Meditation is often thought of as something that ‘spiritual’ or religious people do, or those that are seeking enlightenment. But like the other practices of Yoga, meditation is for everybody. If you have a mind and a body you can meditate. You also don’t have to be draped with loose clothing, crouching on the floor of a Buddhist temple and surrounded by monks. You can meditate everywhere (pretty much).
How do I meditate?
Sit in a comfortable position, either crossed legged, or sitting on your heels, or on a chair. Which ever is most comfortable for you and allows your spine to be straight.
If you are sitting cross legged, actively press your sitting bones into the ground (you may need to gently move some flesh to the sides to find this contact). If you find sitting cross legged very uncomfortable, you can try sitting on a pillow, which raises the pelvis and may help if you have tight hips and hamstrings.
Lengthen the spine by imagining that you have a rope attached to the crown of your head, pulling you up towards the sky.
Slightly tuck the chin towards the chest, further lengthening the back of the neck.
Close your eyes.
Turn your gaze inwards. Your eyes are your windows to the external world. With them closed, we are able to focus on what’s happening inside our bodies, our internal world.
Start to mentally scan your body, noticing how it feels from the inside out.
And begin to notice your breath. Don’t change it, just observe it as it moves in and out of the nose.
Notice your thoughts as they enter your awareness. Acknowledge that they are there, but let them go for now and bring your attention back to the breath.
Start counting your breaths, inhale 1, exhale 1, counting up to 10. When you reach 10, working your way back down to 1. Try this a couple of times.
Thoughts will arise, and you are likely to get carried off by them at times, on a wonderful (or not so wonderful!) story of the mind. Don’t get frustrated with yourself when this happens. Just come back to the present moment, to the breath and begin counting again.
Why should I meditate?
Meditation helps us to discover another dimension of ourselves. We begin to see that we are not just the the mind or the body, but something more. We are the observers. We have a mind and we have a body, and our essential nature, our energetic body, our aliveness, is something that we can tune into and dwell in through meditation.
An array of research has been published highlighting the many benefits of a meditation practice. It can help to reduce anxiety and depression, increase focus and improve memory. It increases creativity, reduces stress and lowers high blood pressure. The brain gets the chance to relax and to restore itself, but in a different way than sleep. Whilst we are sleeping, the brain is often still active and we experience dreams. But during meditation practice, the brain is completely calm, whilst remaining awake and alert.
Calming an over-active mind
At first it may be very difficult for you to disconnect from your thoughts. You may have a lot going on in your life that you feel you need to think about. Maybe you have a lot of things that you need to do, or maybe there is something that has happened in the past that you are dwelling on. But try, even just for 5 minutes to start with, (I found it was good to set an alarm, starting with 5 minutes, and adding a couple more minutes every day) to lock your attention to the present moment, to the breath and to your body. Don’t get frustrated with yourself, it is in the minds nature to want to think and take your attention else where! Accept the thoughts as they come, and let them go.
You will start to experience moments of stillness where there are no thoughts at all. Gaps in between the thoughts. Moments of calmness, before other thoughts arise. These pauses will gradually become longer, and it is here that you want to dwell. Being completely aware of your whole self, of your aliveness, in every moment.
The body may start to ache in places, you may get an itch, a noise my catch your attention. All will try and entice you to leave your seated position, or to move in someway. But try and stay completely still for the meditation time you have allocated for yourself. Watch the itch melt away. Try and stay focused.
According to Patanjali, the purpose of Asana practice is to open the body, to prepare it for long periods sitting in meditation. So if you find that you are very tight, and find sitting quite uncomfortable, try a yoga class!