get this question more often about meditation; what it is and what it isn’t and there are quite some mistakes about this. Me personally, I've explored it for over 10 years now, had my times of liking it but mostly disliking it, a lot. Even though I was so attracted to the benefits of it. I knew it could be de-stressing, it could bring a sense of inner peace and the higher achievement would be that this piece lasted throughout the day.
When we interact with people and situations around us when stress starts to push and pull at us and then there's this thing of the mind and thoughts; the big mistake that we could stop thinking. Thinking doesn't stop, however, we can step out of the thinking and it's just a matter of shifting focus and it's really quite simple. I myself for many years would have loved meditation to be something fancy and something high developed and high achievement but it isn't. It can be either one of your first times meditating or after ten years sitting, that you have a very special experience while meditating or just as well the opposite; a very frustrating experience. And the interesting thing is that it's about both.
It's about ‘stepping’ above or away from this idea of what's right and what's wrong. That we call one experience nice and pleasant and the other one frustrating, annoying. In my experience, it's not about going to sit down in a body posture that your body is not ready for and that you have aches all over and pains. So don't go and try to do that if you're not ready for that. That's why meditation comes most often after the preparation of yoga. So the body is open, the energy flows freely, the joints are flexible, the muscles are loose and then sitting up straight is much easier which I see in my classes also with my students.
Being present not drifting off
Then to keep it simple... I thought for a long time meditation could also be done lying down but there is a big big difference with lying down and being vertical. So being either horizontal or vertical because horizontal is very much simulating contemplation and dreams and that sort of imagery. That’s not what the basis of meditation is about. When sitting up we don't travel somewhere else; we’re going deeper into this very moment.
It's not about contemplation of going through memories going through ideas, not even going through feelings. Because it's about not interacting with them; letting them be and it starts first from the very simple senses so; sitting up, tuning into where you are with the five senses one by one. Yes, closing the eyes can help but if you notice you start to drift off you can keep your eyes slowly a little bit open and just stare blurred at the floor. So it’s not to drift off into into idea
s or feelings.
Using music or not
There is a lot of meditation music out there. And the best ones are the most simple ones; the breathing of the ocean, the waves or wind, simple things like that. Whatever has a sense of waves, ebb and flow; so moving away from you and then moving towards you again to refresh your alertness.
I myself love these simple sounds where it’s just sounds of small bells or Tibetan bowls and gongs. Some of them are brighter than the others and it’s just this wave of little sounds of bells that are hardly visible. I turn the volume quite low, but from time to time one of them claims my attention and brings me back to Here and Now.
If your body is not ready for it to sit on a pillow or on the floor... that's all hardcore. It's not a competition so don't go try to do that, don't force yourself into anything but see if there's a way how you can sit up without getting drowsy, without falling asleep. A relaxed chair can be and see if you place a pillow in your back so you’re not leaning all the way backward. If you sit on a chair then it's just placing your hands on to your lap or folding them into each other on your crotch against your belly. You can experiment with how your legs go if you take two sturdy pillows to sit on, that's at least 20 or 15 centimeters, then you can see if you can open your legs and fold them a bit. Don’t go for full Lotus pose or something, don't make it complex. Just be gentle on your knees for sure. For most people and me also for a long time, it’s just sitting in a chair. When your body is not ready for it, then that's okay so don't judge it. It is not a journey of competition, also not with yourself.
In the meditation itself, you can start off with first tuning into the room even before you close your eyes; that you still look around and you visually take notice of; Where am I?
Then when you're ready you close your eyes.
Before you go into it, it's nice to decide for yourself; How long do I want to go meditate?
To set a time and do that with a timer so you can surrender, so you can let go. That's either a countdown timer on your phone or if you're interested to practice more than you can take a mindfulness timer. I have some suggestions; myself I use the app Insight Timer
Decide for yourself whether you take a meditation of ten minutes, fifteen or twenty. I wouldn’t go shorter than ten and much longer than twenty is also not needed. I play somewhere always between ten and twenty. When I want a quick fresh up I take ten minutes, when I’m conservative I take fifteen minutes, when I can dedicate the time to it and really be with it, I take twenty minutes.
All right so the clock is then set up, we’ve taken a position that is comfortable and then once we know the room is secure, the clock is going to take care of us, we can trust that and let go of our visual and close our eyes gently. Then turning into the other senses for a moment. For me, it's always nice to use the ears, if there are meditation sounds or music, or even sounds in the room or outside… To tune into those, to take notice with your ears of what sounds there are. It's all to just reconfirm extra where you are right here, right now
Then we come to the breathing. We have had the eyes and the ears, of course, there is the sense of taste and smell, the more subtle ones. If you want to take time for that you can tune into those as well. Practically it just comes down to having a swallow to clear your throat and then move to the breath. From there on there are several techniques but if we keep it real basic we just stay with the breath, with the sounds of the room and that's all.
Keep it simple
Real meditation is quite a naked experience, meaning: you are undone of any layers, Any activities, anything fancy. It is a practice of modesty, humility, and soberness in the very simple form. I like to say sometimes to my students;
If we are not able to just be with ourselves and our thoughts for a moment, then we are not healthy. Then we are not going to be able to give our healthy selves to anything we do in life.
After that, more subtle signs are coming and those might be ideas that we have let go of that are a bit in the background behind our current stressors. And suddenly they jump up and we have this feeling like Yes! I almost forgot about this, I still need to do that... oh gosh.
I even considered while meditating to take an empty paper with me and to write those things down. This can be great for a brainstorm session but then we are breaking the meditation. On moments when we have those thoughts, we can see it and admit;
Hey I don't have to jump up into that now. If that idea was there and reached out to me, it will be there still once I complete my meditation.
So to have a sense of trust in that and not to be driven and pulled by distractions; To respect both; To draw a line between action, interaction, reaction and being. Both sides have their time and place. On a moment when we dedicate to sit and to really be just to be, then all those impulses might convince us, claim us and scream at us that they are so important. We can then say to those ideas;
You are important and you do matter; when it is your time. But right now I am here in a space of letting go of all these thoughts.
Yes, this might at first feel like a battle. If you were hoping or thinking to get something out of the meditation, that's the moment where it gets really hard. I myself also thought so many times “I fail. I fail at meditation.”
But there is no such thing as failing at meditation because as soon as we are able to see… When I recently sat some background- deeper thought came up and told me that I would almost forget something for an important client… It can even be that inspiring ideas come up that suddenly give me a clue and a solution to a pressing problem. The funny thing is that if I get carried away with these very convincing thoughts and I'm about to leave my sitting position and jump up or even open my eyes because of it, that's where it gets physical this impulse of stress, and then I catch myself often now. In the past, I would jump up and sometimes really abandon the meditation because I was convinced this idea or this thought or this emotion was important, more important than staying in the meditation. But now I can see the restlessness coming and if it comes to a point of opening my eyes or almost jumping up, that it activates the muscles in my body, I can recognize it.
At the moment when we recognize it we can do two things:
1. Most of us get stuck in option one and that is punishing ourselves.
So we saw our pattern, we saw our behavior and then we get grumpy about that because we are doing it again!
2. Option two is that we see it and do not judge it.
Because those impulses are very natural and for a long time our mind with all its distractions has been running the show and we have given a lot of power to our mind. The mind is a great tool that served us well but if we give it too much power we start to serve the mind and not the other way around.
As I said halfway, it is a sign of sanity if we can stay with our thoughts despite how screaming they are or grumpy they can be, we can still stay with them and not judge them. So the practice to me is about then becoming soft. With these sharp impulses or the strong pushes and pulls, to be gentle on that moment, to forgive myself for it, to acknowledge that that is part of Being Human and also to trust that my alarm will go at some time and if I make it just all the way through of being here, that is already a beautiful practice.
It is not about stopping the thinking or how far we can move away from the thinking, if we get into the space behind the thinking or how long we can. Those things might happen but it is not a competition and it’s not important to go measure those things. So even if there is a lot of release of impulses and stress, it can be very beneficial.
Back when I was in Bali my teacher showed me something interesting. Hranush and I were having meditations and we were getting frustrated at times. Then the teacher explained:
“It is because you are available and you are creating and allowing space, deeper stresses and old frustrations also get space so they come to the surface.”
The fact that you get all these impulses is a sign that your space is reaching onto a deeper level and that you are basically releasing old noise from deeper levels. Even the most frustrating meditation that feels like a failure can be very beneficial and give a sense of great cleansing and healing.
You probably already heard, read or knew many of the things I'm sharing here so that is why I try to keep it personal, what it has been for me and what it has not been.
A funny thing is that nowadays with my yoga students in the group in the park I am introducing meditation also more, not because I have this whole pile of diplomas or at that I am every day so enlightened but it is more to share the practice and to also share the frustrations and the difficulties, the challenges that come up with it. To talk about what works for me, what works for you, to share ideas and dedicate time for it together because it's so easy to get sucked up into stress and busy life. So to support one another a little bit and to remind ourselves and each other that life doesn't have to be a racing train from morning until evening, that we fall into and at the end of the day fall out of back into our beds.
I refuse to let life pass by like that any longer. I have had it a long time and I still catch myself having it at times and I now know that I can then on the moment just take a breath, come back into my body even if it's a five-minute practice or a moment when I'm waiting in the queue in the supermarket and all the stories could trigger me to be frustrated but then to come back to myself and see that I don't have to judge any of that. I become softer with myself, my breath comes back again because when I am stressed... when all of us are stressed we block our breathing very much. So that comes back and then there is quite a sense of relief and I start seeing the world around me not only through frustration and negativity and judgments, which happens so easily. Then those judgments make more space and I can reconnect again to the neutrality of the moment; that things around me aren’t necessarily good or bad. That gives a great sense of freedom throughout the day. That is what meditation brings me, how simple I try to implement it.
Ten steps on the road to glory with meditation ;)
1. Thinking doesn't stop and that’s completely fine.
2. Sit up so you don’t drift off.
3. Take a comfortable position, start with a chair.
4. It’s being present with what is, not wandering off into stories.
5. Sounds or subtle music can help to stay alert.
6. Set a timer so you can surrender. A nice app: Insight Timer
7. Use your 5 senses to tune into the present moment.
8. Ideas might pop up, if they truly matter they can wait.
9. It might feel frustrating or unsatisfying but you will likely release stress at a deeper level.
10. Try to be gentle with yourself.
Click here for a list of more practical meditation tips.