I want to be unshakeable.
When the earth is crumbling around me, I want to stand still — serene in a moment of chaos. I want to garner enough inner peace to withstand even the most tumultuous emotional tornado. I want to withstand opposites with ease and steadiness.
This is what a consistent yoga practice gives us. This unreal super power of peace.
After years of debilitating anxiety and fear this appeals to me so much more than being able to stand on my hands… As difficult as it can be to challenge your physical body — there’s nothing harder (in my opinion) then to stay calm when fear comes knocking. To stay truly at peace (from the deepest corners of my inner being) when I’m being confronted with all sorts of nonsense. This isn’t the same thing as staying calm during stress*** I’m talking about peace in the deepest-purest sense of the word.
I’ve only met a few people in my life where their unwavering peace radiates from their being. Their solid foundation in the face of stress was palpable and inspiring.
Have you ever met anyone like this?
I think that of all the things that yoga gifts us with — this ability to be our own rock — is the most valuable. The thing that will help us most in our lives. All the other stuff is great (I never said I didn’t want to stand on my hands), but it’s the whipped cream on top of a giant ice cream scoop that often gets overlooked.
This caption from one of my Instagram photos pretty much sums up why I meditate.
What is meditation?
First of all, it’s not as mysterious as it sounds. Meditating simply means you focus your mind on ONE thing. In my case (and I think in any beginner’s) it’s the breath. But there’s meditation practices you can do by staring at an open flame — where the flame is the ONE focus. There are moving meditations — which I haven’t entirely wrapped my head around (how can you focus on ONE thing while moving about in space?).
But it really is the simple act of focusing your attention on one thing.
That’s the simple answer.
Meditation is yoga. The two are one in the same. Yoga is so so so much more than postures aka Asanas. These came much much later in yogic tradition and are only a piece of the pie. Along with yoga, meditation has roots in other traditions as well — those that I’m unfamiliar with.
The ultimate goal of yoga is self transcendence. These words: self transcendence — they may sound intimidating, foreign or even woo-wooy (or is it just me?). But what they really mean is self-realization. It means to *really get to know yourself.
Question: How would you describe yourself?
Did you name your occupation? Perhaps your relationship with someone (sister, wife, mother etc.)? Perhaps you identify with the things that you own?
Yoga aims to help us answer this question of who we are by clearing out all the mush. My existence is not ‘traveller’ or ‘sister’ or what-have-you. And neither are you. Our daily experiences — good or bad — fog our ability to understand who we really are. And so yoga through various practices — meditation being one of them — helps us do just that.
“We are challenged to “clean up” our physical, moral, emotional, and intellectual behavior by “polishing the mirror of the mind.” — Georg Feuerstein; Yoga Philosophy & History
To be clear, I don’t think that this is a question any one of us will ever be able to answer with words. I don’t think we are a logical explanation. However, yoga (that includes meditation) helps us to understand the definition of who we are in a less rational and tangible sense and more of a ‘ahhhh I feel it’ kind of sense. Did I emphasis the ‘I’ part? I don’t quite know if yogic tradition says that it would ever help us to define exactly who we are in words. Maybe. I don’t know.
It’s like if you were constantly wearing dirty sunglasses and then decided to take some time to clean them. All of a sudden it’s SO much easier to see. And to see clearly. That jam packed train no longer looks like the dark and gloomy atrocity that it did yesterday. The work load on your desk no longer looks like a personal affront. Everything in your life — without having changed — all of a sudden simply is (minus all the rubbish).
Ok if all of that sounded like mumbo jumbo BS — perhaps I did a poor job describing it. I’m still trying to learn and integrate these teachings myself — but also maybe some clear science will help. There’s a ton of research out there for your viewing pleasure, but here’s a small snippet.
“The physiologic benefits of transcendental meditation do seem related to activating the parasympathetic and quieting the sympathetic nervous system. Medical studies have showed that individuals who practice transcendental meditation daily had lower blood levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. Transcendental meditation also led to lower respiration rates and heart rate and better blood flow to the brain, indicating less constriction of blood vessels.” – CALMING YOUR NERVES AND YOUR HEART THROUGH MEDITATION, Science in the News Harvard University Blog
But that’s not why I meditate.
I meditate because it makes my life better. Significantly. For some, it may only make it a wee bit better. There’s a book (that I have not read) by a famous reporter, Dan Harris, who had an on air panic attack a while ago. He started meditating and got his life back in order. And then wrote a book about meditation called 10% Happier — which I can only assume means his life got 10% better thanks to meditation.
I can honestly say, my life is more than just 10% happier when I meditate consistently. I feel at peace. Something I’ve never known in my life before meditation. The effects of meditation will vary from person to person. That makes sense. But I can’t imagine it not having some sort of positive impact. Especially from consistent practice. There’s a bunch of research and articles posted about the benefits — everything from reducing stress (duh) to helping to keep your telomeres nice and long.
But that’s not why I meditate.
I meditate because I want the kind of inner peace dreams are made of. My dreams. [Refer to initial passage]
So, how does one start meditating?
1. Find 3-5 minutes (every single day).
This is the first on the list for a reason. Because I think this is the most important part. If you want to meditate, you’re going to have to set time out specifically to do it — every single day. Just like anything else, it takes practice and consistency.
Start with just a few minutes — this shouldn’t be too hard to find, right? When I started, I did so with 5 minutes a day and felt the results almost immediately. Work your way up from there. Start small.
2. Find a guided meditation app.
If you’ve never meditated before, the easiest way to get started is to find some guidance. And you don’t have to look far. When I was first starting in college I used the app — Simply Being. There’s also Headspace – I think the most popular app at this point. They’re both paid (Simply Being is cheaper), but honestly worth it when you’re starting out. There’s likely a bunch of free stuff on youtube and my own yoga teacher has free audio guided meditations when you sign up for her newsletter here.
3. Find a comfortable seat.
If you can comfortably sit up (with a long spine — no slouching) without leaning against something, then do that. Cross your legs and sit up. It also helps to elevate your hips (so sit on a yoga block or a giant pillow). Place your palms either face down or up on your thigh or knees. Get comfy.
You can also sit against something. There’s definitely people who’ll say that’s not true, but like unless you’re trying to be a monk — just find some position that you’re comfortable with. The most important thing is to keep your spine long with it’s neutral curves and to stay still.
A note on a moving mind —
One of the fundamental tenets of yoga is that no effort is ever wasted. If you sat for one minute and your mind seemed as though it was racing all over the place, but you kept trying to bring your focus to your breath. This effort was not wasted. This minute was absolutely not wasted. Keep going. As with anything new, it will require time and patience to get ‘better’ at focusing on your breath. And if it seems that sitting for those 3 minutes was the hardest thing ever — you’re probably going to see the most changes in your life once you commit to consistent practice.
Of course practicing yoga asana (the posture practice that we’re all familiar with) in addition to meditation is stellar and will obviously bring more benefits, but if right now all you want to start with is meditation — I say go for it.
It barely takes any time and it gives you a big bang for your buck.
Have any questions? Holler at me in the comments.
If I can’t answer them, it’ll be a good opportunity for me to do some more research 🙂