When I first started hearing about meditation in a yoga class, it made me nervous. Often times whenever an instructor guided a yoga class in meditation, I would get frustrated with a tinge of panic. I used to envision myself sneaking out of the studio more than I would focus on my breath. Much like that first time walking into a yoga class, it made feel me tense and uneasy, simply because I didn't know what meditation was and didn't know how to do it. I often couldn't relate to instructed mudras, perform breathing practices, and felt lost. Mostly, I came to class to move my body, not to be still. I think part of my frustration was feeling like a failure at it. It was really tough for me to sit still. It was especially difficult for me to relax and focus on breathing while sitting tall, completely upright. I rarely was able to clear my head and "let go" or "come to an empty place" in my head. I did not know how to be present. Through my frustrations, I felt that meditation wasn't for me because I wasn't "good" at it. It felt rigid and forced so I gave up trying. When it came up in class, I tallied my grocery list in my head, I thought about life stuff, and focused on thoughts or memories that escaped me in an attempt to not feel lost.
That was up until last year. It was last September during teacher training where meditation became a daily practice. Our teacher guided us to meditate every single day of training. It was hard at times, but also it felt much less rigid than I remembered. The "should-do-in-order-to-be" had changed for me. I learned to meditate for the Self. I learned that there is no right or wrong, no good or bad, and there are many ways to meditate. It takes practice and a willingness to let yourself be new. Sometimes we can get caught up in trying to be "good" at something. When we take goodness out of our vocabulary, we don't attach ourselves to an outcome on an invisible scale. We let the practice be the practice; nothing more, nothing less. Sometimes the meditation practice will bring us to stillness and sometimes it will move us.
Think of this blog post as a starter-kit for meditating. Leaving room for future refinement, a gateway to other breathing techniques, and allow yourself to grow the practice over time. Start small and let it grow with time. There's no rush. Take 5min and go from there.
Let's begin with a few options of taking a seat. You don't even have to leave your bed or go very far from it. Wherever you choose to meditate, let the space inside or outside feel light, open, and free. I like to meditate and practice yoga near a window as the sun comes in. The sun's energy and light can shift moods and revive us when we are feeling low or tired. If you're feeling especially tired, step outside and find a place to sit facing your palms up towards the sun.
Let's start with 3 easy ways to sit, and 3 meditation mantras to choose from:
"Connection to self, connection to all."
"I am new. This moment is new. Life is new. New is truth."
Upright in bed with legs crossed. Sit on a pillow and lean your head back against the wall. Place yours hands on top of your thighs or any place that feels comfortable. Close your eyes and begin to notice your breath. Begin breathing in through your nose and exhaling out the mouth. Inhale a 4-3-2-1 count, exhale a 4-3-2-1 count. See if you can bring your awareness to your breath, whatever thoughts come, allow them. Let the breath and the seat ease you into the present moment.
For a mild, heart-opening boost, sit on the floor near the end of your bed or couch. Sit close and let your upper body lean against the furniture, resting your head on the surface. You may have to stack some throw pillows or use a yoga block beneath your sit bones or for your head. Slowly turn your head to the right to stretch your neck, breathing for 10-15 breaths. Bring your head back to center and turn your head over to the left, breathing for 10-15 breaths. Slowly let your neck turn side to side for the next few minutes. The gentle backbend is a reminder to open from the heart-center and the breath expands the chest cavity, providing a subtle rise in energy. This is great if you spend a lot of time looking down at your phone, hunched over a computer screen, feeling collapsed from a long day, or stressed.
Another seat option is to lean your back up against the wall. Place a pillow beneath you, lean your shoulders and head back, extending both legs long out in front of you. You have the option to cross your legs in front of you. If you're feeling anxiety, rest your palms on your thighs face-down. If you need extra grounding, plant your palms face-down on the earth. If you're feeling grounded and fairly centered, face your palms up on top of your thighs, as a receiving gesture for this meditation. Begin to breathe in and out through your nose. On your inhale, allow it to travel through your nasal passages, down your throat, chest, into your belly, and down into your pelvic floor. Your exhale will start from your pelvic floor, up into your belly, chest, up your throat, and back out of your nose. Let the breath be long and rhythmic, not to have the inhales competes with the exhales but see if they can lengthen with each other. Let your cycles start with 15-20 rounds of breath and then grow from there.
My personal favorite breath-work is Bhastrika, known as "bellows breath" for its energizing quality that brings lightness and a bit of fire into your body and invigorates the mind. It's personal favorite in the morning or throughout the day, I find it to be as igniting as a headstand or jumping up and down to shift my mood.
Start by coming to a seat of choice with your knees below your hips, sitting on a block or pillows helps elevate the hips. Cross your legs or take a sit with your shins on the earth and your sit bones resting on the block or heels. Place one hand on your heart, one hand on your belly. Take a few deep breaths and moments in your seat to invite your presence. On your last round, exhale all of the air out of your mouth forcefully, drawing the belly in. Inhale with a force through the nose as your belly protrudes out, forcefully expel the air out pumping the diaphragm (pictured), rapidly. Taking one-second time capsule inhales and exhales while pumping the belly. Keep the shoulders back, allowing the heart to stay in your palm. Take 10 rounds of breath pumps, pause for 10 seconds. Increasing each round by 10 and pausing for an additional 10 seconds. Maybe the first Bhastrika breath work lasts for one round and that is great! Grow it from there.
One of the reasons I wanted to write about meditation is because of some of the misconceptions about it. It can be intimidating, weird, and cause one to feel anxious when it comes up in a yoga class. We get caught up in what it's supposed to look like and feel like. That sort of attachment can leave one feeling not so successful about the practice. I used to think that in order to receive the benefits of meditation, I had to always experience some grandiose time travel into the universe. Some days it does happen for me; traveling wide with vivid visions, distant tales, streaming words, and far-away voices. Most days, it's really about letting myself breathe. Some days the meditation is to connect with peace and love by calling out a mantra. One of my favorites is "love all the way." Saying it between breaths to serve a purpose into consciousness. It's about connection and making a conscious choice to take 5 minutes for yourself to refresh and connect with the present. There's no expectations when you are connecting with your breath, it is the most authentic part of your presence with yourself. Whatever happens in the moment, whatever thoughts arise, and whatever you feel is exactly what is meant to come up for you in the practice.