Posted by: Yoga in Borve | April 2, 2018

Developing a meditation practice

Throughout 2017, I was working on developing a more consistent meditation practice. Why? How? And how did it go? Read on to find out…

Image result for before and after yoga cartoon

Cartoon by Gemma Correll

Why meditate?

Meditation is a part of yoga – a very significant part. Currently in the UK, most of us use the term ‘yoga’ as shorthand for the physical poses of yoga, known as the asana (e.g. Triangle Pose is Trikonasana, Boat Pose is Navasana, Child Pose is Balasana, and so on). But these are only one small aspect of yoga. In most general yoga classes in the UK, the bulk of the time is spent on asana practice, a short time in guided relaxation, and less frequently there’s a bit of pranayama (‘breathing exercises’ such as Nadi Sodhana/Alternate Nostril Breathing). However, the strengthening, stretching, relaxation and breath work are all intended to support the development of calm and focus in meditation. One of the oldest written texts on yoga kicks off with yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ.  If you Google this, you’ll find it’s far more complex and subtle than I can do justice to in a short post, but it’s often translated along the lines of ‘yoga is the process of calming the fluctuations of the mind’.

I’m pretty typical of someone who started yoga in Scotland in the 1980s – I had a bad back, and I was trying to fix myself physically. It’s still the case that many people find their way to my own yoga classes for similar physical reasons (or, at least, perceived as physical – for of course many conditions such as back pain are linked to lifestyle, stress, etc.). Over time I became more interested in the other aspects of yoga. That’s a fairly typical yoga student trajectory these days, too. But I also notice that nowadays the benefits of meditation, breathing, relaxation and stress-reduction techniques in general are more widely known, and some people do come to a yoga class specifically to learn about these. ‘Mindfulness’ has grown to become much more mainstream, and people no longer seem to react to mention of meditation as if it is a weird and possibly religious or cult activity. Again, if you want to know more about the general research into meditation’s benefits, Google is your friend, but here’s one recent short evidence-based article to get you started. Author Dr Matthew Thorpe concludes meditation reduces stress, controls anxiety, promotes emotional health, enhances self-awareness, lengthens attention span, improves sleep, helps control pain…and more. Why wouldn’t you want to meditate?!

My personal experience is regular meditation makes me feel calmer, more resilient and more positive – even though when I’m actually doing it, I feel constantly distracted! This is the case with only rare exceptions – for example, usually towards the end of a week long yoga and meditation retreat I find the constant chatter in my head has calmed down a bit. And that’s a great feeling. However, my personal experience has also been that I’ve found it incredibly hard to get in the habit of meditating regularly.

I started doing the Yoga Scotland Foundation course in 2011 because I wanted to make yoga a regular part of my life – and now it is, much more than I anticipated! A year or so ago it occurred to me that my meditation practice was like my yoga asana practice used to be: I knew I felt better for it, was very erratic in practice, and knew I’d get more benefit if I could make it part of my daily routine, as everyday as brushing my teeth. It was simply a question of working out how…

So how did I do it? And how did it go?

We all tend to feel we’ve got “no time” to do X thing we feel we want to do, or know we should do. In recent years, I’ve tried to catch myself when I realise I’m about to say “I’ve no time to…” (weed the garden, write a blog post, clear out that cupboard  – or whatever it is I conveniently have no time to do) because I’ve noticed everyone who says it, myself and my closest loved ones included, could carve out 5 minutes a day to do something new if we really, really want to (we all have more ‘dead time’ than we think we do. e.g. do you ever watch TV? Netflix? Surf the internet? Scroll through Facebook or Instagram?!). And if you can spend 5 minutes regularly on something, the 5 minutes tends to grow.

I had had previous attempts at building a new habit of daily meditation, generally aiming to do 20 minutes of seated meditation every evening. This had never been super-successful and when I started reading more about meditation at the end of 2016, I realised it would be more realistic for me to commit to a shorter time every day, and do it earlier on, rather than risk leaving it so late I felt 20 minutes simply couldn’t be squeezed in.

In an ideal world, I’d meditate for about 20 minutes before bed in the evening, and I’d also meditate at the end of my personal yoga practice, which I’d do at the same time every morning…but that ain’t going to happen in my current circumstances. So rather than holding out for the ideal and failing to get anywhere at all, I decided I’d do a 15 minute meditation practice every day if possible, any time I could fit it in.

To give myself some structure and the support of like-minded people (as both these things were so helpful when I was doing the Yoga Scotland Foundation course then Teacher Training course), I put a shout out to see if anyone was interested in coming to a group meditation session one evening a month throughout 2017. I held this in the yoga room in Borve, and people took turns to lead the sessions – which was sometimes as simple as keeping an eye on the time for everyone, or reading a quote, and sometimes involved sharing a favourite meditation technique in more depth. While it was quite a lot of work organising the sessions, it definitely did help me keep up a regular daily meditation practice. It was also really interesting to hear more about what worked for different people, and lovely to learn some new styles of meditation and take part in a group session rather than always meditating alone. Four months on, my daily habit of meditation seems pretty well established – as long as I’m at home. Although it would be easy to meditate for 15 minutes a day while I’m away (I mean, you can meditate on a bus and no-one would know you were doing it – so you can certainly meditate in a friend’s spare room or in your holiday cottage) I find I completely forget to do so. Last time I was away for a week, I took mala beads with me so I’d see them every day and it would act as a physical reminder to meditate. And that worked not at all. So, that’s my next step – taking my meditation practice with me wherever I go. If you’ve any suggestions on how to remind myself to do 15 minutes of meditation when I’m away from home, please let me know.

Resources

I’ll do another post (and I promise I’ll try to find time to do it soon!) about resources I’ve found useful in developing my meditation practice – from websites, to books, to timers, apps, beads, cushions, kneeling stools and so on. I didn’t want to put the ‘STUFF’ upfront for the same reason I encourage people to come to yoga classes for several months, and use free resources online, before they buy a yoga mat, books, DVDs or any other equipment. The STUFF doesn’t develop the habit for you. Knowing you want to do it, doing it, and gradually working out what might best help you do it – is the way to go. Otherwise you just end up poorer and with a whole lot more unused STUFF gathering dust in your house or ending up in landfill.

And you?

I’m going to forward a link to this post to some of the folk who came to the meditation group, in the hope they may share their own ideas, experience and tips here. If anyone else would also like to share their thoughts below, I’d really enjoy reading them.

 

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Responses

  1. I have enjoyed the Meditation sessions in Borve and have also done some at home. This was an online world wide meditation lead by Buddhist Monks on a cruise ship floating amongst the Bahamas. Twice a day a smiling sounded monk would welcome all and seek to bless the world and gain health peace and happiness a lovely instruction was to SMILE – start my internal love engine. That certainly starts the session well.


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