~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Yoga Basics: Introduction to Meditation

September 28, 2010
In the beginning, the movement and breathing practices of hatha yoga offer plenty of rewards to keep one’s practice humming happily along. In the classical yoga tradition, though, these techniques are offered not as ends in themselves, but rather as preparation for seated meditation. And so it’s not surprising that many yoga students find themselves over time drawn inward toward more quiet and contemplative practices.

Are you interested in giving meditation a try? Sit in a comfortable seated position, set a timer for 10 minutes and explore one of the following strategies designed to focus and quiet the mind. But be forewarned - meditation is a delightfully simple practice, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy!

Just sit. Commit to doing nothing more than sitting quietly and watching what happens. Don’t pick up the phone, don’t answer the doorbell, don’t add another item to your to-do list. Just sit and observe the thoughts that arise and pass in the mind. You will likely be surprised by how difficult it is to sit quietly for 10 minutes. In the process, though, you may learn something important about the qualities of the restless mind and the ever-changing nature of life.

Listen to the sounds of life. Close your eyes and key into the sounds percolating both within and around you. Settle your body, open your ears and adopt a receptive attitude. At first, you’ll likely hear only the most obvious noises, but over time you’ll discover new layers of distant, subtle sounds you had previously tuned out. Challenge yourself to observe what you hear without clinging to it or resisting it. Notice how the world is enlivened and enriched as your awareness of the present deepens.

Practice bare attention. Settle into the raw sensations of the present moment: feelings of warmth and coolness, hardness and softness, pressure and ease. Which parts of your body do you sense pressing down into the earth? Which parts of your body feel the air circulating about you? How does your body’s shape shift with each inhalation and exhalation, and how does your experience change over time? Cultivating an awareness of the present moment will foster a calmer and more attentive mind, one that is able to settle with fullness into the here and now.

Follow the breath. Attach your mind to the breath. While breathing in, note that you’re breathing in, and when you’re breathing out, train your mind on the exhalation. Don’t manipulate the breath in any way, just watch it with your mind’s eye like you would follow a tennis ball bouncing from one side of the court to another during a particularly engrossing match. When you find that your mind has strayed, as it inevitably will, gently refocus it on the breath and begin again.

Use a mantra. Choose a favorite word, phrase, prayer or fragment of a poem, and repeat it slowly and softly. Let its rhythm and meaning lull you into a quiet and contemplative state of ease. When you notice that your mind has wandered off to other thoughts, simply redirect it back toward the words you’ve chosen as your anchor and rededicate your awareness to them.

Practice kindness. As you sit quietly, focus your inner attention on someone you know who might benefit from an extra dose of kindness and care. In your mind’s eye, send this person a sense of love, happiness and wellbeing. Soften your skin, open the floodgates of your heart and let gentle goodwill to pour forth.

This article was originally published in Yoga Journal (July 2004)