Starting a meditation practice can be more daunting than starting a physical yoga practice. If you have been practicing yoga for a while you probably know that there are eight limbs to this way of life. Asana is one, dhyana is another. Asana, or what we in the Western world refer to as just “yoga”, is designed for our busy minds and bodies. By moving with the breath, sweating, focusing and working hard to put our bodies in different positions we are forced to become present. When you’re practicing Astavakrasana, staying focused is not very difficult! But meditation? Sitting down, closing your eyes and spending just a few minutes alone with yourself? Terrifying.
I want to share with you today a very important part of my practice; meditation. The physical practice of yoga was founded thousands of years ago to prepare the body for meditation. Have you ever tried sitting in stillness for a full hour? Physically, it’s extremely demanding, With a tight, tense body the hips and lower back will start to bother you in no time, and it’s distracting. Asana practice sprouted as a way to prepare our bodies for sitting in silence. The asana itself is not the goal. Becoming flexible is not the goal. Doing handstands is not the goal. Peace is the goal! Balance. Learning how to truly be at peace with yourself.
The exercise below is everything but terrifying. It’s very simple, and only requires five minutes of your time. Practicing meditation orks the same way as practicing yoga in that we need to practice. Remember your first downward facing dog, and how difficult it was? Your first vinyasa? Sitting in silence works the same way. It will be difficult at first, but the more you practice, the easier it gets and practicing meditation can transform your life way beyond the body. Meditation helps create space between you and the life situations you find yourself in. Meditation brings calm. Focus. Wisdom. You’ll never know where your meditation practice will take you before you start, and the key is consistency. Give it five minutes a day, either right after you wake up in the morning or right before you go to bed.
Find a quiet place to sit with no disturbance. Place a small pillow or a folded blanket beneath your sit bones – the most comfortable space to sit is when the creases of your hips are slightly higher than your knees. Set a timer for five minutes – having a set time frame helps your mind settle. Let your hands rest onto the knees, palms down. Lengthen your spine and draw the shoulders down your back. Now, close your eyes.
Focus on the flow of the natural pace of your breath. Notice the gentle expansion and contraction of the low belly. Feel the flow of air through your nostrils and the subtle changes of the body with every breath. Start directing your awareness to the small space you have between the two sides of the breath; the pause between the inhale and the exhale, and the gap between the exhale and the inhale. Stay very, very present with your breath. When thoughts arise, don’t judge. Allow them to be there without resistance, but don’t identify yourself with what comes and goes through your head. Be the watcher of your thoughts. See if you can, through conscious awareness of the breath, create more space in between each thought. Stay here. Breathe. Be present. When your five minutes are up, bring your hands together at the center of your heart and extend gratitude to everyone and everything you have to be grateful for in life. Repeat to yourself the holiest of all mantras: thank you, thank you, thank you. Open your eyes and turn the corners of your mouth into a smile.
Set aside time every day to do this! Gradually increase the time you sit in silence until you’re comfortable meditating for 20 minutes each day.
You might be interested in this: The Art of Savasana – Yoga Nidra Workshop with Pam Chang