I used to hate meditating. I mean I really really despised it, but I had to keep it a secret because I loved yoga, and I was good at yoga; it was a part of my identity. So every time class got to meditation, I would pretend I was totally there, in some meditation zone, while I was secretly making my grocery shopping list and figuring out what I would wear to work the next day. I thanked my lucky stars that meditation, unlike a handstand, was so easy to fake.
I thought that in meditation, you enter some mysterious other world, that you see flashing lights and have out of body experiences. I thought it was some mystical, magical thing that I would never ever attain.
But then I ended up at an Ashram in India for a month (sometimes I make really spontaneous, not completely thought-out decisions) and I decided–it’s time to stop faking it. It’s time to really learn.
What I discovered is that meditation is easy! There’s nothing to it, nothing scary or intimidating or mystical.
Meditation means observing
I just want to clarify, first and foremost, that meditation (at least according to me) is nothing more than observing your thoughts, and then slowly and gently coming to a place where the thoughts can stop, or at least get diminished greatly.
Meditation does not mean lotus pose
You absolutely do not have to be sitting on the ground in lotus pose to meditate. The only reason that traditionally meditation in Asia took place in lotus pose was because these were cultures in which people regularly and often, in their everyday lives, spent time sitting on the floor, in postures that were variations of lotus pose- so this was comfortable to them. In the West, chairs are what we spend our time in. So here’s the deal, the only thing that matters about your meditation posture is that you’re comfortable, and that you can stay in that posture comfortably for a longish period of time without your legs tingling and falling asleep. If that means a chair, that’s totally fine. If you want to play around with a seated posture on the floor, make sure to use a bolster to lift your bum off the ground. And then just sit up straight–head, neck, truck in alignment.
Like everything, routine rules
You’ve heard it before and I’ll tell you again- meditation is no different than anything else, you have to use your willpower to create a routine at first, and then it will become effortless, a part of your habits. I find that it’s easier to mediate in the morning than in the evening (and during the day is nearly impossible). For me, morning is best because the brain is still naturally a bit groggy, so it’s not as hard to ask it to slow down (more on that later). It’s best to wake up before your partner/ family/ children and find a quiet place in your home. I love this time of morning, it’s so innately sacred, quiet, dark. Light a candle and set an alarm on your phone for as long as you want to be sitting, that way your mind isn’t distracted with “I wonder what time it is” thoughts.
You don’t have to close your eyes
I find that this changes depending on the day, but some days closing the eyes just doesn’t feel right. Then don’t do it! We close our eyes in meditation because it brings our attention and awareness inward, and closes out visual distractions. But if closing your eyes feels forced, don’t do it. Instead find a gentle gaze about 2-3 feet in front of you on the ground and close your eyes about halfway.
Your breath will guide you
Remember how I said you have to sit up straight? Well that’s because it’s the only way you can take full breaths. The breath is used in yoga and meditation to seduce the mind. So when you sit down and get all comfortable, your biggest key to getting your mind to calm down the spastic racing of thoughts is to make it focus on the breath; let the breath be the lullaby. Focus on drawing out the breath to be long and juicy, and remove any pauses at the top or at the bottom of the breath.
Observe and stop judging
There are many visualizations that are meant to help with meditation, and they’re all great in their own way, but the one that helped me the most is when I was taught to imagine that I’ve turned on a TV screen in my mind’s eye, and all the thoughts that come into my mind as I meditate are being played on on the screen. But I’m no longer the main actor of these thoughts, I’m just an observer. There’s no reason to push these thoughts away, or be angry that your thinking them— if a thought comes across the TV screen, let it play out, without any judgement or condemnation for yourself. And when you’re ready to move on, switch the channel. And repeat this over and over again. You’ll see, with time, the mind will start to calm down and stop filling your TV screen with crud and leave you some free time in front of a blank screen, which is more relaxing and refreshing than any sleep could ever be.
Not everyday is the same
Some days just aren’t cut out for meditation. Hell, some time periods in life aren’t either, and that’s ok. Keep the good habits that you’ve set though: wake up early, and enjoy the little bit of quiet-time to yourself; even if you’re not sitting up straight and focusing on your breathing.
Also by Irina: The Single Most Important Key to Happiness
More meditation tips: 4 Alternate Forms of Mediation You Can Start Today
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