Demystifying Meditation – The What and Why of Meditation
What exactly is this thing call “meditation” that seems just out of grasp. Does becoming a meditator really mean sitting on a cushion for hours at a time not being able to move. Now, there are some people who practice meditation that way but I’m not one of them. And neither was my teacher. Sounds like torture. So, let me tell you what I think meditation is and why I recommend it for all Yoga Nerds.
I believe meditation is very simple. That doesn’t make it easy. I mean it is a simple process with simple steps. You know, like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. Just kidding. That was a joke. Meditation is focusing on one thing. That “thing” can be watching your breath or repeating a word or mantra in your mind. Or it can be focusing on a candle flame, or the sound of the birds singing around you. In a guided meditation, you are focusing on what the guide is telling you to imagine in your mind. The universal truth of yoga is, no matter what you choose to focus on, your mind is going to wander.
Your mind just really believes it has to be thinking about something. Anything. It believes it constantly needs something to chew on. In the world of meditation we call this the “money mind.” The act of meditation is bringing your mind back to your focus point when you realize your mind has wandered. Every time you realize your mind has wandered and you bring it back to your focus point is a bicep curl for your brain. You are strengthening your brain muscles. When you first begin meditation, you won’t know how long your mind has wandered before you become aware of the wandering. All of a sudden you’ll realize, “Oh yeah! I’m supposed to be following my breath! How long have I been planning dinner?” But the more you practice meditation the less time it takes you to notice your mind has wandered. The time between focus point, wandering, realization and return to focus point becomes smaller and smaller. And one day during meditation your thoughts will come in and out instantly like a bad ass pro meditating Buddhist monk. What does that mean, exactly?
They have done studies on Buddhist monks observing their pro brains while they meditate. During the meditation, the scientists make noises around the monks to see what their brain does. The monks are not oblivious to the noise. The noise, in fact, does disturb the meditation when the brain recognizes the noise. The difference is, the bad ass monk’s brain doesn’t hold on to the thought around the noise. Instead, the noise just flows through them. Another way to describe this releasing of the thought immediately is the difference between a common dog and a trained helper dog.
When a common dog is walking through the park with its owner it will chase every little distraction it sees. One minute the dog is chasing a ball, then it sees the squirrel and chases it, until it smells a bone and starts searching for that. You get the point. The trained helper dog is different. The trained helper dog sees the ball and thinks, “Nope, I’ve got a job to do,” and stays on the path with its owner. Same thing when the trained dog sees the squirrel and the bone. The helper dog will notice these things, but stay on task. That is our goal with meditation. We want to be the trained helper dog.
Now, I don’t put a lot of rules to meditation. The idea of sitting rigidly in one spot without moving for an hour or two in meditation is unappealing. No wonder everyone is afraid to start meditation. Sounds like torture and instant failure. All I care about is that you find the time to sit and focus on one thing. If you are in your meditation and you feel the need to adjust the way you are sitting, or need to cough or sneeze or scratch or get a drink of water – just go ahead and do it. Otherwise, you will be focusing on the fact you need to sneeze rather than your true focus point, which is hopefully a much more relaxing focus. Furthermore, once you take care of the distraction, you return to the point of focus and give your brain a bicep curl.
Meditation is an awesome Yoga Nerd tool. In fact, it is the super power tool. Beside the physical benefits which you can learn about in this fun little video, there are many mental, emotional and spiritual benefits. The mental, emotional and spiritual benefits from meditation are for one reason – meditation teaches you to be present in the moment. The act of focusing on one thing teaches our brain to be present in the moment. Only by being present in the moment can we observe ourselves. We can become aware of when we are demonstrating unhealthy behaviors that are defense mechanism of the mind to protect you from the bad feelings. Once we are able to catch unhealthy behaviors in the moment we can begin to ask why we are doing them. Look at the thoughts and emotions to figure out what are we running away from? Once we can be aware of our emotions in the moment, we can try to act in a healthy manner instead. As a personal example, I had decided to talk to someone at the yoga studio whose behavior was causing problems. No one else had talked to her because they were afraid to which I thought unfair. How does she know she is hurting other people if we don’t tell her? In the process of talking to her about it, her defense mechanisms went code red and she turned the conversation on me telling me I was the bad guy. At first I was able to make a couple of points, but she just ignored them. As she was talking and not letting me get a word in, I noticed feeling a block in my brain. I couldn’t think. Even though I knew what she was saying was wrong I was just couldn’t seem to get back to the point. That’s when I realized I was really really angry. My personality type usually falls asleep to their anger, but because I was aware that something different was going on in my body, I was able to detect that I was very pissed off. I still wasn’t able to think straight to confront her appropriately. But at least I knew what she was saying was making me angry. That’s when I did something I had never done before. I said, “I hear what you are saying, but right now my back is up and I need to go.” I had never told anyone in the moment that I was angry. Meditation had helped me to learn to be present in my body in the moment. It was a good feeling. Maybe someday I’ll be able to think while I’m angry too.
We are unhealthy when we are sleepwalking through life, letting the monkey mind lead us. Learning to be present in the moment is like waking up and seeing things for what they are. It gives you control again. Being present isn’t instantaneous after you start meditating. There are good days and bad days regardless of how long you have been meditating. The awareness grows and wanes. One day you may be aware in the moment of exactly what you are feeling and as a result behave in a healthy manner. The next day you may not realize until hours later that you were sleeping walking during a conversation with your relative that pushed your buttons that, if you had be present and aware, could have been handled better. But if you do the work, it is three steps forward and two steps back. Do the work and you will always move forward. That’s a Yoga Nerd promise.
Over time I’ll be blogging about different types of meditation. For now, if you are hankering to get started, try mindful meditation. Mindful meditation is focus on the breath. It is the most universal form of meditation. When there are studies done about meditation, mindful meditation is usually what they study. In mindful meditation you simply find a comfortable seat where you can keep your spine straight. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths to relax a bit. And then begin to watch your breath move in and out of the body. If you begin to feel frustrated, count your breaths starting from 20 down to 1. If you lose count, go back to 20. If you make it to 1, go back to 20. When your mind wanders, avoid being critical of yourself. Just return back to the breath. Usually when your brain wanders it is either planning, remembering, or fantasizing. For some reason labeling the thought makes it much less important. Click here for a wonderful little video on how to do mindful meditation, and meditation in general.
If you are into apps, my favorite meditation app is Insight Timer. It not only has a timer, it has tons of guided meditations. If you are goal oriented, it keeps stats of how long and often you meditate and gives you stars when you achieve goals. For more info on Insight Timer, click here.
If you’re nervous, just start with one minute a day. After a week, go up to two minutes. Add a minute each week. There are even one minute meditations on Insight Timer. But please, please, please don’t be intimidated. Meditation is friendly. Meditation is accessible. Meditation will make you happier. You can’t go wrong with meditation. Period.
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