Over the years many of my clients have expressed interest and confusion as to what meditation is. Questions such as: "What happens if I don't have a meditation room?" "What is I can't mediate at the same time everyday?" "What if I only have 10 minutes a day, does it still work?" And the most popular: "My mind is so busy, I can stop thinking."
These concerns are common and reading about conflicting information regarding meditation can enhance the confusion. I believe that one of the reasons for this conflicting information is based on the "why" one chooses to meditate. For many householders ( that means people with worldly lives - work, mortgages, children, ageing parents and so on, as oppose to those who dedicate their life to meditation) we want to meditate to calm the mind whereas in traditional yoga practices a calm mind is the tool for meditation, hence once the mind is calm and clear, one can meditate.
Once we know our why of meditation and are honest about our starting point we can choose our technique and let it unfold from there. The following guidelines are for you if you are a householder with a busy mind who wants to begin a meditation practice in order to develop a healthy relationship with your mind, have sound sleep, release tension and maybe even increase levels of patience.
What is meditation (In a nutshell)
In the world of yoga, as I know it, meditation begins with the withdrawal of the senses. What this means is that we first become conscious of our senses and instead of being led by them and continuously trying to please them, we start guiding them towards what we value rather than towards what we crave. This stage of meditation is the recognition that we become what we ingest and that includes our food, choice of media such as articles, books, conversations and so on. If untrained, the senses are like a puppy, always looking for the next distraction and if we're not conscious of what we ingest we limit our potential for mental clarity. In this context, in order to begin a meditation practice we need to pay attention to what we ingest and choose wisely. The way we see it in the world of yoga, sensory impressions are the main food for the mind and just as we can fill our body with junk food or with whole foods the same is true for the mind.
Tips on integrating the first stage of meditation include:
Daily moments of mental rest such as not reading anything, not listening to the news or podcasts, not conversing, not surfing the net and so on. And, as we become comfortable with this we naturally increase the amount of time we do this on a daily basis;
We take the time to focus on a uniform natural beauty such as the sky, a tree, a river, the ocean, a plant and so on; and
We choose to fill our mind with positive sensory impressions. Just as when we choose whole foods over junk foods we can do the same with the impressions we take in. Putting on some uplifting music that stimulates a positive mind, reading material the expands our awareness rather than create fear and judgement. Having conversations where we speak about possibilities, solutions and gratitudes rather than gossip, complaints and worries.
The more we do this the calmer and clearer the mind will be which means meditation will be more inviting. Once we have an awareness of what we take in through our senses we can refine our relationship with our senses and start to zone them in. And, instead of letting them lead in the external world, we begin to guide them externally and eventually internally. Simply put, our senses are designed to be the valuable employee of our mind, not the CEO. We do this often without necessarily being conscious of it. Think of being at a busy restaurant with someone you love. At one point the noise around you disappears as all of your senses are offered to your friend. If we are at the same restaurant with someone we have little in common with, every sound and movement is an opportunity to look away.
In meditation our chosen object of concentration becomes that good friend we offer our senses to. One of the most popular places to guide our senses is the breath, but know that this is not about controlling the breath, that would be like trying to control a tiger, but rather about feeling, looking, listening, tasting and giving the breath space. If we can do this for even a few short minutes we may experience a moment of concentration on the breath which would eventually, if kept for an extended period of time, become an experience of meditation which in this context is a quality of observation. So rather than thinking we are our thoughts and believing everything we think simply because we think it, we experience ourselves as the unattached curious observer of the thought. It's important to know that aspects of the experience of meditation can be experienced anytime and anywhere, not just when sitting in meditation.
Basic meditation tips:
1. Be aware of your senses and how you use them;
2. Sit with a tall spine - chair or cushion;
3. Close the eyes and notice how you don't need to create tension in the eyes to keep them steady. They can be at ease;
3. Offer your senses to your breath - notice don't control;
4. Choose a point of concentration like a mantra such as aham shanti (peace is my true nature - and the "a" sounds are the "a" of father not the "a" of and) and repeat this over and over again. The moment you are conscious you are thinking rather than repeating the mantra is a moment of awareness as you were for a brief moment aware of the thought process rather than the thought itself. Notice it and go back to your chosen point of concentration; and
5. Choose an amount of time that is realistic for you and gradually allow it to increase.
If you have a busy life and no meditation room and you create the illusion that meditation is only possible when everything is in order you will be thinking about meditation more often than actually practicing and experiencing it. Make it happen in the reality of your world. I speak from experience when I say the more we make it a priority, the more our life unfolds to support the practice, but we must begin where we are.
And, at the risk of sounding like a sales person, take a workshop, a class, go on a retreat or even better meet privately with a teacher and learn the best approach for you. The world wild web has a lot to offer but learning from a live teacher brings lasting results.