When I say the word "meditation" what image comes to your mind? Perhaps a body, sitting cross-legged and motionless, the smell of incense burning, and maybe some soothing music playing in the background. But what's really happening in this picture? Is this person asleep, daydreaming, thinking, praying? What really goes on during meditation and why should you try it, you ask?
I turn to the words of Rolf Sovik, Psy. D. and president of the Himalayan Institute, from his book Moving Inward. "In meditation, the body is rested, the senses are calmed, the everyday activity of the mind is quieted, and a transformation of consciousness itself gradually takes place. Like falling asleep at night, meditating brings about a shift in consciousness. But unlike sleep, meditation is a deliberate and well-considered change in the way we use the body and mind. In this sense, meditation is more than a simple technique. It is an inward journey."
Why go on an inward journey where there is so much to experience outward? Well, that's just the reason why it is so necessary and beneficial. Our minds are constantly busy. If you could keep track of how many random thoughts enter your mind in just a 5 minute period, let alone an entire day, you would be amazed! Just as the body needs sleep to remain healthy and strong, so does the mind need calm and space during its waking hours.
From his book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga, Deepak Chopra M.D. says the following, "Your mind is a thought generating organ...The activity in your mind is communicated to every cell in your body. When your mind is turbulent, your messenger molecules communicate turbulence to your cells, tissues, and organs. If you can quiet your mind, you can send messages of peace and harmony to every cell in your body. To experience the real essence of yoga - the full integration of body, mind, and spirit - you need to develop the ability to calm your mental turbulence."
Ok, sounds good, but where to start? Ah, I am so glad you asked!! Join me this month for Meditation March and I will guide you one step at a time into creating a lasting and life changing practice of meditation.
This week's goal:
5 minutes of seated silence witnessing the breath and using a simple mantra
I suggest setting aside your first few minutes of the day to begin your practice. Set your alarm to wake 10 minutes early so you can take care of business and then sit down for an uninterrupted period of time.
What you will need:
A timer - set your alarm on your phone with a pleasant ring tone or download an app such as Zen Timer that will bring you back with the lovely sounds of a Tibetan bowl
Perhaps a blanket or cushion
Comfortable clothes that do not bind - Be warm and cozy
A quiet space with no interruptions
What to do?
Find a comfortable seat. You can sit on the floor, perhaps propping up the sit bones with a folded blanket so the hip flexors are at ease. Or you can sit up against a wall with your legs extended in front of you or in a chair with a supportive back that allows your feet to touch the floor. Wherever you sit, feel grounded and supported with the spine tall and the chin level. Your shoulders should be relaxed and hands can rest lightly in your lap.
Next, begin to focus your awareness on your breathing. Slowly take in a nice, deep inhale through the nose. Exhale back out the nose and continue like this allowing each breath to deepen and lengthen as your body relaxes. Imagine that with each exhale you are releasing all the thoughts, beliefs, worries, and stress that do not serve you. Let them go. Do this for several breaths. Then, begin to take in positive qualities of love, acceptance, self-compassion, gratitude, etc filling your heart and mind with positive energy and emotion.
From this positive space and continuing with your deep, smooth breath, begin to introduce the mantra for this week. A mantra acts as an "instrument or vehicle of the mind" and is "used to take your awareness from engagement in the changing realm of life to immersion in the expanding state of being that is beyond beginnings and endings." (Chopra)
This weeks mantra is:
Om (oh-m) Bhavam (bah-vam) Namah (nah-ma)
I am absolute existence. I am a field of all possibility.
Say it out loud a few times to get used to it and then take it inward. Repeat it slowly with each inhale and exhale. Eventually, you will find that the mantra moves to the background of your mind as it becomes still and focused. When random thoughts arise, come back to the mantra to refocus.
When your timer goes off, take a few moments to reflect on your practice and ease back into your day. You may find very quickly that 5 minutes just isn't enough. If that happens and you want more, go ahead and increase your time the next day to 10 minutes and see how that goes!
Keep up this practice for the week, and I'll be back next week with more info and advice for Week 2! Please message me if you have questions, experiences to share, or anything else comes up.
Interested in reading and exploring more about meditation?
Check out the following books:
Moving Inward by Rolf Sovik
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga by Deepak Chopra
The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn
Visit the Chopra Center website at www.chopra.com for information on their meditation programs and the next 21-day meditation challenge.
Showing compassion towards those we know and love is usually pretty easy. We relate to those we have accepted into our lives as our friends, partners, and lovers and when they are in need, in pain, or feeling sad it is second nature to reach out and lend a hand or a listening ear.
Showing that same level of compassion to those we don't know, or even harder yet, to those who we don't particularly like...now that's the true test!
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the ancient text which outlines the eight limbs of yoga and shows how the practices of yoga can be made relevant to daily life, the author Patanjali describes the four attitudes (brahmavihara) to life's challenges. He says that if we develop these attitudes, we can find peace of mind and overcome the distractions of the mind that lead to psychological distress. They are:
1. Friendliness toward the joyful
2. Compassion for those who are suffering
3. Celebrating the good in others
4. Remaining impartial to the faults and imperfections of others
In her book, Bringing Yoga to Life, Donna Farhi describes #4 as "the black belt of all the brahmavihara." She goes on to say, "the fourth brahmavihara looks at how we inflict suffering on ourselves and how we manufacture our own torment by failing to detach ourselves from things that ultimately we cannot change in another." We all have light and dark, love and hate, joy and pain. To recognize that in another is to see them as an aspect of ourselves. When we do this, we find understanding and through understanding, we find compassion.
A lovely yoga student of mine shared a personal story of Compassion with me recently, that led me to writing this post. Here's what she had to say:
Hi Mary. I had an experience with compassion this morning I wanted to share with you. As I was reading through my email first thing, I saw an email response from a co-worker that I thought was really obnoxious and self serving. She tends to really get on my nerves and I could feel my blood pressure rising. A few minutes later I opened my jewelry box and saw my Compassion It bracelet. I suddenly thought show a little compassion for Nicole. She is 37 and wants to be in a relationship and have a baby more than anything in the world. So far it has never worked out for her. Today is Valentine's Day. Cut her some slack. I immediately felt so much better. I realized that whenever you feel annoyed or jealous of someone else, think about life from their perspective. No one's life is perfect. Everyone has to deal with their own demons. So tonight after a wonderful Valentine's Day dinner with my husband I went to the computer and pulled up the Compassion It website. Number 5 applies so much to me. Having Self compassion and not beating yourself up for imperfection. That is one I really have to work on. Thank you for introducing me to this concept. I will share with you again when I have a compassion it experience. See you at yoga Sunday!
Thank you for sharing your story with me, Jackie!! I know it is one that everyone can relate to!!
For more information on The Yoga Sutras and the four brahmavihara, check out the following books:
Bringing Yoga to Life - Donna Farhi
The Secret Power of Yoga - Nischala Joy Devi
In peace & compassion,
Mary Baker - ERYT-500 yoga teacher, adventure lover, fitness junkie, doughnut snob, whiskey & wine sipper