Adding Meditation to Yoga Practice
5 of 12 in Series: The Essentials of Yoga
Meditation is a mental process involving focused attention, or calm awareness, which is also called mindfulness. Many forms or styles of meditation exist, but two basic approaches stand out: meditation with a specific focus and objectless meditation. The latter is pure mindfulness, without narrowing attention to any particular sensation, idea, or other phenomenon. Most yoga beginners find this kind of meditation very difficult, although some are drawn to it.
Yoga-related meditation with a specific focus
Beginners should start out with meditation on a specific object. The following categories of objects are suitable for this exercise:
A bodily sensation, such as breathing, which makes an excellent focus.
A bodily location, such as an energy center.
A process or action, such as eating, walking, or washing dishes.
An external physical object, such as the flame of a candle.
A mantra (be it a single sound, a phrase, or a chant).
A thought, such as the idea of peace, joy, love, or compassion.
Visualization — a special form of meditation involving your creative imagination to picture light, emptiness, your spiritual teacher, a saint, or one of the many deities of Hindu or Buddhist Yoga.
Following guidelines for successful yoga-related meditation
Here are some vital tips to assist with meditation:
Practice regularly: Try to meditate every day. If this isn’t possible, meditate at least several times a week.
Cultivate the correct motivation: People meditate for all kinds of reasons: health, wholeness, peace of mind, clarity, spiritual growth. Be clear in your own mind why you are sitting down to meditate. The best motivation for meditation (and yoga practice in general) is to live to your full potential and to benefit others by your personal achievements.
Meditate at the same time: Take advantage of the fact that your body-mind is a creature of habit. After a few weeks of meditating at the same time during the day (or the night), you’ll find yourself looking forward to your next meditation session.
Meditate in the same place: Choose the same time, same place for the same reason: Your body-mind enjoys what is familiar. Use this fact to your advantage by setting aside a room or a corner of a room that your mind can associate with meditation.
Select an appropriate posture for meditation and do it correctly: Sit up straight, with your chest open, and your neck free. Don’t recline while meditating — you fall asleep — and don’t meditate on your bed, even in a sitting position. Your mind is likely to associate the experience with sleep. If you’re not used to sitting on the floor, try sitting on a straight-backed chair or on a sofa with a cushion behind your back.
Select a meditation technique and stick with it: In the beginning, you may want to try out various techniques to see which appeals to you the most. But after you find a good technique for your particular needs, don’t abandon it until it bears fruit (in terms of increased peace of mind and happiness), a meditation teacher advises you to change to a different technique, or you feel really drawn to a different technique.
Begin with short sessions: Meditate 10 to 20 minutes at a time at first. Don’t ever force yourself if the timing creates conflict or unhappiness in you. Also, beware of overmeditating. Often, what beginners regard as a nice long meditation is just self-indulgent daydreaming. Make sure that your meditation contains an element of alertness.
Be alert, yet relaxed: Inner alertness, or mindfulness, is not the same as tension or stress. Make sure that your body is relaxed by regularly practicing relaxation exercises. The more relaxed you are, the more alert your mind can be.
Don’t burden yourself with expectations: Entering meditation with a desire to grow spiritually and to benefit from the experience is certainly acceptable. However, don’t expect every meditation to be wonderful and pleasant.
Prepare properly for meditation: As a beginner, don’t expect to be able to jump from the fray of your daily activities straight into meditation. Allow your mind a little time to unwind before you sit for meditation. Have a relaxing bath or shower or at least wash your face and hands.
Be prepared to practice meditation for a lifetime: Don’t give up if your meditation is not what you think it should be after a month or two. Instead, correct your understanding about the nature of meditation and then, persist.