Most often, students who are new to yoga and meditation are told to simply, “sit there and still your mind.
When I first learned to meditate, my mind could only stay still for 0.03 seconds. I’m a list-maker, a future-organizer, a ruminator, a worrier, and a dreamer. Even if my body was still, my mind was anything but.
In my experience with meditation, thoughts don’t ever completely cease, but they do slow down a little bit. I like to visualize neurons as cars speeding across interstate overpasses at breakneck speed, and then gradually slowing down… consciously choosing a safer, more sustainable, less hurried pace. Still going somewhere, but taking a slower, pace with time to enjoy the scenery.
I first approached meditation with the dual intent of calming anxiety and healing a hurting heart. I found that the use of a mantra, or repetition of a phrase, worked well for me. A constant, gentle, repetitive reminder gave my mind something to focus on.
My mind wasn’t ‘still’ per se —because it was busy repeating the words: “In… out… calm… ease” –- but my thoughts were still-er. (Which was an improvement.)
Meditating is an integral part of of the holistic yoga practice. The asanas (postures) are performed in order prepare the body for seated meditation. Coincidentally, the word asana translates to ‘seat’. But here’s thing: you don’t just sit there. Seated meditation is an active process of learning to become attuned to your thoughts with skillful attention. Consciously slowing down your thought process so that you can live a sustainable life and take time to enjoy the scenery along the way.
Learning to meditate doesn’t have to be daunting.
Focus on the Breath.
Focusing on your breath reaffirms a mind-body connection. Typically, the mind and the body are in two different locations: the body is one place and the mind is elsewhere, trapped in rumination of the past or worries about the future. The breath is the bridge between a focused, present, mind-body connection.
Try it: Breath Meditation “In, out. Breathe, receive.”
Try a Guided Meditation.
Visualization works wonders. One of my favorite techqniues is a Systematic Relaxation Exercise from Dr. Rolf Sovik of the Himalayan Institute called “61 Points of Light.” Most Guided Meditation experiences share the primary aim of total relaxation, so go ahead and lay down in a comfortable place, snuggle in, and enjoy 10 stress-free minutes.
61 Points of Light
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.
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.