Meditation is a central part of any well-balanced yoga practice, but for many people it doesn’t come easy. Meditation is a means of transforming the mind. It is a state of deep peace that occurs when the mind is calm and silent.
There is a beautiful quote by Sue Krebs that says:
“Your Soul is always speaking to you, but it is only in stillness that you can hear.”
The physical practice of yoga (Asana) is designed to help us find this stillness; to develop a habit of discipline and concentration, both of which are necessary for meditation. As we move through yoga postures, we are ridding the body of excess energy, and unblocking subtle energy channels, so that we may awaken our awareness through meditation without any physical distractions.
What’s the Point of Meditation?
Buddhists believe that meditation is a way to develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity and a calm sense to observe the true nature of things. Sounds pretty epic, right? It is. So, what happens if we meditate and we don’t feel all this? Did we do it wrong? Why do we not feel enlightened?
Well, I’m going to share something with you that totally changed my perspective on meditating. Are you ready?
Meditation can be all those things mentioned above: concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, observing the true nature of things. But it can also be many other things. It’s not always going to deliver those “Ah-ha moments” that totally shift the direction of your life. Meditation can simply be about resting the mind.
Yes, resting! Resting our over-active, super chatty, easily distracted minds. On the surface that sounds pretty simple, but once you start meditating, you begin to realize just how difficult it is. Our minds are literally bonkers. There’s so much going on in there, it can be hard to even recognize when your mind has wondered off. But don’t let that deter you. Just like your physical yoga practice, meditation requires dedication and patience.
Our Minds Need Training
I attended a meditation session recently where our wonderful teacher likened meditation to training a new puppy. A puppy is hyperactive, easily distracted and in desperate need of discipline. So too are our minds.
When you begin training a puppy, you start with some basic commands, like sit. The puppy may take a while to understand this command, and not sit still for very long before wondering off. But how do you respond? You wouldn’t beat the puppy for not understanding, would you? No, instead you’d bring it back patiently and try again. You’d practice persistence with the puppy until it learned how to sit.
Similarities can be drawn between training a puppy and training our minds. When we first start meditating, we begin with something small, like sitting in stillness and focusing on the breath. At first, this may be a real challenge. Our minds are in constant overdrive and easily distracted. But just like the puppy, if you find your mind wondering off, don’t beat yourself up about it. Simply bring your awareness back to the breath and try again. Be patient with yourself. Just like that puppy, you’re still learning.
How Can Your Meditation Practice Evolve?
Once you’ve mastered staying with the breath, where can your meditation take you? Well, like all things, it’s different for everybody. There are, however, some really cool scientific findings and anecdotes I can share.
Thousands of studies have been conducted into the physical benefits of meditation. These include things like reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, improving concentration and even reducing inflammatory disorders and asthma.
But perhaps the coolest study, conducted by Harvard University in 2014, determined that meditation literally rebuilds grey matter in the brain. Participants in the study engaged in meditation practices approximately 30 minutes every day for 8 weeks. These practices included focusing on audio recordings for guided meditation, non-judgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind.
“The analysis of MRI images…found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection,” explained Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School Instructor in Psychology.
It’s pretty cool that by meditating, we can play an active role in changing the brain and increase our well-being and quality of life.
A friend of mine discovered first-hand the incredible benefits of meditation when we attended a yoga retreat together in April 2017. She had never meditated before, so she was surprised when during one of our meditation sessions she had an out-of-body experience! When she told me about it, she described how she became actively aware that her body was becoming light, and her awareness was shifting into another realm of reality. She said it felt a little scary at first, but also incredibly relaxing, so she just let it happen. She didn’t fall asleep, but she also wasn’t mentally “there” with everybody else in the room. When the teacher brought everyone out of meditation she couldn’t say for sure exactly how long she was “gone.” She had lost track of time.
Meditation Myths Debunked
So how do you get started on your own path to meditation bliss? There is no easy answer, except to say that meditating is different for everybody, and the common beliefs people have about it need to be cast aside.
“One of the most fundamental things about meditation [is] that no technique leads to meditation… Meditation is not a byproduct of any technique. Meditation happens beyond mind. No technique can go beyond mind.” – Osho
So let’s dispel a few misconceptions about meditation. The first is that to meditate “properly,” you have to sit in a certain way. This is not true; the most important thing is to be comfortable avoid distractions. You may choose to sit cross-legged, up against a wall, on a cushion, lie down on a bed, are any other position that feels good. However, try and avoid positions where you might be tempted to fall asleep. Meditation is about awakening our awareness in a conscious state. If we fall asleep, we are no longer doing that.
Another misconception is that you have to sit for a certain amount of time to really “benefit” from meditation. Meditation is a state of being more than anything else. It doesn’t matter how long you stay. Studies have found that meditating just 2-3 minutes a day can improve your wellbeing. So, try and let go of any expectations of how long you should meditate for. Stay as long as you need to in order to feel relaxed and awakened.
One final misconception is that you have to be seated for meditation at all. While finding stillness is certainly optimal for exploring the mind, there are other ways to do this. One can be engaged in meditation while going for a walk, for example, while painting, getting a massage, swimming, or right before they go to bed. Meditation happens in many different forms. Find something that helps you to truly detach from your thoughts and go with it.
Have you started your own meditation practice?
And don’t miss our New Moon and Full Moon meditations at Yoga City, which happen twice/month to coincide with the moon cycle. Check our schedule for details.