On Meditation (and how to do it)
September 23rd, 2015
The foundation of my sanity (though some days it still feels like it is hanging by a thread) throughout the craziness of running a small business, managing a relationship, and enjoying life is pretty simple: a solid and frequent meditation practice before my home yoga practice (and Ben, but that’s on days when no amount of self soothing will do). It’s the core, the beginning, the little nugget from which all things grow.
In every conversation with anyone wanting to expand their yoga practice, or deepen their sense of personal realization, I generally recommend cultivating a daily meditation practice. To be honest, if I have to prioritize one over the other, I will almost always choose to sit in meditation for 10 minutes over a yoga practice (though I will admit that rarely an hour goes by throughout the day where I haven’t stretched some part of my body or been upside down). I think that it is so important I have even prioritized it in my group classes, which is why we start by sitting these days.
WHAT IS MEDITATION?
An untrained mind is an untrained you.
Western research tells us that we have some 70,000 thoughts per day. In yogic philosophy, the number is somewhere closer to 1,000 thoughts per second, or some absurd amount. With that much data processing, the feral mind can only help but to latch onto some of those thoughts and run with them. This latching on to thoughts takes us outside of ourselves and away from our focus. It takes us down rabbit holes, and tosses us into the wind like a balloon without a tether - just waiting to catch the next thought that will take us somewhere else. When we sit in meditation, we sit with this same massive downpour of thoughts coming at us, but we start to learn to release ourselves from them. We practice stilling ourselves, watching the thoughts as they pass by, and not giving ourselves over to them and tying ourselves to their mad journey.
Over time, we learn to observe from afar and develop a discipline that allows us to consciously decide what lines of thought to follow. We learn to create space. We learn to not react to everything. A meditation practice builds our parasympathetic response, strengthens the parts of the brain that focus, relieves anxiety, develops neutrality, promotes a sense of well-being and calm, changes our genetic structure, and most importantly - changes us. I am still pretty crazy, but I’m definitely less crazy than I was before I started meditating.
HOW TO GET STARTED ON YOUR PRACTICE.
1. Motivation. You’re reading this, right? Like anything we do, we need to have some motivating factor to get us to start and keep us engaged. I started because I was tired of feeling like I had no control over my mind. There were days that I felt what I imagine is similar to being insane. Too many years of high stress, high pressure, self-imposed ridiculousness combined with a highly active imagination will do that to a person, and it was time to stop. Courtney’s brain on meditation? Nice, relatively mellow, personable and less reactive. Courtney’s brain without meditation? Crazy, high drama, explosive, and bitchy.
How to: Take a few minutes to check in with yourself. What is your motivation? What do you want more than anything? Write a word or two on a post it of how you want to feel as you go through life, and stick it to your bathroom mirror.
2. Trust that ANYONE can meditate. I promise you that if I can then you can. I used to tell myself I didn’t have time for it, that my brain was too busy, that I even LIKED to be über intense. This type of self-talk sets up your subconscious to work against trying it. Get your subconscious onboard to try it out by visualizing yourself doing it.
How to: Start by visualizing a few times throughout the day for a few seconds yourself meditating - whatever that looks like to you, with as much positive detail as possible. Maybe you give this practice a week, maybe you give it a little more.
3. Make it happen. Everyone thinks they don’t have time to meditate. Gabby Bernstein says it well - if you have time to feel like crap, you definitely have time to meditate. It doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking or a long practice. Start with five minutes a day and if you like it, you can build from there. Like anything else in life, if we make the time for it, we make it happen.
How to: Pick a start date and commit. Same time, same length, every day. You can practice for a weekend (who can’t do something for a weekend?), a week, a month, 40 days, whatever.
4. Be ritualistic. If you want to make the practice stick, make it something special that you look forward to. This can be anything and it doesn’t have to be perfect. Maybe you have a special cushion you sit on, or a place, or even just getting up before the rest of your house. Maybe it’s lighting a candle or rubbing some essential oil on your hands. Maybe you even create a meditation corner or an alter that you go to everyday. I have a little spot that looks out to our garden, I wear big socks, and Fredrik usually sits next to me and snoozes (cats are already zen masters).
How to: Just like when you started practicing yoga, you probably bought a mat, or a pair of pants, or a new shirt, and when you put those things on you think, “ok, it’s time to practice yoga.” Try the same thing with this practice - all humans are wired pretty much the same. We like consistency, we like reliability, and we like the known, so create those aspects to set yourself up for success.
5. Explore. There are many different types of meditation practices. When I began, I loved guided meditations (of which there are thousands available for free - and not - via the internet). Right now I prefer to sit in silence and watch my thoughts. Sometimes I envision different things, sometimes I don’t. Some people love specific types, like Kundalini or Zen or Transcendental, and I encourage you to try on as many different types as you want, find one that fits for now, and go with it. It doesn’t have to be the perfect thing forever.
How to: Do a little research, listen, and mostly just try a bunch. Elena Brower offers a wonderful meditation course. YouTube is also a tremendous resource for free audio meditation. The Dharma Sangha here in Walla Walla is an excellent place if you want to sit with a group. Some are expensive, some are cheap, some are free. All a valuable.
6. Practice. San Francisco teachers’ teacher Stephanie Snyder, once said “you don’t get good at meditation. You get good at practicing meditation.” As a perfectionist, I approach most every skill the same: Master it, do it better than everyone else, own it, beat it to death until you no longer enjoy it because you can’t live up to your expectations. Meditation (like yoga) DOES NOT work this way. You cannot be perfect at it, and likewise, you cannot fail at it. All you can do is fail to attempt it.
How to: Commit to doing it, and being KIND to yourself no matter what happens. After you finish your meditation, take a couple of deep breaths and thank yourself for your time. Then let it go. I don’t get hung up on my crappy tennis skills, why would I get hung up on my meditation “skills”? It will reinforce you and your subconscious, and keep you coming back to the pillow.