Meditation reaps enormous benefits in all aspects of life so much so that it’s practiced by some of the most successful people in the world – businessmen, artists, athletes, actors, and you guessed it… yoga instructors :)
Hundreds of studies have proven its enormous benefits in every aspect of one's being. Over time, you will feel it resonate on a profound level for yourself.
In this blog I am covering the basics on meditation--my opinions on it from personal experience, what it actually does, and 7 “how-to” meditation techniques I use often during my classes.
“Don’t just do something, sit there!” -Thich Nhat Hanh
“The affairs of the world will go on forever. Do not delay the practice of meditation.” –Milarepa
“Peace is not found in a calmer storm, it’s found in a calmer boat”
“My greatest wealth is the deep stillness in which I strive and grow and win what the world cannot take form me with fire or sword” – Johan Wolfgang Von Goethe
Laying down in quiet stillness, you can experience what I call “Being”. Savasana (AKA Corpse Pose) is a humbling pose typically enjoyed at the end of yoga practice. In it, you are instructed to create and enjoy complete stillness--both in the body and in the mind.
In this utter stillness a part of you stays extremely present, while the rest of you, physically and mentally, “died” (hence the term Corpse Pose)--dead from the pressures and pleasures of real life, and dissociated from whatever your story is. In this space, nothing you normally associate yourself with is relevant. You're in a space where your gender, age, title, history, and future is of no concern or of importance.
As you lay there, melted in fantasy land, you give yourself the gift of shifting from constant activity to the beauty of nothingness. You create a clearing--a certain freedom not concerned with external circumstances, but an awareness of what is, with no regard to time or place. Ultimate freedom.
Some may think we have to meditate a certain “right” way. It’s not about how you sit or where you sit--it’s about anchoring your consciousness into the precious present moment, being fully awake and aware, and surrendering into stillness, despite any urge to do otherwise.
True meditation is about mindfulness: being present to what’s in front of us without trying to change it; acceptance. Witnessing the true essence of reality and gifting yourself the opportunity to sink into deeper parts of your being willingly and openly.
Meditation may be enjoyed with or without music, eyes open or closed, sitting or lying down. If you find yourself struggling to stay present know that your breath is always right there waiting for you – a steady, patient guide that will always guide you into this moment.
With practice, meditation conditions us to consciously slow down the thinking mind (known in yoga as “Citta” or “mind chatter”), allowing us to quickly switch gears into one in which you feel, connect with, and lovingly observe the subtle energies within and around you.
Experiencing the sacredness of the present moment through the breath, without the distractions we are all too familiar with, cultivates a quiet consciousness that helps us take a step back from the center of our circumstances to appreciate the sublime yet powerful beauty that surrounds us every day. These lessons of acceptance, compassion and connection may be just the antidote for lives that are too often filled with instances of rush, zoom, and pressure.
The challenges and problems will still be there at the end of your practice - it’s our perspective towards them that shifts. Suddenly we see solutions where we saw problems and inspiration where we saw confusion… we notice our mind has changed a little. Therefore, it can change a lot. I have astounding potential to become more peaceful. I am a person who can change in order to make myself truly happy from the inside out. I have limitless potential. I have the freedom to reevaluate my perception of something. Nothing is fixed. There is no situation that is intrinsically difficult. It’s up to me to transform the experience. I am training my mind happily, facing my emotions with an open heart, going below the surface. Starting fresh.
This strength of mind helps us become better equipped to face and handle challenges such as high pressure situations, stress, fatigue, depression, anxiety, addiction, and more. It enables us to encounter danger or bear pain and adversity with courage and an open mind, literally. According to the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience, mindfulness meditation helps control cortical alpha rhythms, which play a role in stress reactivity. Imagine what we can do for others with that innate strength. We can be an extraordinary source of inspiration.
Physically, meditation reduces blood pressure, lowers stress hormone levels, and improves cellular health and neuron function in the brain. Over time, meditation changes the way we respond to stressful situations naturally because the chemical makeup of our brains actually change as we condition our minds to enter meditative states.
Other scientifically-valid benefits of meditation include: boosts in immunity, self-control, productivity, increase in wisdom, decreases inflammation at the cellular level, and even changes in the structure of the brain (for the better).
Effects on the Brain: Ever feel angry despite beautiful surroundings, or happy despite being stuck on a grocery line? According to a study from the University of Toronto, this is because there are two pathways of attention controlled by two different areas of our brains.
One is the Prefrontal Cortex responsible for conceptual external attention and complex thought, particular to humans and advanced mammals. For example: noticing a red light on the street or watching TV. The other is the Insula and Posterior Cingulate Cortex of the brain, which are responsible for observing our internal attention within ourselves: feelings of love, bodily awareness, sensations, and emotions. For example: sensation of the breath, a chocked up feeling of sadness or the warmth of deep love. These areas in the brain are predominate in babies, but becomes increasingly foreign as we learn to “pay attention” to the outside world.
Meditation, yoga, and breathing techniques re-train and strengthen our introspective awareness in regards to both within our bodies and our emotional states. For example, a person who is trained to tap into their introspective attention will be more likely to take a deep breath, tune into their bodies, or rush over to the next yoga class when they find themselves in a difficult situation, rather than trying to “talk themselves out of it” or turning to alcohol, drugs, or other external factors.
Although initially it may be uncomfortable to face our own true emotions, it is the best way to promote healing and growth from the inside out, rather than relying on drugs or other distractions that only mask but don’t remove those underlying emotions. Being able to heal yourself authentically is very empowering, which leads to confidence, self-love, and self-respect, which helps in getting rid of self-destructive habits.
Happiness: Research suggests that our greatest moments of happiness are times we spent fully engaged in a sensory experience: a physical activity, an intimate moment, etc. It is when we are too distracted that our minds become too overloaded to embrace some of the greatest sources of happiness. Meditation is about mindfulness and conditioning our minds to become more mindful every day. Being mindful while we eat, for example, helps us to truly taste and enjoy, rather than huffing down lunch while watching TV or talking with your mouth full. Being mindful about anything really, brings the most out of the experience, and helps you remember it.
Meditating helps gather answers about who we are: our true nature, what we truly want in our lives, how we want to live it, and what (or who) we are better off without in order to get what we want and become truly happy. It helps us realize our values and goals, as well as notice the things getting in the way of them. This is not something we can achieve by weightlifting or physical practice alone.
Wisdom: Pratyahara, turning your awareness inside and observing your mind, allows you to evaluate your life and figure out’s serving you and feeding your soul… and what isn’t. You realize you are not a slave to it; you better understand your motivations, patterns, thoughts, fears, habits, etc. instead of seeing ourselves through someone else’s eyes. Seeing things clearly is wisdom. Through this awareness and stillness we reach beyond our stagnant beliefs and open ourselves up to other possibilities.
It’s being open to the truth, having the courage to be honest with yourself, to follow your heart and listen to your intuition. As we begin to trust our intuition, we become more connected to our authenticity.
You begin to realize that your experiences are not just what happen to you, but what you do with what happens to you. We become better equipped to take a step back, observe our true feelings in the physical and mental sense (observe physical reactions in the body) before reacting in a way we would regret.
Productivity: When the mind becomes empty, it is always ready for anything, and open to everything. When we meditate we experience our mind becoming more spacious, more receptive, and therefore more productive. Always being able to take a step back reduces stress hormone levels, which in turn allows for more educated decisions and reactions, both in your personal and business life. You will notice an increase in your ability to multitask, as well as an increase in memory, creativity, focus, and attention.
Effects on sleep: The ability to manage stress and obtain higher mindfulness reduces brain activation at bedtime, according to a study from the University of Utah. When learning to meditate, you learn what soothes you into total stillness in both body and mind. Body Scan meditation, for example, works wonders if you are restless in bed. You may amaze yourself when you realize how much unnecessary tension you’re holding in your body, and that’s why body awareness is so important!
When you meditate consistently, it may even come naturally to remember to relax every single one of your body parts. Sometimes it’s as simple as relaxing your jaw or the eyebrows. Try to just let gravity pull you into a comfortable position so that you’re entire body drops and eases into deep relaxation. Slowly let everything go starting with the toes, then move to your feet, legs, up all the way until your entire face and body are relieved from any tension.
At the end of the day, life’s not about what you have (or don’t have), where you live (or don’t live), who you know (or don’t know), or wishing you spent more time in the office – it’s about the love and beauty you were fortunate enough to witness and remember in your lifetime.
When we connect our mind and body through breath, our pure self, higher self begins to emerge creating inner balance, equanimity. The gift of coming closer to your true spirit - is the ultimate goal.
There are many types of meditation techniques. What works for you may not necessarily work for me, but one thing is always certain: you know when you’re doing it right. It can be done at any time, but I recommend doing it twice a day (for at least 5 minutes per session, with an increase over time): once in the morning before the start of your day and once at night. Don’t worry if your schedule doesn’t permit practicing at a certain time with consistency; so long as you are doing it generally every day. 10 minutes total isn’t much in the scheme of a 1,440 minute day.
7 Meditation Technique’s
1. Mindful Meditation AKA “Vipassana”
To awaken, sit calmly, and let every breath clear your mind”.
Vipassana is a short meditation technique in which we mindfully observe our thoughts flowing in and out of our minds without judgment, attachment, or reaction. This allows one to cultivate detachment to what comes up.
Set a time for yourself to avoid the stress associated time-- whether its 2 minutes, or 2 hours.
Find a comfortable position, close the eyes, and stay conscious.
Empty the mind completely from thoughts, words, ideas, and imaginations. When a thought does comes into mind, know that it is perfectly normal – just be sure to observe that thought, and kindly return it back to emptiness.
You will be surprised how often your mind pops up with random thoughts. Conditioning yourself to detach yourself from such thoughts or physically reacting to such thoughts brings light into what reactions are unnecessary in real life. Over time, it becomes clear that one is able to bypass reaction one confronted with events or thoughts that may bring thoughts and emotions. It helps to instead respond from a clear mind.
2. Guided Visualization
A popular form of mediation in which we connect to and concentrate on an image or imaginary environment guided by the instructor and/or a recording that takes us away from our regular worlds. The instructor depicts a story as you lay with eyes closed with details regarding the experience of the story. Attention is sometimes drawn to your breath, as well as sensations and energies within and around you.
Imagine that you are standing on a white sandy beach. It’s early in the morning, and a light, hazy mist surrounds you. The sun is rising slowly. You can feel the warm, orange light on your face and your body.You are feeling content. At ease. Relaxed. The sand beneath your bare feet is soft and warm. A light breeze caresses your face.
This beach is deserted. You have it all to yourself, and you have all the time in the world, and you love it. You listen to the relaxing sound of the ocean. Its waves are breaking gently on the shore.
You begin to walk slowly towards the water…a small boat is waiting for you. The boat is comfortable and steady. Notice that it is tied to the shore with a strong rope.
Walk to the water’s edge and step into the boat. You are feeling completely at peace, completely safe, and completely relaxed.When you are ready, untie the rope...and let it go. Relax, and allow the natural currents of the ocean to guide you away from the beach.Your boat drifts smoothly. This soothing motion relaxes you even more deeply.
The sun is now higher in the sky. Its light has gathered strength. Notice that the mist that surrounds you is beginning to evaporate with the warmth of the sun. You can see the air becoming clearer and clearer and now you can see clearly in all directions. It’s as though a veil has been lifted. Sparkling ocean water surrounds you on all sides, and in front of you, a small island comes into view. Your boat moves closer and closer to the island, gliding slowly and effortlessly through the water.
The island is drenched in sunlight. It is covered in tropical palm trees that sway gently in the breeze. Your boat glides slowly forward, and comes to rest on the shore. You have arrived. You step out of the boat and take a moment to appreciate this place of sublime beauty.
Exotic birds dance from tree to tree, and brilliantly coloured flowers grow in abundance. The air itself seems to shimmer and vibrate with pure, luminous energy. You can hear the soothing sound of the wind as it passes through the trees. In this place, you are free from all memories of the past. You are free from all concerns about the future. You are free from all responsibilities.This is a place of total peace, and it is all yours.
You notice an opening between the palm trees. In the centre of this opening, there is a narrow path that leads deep into a rich green forest.
Begin your journey into the heart of the forest. Follow the path between columns of ancient trees. This forest seems familiar to you, like the memory of a pleasant dream, or a place you visited as a child.
Walk deeper into the forest. You are guided by a force that you trust, and that makes you feel safe, nurtured and still.
You have reached the very heart of the forest. Before you is a shimmering pond of crystal clear water. A pond of perfect stillness. The pond is round, and it brims with pure spring water. Notice that the water is perfectly still, like a mirror, free from even the slightest ripple.
A ladder with three steps leads down into the water. You decide to bathe in this magical pond, and you undress. As you take the first step down into the pond, you notice that the wind has eased. All the trees have become motionless. As each moment passes, the world around you becomes more and more calm, and you yourself become more and more still.
As you lower yourself onto the second step, all the birds in the forest become quiet. Their silence is deep and reverent. Now lower yourself onto the third and final step and glide into the water. Feel yourself sliding into a deep state of relaxation. In this pond, your thoughts simply melt away. All is still and silent. The only sound that remains is the sound of waves, far off in the distance. Your mind seems to expand. You feel timeless...vast...empty...relaxed.
For the next few minutes, enjoy this experience of solitude and inner silence. When thoughts arise, simply let them go and return your awareness to the sound of the waves. When it’s time to return I will guide you home.
At this time allow for approximately 5 minutes of inner silence.
3. Body Scan Meditation
One of my all-time favorites! During this class we focus on creating total and utter relaxation from head to toe by thinking of and releasing tension in each body part. By the end of it your body feel like Jello. How to: start off by laying down and once you find a comfortable place, be very still. The instructor names the parts of the body you should soften, starting with the big toe and finishes with the crown of the head.
Release any and all tension in the feet, starting with the big toes, up through the arches of the feet towards the heels. Soften through both ankles, up both shins, towards the knees. Relaxation engulfs both knees and around the knees. Allow this softening to travel up both legs towards your hips. The pelvis weighs heavy. Soften through the belly and the ribs… as you notice it move like a wave on the breath you no longer control. The heart melts. Soften through the shoulders as you feel the mat underneath you. Allow this release to trickle down both arms, down both elbows, down both forearms, through every single one of your fingertips. Soften through the back of the neck and the jaw, as the tongue softly falls from the roof of the mouth. Release tension in the lips, relax the nose, cheeks, and temples, up towards the ears. Soften the tops of the ears down to the bottom of the ears towards the back of the ears, and allow this softening to travel up the back of the head. Soften through your eyebrows, third eye center, intuition. Allow this release to travel up the forehead up towards and out of the crown of the head. Allow for approximately 5 minutes of inner silence at this point.
4. Mantra Meditation
This meditation technique involves a repetition of a particular word, sound, vibration, thought or phrase- either verbally (albeit quietly) or mentally, as a focal point in order to produce purification of desired results. Bombarding your subconscious mind with subliminal messages and affirmations help change your manner of thinking.
Choose a word or sound that uplifts you and keeps you focused on your intention. Words such as “Ohm”, a prayer, or phrases such as “be the change you wish to see in the world”, “I can do this” or “I forgive” are popular mantras. Repeat this mantra either quietly or silently. Play with how you annunciate your words. Get lost in the rhythm of your mantra, and let it guide you to what it can subconsciously unlock.
5. Category & Contemplation Concentration
This meditation technique works by narrowing down the objects of concentration so that your mind is trained to focus and utilize introspection, reflection, self-study, and contemplation to cut through the layers of false conditioning, delusions or understandings hidden deep within the psyche.
Set a timer, find a comfortable seat, and a safe place free from distraction. Try Focusing on one thing: your compassion for someone, on asking yourself “who am I?” or on someone or something you love. Think of nothing else, and continue to draw your attention back to your theme of choice. Let love guide your decisions and thoughts. Breathe.
6. Breath (Pranayama) Meditation
Ones awareness and concentration is drawn to the breath, as well as the body and sensations that rise and fall with it, as it slowly enters and leaves you. Control over the breath is achieved through breathing techniques. This helps build mastery and concentration of the mind.
There are many types of breathing techniques, including the "three part breath". Start inhaling from the bottom of the belly, expanding it on the inhale, and slowly allow the air to travel up and inflate the ribs, and then up the chest. Hold for a moment before exhaling and deflating the air down the chest, down the ribs, down the belly. Air travels slowly, deeply, and continuously like a wave. Repeat for a few minutes, focusing on the moments between the breath.
7. Gazing/Focused Meditation
Various techniques in which we use an external material focus point to develop calmness and to witness consciousness. The key is to awaken the senses by slowing down the “mind chatter” and letting go of control over the breath as we admire the object we see.
Choose an area you'd like to focus on visually or with another one of your senses: candle-lit gazing, looking at the trees/flowers in front of you, sound awareness to music or natural sounds, etc. Be sure to choose one thing and keep your attention on your choice for a few minutes without thinking about anything else.
Meditation is a time when you’re body and mind have a chance to process all actions and sensations experienced in life, giving you an opportunity to enjoy the fruit of your labors through heightened awareness which you carry throughout your day. Allow yourself the time to enjoy and be mindful of what’s around you!