Further Your Meditation Practice - Karli Petrovic
The more I learn about yoga, the more I understand why serious yogis live in caves, far away from the chaos of the outside world. Yoga on the mat is easy. You come in, do your asanas and leave. Perhaps you also exit class with a renewed sense of purpose and dedication to becoming a “better person.” You’ll reach out to someone you’ve clashed with, you’ll move more slowly and mindfully through life, you’ll let everyday frustrations roll off your back. This idyllic, compassionate feeling often lasts until the parking lot or, if you’re particularly blissed out, until your coworker asks about those missing TPS reports. Sound familiar?
In a cave, there’s no one to hurt your feelings. There’s no one for you to wrong or upset. People can’t annoy you when they’re not around. In solitude, however, you can’t escape yourself, and it’s often ourselves that we battle the most. Between ego, illusion and incessant thoughts, we quickly find that we ourselves are the problem. Cave or not, emulating a yogic lifestyle is easier said than done.
While a trip to the Himalayas is certainly encouraged at some point, meditation requires far less planning and packing. Starting a home meditation practice is your best bet. Perhaps this was your big New Year’s Resolution for 2018. One month of trying to calm your monkey mind later, you might be ready to throw in the towel. Don’t be so quick to quit. True change takes time. And even if you’ve tried and failed in the past, be open to giving it another go.
Below we’ve listed a few mistakes and misconceptions that often keep people from reaching their true potential, as well as a simple meditation practice you can do anywhere. By making these adjustments, your meditation practice will begin to come alive.
[Note: The following meditation tips were written with help from Raj Patra. For more information, join him at Yoga for Life’s Mindful Meditation class on Mondays from 8:45-9:30 pm.]
1. Where you practice matters. Meditation is about uniting your consciousness and the universal consciousness. This union already exists, but most people have lost their ability to understand and experience it. The way to rebuild this lost connection is through kundalini awakening. In kundalini awakening, energy rises through the seven chakras (energy centers in the body) and out the crown of the head, expanding your consciousness. Kundalini is said to be a coiled snake resting at the base of the spine. The goal of meditation is to uncoil it—and preparation is key.
Finding a quiet space to practice is important because it will make it easier to draw your focus inward. That said, it’s unreasonable to expect the world to stop and accommodate your need for silence and stillness. Dogs will bark, car alarms will sound, the wind will blow. Your goal is not to let these outward distractions impact your practice. Accept your surrounding environment and move beyond it. It’s also helpful to sit on natural materials, such as cotton or wool. Your nonstick yoga mat is perfect for a sweaty class, but synthetic materials provide an extra impediment to interconnectedness.
2. Posture and positioning play important roles. A common misconception is that you can lay down to meditate. This is 100 percent false. Meditation must be practiced in a seated posture because the spine needs to be upright to facilitate kundalini awakening. Practitioners, however, don’t need to sit in padmasana (lotus pose) to achieve a higher state. Sitting cross-legged (sometimes using a strap to achieve a more comfortable posture) or hips-to-heels is perfectly fine.
No matter which position you choose, know that it will eventually become uncomfortable. Again, the goal is not to let discomfort get in the way of your meditation. If you start to feel your knees ache or a foot falling asleep, simply extend one leg. When that becomes uncomfortable, switch legs. Continue to move to postures that won’t draw your concentration back to the physical body. You’ll also want to avoid sitting on a block, which has hard edges that can accelerate these issues.
3. Breath is more important than you think. Pranayama (breath control) is an essential part of meditation. Before beginning your meditation, spend 15-20 minutes on breathing exercises such as nadi shodhana (alternate-nostril breathing) or other techniques. Not only will this help clear your channels to better facilitate kundalini awakening, it will also pull your focus to the upper part of the body. Then, when you settle in to meditate, you’ll begin drawing your focus downward. Eventually, you’ll visualize your energy flowing in a circular pattern, rising from the bottom of the spine to the crown of the head, before coming back down and starting the process again.
If you’re unfamiliar with pranayama, ask a teacher to explain some simple techniques. Nadi shodhana is a good one because it can be used any time of day and won’t be harmful. Other practices should only be completed with experience or under the guidance of someone more knowledgeable.
4. Beware of ineffective techniques. The internet is filled with nonsense. This is particularly true when it comes to yoga-related concepts and practices. Any meditation that encourages practitioners to focus on sunny beaches or flickering candles miss the point. Meditation is not about clearing the mind or focusing on outside objects. True techniques enable practitioners to be aware of their thoughts without attaching emotional responses to them. No one ever achieved kundalini awakening by thinking. As thoughts come and go, practitioners focus on drawing their energy upward from the lower chakras. The power of meditation comes from within.
5. Practice makes perfect. Your asana practice advanced over time; your meditation practice will do the same. Unfortunately, you can’t meditate once per week and expect miracles. Meditation, like learning to play the violin or mastering a new language, builds with repetition. It requires a daily commitment. Ideally, you’ll meditate when you don’t have somewhere to be. Since that’s not the world most of us live in, the most important thing is to set aside a specific time each day and stick with it. Practicing a few times per week is better than nothing, but it will take longer for your efforts to bear fruit. Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Try this simple meditation to get your practice started. This Mahayana Buddhism (Zen Buddhism) technique focuses on adopting suffering in order to end it. In the practice, you’ll begin by finding a comfortable seat. Place your wrists on your knees to keep the spine straight. Take full, deep inhales and exhales, and remove any sharp edges from the breath. Each inhale should flow seamlessly into the following exhale and vice versa.
Next, allow your intuition to lead your mind to a being that is suffering. It can be an ailing plant, a pet in declining health, a friend or family member, even you. Try not to think about who you’ll focus on ahead of time. The sufferer will naturally come to you. From there, begin to visualize the being’s suffering. Is it physical or emotional? Is it felt in the body or in the mind? Experience their suffering viscerally.
Continue to accept this suffering. Feel the intensity growing with each inhale. On the exhale, imagine your heart expanding with empathy and loving kindness. Envision yourself as the filtration system for this suffering. As it enters your body, you dissolve it with each heart-expanding exhale, releasing compassion outward in its place.
Keep practicing for as long as you can. Practice every day, even if it’s for a few minutes on the bus or while waiting in the checkout line. This meditation can be very powerful. It has been known to result in tangible, real-world healing, thus achieving the true goal of meditation: To connect with something far greater than yourself.