Ask a Yogi: How Do I Start Meditating?

Recently, I’ve seen a surge of requests for meditation instruction.

Fast-paced lifestyles, high-levels of anxiety – it’s no wonder people are looking for ways to slow down.

Learn the basics here: why start meditation, benefits to your mind and body, and meditation methods.

Yoga first started as a meditation practice with only 1 pose – seated meditation. Gradually, poses were added to enhance the meditation experience. Asanas (poses) help the body connect movement to breath, which can be it’s own form of meditation. As well, it’s easier for many people to find stillness in a seated meditation practice after moving. That’s why I like to practice a still meditation after the physical yoga practice.

Yoga: the practice of observing the fluctuations of the mind and achieving relaxed, focused attention.

Why Start a Meditation Practice?

Many people are intimidated to start meditation, because it feels impossible to shut off the mind. However, meditation is not about getting rid of all your thoughts or being so relaxed you fall asleep. It’s an observation of how the mind works — allowing thoughts to come and go without judgment.

Prevent the Hard Reboot

I like to use the analogy of a smartphone. Imagine your phone running with 20 different apps in the background (I am this person). If you constantly have open apps, you might notice your phone doesn’t run as efficiently. 50 percent of the battery is being used by Spotify when you’re not even playing music! Energy is being depleted at a staggering rate, which means you have to plug it in every 3 hours. Overtime, the phone becomes painfully slow. Apps begin to have glitches and stop working. Eventually, you have to do a hard reboot, because the phone won’t stop freaking out.

Your brain is like a smartphone. When you have a 57 things on your mind, it becomes taxing. For example, just within this hour and a half these were just some of the thought trains hibernating in my mind:

  • I need to take a shower
  • Do something productive.
  • Facebook. Instagram. Look at that yoga pose!
  • My yoga class tonight. What am I teaching?
  • I hope Shelby’s class goes well.
  • I’m hungry. I need to buy more food. I need to buy trash bags.
  • All I ate was protein bars today.
  • What am I going to do for a workout tomorrow? I didn’t do anything today.
  • Got to respond to emails.
  • When is Colman coming home? Can we go rock climbing?
  • More social media!
  • Ok, something productive…write the blog post you started…

Meditation closes out all those open apps– it closes out our incessant background thoughts. Meditation is your thumb double clicking the home button and swiping up.

Benefits of Meditation

  • Improve cognitive efficiency- 

    Related to the smartphone example, our cognitive abilities benefit from meditation. A situation you may have been thinking about either consciously or unconsciously can be cleared from your mind. It’s why you may feel a sense of relief after a yoga practice. Meditation acts as a reset button for your mind. You can focus on the task at hand rather than being distracted by thought or stimulus. You become acutely aware of situations or problems. Also, brain science suggests seasoned meditators have more gray matter, which gives humans our information processing power.

  • Concentration and Memory-

    In the same respect as cognitive efficiency, our concentration also improves. Meditation requires unitasking, while almost everything in our fast paced culture, requires multitasking. In the book Deep Work by Cal Newport, he describes how much of our society has forgotten the benefit of focused attention and concentration. He argues, our best products come out of deep focus free from distraction. Unfortunately, most of us are so used to multitasking, single pointed attention is extremely difficult. Your mind wants to be constantly entertained. In a meditation practice, it may distract you with thought or sensation. In line at the store, it may distract you by unlocking your phone. Meditation teaches us how to stay focused. As a result, we experience better recall and memory.

  • Improves Emotional Stability

    Experiencing mood swings or periods of depression? Our mood can improve from a mediation practice. Meditators from the Zazen tradition may refer to emotional stability as equanimity. Equanimity is the ability to observe a situation or sensation without attaching positive or negative connotations. In this respect, seasoned meditators are more likely to react to a situation with reflection rather than a reacting with a charged response. Regulating the emotional state can be powerful for relating to others.

  • Too many to name!

    increased empathy, immune health,  inspires creativity, etc. Read more about all the benefits!

Ways to Practice Meditation

  • Breathing- 

    For a beginner that wants to start meditation, just being aware of your breathing can do the trick. Other ways: count your breaths (inhale 1, exhale 2, inhale 3…etc), listen to the sound of the breath, practice a breathing technique, or pick a region of the body and imagine breathing through this area.

  • Using a Mantra –

    Mantras are effective because the repetitive chanting essentially short-circuits any thoughts patterns. Sometimes malas are used in a mantra meditation to count each time the mantra is repeated. Each bead on the mala represents one spoken mantra. Instead of listening to your inner dialogue, you’ll be focusing on a word or phrase.

  • Visual or Mental Images

    Focus on a physical object like the light of a candle or use your imagination to relax each body part in a guided relaxation. Guided relaxation or progressive muscle relaxation abides by the theory that the body feels what the mind tells it to feel.

  • Sound Meditation

    Listening to a repeated mantra, a singing bowl, or binaural beats. All can contribute to deep relaxation, changing the brain waves. Most people in deep meditation and relaxation experience more Theta brain waves.

    These guided meditation apps are great ways to start your meditation practice. Just don’t forget to close them out 🙂

 

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