Meditation will deepen your yoga practice and benefit your health and wellbeing in many ways but in truth, learning to meditate can be hard.
Meditation is an exercise in quieting your mind and frankly, what needs rest more than the mind? Your mind is at work all the time; alert, aware of everything that’s happening in your environment, planning, processing, calculating, evaluating, and making decisions every minute of every day. It is constantly operating in survival mode from the moment you awaken until you close your eyes at night and even then, your mind remains active as it engages in the dream world.
Can you imagine jumping up and down all day, every day, without a rest? That would undoubtedly take a toll on your body. Your body also needs to stretch and flow and most importantly, to rest. The same goes for your mind. It simply can’t be expected to jump continually without resting, but that’s easier said than done. Have you ever tried to slow your mind down? It may well be easier to stop a runaway freight train, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done and that we shouldn’t try.
What is the goal of meditation?
Meditation is about training your mind to be calm, to be present, to focus on the inner world and, just for a moment, to stop being distracted by sensory inputs and impulses. To quite simply not think. Dependent on your spiritual beliefs or personal objectives for meditation, these goals can be the whole purpose of your meditation practice (and that’s perfectly okay) or they can be the foundation of a practice that ultimately strives for liberation, enlightenment, transcendence or connection with the universe – however you choose to frame this objective. Regardless of your ultimate goal, the first step will always be the calming of the mind.
When we hear the word “meditation”, the first image that comes to mind is a person sitting in the lotus position –steady and peaceful. The problem with this image is that it promotes two rather large misconceptions about meditation. First, that you need to be flexible and second, that meditation is inherently peaceful and calm. Neither of these are necessarily true.
Body position is more important than flexibility
The key to a successful meditation practice is that the spine should be straight at all times and yet still comfortable. If your body is flexible it is undoubtedly easier to sit comfortably in meditation. However, don’t be discouraged if you’re not naturally flexible. There are a lot of seated positions that don’t require flexibility. You can sit upright on a chair for example, or on a meditation pillow on the floor, with your legs stretched out in front of you and your back against a wall to support and keep your spine straight. More than anything, it’s about keeping your back upright.
There are also many different meditation techniques that can be undertaken in a variety of positions, even while walking, like mindfulness meditation.
Meditation doesn’t begin with serenity
Trust us, serenity comes later. Many people come to the practice of meditation with the expectation that they will feel peaceful and calm as soon as they start meditating. How we wish that were true! Of course, there are always the exceptions, but those people are few and far between. Instead, it’s best that you enter meditation accepting that it may take some time to train your mind and that while it may initially be challenging, it will ultimately be rewarding beyond measure. We live in a fast-paced world and our minds are appropriately overactive. Start by acknowledging that calming down is an understandable challenge for your mind, something it has forgotten how to do. Through regular meditation practice, your mind will come to understand that it is allowed to take a break and will eventually remember how to do it.
The mind is in permanent survival mode
Your mind is accustomed to battling for your very survival, so it follows that it is permanently in a heightened state of readiness and armed with a lot of defense mechanisms against calming down. When you’re in survival mode you also have no time to stop and take care of your emotional wounds. So, when you do calm down and sit in meditation, those emotional wounds will start rising from the depths of your subconscious and demand to be acknowledged by your conscious mind, and that’s just the start of it.
The truth is that as you learn to sit in meditation you will probably come face to face with what Buddhists call the “monkey mind” – a term that describes the restless, capricious, unsettled mind. You may begin to feel inexplicably bored or find yourself coming up with a dozen excellent reasons why you should stop immediately and attend to something more pressing. The more you try to banish thoughts from your mind, the more they may come at you in waves. You might find yourself easily distracted, your skin inexplicably itchy, an ant may start what feels like a 1000-mile hike across your body, an endless stream of annoying sounds might clamour for your attention, and your back will almost certainly feel uncomfortable.
You know what though? All of these things are okay. They are exactly as they should be. This is what you must go through, the mountains you must climb, the dragons you must slay in order to develop a regular meditation practice. This is also precisely why a lot of people come out of their first meditation attempt feeling frustrated and defeated. However, through regular and persistent practice of meditation, you’ll find a way to feel serene in the middle of all those things and achieve a state where they no longer have the power to distract you.
Have zero expectations and boundless patience
The key to success is not to have any particular expectations from your meditation. Don’t expect it to be easy, don’t expect it to be challenging. Just be and take the attitude of an observer. When thoughts, noises and other distractions assail your mind, don’t frustrate yourself trying to forcibly push them aside. Rather observe and acknowledge them. Silently say, “I see you”, then move back into stillness, coming back out to greet each new distraction in the same gentle manner, without anger or irritation; just going with the flow. Like a small child who gets tired of arguing when they find no resistance, the mind will eventually quiet and find peace. It takes time, patience and persistence to master meditation and establish a routine meditation practice, but once you do, you’ll find the benefits are immense.
In the course of your yoga teacher training, your Shades of Yoga instructor will teach you the principles and techniques of meditation – providing you with the foundation upon which to build a strong personal meditation practice and the tools needed to share that wisdom in turn with your own students.