The first time I tried a meditation practice, I promptly decided I would never do that again! Everyone said I was going to feel blissful and relaxed, but all I recieved was pain in my body, distraction from sudden itches, and a whirlwind of internal judgement for not being able to silence my mind. Luckily, my yoga teacher training forced me to go through an entire month of hour long meditations and hour long breathing practices. Although I rarely experienced a sense of calm during the month of meditation and breathing, I did start to observe short segments of present moment awareness.
If you are anything like me and struggle to concentrate and feel easily overwhelmed by stress, meditation can become an incredibly empowering practice. Once we begin to strengthen our “letting go” muscle and release our stickiest habitual thought patterns in which we typically find ourselves entangled , we allow ourselves to open up to the present moment. Sticky thoughts like trying to understand why our co-worker was so nasty to us, obsessively ruminating over “what-if” scenarios, or a slew of other important matters. Once we train ourselves to let go of our routine automatic reactions or stories, we begin making more space for clear moments of insight, we begin to create new neural pathways and rewire our brain, we begin to feel more clarity and decisiveness, and we have more energy since we are no longer using up so much of it to obsessively ruminate.
We live in a world with constant stimuli pulling our awareness away from our body. The moment we experience boredom, we tend to grab our phones to distract ourselves, we fill silence with conversation, and we rarely ever have a meal without a television on in the background or while scrolling through social media. All of these experiences pulling us away from our core end up draining us of our energy.
One of the common threads in most contemplative practices is a “journey inward.” Once we begin to let go of our constant ruminations and bring our awareness back to the sensations of our breath or the scanning of our body we start to feel more connected to our gut brain, our intuition, the deeper layers of our existence, or our essence. Once we come in contact with that place, we start to flow with life.
It is not an instant light switch that goes on inside of us, but it is a non-stop dance filled with highs and lows. Because of this, it is crucial that we are kind to ourselves and do not judge our “monkey mind.” It is a practice! We don’t DO meditation, so practice letting go of being overly critical and give ourselves the beautiful gift of present moment awareness.
Once you decide to commit to a practice, how does one even know where to start or which practice to choose? Not all meditation practices are created equally and not all of them have the same effects. From Patanjali’s one pointed concentration or dharana, zen, loving kindness, or transcendental meditation, there are a variety of practices and one size does not fit all. If concentration is challenging, mantra repetition, mindfulness of the breath, or body scanning might be helpful. If stress and burnout are a concern, loving kindness or metta meditation might be best. If you feel sitting still is too challenging, you can always try walking meditation. Alternatively, practicing asana or breathing exercises first might help you move around energy that will then allow you to find a comfortable stillness.
The time of day we practice is also incredibly important. The window of time before the sun rises or sets, known as the sattvic hours, is an ideal time to practice since the energy feels more calm and pure at these hours. Early morning, before the rest of the world wakes up, the calmness in the air is almost palpable. Practicing before you’ve checked emails, social media, or the news might allow you to experience more stillness in mind and body, otherwise you will be thinking of the few posts you’ve just scrolled through as you sit for meditation. If you wake up with a running to-do list in your mind, the better option for you might be practicing around the time the sun is setting and you’ve completed most tasks on your list.
Curious about starting a practice? Here are some top tips and tools: