learn to meditate, your way.
Meditation is a life-changing practice. When we sit in stillness, we learn to trust our own wisdom and insight. This inner wisdom supersedes the demands of anxiety and fear, which allows us to act with greater care for ourselves and for others. This is what yogis call “mindful living.”
Most often, beginners to meditation are told to “Still the Mind.” When I first learned to meditate, my mind could only stay still for 0.3 seconds. I’m a list maker, a future-organizer, a ruminator, a worrier, and a dreamer. Even if my butt was still, my mind was anything but still.
I first approached the art of meditation with the dual intent of calming my anxiety and healing a hurting heart. I found that the use of a mantra, or repetition of a phrase, worked well for me. The constant, gentle, repetitive reminder gave my mind something to focus on. My mind wasn’t ‘still’ per se —because I was busy repeating the words: “In… out… calm… ease” – but my thoughts were still-er. (Which was an improvement).
In my experience, thoughts won’t ever completely cease, they will just slow down. My mind whirls at breakneck speed. It always has, and it probably always will. Nerd Alert: I like to picture my neurons as cars speeding across interstate overpasses alarmingly fast… and then slowing down, together, consciously choosing a safer, more sustainable, less hurried pace. They are still going somewhere. But they are going slower, taking time to enjoy the scenery. (By the way, if I were queen of the world, I would decree that every driver must follow the speed limit. Slow down, you fools, I’m maneuvering my refrigerator-box-on-wheels-vehicle just as fast as I dare to, and that happens to be the posted speed limit. Back to meditation…)
Meditating is an integral part of your yoga practice: the asanas (postures) are performed in order prepare the body for seated meditation. Coincidentally, the word asana translates to the word ‘seat’. But here’s thing: you don’t JUST SIT THERE… seated meditation is an active process of learning to become attuned to your emotions, your breath, your own inner divinity.
Yoga and meditation go hand in hand. Leading yoga teacher Eric Schiffman writes, “Yoga is a way of learning to be in meditation all day long. In other words, listening inwardly with a quiet mind as many moments of the day as you can for the guidance and wisdom of Infinite Mind, God.” You can access his entire article here.
Even if you aren’t in a yoga class, you can and should, still meditate on your own. Learning to meditate doesn’t have to be daunting.
I suggest starting here:
- Focus on the Breath. All beginning meditators need to begin here; learning to listen to your breath teaches you the miracle of the present moment. I like to remind my students: “You can’t breathe in the future, you can’t breathe in the past. You can only take this breath, right here, right now.” Here is my favorite breath mantra: (adapted from Tich Naht Hanh’s meditations for peace.)
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Don’t worry about how your breath sounds or how long it is. Just sit and savor the feeling of ease in your body.
- Try Guided Meditations: Mindfulness teacher Sharon Salzberg shares 6 different meditation techniques on her website. The techniques draw from varied philosophical backgrounds. You can access these meditations here. My favorite can also be found in her book Real Happiness. It’s called Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation. It’s super easy to wish metta for yourself (May I be safe, May I be Happy, May I be Healthy, etc.) and (slightly?) more difficult to wish metta for other people in your life (especially the difficult ones… like that guy who honked at me for stopping at a stop sign the other night. Sir, it’s a STOP sign. I’d like to amend my Queen of the World ruling to decree that all drivers must obey all traffic laws, speed limit notwithstanding.) Salzberg’s site is a great place to start because it will teach you different meditation disciplines and guide you through each one.
3. Make your Meditation Portable: Download the ‘Stop Breathe & Think App’ (it’s free) on your phone and carry your meditation with you everywhere. The App explains how to practice mindfulness and helps you track your progress in learning to meditate. Some of it is a little cheesy (you earn stickers every time you complete a guided meditation, for example) but the App is straightforward and helpful. The meditations are short— some even less than five minutes long. I listen to these meditations in my kitchen as I’m chopping vegetables. (I’ll never be a Buddhist Monk who accesses liberation while chopping onions… I’ll just start by being more mindful to not chop my finger off while I’m making soup.) You can listen to a meditation or use the App to ‘check in’ with your emotional state while waiting in line at Target. It might remind you to extend compassion to your check out-person, because kindness is contagious. (Don’t pretend you don’t check your phone the instant you have to stand in a line. You do.) Search for the ‘Stop Breathe & Think App’ on iTunes or visit the SBT full site here.
- Just Sit. Don’t worry about doing it correctly or incorrectly. Start by sitting still for 60 seconds. Slow your breath for one minute. Appreciate the joy of simply being alive. I learned to meditate by using the timer on my phone. That way, I wasn’t tempted to check the clock and see how long I’d been sitting. If you use a timer, you won’t cut your session short thinking you’re running out of time and frantically jump up to straighten your hair before someone else is in the bathroom so you won’t be late to work, etc. etc. etc. (See how fast those anxious thoughts sneak up on you?) My go-to is an App called Insight Timer (free on iTunes). I even use it when I teach because it indicates the end of meditation time with a lovely, resounding Tibetan Gong (relaxing), instead of my daily wake-up alarm (not relaxing). Start with one minute a day. And work your way up to four minutes. And then ten minutes. (Ten minutes? For total freedom, bliss, spiritual wellness and emotional health? Yes, Please.)
Remember that Meditation is YOUR practice. You will find a way to meditate that works well for you, and you will find a way that doesn’t work well for you. If you are learning to sit in stillness, you are learning to trust your own wisdom. Listen to your own insight, and commit to a daily stillness practice. It will change your life.
Still need more convincing? This article describes the scientifically substantiated benefits of meditation. And there are more out there!
I’d love to hear your stories; how do you like to meditate? What do you find helpful?