Whether a yoga neophyte or going through yoga teacher training, we all seem to be beginners at meditation. And that’s because when learning about yoga, most people focus on the postures, too often neglecting this importance of this practice.
One reason we overlook meditation is because somewhere in our modern practice we view it as a completely separate from yoga-asanas. When in reality, that’s like eating only the outer cookies of an Oreo and throwing away the creme-filled center.
If you’ve done any studying on the Yoga Sutras, you know there are 8 Limbs of Yoga and the purpose of a yoga practice is to prepare your mind and body for meditation (dhyana in Sanskrit).
From the Yoga Sutras:
Hard it is to train the mind, which goes where it likes and does what it wants. But a trained mind brings health and happiness. (Dhammapada 3.35)
Maybe you’ve heard of meditation, but you’re not exactly sure what it is, or how it relates to yoga. Perhaps you’ve heard it’s good for you, but you’re not sure how to do it, or how to get started.
Your brain under stress
Like a computer, processing millions of functions, your brain constantly communicates with all your bodily systems and functions. Even in sleep, your brain processes as the senses relay information.
When too many messages are sent at once, your brain can overheat like an overloaded electrical system. The physical manifestations of this overload can include anxiousness, confusion, feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
In brain scans, meditation actually reduces the number of signals the brain and body are called upon to process.
What is meditation?
In one of the first books I read about the practice, the author, Victor N. Davich, says, “Meditation, then, is bringing the mind home. To bring your mind home means to bring the mind into the state of calm through the practice of mindfulness. One brings the mind home to turn inward and to rest into the nature of the mind.”
Simply, meditation is the act of bringing awareness to your mind, thoughts, and feelings. This awareness allows your whole being to rest, re-calibrate, and reduce stress + anxiety, all things it needs to maintain health.
Benefits of Meditation
Research shows practicing for as little as twenty minutes a day promotes improved psychological well-being and mental performance. Some of the benefits include:
- Improved mental health
- Greater emotional stability
- Increased stamina
- Speed recovery
- Boost energy
- Lessen allergic reaction
- Lower blood pressure
- Decrease inflammation
- Strengthen immune system
- Alleviate pain
- Improve memory
- Makes you happier
Other research studies indicate meditation improves health, alleviates the symptoms of even some serious illnesses, and it can lead to neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change).
How to meditate
Meditation is a simple process, but not always an easy one. You don’t need to read any particular book, or take a special workshop, or get a special word from a guru. Mostly, you need a quiet place and patience.
When deciding on your quiet place, find one free from distractions. If you’re a busy mom, you’re going to want a space with a door and lock. Some people like to create a “sacred space,” often creating alters out of meaningful objects. Fancy or plain, with or without doors, meditation is more about commitment than anything else.
When to meditate
Some will argue the best time to meditate is in the morning. Since you’re trying to create a habit, try different times of the day to see what works for you. You may need to experiment for a few days to find the best time.
Morning person? You might find getting up a few extra minutes earlier in the day works better. The night owls might prefer to do their meditation toward the end of the day. For others who work, 15-20 minutes before you eat lunch might be the sweet spot.
Consistency, the same time each day, will help you turn it into a habit, and once you start reaping the benefits you won’t want to miss out on your regular practice. So pick the time day of day that feels doable + repeatable to you.
You must be relaxed first
Before hitting the start button on your meditation timer, you need to be relaxed. If you’ve just cleaned up dog vomit from your favorite carpet, you’re not exactly in the right frame of mind for it.
This is why yoga-asana classes are ideal preparation for meditation. The movement during postures frees the body of stress and tension, and puts your mind and muscles in an ideal state.
Try one of these techniques for relaxation:
- 10-15 minutes of yoga postures/stretching
- 5-10 minutes of free form journaling
- 5-10 minutes of coloring pages
- YouTube video for guided relaxation
Find a comfortable position
The most traditional pose is easy-sitting (suhkasana), but any one that feels comfortable for you will work. You can sit on the floor, a meditation cushion, on the bed, lean against the wall, sit on your front porch, or bask in a patio chair.
If you prefer more of a reclined position, that’s okay too. As long as you can maintain an alert and comfortable position, any pose will work.
In the beginning stages, you might experience tingling sensations or aches in different parts of your body. All normal. When that happens, shift around, find comfort again. You can swallow, scratch your itchy nose, or wiggle your toes to bring feeling back to them.
choose a focal point
Unless your mind has something specific to focus on, it will chase every thought that enters. Think dog chasing not just one squirrel, but hundreds.
To keep your mind where you want it, you give it an object of awareness–a fancy phrase for focal point. Focal points can be either internal or external. Some examples include a burning candle, a repeated phrase or affirmation, an image, a sound or a chant.
For beginners, I recommend counting your breaths. Observing the breath is universally recognized as one of the most powerful methods for meditation and the most accessible.
Once you have a comfortable position and your preferred focal point, all that’s left is to close your eyes and practice, practice, practice. Remember I mentioned patience and commitment? That starts now.
- Start off at only two to three minutes. It will take time to build stamina in both your mind and body. It takes time to make meditation a habit. And it will probably take time until you feel any benefits.
- In the early stages, your mind will wander all over the place, be easily distracted. You will learn to bring it back to the point of focus over time. The more you practice, the better you’ll get, and the longer you’ll be able to stay in dhyana.
- Feel free to experiment with different types of meditation and different accessories. Some accessories include malas, music, mudras, essential oils, journaling, and downloaded apps for your phone and tablets.
- A great way to get started with a meditation practice today is with my three free quick and easy audio mediations. Each under 15 minutes.