Finding the missing peace in your practice
Would you like to create more space, stillness and peace in your yoga practice and life?
Jon Kabat Zin offers a great definition of Meditation as 'the art of paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment.'
Notably meditation is not about 'not thinking'. It is the art of not identifying with thought, emotion, sensation. Meditation encourages you to identify with, or 'getting to know', the 'witness' aspect of your psyche or soul. This witness within you, is in a state of pure observation, and remains unaffected and unchanged by all events in life.
It's important to have a sense of where you are going in meditation. You are going inwards. You are moving beyond the superficial layer of thought, emotion and sensation to connect to the part of you the watches and observes these changes states. You are withdrawing from the body's surface to discover at your core, a vast reservoir of energy, space and stillness. The Daoist's call this the Dao, 'the tranquility that lies at the centre of all things.'
Evangelical, yes, but meditation has profoundly changed my life and my ability to deal with discomfort. Meditation enables me to see myself clearly, in the present moment, and offers me the insight to see where I am going. You will experience this at the heart of your yoga postures.
WHY GROUP PRACTICE?
Practicing a meditation class in addition to practicing yoga may seem a little like ordering a herbal tea in a coffee shop - you could do it at home, I know. But the benefits, however, of practicing in a class comes with the yoga kula (community).
Group meditation is a source of inspiration, solidarity and motivation. Over the month of March Im offering free 15 min meditations after my classes at Yogacentric, to reinforce a meditation community alongside our asana practice.
Millions of people have adopted at least ten minutes a day of quiet mindfulness to focus inwards and recharge their energy levels in the quest for improved sleep, concentration, mood and a deeper sense of purpose and wisdom.
However, the actual experience of meditation is often not comfortable to begin. Truth be told, even after years there are days where meditation feels blissful, and days where it feels very fragmented and challenging. What changes is your tolerance for these varying experiences.
Most of us confront the following issues in our meditation practice:
1. The pain of sitting
2. Stilling the mind creating a bigger void that fills with dark procrastination, analysis and spirals of self doubt
3. Getting bored... and the pull to check emails!
'FIND YOUR SEAT'
Being comfortable and having a long spine is critically important in being able to 'fall in' to a state of meditation. For many people, sitting cross legged is far too painful beyond a few breaths. You have many options:
*Lie down - it's hard not to fall asleep, but you can start off lying with legs bent, feet on floor, chest and head slightly elevated.
* Straddle or kneel over a bolster or cushions - as long as your knees can tolerate the flexion this is a great position to lift out of bad posture.
*Sit upright on a chair, feet firmly on ground, hands in lap
* Sit against a wall with a brick or cushion in the space between your shoulder blades and the wall to remind you to lift you chest and not lean back or forward *Sit on blocks or a meditation cushion to elevate the pelvis.
THE MOVEMENT WITHIN STILLNESS
Even though we aim to bring the body into stillness in deeper states of meditation, try to enhance the inherent movement of the breath through the body.
Stretch your neck shoulders and arch your spine before you begin. Allow your spine to undulate and lift on the inhale; allow your body to soften and your thighs to feel heavier on the exhalation.
Rigidity in your posture causes pain. Ironically, allowing your body to flow with the movement of the breath will bring you into a place of stillness.
MY 5 STEPS TO MEDITATION
2. BREATH FREEDOM
4. MUDRA 5. DHYANA CHARYA
As the Zen Buddhist monks allege, our physical posture intrinsically places the mind in posture also. If the body slouches, the mind slouches. If the eyes and fingers are fidgeting, the mind is fidgeting. Often we are looking for relaxation when we come to meditate, but your body must be alert and present... without tension.
Poise is being able to sit with an alertness, grace and ease. A sense of postural grace is established by presenting your body as an open vessel for breath to fill, and for breath to empty. You must hold your body upright and open.
There is movement, and there is stillness. There is a feeling of grounding and yielding to the ground, and a sense of levity and space in the chest and mind.
Imagine two hands supporting your shoulder blades that you rest back into, so you neither lean forward, nor back. Your body is sensitive and receptive to the space around you, and your attention is being drawn deep within to your inner landscape.
In meditation, we do not try to control the breath. That is the practice of pranayama. You are simply taking away tension and distraction that inhibits the essential fullness of your natural breath. There is no loud audible breathing.
BREATH FREEDOM PRACTICES
You simply watch your natural breath, and allow it to steady and slow of its own accord.
*Visualising the breath like a wave that laps the shores of the physical body and then leaves on the exhalation is a fantastic way of liberating your natural breath and allowing it to reach its natural fullness.
*Focus your mind on the pauses between the breaths... the moment of stillness as the breath turns tide from inhalation to exhalation.
* Count both sides of your breath to 10: inhale as '1', exhale as '2' up t0 10. If you get distracted or when you reach 10, begin again at 1.
*Visualise your breaths like footsteps moving up stairs, or along a beautiful path.
Drishti means 'soft, meditative gaze'. It is extremely potent in stabilising the mind's inevitable fluctuations. With your eyes closed look as if from the back of the skull forward to the space between your eye brows. Feel the power of your mind channelling to one point. If you feel to, you can add an image of a candle flame, a colour, a word or an object here to sustain your focus.
If the hands are fidgeting it causes disturbances in the mind and reveals some inner angst and tension about witnessing yourself that needs to be harnessed and released. By placing the hands in a purposeful position, such as chin or cosmic mudra pictured here, you are training the hands to express poise and mindfulness... which translates into the body and the mind.
DHARANA CHARYA DHYANA
I have merged two sanskrit concepts together here so we can perceive meditation tools as the transporters, not as the end point. Dharana means concentration on one point. Charya means chariot. Dhyana means meditative absorption. All the different meditational techniques where the mind is focused on one point, can be imagined as a chariot, carrying us towards a state of dissolution and oneness... a feeling of dropping in and becoming subsumed by a vast inner reservoir of energy, space, peace.
Using repetitive visualisation, sound and mantra is a powerful method for carrying you deep within.
Mantra means 'mind protection.' By repeating a phrase of word or sound the mind falls into a profound state of steadiness. Yoga mantras can be a little long to memorise, so here are a few short ones you can adopt, or feel free to use a word, phrase or affirmation in english instead.
'Aham Shanti': I am peace (link with inhalation & exhalation)
'So-ham': 'I am that' (link with inhalation & exhalation)
'Om mani padme hum': The jewel in the lotus
How many times have we been stopped on the street or plagued by an email that said- 'Stop: do this survey and you will win a holiday!' This time... you really will. You wont feel ecstatic day in, day out. But you will begin to be sure that there is a place of calm waiting there for you,these moments of meditation are like medicine.
Dont just do something, sit there!