by Judi Checo
I started practicing yoga in the late 90’s, but I didn’t develop a meditation practice until a little over a year ago when it became a requirement of my yoga teacher training. Prior to that, I had very skeptically and sheepishly tried it a few times and decided rather quickly that I was a “bad meditator”. Whenever I sat to “quiet my mind”, it seemed MORE thoughts came flooding in and at the time, I believed the whole point was to “empty” my mind completely. Guided meditations worked better, but even there I struggled to focus or stay awake. I decided it wasn’t for me and instead focused on my yoga practice, not fully cognizant of the fact that actually, meditation was the whole point behind the asana.
Master Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras defines yoga in Sanskrit, the ancient and powerful language of yoga, as Yoga Citta Vrtti Nirodhah meaning “the cessation of the machinations of the mind.” In other words, stopping our monkey minds from all their scattered-ness and their turning things around the wrong way. You know what I’m talking about. That whole story you tell yourself when you’re convinced your super doesn’t like you because of that ONE time he was too busy to say hello. Or how you can’t stop obsessing about that argument you had with your boyfriend (subsitute girlfriend, sister, mother, co-worker here!) and how right you were (and how wrong they are) and why they can’t SEE that. Yoga aims to help us stop this useless churning of our thoughts, and turn our minds in a better, more loving and productive direction through meditation.
you are the sky, everything else is just the weather
Our asana practice was created as preparation for meditation. Sri Swami Satchidananda broke it down this way when he explained the state our bodies need to achieve in order for us to sit and meditate: “ As soon as we sit in a particular position, there is a small cramp here, a tiny pain there. We have to move this way and that. Continuously we are reminded of our legs, hands, hips and spine. (Therefore)….The body must be so supple it can bend any way you want it to. Such a body will always be healthy and tension free. The moment we sit down for meditation in such a body, we’ll forget it.” Hence, asana!
Master B.K.S. Iyengar said, “This process of relaxing the brain is achieved through asana.” Think about how you feel after yoga class, in savasana….that limberness of your body, that clarity of mind, that physical and emotional lightness of being. This system of movement was created to get you to achieve that state in savasana (which is in itself a form of meditation), and to facilitate further states of meditation.
My thoughts can sometimes come through like a freight train, non stop one after the other at the speed of hell on wheels. My teacher, Kelly Morris often says, “meditation is asana for the mind.” And I learned very quickly what she meant by that when I committed to meditating daily. Contrary to what I had believed before, stopping your thoughts is NOT the point of meditation. The point is to watch them, and let them go. Realize you are NOT what you think, but you are simply HAVING this thought. Pema Chodron says, “you are the sky, everything else is just the weather.” In other words, the sky is the same always, the weather is what changes. Your thoughts are the weather, ever changing clouds that WILL pass leaving only the constant truth of the beautiful, blissful blue sky that is you. Once you can make this separation, you’ll begin to connect with the primal truth of who you are: which is not your thoughts, or your feelings, or your hair color, or your size … but a living, breathing, beautiful being doing your best, like all the other living, breathing, beautiful beings of this great and holy universe.
Study after study has proven that people who practice some form of regular meditation experience greater calm, emotional balance and flexibility, improved concentration and memory, improved decision making, and more recent studies suggest that it may also improve communication among different parts of the brain in ways that further improve physical and emotional health. Plain and simple: meditation literally reconfigures the brain in a more productive and positive way. (Ya’ll, it makes you HAPPIER!).
Personally, it’s changed my life by literally planting the most potent seed of self love I’ve ever been able to cultivate in a sustainable way, which in turn has allowed me to be more loving and compassionate with others. Being able to sit with all the parts of myself, the good, bad and ugly, without judgement, with compassion; being able to separate myself from my thoughts and emotions and not be consumed by them but objectively observe them; sitting and feeling my breath, that miraculous elixir responsible for all life, has been such a powerful, humbling experience. It’s completely changed my world view opening my heart to myself, and helping me be more soft, open and compassionate with others than ever before. This doesn’t mean I still don’t get angry, jealous, impatient, or get caught up in my ego stuff because I do. What it DOES mean is that I can slow that train down enough to not react to every thought or emotion that comes through me, or at least to choose a better reaction most of the time.
So how do you start to meditate?
See the list of books and links at the end of this blog entry to help you out. Attend a meditation class or workshop. I started small. 3 minutes a day for a week. Then 5 minutes a day for the following two weeks. Then 10 minutes a day for a month, working my way up to 20 minutes which is where I’m still currently at with it (and hoping to increase from there). Try to meditate at the same time every day, but if that’s not possible whenever you can carve out the time. My meditation practice involves following and feeling my breath,always coming back to it (some call this method vipassana), but there are dozens of ways to go. You can use a mantra, or a guided meditation, or maybe a walking meditation will be your thing. Find what works best for you and do it consistently until it becomes a habit.
Confession: I still struggle sometimes. I certainly can’t say that I jump out of bed and rush to my meditation cushion with love and excitement (yet! hopefully someday!) Most of the time I want to hit the snooze button and sleep those extra minutes in the morning. And no one gets it more than me that after a long day, all you may want to do is eat popcorn, drink wine and watch Olivia do her thing on Scandal. Also, I’ve fallen off the meditation horse from time to time. But, I will say that when I do fall off, BOY do I feel it (the full on return of the hellish freight train is NO fun ride.) So I just bring myself back to my cushion, without berating myself for any days I’ve missed. And I start over. Just sitting, making the time to take 5 or 10 minutes- whatever you can do, to tap into your breath, your mantra, yourself is a successful meditation.
We’re in the heart of winter. Daylight is scarce and we are only a week away from the shortest day, and the longest eve of the year: the Winter Solstice on the 21st of this month. There’s a stillness and a silence in the air that beckons us to slow down and mirror that stillness and silence from within. At the same time the Holiday season is upon us and there is so much to do: decorating, shopping, traveling, parties and celebrations. The time seems to be flying by as we near the end of another year. Stress and anxiety from our long to-do list can make it difficult to connect with that calling to slow down and get still. And yet, that’s exactly what will help us be the most productive and present to enjoy (and survive!) it all. It’s a perfect time to start. Namaste.
GREAT BOOKS TO GET YOU STARTED:
Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzberg (also look for her audio guided meditations)
Meditation: How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with your Mind by Pema Chodron
Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield (who also has amazing guided meditations)
CELEBRITY BOOKS ON MEDITATION:
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in my Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge,
and Found Self Help That Actually Works— A True Story by Dan Harris
Success through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple by Russell Simmons
Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson
LINKS ON THE BENEFITS OF MEDITATION:
From Collective Evolution
From Psychology Today
From The New York Times
From The Huffington Post
Welcome to our Bread and Yoga Teacher’s Blog! Each month we’ll feature a new teacher on our staff, each one sharing their unique voice with the community. Check out Judi’s classes on Sundays at 10:30AM (Bilingual Hatha) and 11:30AM (Hatha Flow).