There is a lot of confusion, frustration, and misinformation around meditation. Perhaps the word itself needs re-defining. In most yoga circles you’ll more often hear it said that one has done their “siting practice”. It’s fair to say we’ve sat still for a length of time. What happens inside that stillness, only the practitioner knows for sure. I promise you, more often than not, it’s a louder internal landscape then you think, especially if one is just beginning.
Here are five steps for getting started:
1. Create a Sacred Space. This is a lot easier than it sounds. In my house it is literally a corner. The idea is that when you adorn a space and only use it for a specific function, that area takes on a new energy. (Think church.) Even if the energy were to remain the same, your brain associates that space with its single function (in this case meditation) and you’ll settle into that function more easily then you would in a different space.
2. Make Time. Set a specific time aside each day for your sitting practice. I recommend morning since as the day goes by, more and more things can get in the way. Also, the mind is quieter in the early hours. By coming to your space the same time each day it becomes a habit that you are unlikely to break. By scheduling in your meditation time you never have to “find time”. It’s already been made.
3. Be Still. Most teachers recommend that the spine be in alignment for meditation. If possible you’ll be sitting with a tall straight back, and the legs in a cross-legged position (ultimately padmasana). Some students who can’t sit up comfortably for long periods of time will sit against a wall or lay down on the ground. The most important thing is to be still. Once you find your position, try not to adjust or move in any way. Meditation is an attempt to move beyond the body so activating the muscles is out of alignment with your purpose. Most of the time, if you let the impulse to move pass, it will dissipate.
4. Just Watch. To meditate you will have chosen or been given an object of meditation which could be your breath or a mantra. (See my previous blog.) You will be telling your mind again and again to focus on that object only, but your mind will have other thoughts. This is normal. Keep working to make yourself aware as soon as the mind leaves the object of meditation and bring it back. Do this act without judgement. Simply observe the process. Ultimately you are the object of meditation, so by observing the way the mind moves, you are doing the work.
5. Get a Physical Yoga Practice. As mentioned, the upright spine position is optimal for meditation practice. Still sitting in this position for a long time is very difficult unless there is asana in your life. The physical practice helps you develop an easy seat and also does a lot of the pre-meditation work, cleaning and calming the mind. How long should you sit? The current experts say 20 minutes, but that’s really just for entering a space of meditation. For being in and deepening that space one needs closer to an hour. Sounds long, right? Even 20 minutes is very difficult at first. Start with 5 minutes daily and slowly increase minute by minute as the practice becomes consistent in your life. You’ll be at an hour in no time and craving more! Once you find the peace of meditation, staying in isn’t the problem, it’s coming out!