Meditation is something that has shed true light on my life and yoga practice. I am not being dramatic when I say it has completely changed the way I sit, sleep, drink, eat, read, speak, listen, move, breathe, teach, and live. I now view meditation as an essential part of any meaningful yoga practice. But I won’t lie, it can be a pretty hard practice to break in to. There are still times it feels impossible to me, but hey, that’s the practice!
I’m going to share a few beginner meditation tips that helped me kick start my practice, which now feels completely natural (like 85% of the time 😉 ).
- Work your way up. Meditation is the 7th limb on the 8 limb path of yoga and while the limbs don’t have to be practiced in order, it took me years of work on the others before I found meditation. Especially helpful in my case were Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) and Dharana (concentration). A common practice to find a meditative state is the candle meditation or candle gazing. Light a candle, stare into the flame, engage fully on just the flame, eventually the flame becomes all you see and feels a part of you and you a part of it. This will help with concentration as well as sense withdrawal as concentrating on just one thing blurs out the rest.
- Sit in a way that WORKS. We all know the beautiful pictures of awesome, strong yogis sitting in meditation with upright spines, perfect lotus legs, usually shiny heads and light colored robes. Oh to be them. But we’re not. Be realistic with your seat. What is actually functional, comfortable, and maintainable? Seats look different in different bodies but the actual seat hardly matters compared to the spine. Shoulders over the hips, shoulders melting away from the ears, ribs lifted, tailbone rooting down, crown of head rising up. The upright spine is a must – so if sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the ground makes it extremely difficult to keep your spine upright, you need a new seat. Try elevating the hips on a bolster, blanket, or cushion. You can even sit in a chair or support your spine with the wall. You can strengthen the spine and work up to the unsupported meditation but start with your tall and beautiful spine, pulling in opposing directions. Don’t let discomfort be your distraction.
- Guide yourself away from the guided stuff….touchy topic alert. Guided meditations are great and very popular these days. Which is great. But for myself, I found that after a while, the guided meditations hurt my meditation practice. I was uncomfortable sitting in silence and missed the leader. When I started to shy away from the guided meditations, got comfortable with the quiet and trusted myself, I found things the guided meditation couldn’t show me. Just a thought. I still treat myself to guided meditations – especially at night
- Try Mantra & Mala. When I began walking away from guided meditation, I still felt a little lost when thinking about just sitting in silence. I used mantra and a Mala to meditate, a really special practice! A mantra is a word or phrase – it can be anything you want, traditional or completely your own! A good practice that incorporates breath is using inhales and exhales to repeat your mantra. Example for the mantra So Hum (loosely translates to I am): As you inhale, think/say So. As you exhale, think/say Hum. You can also use a Mala with your mantra. A Mala is a necklace with 108 beads. You work your way around the Mala, breathing or repeating the mantra to yourself or out loud. Here’s a link to read more and see how to use your Mala.
- Take your time increasing the time. So you read somewhere you’re supposed to meditate 20 minutes…you try…you fail…you decide you cannot meditate. It’s ok! Yes, longer meditations are nice and they feel more beneficial to me. That’s just something to look forward to. But on my journey, it took a lot of time to extend my meditative state. I began with 5 minute increments. In my experience it started to get easier slowly. 5 minutes here, 7 minutes here, 15 minutes here, back down to 10 minutes here, and so on. Don’t let time be a major constraint or goal in your practice but do increase the time as you go. If you use a timer, set it one or two minutes longer than you have in the past and see what happens.
- Let go of guilt. If you are like me, you can be a little hard on yourself sometimes. I am very self-disciplined…which is me romanticizing my perfectionist habits. When I first decided I wanted to meditate every day, I would be devastated if I missed a day. Big mistake. Do not be hard on yourself if the time gets away from you or if the situation changed. Meditation is not a chore. You’re not ‘cheating’ yourself or anyone else by missing a session. It’s about being in the moment – not worrying! Be adaptable and let the time come and go. Otherwise, you might miss the whole point!
- Make it your own. No description needed for this one – meditation looks different for every human being. Do what feels right and leave the rest.
Enjoy your meditation journey – take it one step at a time! Namaste!