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Yoga Meditation & the Four States of Consciousness

Yoga is a philosophy, a practice, and a lifestyle. Meditation lies at the heart of the tradition. Over the course of the last 5,000 years, yoga has changed and evolved considerably... and so have the techniques that lead us toward the state of deep consciousness known as turiya.

So what is the TURIYA?? From the yogic perspective, it is one of 4 states of consciousness. We cycle through the first three states on a daily basis. Each state is characterized by a specific pattern and frequency of our brain waves. Long before science discovered how to measure brain waves, the ancient yogis knew that these states are very different from one another. These four states are described and differentiated in the ancient yogic texts.

1. The Waking State

In this state, we are caught up in the activities of our earthly persona or character. In other words, in the waking state, I am busy being "Jessica" and I am virtually unaware of myself as pure "subject". The soul or jiva travels in objectivity and becomes an object itself, mostly ignoring the subjective consciousness that is its true nature. There is usually a focus on the physicality of our existence (annamaya kosha) and external objects in this state. The brain waves are fast and chaotic in the waking state as we are processing huge amounts of information collected by the senses.

2. Deep Sleep or Dreamless Sleep

This state is characterized by slower, predictable brain wave patterns that encourage collaboration between distant regions of the brain. In deep sleep, consciousness is mainly misidentified with anandamaya kosha (a deep aspect of our being that is simply experienced as bliss). It exists here in a subjective world without being conscious of it, and becomes one with that unconscious subjectivity. Because this state is still related to the body, it has a fine veil of objectivity, although the experience of deep sleep is simply bliss. In deep sleep, the jiva is free from objects but has not yet transcended itself.

3. The Dreaming State

The Dreaming State is characterized by fast and irregular brainwaves. Here we process the inner content of the mind—emotions, memories, and plans for the future.

The dream state is the state in which the Supreme Self is mainly misidentified with pranamaya kosha (the energetic component of our being) and manomaya kosha (the mind). Thus, the jiva travels in the cognitive world (the imaginative world of dreams), temporarily becomes one with that realm, and loses its subjectivity. Sometimes while in the dreaming state, we become misidentified with vijnanamaya kosha (the aspect of ourselves consisting of intellectual knowledge and understanding) and then we experience lucid dreaming.

4. Turiya

The fourth state of consciousness is neither turned outward nor inward. It pervades and underlies the 3 other states. It is beyond cognition. This fourth state, called turiya, cannot be experienced through the senses or be known by comparison, deductive reasoning or inference; it is indescribable, incomprehensible, and unthinkable with the mind. Turiya is existence as pure consciousness itself. This is the true Self. It is serene, tranquil, and filled with bliss. This state can be realized through our practice of yoga. The brainwaves associated with turiya have been observed and studied in long-term meditators.

What I have noticed in my own practice is this:

In the same way it is difficult to describe to someone how it feels to be asleep, it is equally difficult to describe the feeling of turiya. However, when you wake up from sleep, you know without a doubt that you were sleeping. You will also know without a doubt that you slipped into turiya once you return to waking consciousness.

The practices of yoga are all designed to lead us to turiya. All that we do on the mat-- the postures, breathwork, meditation -- ALL of it is designed to make the conditions right for us to slip into turiya (if we choose to practice with this as our intent.) In the same way you can make the conditions in life more conducive to sleep, you can also make them more conducive to turiya.

In the 5,000 years that yoga has been evolving, you might imagine the variety techniques that have been tried and verified to be effective at bringing us closer to realizing our true nature. Some techniques are very simple, such as repeating "AUM" over and over again. Other techniques are more imaginative and more reductive, helping us break down our experiences to their bare essence.

If you are interested in learning some of these meditation techniques, join us on Wednesday mornings at 8 AM for Yoga + Meditation. Each week I will be sharing different methods from a variety of yoga styles to draw your attention inward, to help you focus and concentrate, and to slow the brain waves by releasing the activity of the mind. Who knows, turiya may be one class away!

Jai Bhagwan.



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