Much of our daily life is spent in our heads, focused on what we’re thinking rather than on what we’re feeling. With all the demands of work and home we’re often required to stay one mental step ahead just to get through the day. The problem is, when we navigate through life led by our thoughts alone, we miss out on a world of information available to us through our bodies and spirits.
The ancient practice of meditation is as integral to yoga as the poses are, and they have the same intention: not to tune out, but to tune in to a frequency long forgotten, or perhaps undiscovered. To meditate is to become acutely aware of what’s going on within you; it’s about learning to tame your mind so that you can focus all your energy and awareness on the task at hand. The practice of meditation helps you stay centered regardless of your circumstances. It doesn’t teach you to avoid pain or discomfort but to experience and accept it so you can move through any situation with profound clarity and a sense of inner peace and calm. Meditation is a wonderful way to tap into your internal knowingness and stay in touch with your eternal essence.
Meditation at first can be awkward and unfamiliar. It might be eye-opening to discover you are controlled by incessant thoughts, and it might be frustrating to realize that many of them are unnecessary and perhaps even based in misperception or falsehood. Sitting in silence, you might realize how many common distractions compete for your attention, including doubt, sleepiness, and restlessness. Rather than using up even more energy in fighting these hindrances, you eventually realize it’s far easier to acknowledge them and release them. Distractions will never let up, but you can teach yourself to let them go. In fact, an awareness of your thought life and distractions is the first step toward developing a successful meditation practice that will improve your physical and mental well-being.
When you refine your ability to slip into a state of awareness and being, you can bring this focus into other areas of your life. No matter what’s happening in your immediate environment, you can step back and respond rather than react. Whether it’s an athletic competition, work, a difficult conversation, or a game you’re playing, you will enjoy what you’re doing much more, and perhaps even do it much better.
So give yourself permission to be a beginner, and know that with practice your ability to concentrate will improve. Eventually, you’ll find that during meditation you might slip between thoughts, or you might discover yourself unaware of any thoughts at all. In this place, you might not only lose track of what you hear around you but discover you’ve lost all sense of time. With practice, you’ll find that you can meditate in a noisy airport or on a busy street corner without becoming distracted.
You are not seeking to find anything through the practice of meditation. Rather, it is through meditation that you are found. It’s a mistake to think that through meditation you are trying to become somebody else. The true intent of yoga and meditation is to become the best possible version of yourself.
Because practicing meditation helps you to slow your breath, quiet your mind, and find peace, it can be beneficial physically, mentally, and emotionally. Meditation is now commonly used to treat mental health disorders, addiction, and everyday stress, as well as to heal physical ailments and promote better sleep.
- Stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, or the branch of your peripheral nervous system that helps your body return to a calm, relaxed state after the threat of danger, or even daily stress, has passed. When this branch is activated, your body can naturally rejuvenate, repair, and rebuild itself.
- Clears your mind for better quality sleep.
- Improves athletic performance by refining your ability to focus on a goal or situation (another term for meditation used in this way is visualization).
- Slows your respiration for longer, deeper breaths.
- Boosts your immune system by slowing the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Reduces anxiety and depression by enabling your body to balance its own neurochemical system.
- Allows you to make better decisions and improve critical thinking.
- Breaks unhealthy habits by helping you detach emotions associated with an action from the action itself.
- Improves communication with yourself. When you better understand your thought processes, you have more control over what you think.
- Helps you stay in the present moment. When you let go of the past and the future, you live 100 percent in the now, which affects all aspects of your life and relationships.
There are many different meditation traditions and techniques. Westerners, accustomed to fast-paced living and constant information exchange, often benefit more from active meditation techniques. Active meditation involves focusing your thoughts and awareness on a particular thought, idea, visualization, or concept. Choosing to focus on something positive can help you rid your mind of negative thoughts and emotions and other clutter. Whatever your meditation practice looks like, be sure to embrace the essence of YogaFit: Let go of all judgment of your experience.
Here are some steps to help you establish a personal active meditation practice:
1. Commit to meditating at least 10 minutes every day (more, if possible). Set an alarm so you don’t have to keep an eye on the clock. To help make your meditation practice a habit, practice at the same time each day, or establish a routine, such as meditating immediately after your YogaFit session. Finally, if you have room, establish a special place to sit and meditate at home. Place a chair in a corner near a favorite window, or surround a cushion with your favorite candles-try to create your own sacred space. Knowing you have somewhere you love to go will help you get there.
2. Whether you’re in a chair, on a cushion, or on the floor, sit comfortably with your spine straight. If you’re not comfortable, you’ll be distracted. If you’re practicing before or after your YogaFit workout, roll up your mat and sit on it; elevating your hips eases tension in your hips and hamstrings and improves circulation to your legs.
3. Use the Relaxation breath technique. Sitting upright with a neutral spine, relax your abdomen and breathe quietly without forcing your exhalations. Take the same amount of time for your inhale and your exhale, consciously beginning your inhale just as your exhale ends. Your abdominal
muscles must not be constrained by tension or clothing; you must be completely free to move.
4. Select one of the following techniques. If the technique you choose doesn’t work, let it go and try another.
- Choose a mantra (word or phrase), thought, or feeling on which to meditate. Repeat your mantra over and over in rhythm with your breath. If your first choice leads to negative thoughts or feelings, let it go and choose something else. For example, a common mantra is "om" (pronounced Aaaaaah Ooooo Mmmmmm), which represents the root of all sounds that are ever-present as vibrations in your body.
- Visualize an object or place in which you find peace, such as a lotus blossom or a quiet beach.
- If preparing for a performance or competition, visualize yourself succeeding; use all your senses as you mentally act out the scenario.
- Use a guided meditation. Many such meditations are available on CD. Relax and fully listen to each word.
- Use an affirmation card with a phrase that inspires or strengthens you. Many books and box sets with positive affirmations are available. Or you can make your own.
- Focus on a small, meaningful object held in your hand or placed in front you.
5. After meditating, reflect on the experience in a journal. For example, write down any techniques you tried and what you experienced practicing them. What were your thoughts and feelings before, during, and after meditating? Also note if you made any headway toward working out questions or situations you’ve struggled to resolve. Finally, keep track of the benefits you notice from incorporating meditation into your yoga practice. These will become incentives to continue.
How do you know if you’re meditating successfully? People describe their meditative states in a wide variety of ways. Some see a single source of light, some see themselves from a distance, and others see images or even sense colors. Some people see or feel nothing they can express in words. Some experience a wonderful state of beingness, an inner glow of warmth and peace. All these experiences indicate a successful meditation session. Just as there’s no best version of a yoga pose, there’s no one best way to meditate.
As you explore the meditation techniques described in this chapter, remember that every day is different and every session is different; you’re constantly faced with new struggles and challenges. Yet your inner truths remain the same; you need only to look within. Whatever your meditation looks or feels like, remember to embrace the essence of YogaFit and let go of all expectations.