by Ali Valdez
Meditation, the art of sitting still in the physical body to cultivate stillness of the mind. Increasingly studies are showing the efficacy and power of stepping away from the computer, unplugging the TV, and finding a nice spot to sit and liberate the mind through intentional breathing and stillness. This is almost anathema entirely to our Western civilization and how society and the media want us to behave. Why? Because then we won’t overwork ourselves and become sick. Because our minds won’t be numbed like sheep herded into tin-roofed sheds by watching innocuous television shows and insipid commercials. Because frankly we won’t stuff ourselves up enough with food or crap to clutter our garages. Because one thing meditation does do is make you find contentment, which means you don’t need to work, exercise, eat or shop yourself happy. In fact, you are happiest when you have nothing.
So if the entire way we live works against the one things that can save us, what do we do?
It’s simple. We make meditation and yoga work for us.
Not the finale of Game of Thrones part of us, rather that heart-centered, often neglected side of us that is too quiet andpatient to make much of a fuss until it’s too late and the headaches, heartbreak or illness, stress and strain set in. Here are a few practical tips that have informed and inspired my seated practice:
1 Don’t try to control it. Oh, you know…setting goals, or putting it on your to-do list. That’s like scheduling sex. Yawn.
This isn’t an activity of the mind; it is the non-activity for the mind.
Putting it into an achievement based, results oriented practice defeats its purpose. Instead wake up and sit up, doing as much meditation as you can. Don’t look at the clock or set a timer, just go into it. I prefer mornings because I am still groggy and not overly-alert just which keeps me willing to close my eyes. Evenings are great too as the energy of the day is dwindling down and
I love meditating in the dark which ultimately you wouldn’t know by the pictures accompanying this blog.
2 Start slowly. Setting unrealistic expectations will burn you out fast and make the experience not pleasant nor sustainable. I actually get annoyed when people ‘prescribe’ appropriate times. It’s just not a one size fits all.
3 Don’t go it alone. No, this isn’t about finding an accountability partner. This is about not sitting in the dark by yourself. Start with a guided meditation, gentle music or simple breathing techniques, pranayama (need help finding the right now? Email me now: firstname.lastname@example.org). Make sure you have socks or a blanket, a cushion to support your bum and that your low back in comfortable. Looking for guided meditation to support you on your journey, check out the sattvayogachannel.com next month or download something on i-Tunes.
4 Don’t do it because ‘everyone else’ is doing it. Avoid fadism and, by the way, everyone is talking about doing it, but very few really are — just to keep it real. It is beneficial and it is good for you, and yes probably, you should be doing it, but it doesn’t mean that guilting yourself into the practice is the best avenue to find its value.
Now, if it were me, here is what I do.
I start meditating the moment I get up. That’s right, laying down in my bed under my covers. I don’t immediately ever pop my eyes open. Consciously as I awake, I acknowledge starting off in a meditative state.
No, that does not mean going back to sleep.
Then I start in with the breath, big deep breathing. I bring my awereness inward like catching it in a net floating underwater before the waves of vritti take over and float it far away. Then when ready, I sit up in bed or drop off to the side of my bed onto the floor. The rug is thick, I can take a blanket with me, and there’s back support.
Eyes still closed, movements minimal. I stay with the breath.
If things go well, I have about a half an hour, sometimes longer before my meditation is shaken by the demands of the day or my alert heat-seeking child noticing Mommy isn’t where she’s supposed to be.
Meditation doesn’t stop there, nor does the intentional breathing. In and out can seem tedious but it allows me to wake up in a healthy and balanced way. That is the walking meditation. I may add gentle rentention, come back to a dedication or a short prayer, but ultimately I just try to do my best and staying in a meditative state throughout the day as best as I humanely can.
Then night falls. Since the birth of my child, night times are tricky because she has wiped me out and wants a night time cuddle seldom going to bed autonomously. So back to laying on my back breathing in. But when I can, I enjoy lighting a candle or two then lights off.
I allow myself time to sit and reflect on my day, maybe have a warm cup of tea. Mainly, it is unrealistic for me just to sit down and get into “it”. I find that by giving myself the freedom to pass through my thoughts and feelings before starting, I can glide right into a deeper, better quality practice. I also like to invoke or say a prayer for gratitude; after all, I am alive and made it through another day.
In meditation, the take off can be bumpy, and there are pockets of turbulence. I am not sure anyone really tells you this as if you are just expected to magically perfect seated practice. But if you stay the course and do the simple work, at some point you reach YOUR proper cruising altitude and its like a soulful symphony of tranquility, harmony and peace attuning your frequency and creating a levity in your body and softness in your heart. Then the healing can begin.
I always encourage people who meditate to take meditation classes, and do them regularly. Oftentimes the teacher has new techniques, often times it helps nurture your ability to practice without being in your own defined environment. This is the start of being in meditation regardless of where you are or the situation.
Now a hungry lion isn’t going to break into your 6:00am Meditation class looking to feed but the sounds and sensations are different.
Most vitally, being in a sangha or community of practitioners over time can elevate your practice. Plus can can be there to support you when you are off and vice versa.
So give meditation a try. Your mind will thank you for it. Don’t forget to do the asana though which helps keep the body healthy and upright so the meditation can be done well.