I believe it is a relevant time to speak to the theme of Meditation. Many of us are dealing with stressful situations in the lead up to Christmas and this amplification of anxiety may be due to an increase in buying presents and a deficit in giving “presence”!
One of my favourite Yoga instructors and mentors, Les Leventhal said casually in one of his workshops; “some of you may be really stressed today because you’ve gone to visit family…Some of you may be really relaxed and happy today because you’ve gone to visit family!” The point is we are all different. Different stimulus shakes and rattles us in different ways; we all have our own story. But I make a broad assumption when I say that it may be possible that we all would love to be a little more relaxed this Christmas and a little more "present". So my aim is to explore the techniques of meditation in this blog to help offer a solution to quietening the mind in this busy time and ideally help you derive a sense of well-being.
What is meditation?
Meditation is “an advanced state of concentration in which one single object of concentration flows without interruption” (Tigunait, 2014), in other words you concentrate on one thing, usually the breath.
Meditation is not a process or technique but in fact the result of many steps or processes. According to Ashtanga philosophy, in order to enter the state of Meditation (Dhyana) we must first, withdraw from the senses (material senses/Pratyahara) and anchor our mind to one single thought (Dharana/concentration), this is usually the breath (Pranayama/regulation of the breath).
It’s not easy, this is why it is called a “practice” but I have collated a couple of techniques that may help in controlling of the mind.
Setting the scene:
Set yourself up in a calm and quiet place with as little distractions as possible, preferably inside away from bugs and insects.
Candles and incense may help you to relax and feel calm.
You can meditate anytime throughout the day.
However, the Yoga Sutras suggest just the best times to Meditate are sunrise and sunset.
Before sunrise is recommended, as you haven’t experienced any stressful situations as yet. At this time the mind has not yet had a chance to be shaken.
Don’t check Instagram or Facebook before or some time after, try to keep it a technology free environment.
Not all meditations require you to be seated, but it is worth practicing a good-seated posture when you can.
You may choose to meditate lying down in Savasana.
Or standing, if you are a VAMPIRE…(reminder to watch “what we do in the Shadows”, if this lame joke made you chuckle).
Guided meditation or Yoga Nidra:
What is Yoga:
‘Yoga’ means ‘union’, coming together, an awakening to or an awareness of our true self. According to Patanjali, Ashtanga Yoga provides us with eight steps, the eighth and final step or ‘limb’ of yoga is delineated as ‘samadhi’ or ‘enlightenment’. Yoga therefore is a journey of awakening to our true self or enlightenment, (Davis, 2014).
What is Nidra:
The word ‘nidra’ means ‘sleep’. Therefore, Yoga Nidra can be directly translated as meaning ‘awake-sleep’. This involves guiding the body into a deeply relaxed, sleep-like state, yet at the same time keeping the mind quietly alert. “According to Swami Satyananda, in Yoga Nidra we foster a state of mind that is in between wakefulness and dream” (Davis, 2014).
Bette; from Yoga beyond the Mat, says the act of explaining Yoga Nidra to someone who has never done this practice is like “explaining the scent of a flower to someone that has not experienced it. Yoga Nidra is a practice that needs to be experienced in order to comprehend its many benefits. Still, a deeper understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of this classical practice can enhance our experience when we are ready to taste the flower’s nectar” (Yoga beyond the mat, 2014).
Yoga Nidra asks that you focus your attention on different parts of the body, inviting each body part to relax, one at a time. It begins with an awareness of your practice and preparing the mind and the body for what’s to come.
Yoga Nidra then moves the participant through a rotation of consciousness; where you bring your awareness to different parts of the body, letting the mind jump freely from one part to the next, (the right side, the left side, the front and the back).
From there Yoga Nidra will guide you through creative visualisations and soothing images.
To practice Yoga Nidra you need someone to talk and guide you through. There are many CD’s that you can buy to assist you, however I suggest contacting, Bette at Yoga Beyond the Mat for their latest Yoga Nidra CD.
Japa Meditation – Using a mantra:
Reciting a Mantra is called Japa Meditation (Sanscrit) or muttering.
Japa can be practiced aloud, by whispering, or mentally.
You may choose a mantra (word) of your choice, which can be composed of:
A single syllable for example “om”
A string of sounds or
You will continue to repeat the chosen sound/s without stopping for the desired amount of time you’ve allocated for meditation.
For countless generations, Japa meditation has been practiced with the aid of rosaries (Christianity) or “Mala beads”.
A Mala usually consists of 108 beads, and is held in the right hand with the beads draped over the middle finger, or the ring finger, with the palm facing upwards to the sky and the thumb is used to count the bead and drag to the next bead.
To begin, recite your chosen Mantra starting at the bead right next to the GURU bead (the one that stands out with the tassel leading out of it).
Every recitation of the Mantra means you drag the thumb along to the next Mala bead, making your way down the entire length until the Guru bead is reached again. At this point Yoga practitioners should turn the beads around, again moving forward along the Mala in the opposite direction.
Examples of a Mantra:
Om (the sound of the universe)
“Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”
You may even have your own mantra or intention that you are focussing on this week that you’d like to repeat such as “I open my heart to the loving energy of the universe, I open my heart to love, I am loved”.
Mindfulness and focus on the breath:
Practicing Mindfulness is to focus your attention on the present moment. In doing so you are aware of your surroundings but you are not giving them your full attention.
Instead bringing your awareness back to an anchor, such as the breath.
This way you can use your breath to control the mind.
There are a few techniques you can use to focus the mind these include:
Focus on your breath and repeat (to yourself) “breathing in, breathing out, 100. Breathing in, breathing out 99”.
Counting backwards from 100.
When you lose your place, begin again from 100.
Focus on your breath and repeat (to yourself) “breathing in, breathing out, 1. Breathing in, breathing out 3. Counting in 3’s”.
You can always just count 1-100 but the point is to make it tricky enough that you MUST concentrate on the numbers and the breath, if the anchor is too easy, other thoughts will slip into your mind.
The point of mindfulness meditation is to not become disheartened if your mind wanders. If you are distracted by a sound acknowledge the distraction but do not dwell on it. Just allow yourself to come back to your breathing and start the counting again.
Tigunait, (2014) states “it is the nature of the mind to think. Therefore if the mind starts wandering during meditation, do not criticize it or force it to focus on your mantra. Simply remind yourself gently that you have put aside this particular period of time for meditation and bring your mind back to your mantra. Keep your mind engaged with the business at hand—the object of your meditation—and it will have no reason to attend to any other business”.
Another technique is focussing on the flame of a candle.
Take a seated position and set the candle in front of you, ensuring that you are not in a windy place as the flame should be still and tall.
Take some time to stare at the candle and focus your mind only on the flame (perhaps 100 breaths).
Then take some time to close the eyes and meditate bringing the focus to the third eye and the colours and shapes that appear.
Repeat this process 2-3 times.
The benefits of meditation:
To allow the body and mind to rest and recover. It is said that Yoga Nidra (an hour practice), is said to be as beneficial as 4 hours sleep.
Meditation reduces stress levels, and helps you better manage stressful situations.
As Tigunait (2014) states, “at the initial stage, the senses and mind are withdrawn and made one-pointed. That one-pointed mind flows constantly toward one object without being distracted by petty emotions, thoughts, memories, and anxieties” (p.1).
Combined with Asana (yoga postures) practice, Meditation is a great tool to manage the mind at this stressful period of time.
Meditation helps establish a greater connection with yourselves rather than being distracted the outside world, materials, anxieties and emotions.
I hope this blog provides an easy go to guide for your meditation practice. I hope you find the time to try of the techniques once or twice this week and I would love to hear any feedback that you have from your practice!
End text references:
Davis, A. (2014). Yoga’s Sweetest Nectar: Yoga Nidra. (http://www.byronyoga.com/yoga-s-sweetest-nectar-yoga-nidra)
Tigunait, P. (2014). What is Meditation. Retrieved from:
Yoga beyond the mat, (2014) retrieved from: http://www.yogabeyondthemat.org/about-betty-kahlert/