If you have ever sat through a yoga meditation feeling like a fraud, inwardly confused, trying not to laugh, or bored beyond words, you are not alone. In a culture that rejects stillness and worships a level of busyness only possible with help from caffeine, this is to be expected. Our initial Western confrontations with meditation often bear the hallmarks of discomfort; meditation feels wholly other to us because it is and, though we may have learned to survive stress and anxiety, we do not naturally seek the rejuvenating stillness that we so desperately need. Instead, we crave and run from stillness in equal parts. We crave it in moments where life rushes past in endless waves of family and work and responsibility. We run from it when we are lonely, when the house is quiet at night or when fears and anxieties are running through our brains. We turn on Netflix, rant to a friend, or swipe right on tinder. We chase it and prevent it simultaneously, without understanding its true necessity and simplicity.
In yoga, this conflict looks like impatience and we all experience it. We may hit a wall that we can't seem to break through—never emerging into that headstand we're dreaming of or bemoaning tightly bound hamstrings that make the splits an exercise in torture. We may decide that our balance and strength are behind schedule! We can't seem to find the focus, the softening, the release of tension that comes from being fully committed to each posture. And as we practice, it's not just that the day is flooding into our minds, it's that we can't even begin to slow the hurricane of activity. Enter meditation. While we are taught to develop self-control and mature outwardly, most of us were never trained for the mental and emotional gymnastics that life requires of us. Yoga is no different (except the gymnastics really happen).
Meditation cultivates an inner stillness and vitality by aligning the mind and body. In a SATTVA yoga class, we experience this unification when our complete mental and physical energies are focused into a single action. This means that in each movement we make, moving our minds is half the job. That wall you have hit in your practice cannot simply be torn down with more effort—the mind must be allowed to do its work. Since our minds convert mental/emotional stress into the physical body as tension in our muscles, the mind must also play a role in unwinding of the tissues. As we push through postures, our body carries memory of how far it will push and how to hold itself tightly for protection. By recognizing the studio as a safe and vulnerable place, we can allow our minds to rest and access new space that has simply been held back.
In yoga, this process begins with setting an intention. Simply put, your intention is the place where you will direct your complete focus. To connect with an intention, I ask myself the simple question, "What do I need today?" and observe what floats into my mind. The best intentions will carry that ring of truth and I'll feel a small emotional response when I get it right. In my practice a frequent intention is the word "kindness". During a class, I guide my actions and thoughts in an orbit around that word, seeing every pose and thought as an opportunity to be kind to myself. The thoughts and actions that do not align with this word are discarded, leaving a clarity we rarely experience in 21st century life. This part of yoga is so easy for the beginner to miss, perceiving the practice to be divided between mind and body when, in fact, the two are inseparable. Physicality and consciousness work in harmony in all aspects of the practice: the asana (posture) acts as a moving meditation and cleanse, preparing the mind for a meditation of stillness.
As we learn to access our minds through the movement of the asanas, we can still struggle with seated meditation. Intentions and movement are easier to understand because most of us have been conditioned to perceive busyness as a virtue. Sitting still, on the other hand, is not as accepted in our cult of hurry; however, it is in this stillness that we tap into an essential self. In a quiet place within, we can observe our entire being, freeing ourselves from the tension and emotional burdens that our minds and bodies carry. As thoughts break across your consciousness, you will learn to release them one by one. Such thoughts are small reflections of our lives and by observing what arises, we can locate areas of stress, negative thought patterns, and emotional inconsistency. Your job then becomes to kindly observe each wisp of thought and release it. This letting go is a beautiful opportunity to experience your authentic self without the weight of outside pressures and expectations. As your meditation practice strengthens, less will float up to the surface. You will come to a place where the holding of those physical memories has been released through the conscious mind, arriving in a space with fewer distractions. Finally, as we exit meditation, we carry forward the tools we have cultivated, gaining the ability to release the excess that is not contributing to our lives.
By frequently practicing meditation, we become more in touch with our bodies and minds, more aware of what is essential in our lives, and we gain healthy mental practices that allow us to turn down the white noise of life. Becoming more observant is a powerful thing. It makes us better listeners, better friends, and better artists. It allows us to recognize good things in the face of stress. It also allows us to question what is necessary for us to experience joy. The balance that results from strengthening both mental and physical bodies equally is the driving force behind a life lived in balance, where each of us is equipped to cope with adversity and accept our whole selves.
Tips to Improve Your Meditation Experience:
Check in with yourself before class to see where your head is at. What is racing through your mind? Where are you holding tension in your body? By identifying some of these things before you begin your practice, you can be purposeful with your intention.
Come early, take a little time on your mat, and breathe out all the obvious tension that you came in with.
Apply your meditation experience to the rest of your life. Do you run? Have a desk job? A complicated family? Practice the act of letting go throughout each day.
Practice guided meditation. Through sattvayogaonline.tv, you can access guided meditation courses (and all of SATTVA's video sequences) for $10/month. Beginning with guided meditation will help you maintain your focus and build a strong foundation. Or check out Science of Self - SATTVA Yoga's meditation companion that comes with a handy app so you can take your meditation practice with you wherever you go.
Join a meditation group where you can leverage the collective energy and strength of a room full of people. Every Wednesday Rameen hosts a FREE satsang and meditation class at the SATTVA School: 7:30pm to 8:45pm.
Commit to going deeper through one of SATTVA's upcoming meditation courses and strenghten technique so that you can methodically develop your meditation practice. Meditation Orientation is a 50 hour meditation course that begins this month! For more information, visit the SATTVA website: http://orientationmeditation.com.
Our experiences in the studio reflect our broader lives; a general lack of mental discipline will have ripples into our practice that we must respond to. I sincerely hope that you will chance dipping your toes into this vital part of yoga. The stillness is yours for the taking.
HOLLY DE MOSSAIC