Yoga Asana & Meditation
“Meditation is a process of lightening up, of trusting the basic goodness of what we have and who we are, and of realizing that any wisdom that exists, exists in what we already have. We can lead our life so as to become more awake to who we are and what we’re doing rather than trying to improve or change or get rid of who we are or what we’re doing. The key is to wake up, to become more alert, more inquisitive and curious about ourselves.”– Pema Chodrun
Some benefits you gain from your asana (physical posture) practice, which are perfect foundations for a meditation practice, include:
- Increasing your strength, flexibility & mobility.
- Improving your ability to keep calm and centered with the breath, with a focused mind, whilst the body is being challenged.
Your body and mind need to be primed in this way in order to be able to sit in stillness for a certain prolonged period of time. Otherwise your body will likely ache, your bottom/legs/feet become numb and your mind drift around with distracting thoughts, resulting in an agitated meditation session.
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Try thinking of your asana practice as being a moving meditation. Here are some ways to help you do that:
- Move consciously with the breath, if you lose your steady rhythm of inhaling for 4 counts and exhaling for 4 counts, then take a big deep breath in, sigh it out and re-focus.
- Set a clear intention, or centering thought for the practice and silently repeat it to yourself, this will help keep your thoughts from jumping around.
- Try adding a short meditation to the beginning and end of your self-practice. Meditation at the start will serve the purpose of centering and grounding you, whereas by the end of the practice the meditation will be deeper, and you’ll be able to experience longer moments of inner quietness and stillness.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”– Thich Nhat Hahn
Your Seated Meditation Practice
Meditation is part of the broad spectrum/school/science of Yoga, so it’s good to have a daily meditation practice as well as your asana practice. It’s recommended to get into the habit of practising twice a day, AM & PM (in an ideal world 20 mins). It’s also wise to meditate at the start of your day, as not only will practising first thing in the morning set you up for the day on a peaceful and positive note, but as the day unfolds you’ll find less and less time to practice. Plus, if you are practising twice daily it’s best to spread the practices out. Note: for some people who have trouble sleeping it’s advisable to do your PM meditation directly before bed, but for others who are exhausted by bedtime it may be more appropriate mediating earlier in the evening.
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There are so many different styles of meditation, including body scans, sensory body/physical awareness, mantra, focussing on the breath, focussing on an object (eyes open, soft gaze), the list is endless. I want to keep this post as more of an overview, so I won’t go into detail about all the wonderful different methods of meditation here, but please do keep exploring and find the one which suits you best.
If you are new to meditation, try not to be intimated, start small with 5 mins per day. My best tip would be to use the guided meditations on the various apps that are out there. I’ve always found them hugely helpful and use them myself from time to time.
Apps to try out include: Calm, Insight Timer, Oprah & Deepak, Headspace and Sattva.
“Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.”– Jon Kabat-Zinn
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With mindfulness you can allow thoughts, feelings and emotions to arise, but with full conscious awareness and without judging or labelling. You see everything ‘as is’ without creating added meaning to it or getting lost in thought. The aim is to be present with each moment, watching it come and go, neither strongly attaching to it or strongly detaching from it. There may also be times where you consciously direct your attention to something in order to practice mindfulness, like sitting/standing by a tree letting your senses fully take in all the details, how each leaf looks different, how it smells, how the bark feels, how the wind sounds rustling through the branches…
As with meditation, mindfulness also helps control the ‘monkey mind’ (the part of the brain that is the independent emotional thinking machine that works with feelings and impressions, and acts without your permission, based in the limbic system) but with the added bonus of being able to integrate more mindful moments throughout your day. With mindfulness, you can practise it all the time and therefore continually benefit from it, whereas meditation would not be advisable whilst driving on a dangerous road during rush hour, so that’s when mindfulness could be used to keep you calm and focussed..
When practising mindfulness, your awareness is heightened, so for example, when you are washing up at the kitchen sink you are fully engaged and noticing the temperature of the water, the smell of the soap, the surface of the dishes, your posture etc. Even if you are trying to be quick you are aware (mindful) you are washing speedily but are still consciously trying to do a good job while remaining calm and possibly breathing slowly. Likewise, if you have people distracting you in the background you are aware that this is a distraction, not letting it bother you, while staying rooted in the present moment of washing the dishes and then making the conscious decision whether to listen, ignore or respond.
Mindfulness can be practised anytime, anywhere, no experience is necessary. All it needs is your full, curious attention. Next time you are brushing your teeth, tidying up, helping someone out, listening to others, or on your way to work, try it out. Note: Being mindful in nature and with animals is particularly therapeutic, grounding and calming. Remember to stop and smell the roses.
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Over time, with dedicated practice both your meditation and mindfulness practices will serve you by making you more aware of your ego and help you become less unconsciously reactive. In moments when you are being emotionally, mentally or physically challenged or stressed, you will be able to respond more calmly and with more control. Being conscious is the most fundamental part of mindfulness, being conscious of your thoughts, words, actions, behaviour, your surroundings and others.
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I hope this post inspires you to explore meditation and mindfulness a little deeper. Good luck with giving one of my suggestions or all of the above a go. And I hope by implementing it into your lives it has positive results, which ripple out to the wider circle of people (and animals) who surround you and who you encounter.
All the best, Namaste.