I remember when I first sat down to meditate, I was taught to close my eyes and clear the mind… I set my alarm for 10 minutes, sat down on the floor of my apartment, and closed my eyes. Within seconds my mind was bombarded with thoughts and to do lists followed by judgement and criticism culminating in my eyes shooting open after what seemed like an eternity.
I looked down at my timer which hadn’t even clocked a minute yet. In that moment I decided I was too much of a “go go go” person for meditation and perhaps it wasn’t for me. Sound familiar?
Being a yoga teacher though you weren’t let off that easy. Every training I took whether it be here in the states or anywhere else in the world and especially India had a component of meditation.
Stilling my body was hard enough, stilling my mind seemed to be overkill.
Eventually I decided go all in with a Vipassana training, 10 day silent meditation where you meditate for 10 hours a day. I did say I was going all in, right.
It was there that I finally had my meditation aha moment.
Thoughts are okay, thoughts are normal, thoughts are going to be there!
Just like that I went from barely meditating for a minute to sitting for 2 hours by learning how to make my mind shut up, which meant embracing that it wasn’t going to shut up, and that’s when I realized neither will life.
The practice of turning inwards and working out the mind with a few minutes of silence is proving to have profound affects on the mind, body, and emotions. But what does it mean to be mindful and to meditate? And the question I get asked the most…
To meditate is to have focused attention. There are many paths to obtaining and exercising focused attention ranging from chanting, moving, gazing, visualization, breathing and more. For the purpose of this article we will talk about breath focused meditation but keep in mind that is only one of many methods.
The first thing to know is meditation does not mean to have no thoughts. This way of thinking can lead to a lot of frustration and sense of failure (as it did for me when I first started).
This is probably the most important and often overlooked part of meditation. Asking one to sit and focus on the breath and nothing else is asking for failure. Our over stimulated brains are constantly jumping from one thought to another from the past to future, this activity often goes unnoticed because we’re busy engaging in the task at hand however this activity is brought to the forefront when we are no longer distracted and deliberately trying to focus.
Imagine going on a bike ride or attempting to find your 1 rep max deadlift. To complete the ride you may have to shift gears a few times depending on the terrain and strengthen your climbing muscles and to discover your 1 rep max you may have to start off with a lighter weight and slowly add on more. These might not be the best analogies but my point is you have to course correct along the way.
Same goes for meditation. The point is to notice when the mind has wondered and bring it back to the point of focus in this case the breath. As the mindful muscle gets stronger, the length of time it takes to notice the mind has wondered decreases from minutes to seconds. And the mind gets stronger.
Is it going to require hours a day sitting in crossed legged position sitting under a banyan tree… fortunately no!
As with most things in life it’s about quality not quantity. Having a consistent daily practice for 10 minutes is far better than having an hour long practice once ever couple weeks. Consistency is key. Just like you’d brush your teeth every morning you’d brush your brain as well.
I hope now you’re not intimidated to give meditation a shot and maybe even eager to do so. To get started hop on over here to check out some of my free meditations.
As always don’t just take my word for it… Try it out for yourself and report back.
Until next time, stay mindful my friends.
* This post was first published in 2012, it has since been revised.