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I recently finished yoga teacher training, and the one thing that’s eluded me on this journey is meditation. I’m pretty close to some impressive arm balances and inversions. I can Chattarunga with the best of them.
But I’ve realized it takes years to master meditation. I knew that to achieve the goals I set out for, I’d have to begin a practice. Throughout the training I told myself I’d wait until the New Year to really crack down and do it. Yes, it was an excuse. And, barely a week into 2013, it’s just as hard as I knew it would be.
So here are the things I’m telling myself, to keep going, knowing the results will eventually be transformative.
1. Throw rules out the window.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to meditation. During the many hours of yoga class and stacks of reading I did, I realized I’d always been afraid to attempt to sit in solitude because I would be doing it “wrong.”
Well, it’s completely normal to feel uncomfortable with being still, even for the most seasoned practitioners. Today, most of us spend our days on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email—and that’s just when we AREN’T working at our desk jobs. It’s much, much harder to quiet the brain than it was 3,500 years ago when yogis sat in caves for months and years to meditate.
So give yourself a break. A yoga teacher once told me, let the thoughts come in and then float away like a piece of driftwood on a river. Acknowledge your thoughts. Say hello, even. Then say, okay, we’ll touch base later. And focus on your breath instead.
2. Create a sacred space.
I am very much a creature of habit, so this is important to me. Make a space in your home where you can commit to your meditation practice. You might even consider making an altar. I just made one in a corner of my living room and it was actually a fun little process. Take things that are meaningful to you, and put them in a spot where you can sit quietly.
Reflect on them for a few moments before you close your eyes. It doesn’t have to be anything that will rearrange your entire room. It could be a picture of your dog, if that’s what brings you peace. My altar is a gilded Buddha statue I somehow acquired from an ex, a picture of my sister and I as kids, a tiny vase of dried lavender, a copy of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and a candle. Simple. I’ll add to my altar as my meditation deepens, but it’s perfect for now.
3. Aim to meditate at the same time each day.
And keep in mind it doesn’t have to be before dawn! Don’t read into that when you’re first starting out. You’ll never last. And I haven’t even tried it. I just know myself well enough to know I’d end up falling asleep. But, get into the habit of fitting it into your routine each day.
4. Don’t time yourself. And don’t look at a clock.
During my practice, I’ve been sitting quietly for as long as I can, until I feel the need to open my eyes. I’m pretty sure the first few days I lasted maybe three minutes. But I’m okay with that. I’m learning. I’m a total beginner. Sure, I can almost hold handstand in the center of the room in yoga class, but no, I can barely sit still for 10 minutes. Patience is all part of the process.
5. Learn a few simple breathing techniques.
You might be familiar with Ujjayi breathing from your yoga class. That’s a great place to start. And there are dozens of other breathing techniques out there, many of them are beginner appropriate. I’ve been doing several rounds of alternate nostril breathing while I meditate. It helps me to focus on something. This may not be the total enlightenment, but at least I’m not thinking about my grocery list or the bills I have to pay.
I propose we all attempt a little meditation in 2013. The benefits are just too much to ignore. I know I will be better for it. I’m looking forward to getting there, slowly but surely.