Meditation Matters the Most
I have been practicing daily for nearly 30 years. It has evolved and continues to change, sometimes day to day, but the one constant is meditation.
Practice is more than something I do. It is such an essential part of my life that it has become a part of me. Practice is where I source strength, clarity, and inspiration. It provides me with stability in an ever-changing world, as well as an appreciation for what is most precious in life. I have been practicing daily for nearly 30 years. It has evolved and continues to change, sometimes day to day, but the one constant is meditation.
A few decades ago (when I was in my 20s) I would often practice nearly three hours a day. Today, while I juggle the roles of husband, father, teacher, and seeker, I dedicate approximately one to two hours to it. Fifty percent of that time is for asana and the rest for pranayama and meditation. When my schedule is more limited—which happens—I’ll shorten the amount of time for asana in order to have at least 45 minutes for pranayama and meditation.
I am fortunate that my intensive study of yoga began under the guidance of true masters, who helped me discover the profound and sweeping benefits of meditation. In those early years I was passionately committed to physical mastery of the postures. But, it was when—guided by my teachers—I began to meditate that I saw my life and body truly change for the better. My teachers opened my eyes to the power of meditation. Within a few months (and much to my surprise) I discovered meditation was having a more profound impact on me than asana.
The heart of my meditation is japa (silent mantra repetition). Over the years, I’ve been blessed with teachers who have initiated and guided me into the specific mantra practices they knew would be most auspicious for me. Thanks to a sustained meditation practice and the guidance of my teachers, I’ve come to appreciate yoga as a path to the majestic world beyond body, breath, and mind.
Balance and Ritual
The two most important elements of practice are consistency and reverence, or ritual. These days I am fortunate to have a room in my home that is solely dedicated to yoga and meditation. I enter it around the same time every day—about 5:30 a.m.—just as I have been doing for nearly 30 years. The teachings have long praised these quiet hours before sunrise as the most productive time to practice. It’s also the time when my household is still asleep, which means no worldly duties will call or interrupt my process of remembering deep and abiding peace.
The two most important elements of practice are consistency and reverence, or ritual.
The first thing I do upon entering the room is light a flame and pay homage to it. The flame connects me to the source of life and the teachings. I think of my teachers and the teachings, and offer them my gratitude before I “do” anything. Once I establish that connection, I turn my awareness to my inner teacher to guide me as I move into postures and the rest of my practice.
If I’m not home, I begin my practice by invoking that flame mentally. Within a few seconds I feel anchored in it. This is how consistency becomes its own reward. For the past 10 years, teaching has led me to do a lot of traveling—as many as 120 to 130 days a year. With my surroundings constantly changing, it’s vital to my teaching and my well-being that I am able to access a place that feels like home.
Clarity, strength, wisdom, and the sense of being guided are never far away. This extraordinary gift is revealed each time I practice. It is supported by my years of consistent effort and reverence for the teachings and my teachers. These are the times when I renew the connection to the best of myself.
Cause and Effect
The body and mind are constantly changing, affected by environmental circumstances, diet, and thoughts. Spirit remains constant—a boundless and mighty treasure. Physical and mental needs change; spiritual needs do not. For that reason, the parts of my practice that address the physical and mental realms (asana and pranayama) change day to day in response to my needs. The changes in my daily practice come spontaneously (in response to my inner teacher) and are informed by my knowledge of the principles of practice (vinyasa krama), as delineated in the traditions of yoga, ayurveda, and tantra. On the road I may focus on more restorative or stabilizing practices, such as supported postures, longer holds, and retention after inhalation. At home I often focus on techniques that are deeper and/or more challenging. On those days, my routine includes techniques for cultivating subtle energy, such as bandha, mudras, and laya yoga practices.Whether I’m at home or traveling, my japa practice remains the same.
In order to describe my personal practice, I’ve made distinctions between asana, pranayama, and meditation. But in the larger view, they are part of a seamless tapestry. Together, all three serve the higher intent of enabling me to remain mindful of the greater meaning and purpose of my life and enlivening the forces that allow me to embody it.
The great sage Patanjali wrote that flawless perception and self-mastery can be ours when we distinguish between the true nature of soul and the highest states of mind. According to him, this ascendant plateau can only be attained, yogically, through meditation. Meditation is the heart of my practice. It has been—and continues to be—my most cherished ally in the journey that is my life.
Founder of ParaYoga®, Rod Stryker is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on the ancient traditions of yoga, tantra, and meditation. Rod’s teaching weaves together his depth of understanding, experience, and ability to make the ancient teachings and practices accessible to students of all levels. Rod has trained teachers for over 25 years and leads retreats, workshops, and trainings worldwide. He lives in the mountains of Colorado with his wife and four children.