The topic of the day is meditation! Not that I have it all figured out (I’ve only scratched the surface!) but I would like talk to you about my experience and my progress.
Before we get to it, allow me to get off topic for a moment (if you’ve ever been in my class, you know how much I love to digress!). The western interpretation of yoga leads people to believe that it’s a purely physical practice and all the other implications of yoga often fall by the wayside. That’s why I’m using these few lines to tell you about the 8 limbs of yoga, according to Patanjali ( Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra):
- Yama: universal rules of life or moral disciplines (non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing…)
- Nyama: personal discipline or observances (cleanliness, contentment, discipline, self-study, devotion)
- Asana: postures, physical practice
- Pranayama: control of the breath
- Pratiahara: sense withdrawal (turning inward)
- Dharana: focused concentration (steady attention), removing of the fluctuations of the mind
- Dyana: meditative absorption (deep concentration, inward absorption, no mental activity)
- Sahmadi: bliss, enlightenment, realisation, where the individual conscience merges with the universal conscience
I see these 8 limbs as both components of yoga and milestones on a long journey of soul-searching. Its destination is the sense of achievement we’re all after.
The combination of the last 3 limbs (dharana-dyana-sahmadi) is called Samyama, which is the state in which you train your mind to focus on the ‘pure truth’, separate from the body. I believe that’s the meaning of the word meditation as we use it today.
Anyway, I’m just trying to say that yoga represents a much broader concept than what we see on the surface and that meditation is an essential part of it. Now, back to the topic of the day!
So I started yoga with the asanas. For a long time, I focused my yoga practice on that aspect before I started looking at everything else. I made first contact with meditation just a few years ago, well after I started practicing yoga. I was under the impression that in order to meditate ‘well’, I had to think about nothing. Then, the more I tried to think about nothing, the more my brain would go into overdrive. I was frustrated, unable to ‘clear my head’. I eventually stopped because I thought that it wasn’t for me, that I would never succeed. Clearly, it didn’t find the peace and quiet that it was supposed to provide me, and I would end up even more annoyed afterwards!
So for many years I focused on the rest, my physical practice grew more intense, yoga became a lifestyle. A lot has changed: my daily habits, the way I see certain things and interact with people.
Besides, I read up on a number of topics that became more and more interesting to me: yoga, the way the human body and mind work, naturopathy, well-being and personal development… until somebody suggested I read Thich Nhat Hanh‘s ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’.
And what a joy! When I closed that book, all I wanted to do was sit down, close my eyes and meditate. Meditate, meditate, meditate! That word had always been so scary to me, but it suddenly became simple and accessible.
So I went back to the basics, as a very beginner in meditation. I started with 5-6-minute sessions and then I worked my way up. And I tried different techniques, here are some examples:
- Concentration on the breath
- Repetition of a word or a sentence (mantra)
- Gazing at something like a flame or a cristal for example (Yantra)
- Visualisation (like for example imagining myself as a stone sinking down slowly to the bottom of a lake or a big space filling up with air and emptying out)
I also tried the Petit Bamboo app which is all the rage these days. It’s well thought-out and it can be a valuable tool to begin meditating. That being said, I find it hard to meditate with a voice guiding me. So I’m not a big fan of the guided meditations of the app (that’s completely personal of course). But the timer features with the gongs are awesome!
Now I have identified what clearly helps me meditate:
- I Ritualize my practice with crystals, palo santo, the moon phases etc. My little ritual makes me more willing to meditate.
- I set a timer (with a low-volume beep at the end for a smooth transition, like the Petit Bamboo feature for example) to have a clear mind throughout your session.
- I don’t set meditation goals, I go with the flow. However, it can be beneficial to get into your practice with an intention (an emotion, an event or a feeling that you want to focus on)
- I start by focusing on the breath to get into the practice and then just go with the flow
Currently, I feel that meditation plays a specific role every day:
- I sleep better and I feel more energetic the next day when I practice before bed
- I feel more focused, less distracted, more focused and I get more done
- I feel calmer and less overwhelmed in when things are rushed, stressful or exhausting
- I am more open to whatever comes my way, good or bad
Anyway, I’ll conclude by saying I don’t have a set of “meditation instructions” for you, but I strongly encourage you give it a try, start practicing and just explore what best suits you, what you love. I am sure only good things will come.
And I’ll leave you with this quote:
« Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed. »
— Saint François de Sales