“Thoughts and feelings are like the sun, moon, wind and rain. They come and go. Don’t try to hold them, catch them, or even tell them to go away. Just be. Focus on the experience of every inhale, the release you feel with every exhale.” WYyoga teacher preparing students for practice
The ANZA WanderingYogis practice meditation when they practice yoga. I don’t tell them it is meditation. I am hoping that they will be curious one day to find out more, though.
Meditation has many faces. Not all of them require you sitting yogi like, eyes shut, getting pins and needles up and down your legs for what seems an eternity, but is usually about 10 minutes. Or chanting with the smell of jasmine incense (which can be rather cool) surrounding you.
The pace at which we live means we rarely take time to restore and nourish our mind and body. We continually ‘fire up’ – and ‘burn out’ is the end result. The rise and rise of retreats (which if you need advice read my article) is the personal attempt by many to counterbalance. But unless you take it home with you, it is like using Bach Flower Remedies instead of changing our diet. Works as emergency repair, but is still not your operating system, yes?
Some stories to illustrate our need to develop an ‘operating system’ to live in this crazy world of ours – I participate in a meditation community which follows the Zen tradition of buddhism (not the only meditation community I belong to, either BTW). In this community, there is a retreat in north Thailand, which has a meditation hall which can house about 200 people with mats, easy. It is on a dirt track near a national park. They are now getting buses (Greyhound buses) arriving on a weekly basis at their temple doorstep, fully packed with people ready to spend a week in silent retreat, meditating. And then off they go, back to their busy work, and stress.
I also participate in silent retreats, usually twice a year (my reset button for the technology driven life I, and most of us, now lead). At one retreat, which was 5 days long, people were not allowed to read, write, play music, and of course speak. A couple left, having had an argument (verbal) in the middle of the dining room hall on Day 2. An explosion resulting from the inability to let off daily steam in a relationship that was clearly at stretch.
When I tell people that I meditate regularly, i.e., nearly every day for about 30 minutes, I hear you telling me, ‘I would love to do meditation, I just can’t seem to find the time’.
One media research firm has calculated the average minutes spent per day on social media as follows: YouTube (40 minutes), Facebook (35), Snapchat (25), Instagram (15) and Twitter (one). Really, you can’t find the time?
We all know that meditation has incredible health and mental benefits. And yet, we continue to avoid making the small but significant change to include this in our life.
What’s stopping us?
I think there are three major meditation myths which hinder our start (the Chopra Centre thinks there are 7). With some tips to help integrate meditation into your life.
Myth 1 True meditation is every day, twice a day, for at least an hour
If a yogi tells you they meditate for at least an hour each day, I will bet my favourite mala beads they are telling a lie (shock! a yogi lies?). They might sometimes, but not every day. You would definitely meditate this long at least every day on retreat. The only people I know who ‘truly’ meditate every day are monks, and they do it under supervision (otherwise I reckon they wouldn’t either).
There is a minimum time, mainly based on how long it takes for our monkey mind to settle down. It is a truly stupendously, stubborn monkey, but about 15 minutes usually does it.
Truth is: I meditate mostly every day (like about 95% of the year), in all conditions and under all circumstances. BUT my length of practice depends on that monkey mind. Some days, it is so easy for an hour to go by, other days, I know I am going to struggle to hit the 20 minute mark. I have been meditating for 30 years.
Tip No. 1: Start with baby steps
Begin your meditation practice by aiming for 10 – 12 minutes each time, which is half a danda (a Hindi unit of time, gets used a lot by meditation practitioners). After a month of consistent application, try for ½ hour. After about 6 months of this, then you can start to expand your practice to longer sessions, to maybe even twice a day.
I do no recommend trying to increase the number of times you meditate each day, until you have been ‘successfully’ and ‘consistently’ meditating for about a year.
Consistent here means meditating at least every other day to start. Know you will miss some, and don’t beat yourself up. But always make that commitment, and try to stick to it.
Myth 2 You have to sit up, cross legged, hands on the knees, eyes closed otherwise it is not real meditation
Bollocks! There are many different postures you can use to meditate – the key is not which one is the best, which one is the best for you. What is important is you stay awake, the spine is straight and chest open (which allows you to breath in a way more conducive to meditation). The seated position with legs folded out in front of us, is the most stable, but you can put your legs forward, sit in a chair, or sit with some support for your back.
I use a strap to help hold my legs in place when I am meditating for long periods of time (i.e., 45 minutes or more).
Falling asleep is not meditation, nor is yoga nidra, that’s relaxation (which you might also need). So lying down is not good for meditation.
I prefer seated meditation as regular practice, but that is because I worked myself up to sit and meditate in relative comfort (I still get numbness in my legs, and monks have terrible problems with haemorrhoids, so don’t think that you will ever reach the point where you will come out of long meditation and not experience some physical discomfort).
You can do walking meditation, eating meditation, singing meditation. Ask the brothers and sisters at Plum Village
Tip No. 2: Experiment different ways to meditate
As you become more aware of your body, you may find that you need to increase its strength. Come to yoga! Because we will continue to tap dance around this, meditation also has cousins of good diet, full spectrum body movement (a la yoga), healthy mindset, and regular sleep.
- Seated meditation – the poster child for meditation practice. A comfortable seated position is essential. Cross legged, legs in front, a chair is OK, too. So long as your back is long and straight, shoulders away from ears and your chest and heart are open. Meditation is not about being in a painful position to prove a point.
- Walking meditation – walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet – my spiritual master said this. It will take you forever to go somewhere, good practice for those of us who are time-crazy. In sync with long thoughtful breaths, you take one step at a time, allowing one foot to fully connect with the earth, before lifting the other one. A hypnotic rhythm – there is a fellow in the Botanic Gardens who walking meditates past ANZA WanderingYogi yoga every time we practice.
- Eating meditation – I have lived in many countries and seen many eating cultures, but Singapore takes the cake (literally). I would love to see a national eating meditation day, the speed with which they consume food is breathtaking. Anyhow, for one meal, you sit and eat, one thoughtful mouthful at a time (no gorging), chewing until the food has almost disappeared before placing more in your mouth. Putting your eating utensil down each time after using, and picking up again once you finished the last mouthful. You will never get indigestion again.
Myth 3 You have to quiet your mind to have a ‘successful’ meditation practice
This may be the number one myth about meditation and is the cause of many people giving up in frustration. We practice and we find that we cannot ‘zone out’, cannot go to a place of no feeling, just nothing. Meditation is not, in my books, about creating a dead zone in the mind.
You cannot stop your thoughts, your brain has to keep thinking to make sense of the world, inside and outside of us. You cannot ‘empty’ your mind. Trying to do either of these will only create more stress, and your mind does rebel, getting even noisier.
Actually, you have to keep thinking throughout your meditation, only you are focussed on a few vital elements, and that takes loads of discipline. You have been thinking throughout your entire meditation, but your thinking will become different and you will begin to feel different.
Tip No. 3: Teach the monkey how to dance
We decide how much attention to give thoughts when we meditate. That is the discipline of meditation (ssh, big secret). Consciously, moment by moment, that is what we learn in meditation.
Breath is one of the ways we teach the monkey how to dance.
While we cannot impose quiet on our mind, meditation enables us to find a rhythmic quiet, and we begin to notice space appearing between our thoughts. Sometimes referred to as “the gap,” this space between thoughts is pure consciousness and pure peace. We learn to observe our mind observing the sensations, with equanimity. This shifting into the third person is a matter of continual practice. I find it through my breath in the space between my inhale and exhale which is why learning kumbhaka is such a handy thing. Or busy bee breathing or bhastrika.
I keep a notebook by my side when I meditate, in case I get any brilliant thoughts (which seem to happen more and more frequently in meditation, the longer I meditate). And I wait until I am finished, before I put it down. And if I can’t remember it, it will be because as my great grandmother commented, “it wasn’t important enough in the first place.” Read the words ‘brilliant thoughts’ – this does not include pick up the dry-cleaning, or a brainwave on what to make for dinner.
“When my monkey dances she makes me smile! My smile gets so big, as big as a mile! When I teach my monkey how to dance I am proud to say, she is my student, I wouldn’t have it any other way!” – Celeste Farris Wissman, author of “When I teach my monkey how to dance”
Mirror, mirror on the wall, can I face meditation at all?
Meditation gives you answers that Google cannot is my opening teaser. It is the truthful mirror, which cannot lie.
I think the reason most people say they want to meditate and don’t, is because when you start to meditate, there is this uneasy settling, a struggle of wills. Between where you are in the ‘real’ world, and where you are about to go. You intuitively know you are about to explore somewhere you have never been before. Where you start to really see yourself. Hello, my goodness, I didn’t know you were in there. I don’t know if I really want to get know you better. Far better I run off to that meeting, do the shopping, pick up the kids, get that run in. Dammit, why can’t I sit still for 5 minutes? And why do I feel so tired all the time?
Take the time to get to know yourself through meditation and there is this opening of the eyes and heart. Your emotional and mental landscape literally expands. You become a spiritual explorer in a land of amazing light, sounds and insight. You will be calmer, more creative, and definitely happier.
“I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me” – Song Lyrics
WanderingYogi has a new workshop starting in September to help people establish a regular everyday meditation practice.