Let's talk about ISHTA meditation
ISHTA Yoga is a tantric yoga school. ISHTA Meditation teaches kriya techniques. "Kriyas" move energy or awareness (probably both) through the subtle body, i.e. channels and centers of energy flow. They are powerful techniques that create strong shifts in consciousness.
As far as I know, there are no studies that attempt to map energy lines to correlate with the subtle body maps that we have from various "energy-based" systems (e.g., yoga, tai chi, etc). Nor do I know of studies looking into what exactly is happening in various kriya techniques, whether at the subtle or physical level.
Which means we either a) have to be ok with not knowing what's at work in these kriyas or b) operate with the theories yoga philosophy presents, whether we believe them or not.
I am lousy at embracing fairy tales, which may be where subtle body maps belong, so why do I practice ISHTA meditation?
Why I teach ISHTA kriya techniques
My introduction to meditation was through ISHTA Yoga.
Everything I love about yoga was introduced to me through ISHTA.
You know how when you're falling in love, your amour seems flawless in your eyes? And everything they do is wonderful? Yeah, that's me through and through. When I fall, I fall hard and lose all sense of doubt.
And so it was with ISHTA. I loved everything about ISHTA, and what puzzled me, I just didn't question. Or at least not enough to take action. This blind faith continued through my training and my early days of teaching. It wasn't until my study went deeper, and my new love matured into long-term relationship, that I started to see that some of the promises my teachers made -- promises made in the name of teaching truth -- felt fundamentally disjunct to me.
Here's the thing. If something isn't fact, but you believe it anyway, then it can be true for you. BUT that doesn't make it TRUE. Humanity can't reveal a unified body of knowledge on personal truths.
from the heart
I love my teachers. I love that they teach what they teach they way they teach it for the reasons they teach it. (Mostly that last one.) But I don't believe everything they teach me. And since science hasn't yet gotten around to investigating all the nooks + crannies in this corner of philosophy, it's their word against mine. Or their belief sitting radically opposed to mine, if happily accompanying the same space of yoga.
yoga takes action
See, yoga's main worldview is one of action. Of testing things out until you figure out how you and the universe work. It's a personal, solo-journey, observation-based, knowledge-seeking practice (which is why some yogis refer to it as "a science," but it's definitely not science!). Yoga intends (as much as a philosophy can intend) for practitioners to TEST actions. We're supposed to try 'em out until we find the best practices to help us experience universal awareness.*
Yoga's trial-and-error philosophy doesn't care why a yoga action** works, just that it does. So, when I use my esoteric, tantric tools in meditation and they "work" for me, it doesn't "matter" that I don't believe the justification for their efficacy that I was taught.
action without belief... that works?!
I mean, it matters A LOT to me, just not in the moment I'm using them. In the moment, they feel like Christmas traditions! And waking up to Saturday morning cartoons! And being surrounded by a crew of super-buddies! And this is what I love about my ISHTA home and my ISHTA colleagues. They welcome me --and they will welcome you, too-- into the practice, doubts and all. They support my question asking, even if they don't always love it. They are OK with my not believing what they believe. And I have to be OK with their believing what they believe since there's no way for us to prove or disprove one another's beliefs... for now at least.
My genuine hope is that one day we'll have definitive answers about what's going on during the esoteric practices of yoga. But since I can't expect that I'll be alive to see it, for now, I can practice what I practice with love, and question fairytales with love, and let the contradictions in my mind sit in harmony ... because you never know from which corner you'll embrace the shift in perspective that shines a light on which questions to ask... to find the answers you seek.
And that is why I practice ISHTA meditation --because it feels like home to me.
I teach it because I love it. I have seen many others embrace it with a similar ease.
You can give it a try, too! Try the meditation of the day on my Everyday Meditation Podcast.
I truly hope you will find something useful in the practice and come to love it as I do... but more importantly, I hope you find the practices and tools that help you live with joy... and the freedom in your own mind to keep asking questions!
* Whether or not "universal awareness," or the "union" of yoga, is a thing that is possible for human beings to experience is another topic for debate and investigation, but I've decided to leave that one for another lifetime and just roll with not-knowing for now.
** What I'm calling a yoga action is normally referred to as a yoga "practice." I call yoga practices "tools," because they are instruments that aid your shift in awareness. I prefer this to "practice," since the whole of your journey with yoga is also called your "yoga practice." It can get confusing, fast.