ensuring that your normal, everyday breathing—you take roughly 20,000 breaths per day—is not working against your conscious efforts to be physically, mentally, and spiritually “healthy”. A breath coach also prevents the reinforcement of bad breathing habits that can occur when learning to breathe using pre-recorded courses or apps (i.e., without supervision).
Even for those who are not suffering with any kind of psychological/physiological condition associated with dysfunctional breathing, breathwork is excellent for those who find themselves frustrated with meditation.
...the mind... is tied to the breath.
- chāndogya upaniṣad 6.8.2
Guided Meditations, Meditation Coaching, and Breathwork Coaching: How Private Guided Meditation Sessions, Breathing Retraining, and Discussion Work
The Traditional Way of Private Meditation Training & Yoga Breathwork involves asking questions directly (to your meditation teacher and breath coach) based on your own personal needs/journey so you can connect with your own experience.
One of the most important components of a meditation practice is becoming aware of the habitual self’s pursuit of some personal objective (and the grip that that this pursuit has on one’s thinking, feeling, acting, and perceiving). These personal objectives include (but are not limited to): self-soothing, stress relief, anxiety relief, self-mastery, bulletproof mental health, security, status/recognition, and even transcendence or spiritual enlightenment.
Without an (experienced) outside perspective, it can be difficult to identify when our practice is infected with our ego-affirming motivation for self-improvement (and even if identified it can be easily ignored and/or rationalized). In traditional contexts, one had a meditation teacher (or teachers) who would dis-cover these hidden motivations (and interpretations of one’s experience) stuck in the cycle of running away from pain and running towards trying to become more secure, pure, loved, respected, real, et cetera. These impulses manifest in different ways and in different contexts and sometimes required different meditation tools in order to becoming mindful them. This is why some form of coaching that includes personalization and discussion (with an experienced meditation teacher) is important for one’s “progress”. A pre-recorded guided meditation or video course is not responsive to the particularities of your individual situation and/or the unique meditation experiences and challenges that you face when you meditate.
Meditation, mindfulness, and/or breathing retraining pursued for the sole purpose of stress relief can often create a vacuum for more meaningless stress. If we replace our goal of stress relief with self-awareness, our meditation practice allows for deeper self connection so that future stress is contextualized by a vision borne of strong values and self-connection. A meditation coach (using a traditional approach to meditation) is aware that ego transparency is what permits the kind of self-connection and meaning that calls us beyond our self-preoccupation. Coaching in traditional meditation won’t encourage you to continue to pursue empty “stress-free living”. A meditation teacher knows that sessions spent meditating solely for stress relief have limited value.
Meditation and/or mindfulness pursued for the sake of achieving inner purity or cleanliness (or getting rid of one’s inner “badness” so that one is no longer feels “disgust” with oneself) only reinforces one’s hypersensitivity to one’s inadequacies (in oneself and in others). This pursuit can often occur in the name of pursuing something like self-acceptance, or self-compassion, or self-love (when the underlying motivation is, in fact, to eliminate some aspect of oneself). Similarly, meditation pursued for something like self-mastery reinforces the very sense of inadequacy (or sense of incompetence) that motivated one’s quest for self-mastery, including the need for control. A meditation coach (using a traditional approach to meditation) is aware of how our basic impulse to self-correct only reinforces our inadequacies/sensitivities. Coaching in traditional meditation won’t persist with cognitive/energetic techniques to try to “get rid” or “get on top” of anything, including some aspect(s) of oneself. A meditation teacher knows that sessions spent meditating for self-mastery or transcendence can be counterproductive.
While there are other common objectives pursued via meditation/mindfulness (and/or breathing retraining) that should be interrogated, the basic insight is this: being able to sit with your inner life allows you to explore the vicissitudes of inner/outer life without being over-determined by them. As an example of a worldly benefit of such exploration, our anxieties show us what we cared about but perhaps didn’t realize that we cared about. In this way, meditation can give us the space to think (seriously) about how we’re spending our limited time and attention.
Traditional yoga (including breathwork and meditation) was not intended to help someone solve their worldly problems (e.g., earning more fame/recognition/status/power/love, etc.). Instead, yoga was intended to free one’s awareness from the limitations imposed by the ego’s desire for some form of permanent security (e.g., financial freedom, perfect mental health, unlimited fame/recognition, etc.). Freed from these limitations, engaging more fully in/with life is simply not optional.
One of the most important components of a meditation practice is becoming aware of the habitual self’s pursuit of some personal objective (and the grip that this pursuit has on one’s thinking, feeling, acting, and perceiving). These personal objectives include (but are not limited to): self-soothing, stress relief, anxiety relief, self-mastery, bulletproof mental health, security, status/recognition, and even transcendence or spiritual enlightenment.
Breathwork & Meditation for Life: The Worldly Benefits Yogic Meditation, Yogic Breathing, and Meditation Coaching
How to Breathe & Meditate to Change Your (Personal) World: Practice-Based Private Meditation Lessons & Breathwork (beyond intellectual study of the historical/theoretical information/research):
The many worldly benefits that are typically associated with breathing training and meditation are results of no longer fleeing yourself.
The following benefits are not things that you “do”, but are the results of being able to remain with your the unwanted dimensions of your inner life (such as your unwanted thoughts, painful emotions, etc.) instead of unthinkingly react to them (and remaining stuck in habits established by these reactions). These are not qualities that can be cultivated in order to replace or push away uncomfortable feelings (including fear, shame, guilt, anger, jealousy, and discomfort associated with unfulfilled desires, etc.); instead, they are qualities that are cultivated as we become less rigid—our rigidities are tied to our need for self-protection (or self-elevation or self-perfection) motivated by our sense of inadequacy (in its myriad incarnations) that we cannot tolerate. Breathing retraining and meditation allow us to remain with our unwanted thoughts/emotions.
Self-acceptance and related objectives such as self-compassion, self-love, and even self-confidence.
Fearlessness and resilience.
Personal “growth” and creativity.
Compassion and forgiveness.
Deeper connection (with ourselves, others, and with “life” itself).
Personal meditation coaching and breathwork coaching with Balrāj is not a magical way to solve whatever problems you have in your (personal) world; in fact, you are encouraged to notice your desire to be saved or for your life to be solved (by some magic). Magic isn’t required; courage and awareness are enough. Remaining open to miracles doesn’t mean relying on them; waiting for a miracle to save you often only leads to a sense of wasted time (and even more self-criticism).
Balrāj only offers private sessions; he does not teach group meditation classes or group pranayama/breathwork classes. Furthermore, as a meditation instructor (and traditional yoga instructor and yogic breathing instructor) he only teaches traditional meditation techniques (including mindfulness meditation) and uses emphasizes breathing retraining in his yogic breathwork. Finally, he does not offer any breathing/meditation coaching/training via video course; 100% of your breathing retraining and private meditation sessions are live and online with Balrāj. As your mindfulness and meditation teacher and breathing/breathwork coach, Balrāj may include other methods of self-care based on your personal situation (beyond yogic breathing and meditation coaching/training).
Schedule a free Clarity Call below so that Balrāj can learn more about your situation to see if private meditation coaching (and/or breathing retraining) is a right fit for your needs.
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for those whose efforts to “get rid” of some aspect(s) of themselves has been ineffective, or whose efforts to “manifest” something(s) they think will finally free them from their inadequacies has been frustrating; you want coaching in meditation to be able to experience your inner life rather than run from it. In each session, we remain committed to remaining with difficult thoughts/feelings.
for those who want a meditation coach who provides practice-based intensive meditation or breathwork sessions; you want coaching in breathwork/meditation practice, not theory, and each meditation/breathwork session should contain at least one actual breathwork/meditation session and provide feedback (while allowing for questions).
for those who want to explore the benefits of yogic breathing and breathing retraining (which exceed just learning nasal breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and/or breathing techniques) beyond physiological and respiratory health. Lessons should include actual breathing training (i.e., breathwork, or working directly with the breath during live sessions in order assess progress with breathing retraining). You want a breath coach with a traditional approach to breathwork.
for those who want clarity and to create a foundation for purposeful growth and meaningful stress; you want coaching in meditation in order to help you identify and pursue meaningful goals based on self-awareness and self-connection. Each session should deepen your practice/ability. You want a meditation teacher who understands that meditation is not about becoming a great meditator (but is about living a more fulfilling life).
for those who want coaching in meditation and breathwork as a foundation of their efforts to build habits of self care. Each session should be treated as an occasion for (mindful) self care.
for those looking for coaching in (a traditional approach to) yogic meditation. Each session should remain committed to self-awareness.
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conditions & policies
effective January 2023
The specific terms and conditions of your customized meditation training and breathing retraining will be provided to you by Balrāj. What follows are general terms.
All meditation instruction, breathwork coaching, and e-mail support is provided in English. For best results, the client/person/meditator should be fluent in English. Guided meditations are all delivered in English.
Any/all information provided to you during your meditation training and/or breathing retraining with Balrāj is intended as guidance. Each client retains the right to use this information/guidance at their own discretion, and remains fully responsible for their decisions/actions. Balrāj is a yogin and teacher of spiritual yoga, personal development and stress coach, personal meditation coach, breathing coach, professional astrologer, and certified hypnotist. He does not provide therapy or counselling and is not a therapist, counsellor, and/or or mental health professional. As a meditation teacher and/or breath coach, he is also not a medical professional and does not provide any breathing therapy designed to heal any medical condition(s), respiratory or otherwise.
All data/information provided to Balrāj and/or balraj.yoga related to your meditation training and yogic breathing coaching is strictly confidential, and will not be shared with or sold to any third party, unless required by law.
Balrāj’s approach to meditation, mindfulness, and pranayama (yogic breathing) is guided by the principles of traditional yoga (which includes mindfulness meditation). He does not teach practices common to haṭha yoga, such as non-seated posture and improving physical balance/strength, and does not do any kind of work with the body (healing of any kind). He will include breath retraining (included in prāṇāyāma in yoga) if necessary, but does not teach yogic breathing exercises or pranayama techniques that encourage hard breathing or hyperventilation-based breathwork. He may also include mantra (another common object of focus used in yoga meditation), but meditation mantras will not be religious and/or related to any conception of god. He does not teach anything related to the metaphysical body in yoga, including practices associated with common yoga meditations such as kundalini meditation. Though he may discuss ideas associated with the philosophy of various yoga approaches (including the “traditional” four: jñāna yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga), he does not teach any other common forms of yoga practice, old and new, including tantra yoga practice, kriya yoga practice, hatha yoga practice, “vinyasa” yoga practice, “yin” yoga practice, and/or those associated with specific figures (such as Iyengar yoga), and/or some of the most contemporary forms of yoga (such as aerial yoga). These types of yoga are primarily based on non-seated posture, but do—to greater or lesser degrees—contain meditation and breathing practices. As a meditation teacher, Balrāj’s focus is on the most traditional purpose of yoga meditation and breathing; meditations (including mindfulness) and breathing retraining are all dedicated to self-awareness, and while this requires an awareness of embodiment (the lived body), it does not focus on the kind of body-based practices associated with the term “yoga” today. Similarly, the breathwork Balrāj teaches focuses more on making the breath subtle (and not on breath work that encourages hard breathing).