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Meditation, an integral part of yoga

  • Why meditate?

  • How to meditate

  • Meditation, the essence of yoga

Why meditate?

Meditation is a an extremely effective way to connect with the deeper aspects of ourselves that are beyond thoughts and emotions, which constantly come and go taking us on a roller coaster ride along the way unless we pause, step back and look at what is behind them. By doing this we begin to see that we are not our thoughts or emotions, but an intelligence far beyond them. As human beings we have the unique ability to observe how we react to different situations and to notice what thoughts and emotions lead to certain outcomes. This awareness allows us to catch ourselves in the moment and respond to situations in new ways.

For example, you may have noticed a stream of thoughts running through your mind which I call ‘the list’. I experience ‘the list’ occurring as frustration builds up inside me and thoughts stack up one on top of the other such as, “Why does town have to be so busy today? I am so late! I am so tired! There aren’t any parks anywhere, it’s so hot!” I can feel my body filling with tension as ‘the list’ points out everything that is going wrong. And then I catch myself. I stop and listen to how ridiculous my thoughts are. I laugh at how melodramatic I am being, all the tension drops away and I can calmly continue my day.

This is a small example of how learning to observe your thoughts can shift your experience of a situation in a second. And the deeper you go into meditation practices, the more profound the internal and external changes become.

How to meditate?

In my experience meditation is not a process of forcibly stopping thoughts or images that incessantly flow through the mind like a river, but rather learning to observe them as if watching the river from its banks. With practice and time, the body and mind learn to relax into a calm and receptive state and spaces between thoughts naturally occur than may last 10 seconds to start with and build up to minutes or hours. It is within these spaces that deep rejuvenation of the bodies systems and profound experiences happen and true meditation occurs.

Simple meditation techniques

The incredible range of meditative techniques available remind me of the saying by the famous Sufi Rumi, “there are as many paths to god as there are souls on the earth”. Different techniques also work for different people at different stages in their life.

Below are a few simple techniques to get started. Each can be practiced for 2 to 10 minutes:

Observing sounds

Sit in a comfortable position, allow the body to settle and then begin to observe sounds. Listen to the essence of the sounds, rather than analysing them or thinking about what is creating them, simply observe.

As you listen notice the process of receiving sounds into your awareness, the object of the sound you are hearing and the part of you that is watching this process unfold. The ability to step back and observe in this way is the start of pratyahara, or sense withdrawal, an important process in developing the art of meditation.

Observing the breath

Sit in a comfortable seated position and observe the breath. Notice where it is flowing within the body, the sound it makes and how deep it is as it flows in and out of the belly.

Every time you find yourself carried away by a train of thought or reacting to an image that appears in the mind space, simply come back to observing the breath.

Observing the mind space, chidakasha

Bring your awareness to the space behind the closed eyes and forehead, known as the mind space of chidakasha. Allow any thoughts or images that arise within this space to come and go. Feel as though you are watching them from a distance like clouds passing through the sky. Observe all that comes and goes with a gentle detachment.

You could combine these three practices, starting by observing sounds, then the breath and finally anything that arises within the mind space.

Walking meditation

Choose a place for the walking meditation. Walking in nature or through a town first thing in the morning are good options. If possible walk barefoot.

Before you begin walking, tune into your breath and the environment around you. Feel your surroundings with all of your senses. Notice sounds, smells, colours and any breeze. Begin walking keeping the awareness of the senses and breath and fall into the role of the observer. Observe all that you pass through without analysing it or creating any stories.

If you find yourself becoming distracted and caught up with thoughts, come back to the breath, the sensation of the earth beneath the feet and the steady rhythm of the body walking.

Meditation – the essence of yoga

Traditionally meditation was the main practice associated with yoga. Postures and breathing techniques were developed to bring the body and mind into a state of health and balance to enable yogi to sit for long periods of time in meditation. And it was in these deep states that true yoga, or union, with a greater intelligence occurred and the path to enlightenment unfolded.

When yoga come from India to the west, the emphasis shifted almost entirely to postures, to the extent that is now rare to experience meditation in a yoga class rather than it being the norm. Postures and breathing techniques are amazing, incredible gifts, but they alone do not untangle deep seated knots, patterns and tensions within the mind that hold us back and keep us small. This happens in meditation. Give it a go and see what happens!

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