It’s no secret that I think meditation is an important, and awesome, part of a Yoga practice. I’m frequently asked some similar questions about meditation, so here’s a short list of frequently asked questions and my answers.
Why should I meditate?
Even when we are asleep our mind is not fully relaxed and at peace. Meditation allows us to fully rest our mind. As well as fully resting our mind (and maybe as a result of this) there are numerous benefits to be obtained from meditation. Some of them include:
- Confidence and self control
- Improved concentration
- Inner certainty
- Ability to focus and work efficiently
- Ability to let go of negative emotions such as anger and paranoia
- Greater enjoyment of the physical
- Better personal relationships
- Improved health
When should I meditate?
You can meditate whenever feels appropriate for you. An early morning practice may allow you to feel the benefits of meditation throughout your day. An evening practice, may allow you to feel the benefits of meditation while you sleep.
Where should I meditate?
You should find a place that is reasonably quiet, feels safe and where you are likely to be uninterrupted. It is usually best to meditate in a seated position. This can be on the floor or in a chair. If on the floor, you may want to sit on a bolster or cushion to lift your hips and help to keep your spine straight. If sitting in a chair, make sure that your back is straight and your feet are touching the floor. It is usually not recommended to meditate when lying down because it is too likely that you will fall asleep (at least that’s my experience :) ).
For how long should I meditate?
To begin with, try to sit in meditation for 10 to 15 minutes a few times per week. After you feel comfortable with meditating feel free to increase the amount of time and frequency, if you wish.
Those are the questions that I’m asked most frequently, but maybe you have some others?
Trataka is the practice of staring at an external object, so it’s no surprise that the Sanskrit word Trataka translates into English as, “to look” or “to gaze”. It is used in Yoga as a way of developing concentration and mindfulness, and is said to stimulate and balance the Ajna chakra. So, if you’re feeling unfocused and have that “out of it” feeling, give Trataka meditation a try!
The symbol most commonly used is a candle flame, because even after the eyes are closed, the impression remains naturally for some time.
In the practice of trataka an object is gazed at until its subtle form manifests in front of the closed eyes. The point of concentration is usually a symbol or object which activates the inner potential and can absorb the mind. The symbol most commonly used is a candle flame, because even after the eyes are closed, the impression remains naturally for some time. I’ve also used other objects, such as a flower, a photograph, or anything else that is significant to you. The purpose of focusing the eyes on an external object is to arouse the internal vision and make it absolutely steady by stopping the eye movements.
- Light a candle and place it directly in front of you (at eye level is best).
- Begin in a comfortable seated position with your eyes closed.
- Spend a few minutes calming and connecting your body and breath.
- Open your eyes and gaze at the candle flame for a couple of minutes.
- Close your eyes and internally gaze up at the image of the flame that is now positioned at the Ajna chakra (third eye).
- Sit with this image and your breath.
- If you lose the image and want to refresh it, simply open your eyes again for a minute and then close them to return to meditation.
- Before opening your eyes, rub the palms of your hands together to warm and energize them. Place them over your eyes.
- Remove your hands from your face and slowly open your eyes.
Do you feel less scattered and more focused? I’d love to hear your comments!
If you’ve ever been to a Yoga class taught in the Vinyasa style, you’ve probably experienced the beautiful flowing sequence called Surya Namaskar. The awesome image below, from the Alva Yoga website, is one version of Surya Namaskar. Surya translates from Sanskrit to English as “Sun” and Namaskar translates as “salutation”. There are a lot of variations of this sequence, but I think the most important thing is the energy that it creates when it is practiced with intention.
To practice a true “Salute to the Sun”, flow through your version of the sequence, close your eyes and visualize the beautiful glow of energy created by the Sun. Let it warm you from the inside out, increase your gratitude for life and remind you of the connection that you have to something much larger than your individual self – the Divine, the planet Earth, and, of course, the Sun!
Meditation is one of the most profound things that I know. There are a lot of different meditation techniques, for a variety of needs and situations. I often have students tell me that one of the hardest things for them to do is to meditate, and even if they make the time to do it, they are unsure what to do. I’ve often found that visualization meditations combined with breathing techniques give us something to focus on, a path to follow, and before you know it you’re meditating! The following is a meditation aimed at letting go of that which no longer serves you. Try it!
After you’ve settled yourself comfortably, close your eyes and begin to lengthen and deepen your breath. Bring your focus to your breath – listen to the sound of your breath and notice the small movements that your body makes as you inhale and exhale. Begin to inhale and exhale only through your right nostril (it doesn’t matter if you’re really breathing through both, just try to visualize the breath moving only in and out of the right). As you exhale, visualize the air that is being released as a dark red color that contains any physical aches, pains, discomfort and tension that you might be experiencing in your body. Do this for however many breaths feels appropriate. Now start to inhale and exhale through the left nostril. As you exhale, visualize the air that is being released as a blue-grey color that contains any stress, anger, attachment to outcomes and other mental obstacles that you might be experiencing. Continue for as long as feels right for you. Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, visualize the air being exhaled as a dark purple color filled with anything else that is impeding your progress in life. With the feeling of having let go of anything that no longer serves you, begin inhaling and exhaling through the nose, visualizing the air being inhaled as a bright, beautiful color of your choice. On each inhale feel your body being filled with a pure, bright, joyful light. Sit with and enjoy this sensation for as long you like.
Kirtan is a group style of call-and-response chanting. It is a very simple and powerful way to clear your mind and connect yourself to the universal energy. If you have trouble meditating, you could try this as another technique to calm the “monkey mind”. Being part of a group allows you to let go of your fear of singing (if you have one!) and just sit in the vibrations caused by all the voices. The person leading the kirtan will normally choose a Sanskrit mantra to chant, such as Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu (translation: May all living beings be happy and free and may the thoughts and actions of my own life contribute in some small way to the happiness and freedom for all). A beautiful mantra on which to meditate during a kirtan.
Many Yoga teachers will give a Dharma talk at the beginning of class, hoping to enrich your practice by providing some insight into the history and philosophy behind the Yoga tradition, and how this can relate to your day-to-day life. The posts in my blog aim to do a similar thing. Just remember that a Dharma talk is not meant to be insight in and of itself. It is a means of presenting insight, using words and concepts. After a dharma talk we should feel lighter, not heavier. Don’t try to dissect all the words and notions that are presented to you, but simply let the concepts wash over you and see what feelings and thoughts awaken. The Buddha said many times, “My teaching is like a finger pointing to the moon. Do not mistake the finger for the moon.”
We are often told in Yoga that it is important to be mindful, especially if we are learning to meditate, but what is mindfulness? Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book “The Miracle of Mindfulness”, explains it best with a simple anecdote about washing the dishes. He says that there are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to get clean dishes. The second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes. This is mindfulness. Profound? Maybe. But, as Thich Nhat Hanh explains, if the whole time we are washing the dishes we are thinking about the cup of tea that we’re going to have when we finish the dishes, we are not really present or alive during the time that we are washing the dishes. And, if we can’t really “wash the dishes” then we probably won’t be able to really drink or enjoy our cup of tea because we’ll be thinking about the next thing that we’re going to do after that. Without mindfulness this cycle of always looking forward to the future makes us incapable of really living or enjoying any moment of our life. Practicing mindfulness brings us back to the present, and allows us to really experience each moment. So, the next time you find yourself at the sink, practice some mindfulness and try to really “wash the dishes to wash the dishes”.