Over the years, many of my clients have expressed interest and confusion as to what meditation is. Questions such as, "What happens if I don't have a meditation room?" "What if I can't meditate at the same time every day?" "What if I only have 10 minutes a day—does it still work?" And the most popular one: "My mind is so busy, I can't stop thinking."
These concerns are common and reading about conflicting information regarding meditation can enhance the confusion. I believe that one of the reasons for this conflicting information is based on the "why" one chooses to meditate. For many householders (people with worldly lives—work, mortgages, children, aging parents, and so on, as opposed to those who dedicate their lives to meditation), we want to meditate to calm the mind. But in traditional yoga practices, a calm mind is the tool for meditation; hence, when the mind is calm and clear, one can meditate.
Once we know our 'why' of meditation and are honest about our starting point, we can choose our technique and let it unfold from there. The following guidelines are for householders with a busy mind who want to begin a meditation practice to have a sound sleep, release tension, and maybe even increase levels of patience!
What is meditation (in a nutshell)?
In the world of yoga as I know it, meditation begins with the withdrawal of the senses. What this means is that we first become conscious of our senses. Then, instead of being led by them and continuously trying to please them, we start guiding them towards what we value, rather than what we crave. This stage of meditation is the recognition that 'we become what we ingest,' and that includes our food; our choice of media, such as articles, books, conversations; and so on. If untrained, the senses are like a puppy, always looking for the next distraction. And if we're not conscious of what we ingest, we limit our potential for mental clarity. In this context, to begin a meditation practice, we need to pay attention to what we ingest and choose wisely. The way we see it in the world of yoga, sensory impressions are food for the mind, and just as we can fill our body with junk food or whole foods, the same is true for the mind.
Integrating the first stage of meditation:
Enjoy daily moments of mental rest, such as not reading anything, not listening to the news or podcasts, not conversing, not surfing the net, and so on. As we become comfortable with this, we naturally increase the amount of time we do it on a daily basis.
Take the time to focus on a natural beauty, such as the sky, a tree, a river, the ocean, a plant, and so on.
Fill your mind with positive sensory impressions. Just as when we choose whole foods over junk foods, we can do the same with mental impressions. Put on some uplifting music that stimulates a positive mind or read material that expands our awareness, rather than creating fear and judgement. Have conversations where we speak about possibilities, solutions, and gratitude, rather than gossip, complaints, and worries.
The more we do these things, the calmer and clearer the mind will be, which means meditation will be more inviting. Once we have an awareness of what we take in through our senses, we can refine our relationship with them and start to zone them in. Instead of letting them lead in the external world, we begin to guide them externally and eventually internally. Simply put, our senses are designed to be an employee of our mind, not the CEO. We do this often without necessarily being conscious of it.
Think of being at a busy restaurant with someone you love. At one point, the noise around you disappears as all of your senses are offered to your friend. If we are at the same restaurant with someone we have little in common with, every sound and movement is an opportunity to look away. In meditation, our chosen object of concentration becomes that good friend we offer our senses to.
One of the most popular places to guide our senses is the breath, but this is not about controlling the breath. That would be like trying to control a tiger. It is more about feeling, looking, listening, tasting, and giving the breath space. If we can do this for even a few short minutes, we may experience a moment of concentration, which would eventually, if kept for an extended period, become an experience of meditation. So rather than thinking we are our thoughts and believing everything we think, just because we think it, we experience ourselves as the unattached curious observer of the thought. It's important to know that meditation can be experienced anytime and anywhere, not just in a formal seated situation.
7 Basic Tips:
1. Be aware of your senses and how you use them.
2. Sit with a tall spine, on a chair or cushion.
3. Close the eyes and notice how you don't need to create tension in the eyes to keep them steady. They can be at ease.
4. Offer your senses to your breath - notice, don't control.
5. Choose a point of concentration, like a mantra such as aham shanti (peace is my true nature. The "a" sounds are the "a" of father, not the "a" of and) and repeat this over and over again. The moment you are conscious you are thinking rather than repeating the mantra notice it and go back to your chosen point of concentration.
6. Choose an amount of time that is realistic for you and gradually allow it to increase.
7. If you have a busy life and no meditation room and you create the illusion that meditation is only possible when everything is in order, you will be thinking about meditation more often than actually practicing and experiencing it. Make it happen in the reality of your world. I speak from experience when I say the more we make it a priority, the more our life unfolds to support the practice, but we must begin where we are.
And, at the risk of sounding like a salesperson, take a workshop or class. Go on a retreat, or even better, meet privately with a teacher and learn the best approach for you. The world wide web has a lot to offer, but learning from a live teacher brings lasting results.
Sylvie Gouin is a holistic lifestyle specialist and author who focuses on Yoga, Ayurveda, Astrology, and Reiki. She offers private consultations, group classes, workshops, and certification programs live in Ottawa and online for people all across the globe. For more information go to Inspired Living with Sylvie!