“Those who aspire to the state of yoga should seek the Self
in inner solitude through meditation.”– The Bhagavad Gita
The quest for enlightenment (or whatever) is why I practice meditation, but people come to it for many reasons. Since I am always curious, I asked friends and fellow teachers to share a bit about their personal experiences. Who am I kidding? I was feeling competitive: I wanted to see if other people were better at meditating than me (#TypeA, #youknowIamjokingright?). You be the judge:
Why are we even doing this?
Nearly everyone I spoke with mentioned a desire to slow down and connect with themselves. But once you do that, guess what happens? The 50,000 – 70,000 thoughts you have per day seem to bombard you all at once (or is that just me?). So a critical part of the practice is, as yoga teacher Kathleen Reynolds describes it, “disentangling” ourselves from those thoughts.
Though my beautiful friend Suzie Blackman says she often feels hyperaware of her thoughts, meditating allows her to both observe and work through them.
“I experience the thoughts and then watch my mind as it clings to one and then moves on to the next,” she explained. “This sort of temporary-ness is why I meditate; to remind myself that ‘this too shall pass’ and to embrace the present.”
<span “font-size:11.0pt;font-family:”calibri”,”sans-serif”;mso-ascii-theme-font:=”” minor-latin;mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-latin;=”” mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”=””>Sometimes, there are more acute reasons that draw people to meditation. <span “font-size:11.0pt;font-family:”calibri”,”sans-serif”;=”” mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-bidi-theme-font:=”” minor-latin”=””>Michelle Schenker, who, like me, struggles with anxiety, recently began a regular practice to create a greater sense of calm. And nearly three months in, she’s pretty pleased with the results.
“It’s exceeded my expectations. I have seen real shifts in my anxiety level and ability to cope with stress in a very short period of time. It has given me tools that I have been seeking outside of medication for years!” she told me.
How do we choose?
There are nearly as many ways to meditate – mindfulness, transcendental, vipassana, yoga nidra, zen, the list goes on – as there are reasons for embarking on a practice. One size definitely does not fit all.
For example, Kathleen first learned Sudarshan Kriya, a breathing technique, which is very meditative. As her practice evolved, she began working with a silent mantra meditation, which encouraged her to explore “the space between thoughts and the experience of bliss in silence.”
Like Kathleen, I also practice mantra meditation. I know myself, the more complicated I make the process, the less likely I am to stick with it. In fact, of the various options teachers have given me, I specifically chose a short mantra; if I even think of using a longer one, I get exhausted.
The good news is there are so many tools available online that it’s easy to experiment with different styles of meditation (I’ve included a few links at the bottom of this post with some resources). Inevitably, you can find one that works for you.
What can we expect?
As a goal oriented person, I am eager to see demonstrable results from anything I do, including meditation. When I began my practice several years ago, I had high hopes for feeling, well, high; I wanted my meditation to result in some sort of energetic, cosmic, profound experience. Kathleen describes exactly what I long for in this blog post. Energy shooting from your tailbone to your crown? Being held in the hand of God? I am pretty envious, I’m not gonna lie.
But others go into it with different expectations. Some even go into it with no expectations whatsoever.
“I don’t think I had any fixed ideas before starting the practice,” Suzie told me. “To me, it is just about connecting with the moment. And the moment might be shitty. The idea is to feel it and let it move through you, because that’s the only way the next moment can arise. And the next moment might be light-filled and joyous.” She’s pretty wise, isn’t she?
Marisa Martucci, another fellow teacher, had a simple yet profound hope for her practice: “I needed to find joy. I needed to find myself.”
Getting on with it
That is not to say that it’s easy to do any of this. Suzie copped to sometimes dreading the idea of sitting down to practice. “Being a classic Pitta, I tend to want to move all the time,” she said. “But I think meditation has helped to soften me. It’s allowed me to slow down and realize that I don’t always need to be active and sweat. There is a very special sort of release that can only happen through sitting in quiet and stillness.”
And sometimes, circumstances change so the practice needs to change with it.
After the birth of her son, Kathleen’s dedicated time for practice, away from interruption, was put on pause. She found meditative moments where she could: while nursing her baby, for instance. Later, after experiencing some health challenges, Kathleen found her practice needed to evolve yet again.
“I was focused on reclaiming my body after not feeling well,” she told me. At that time, it was asana that she needed rather than a sitting practice. “I rediscovered the meditation in physical practice – linking body and breath. At that time, I developed a vigorous and almost daily asana practice that served as my meditation.”
Since then, her practice has been further refined. Today, she refers to it as being “knit together,” incorporating a powerful combination of asana, pranayama and meditation.
Progress and epiphanies
I can’t tell you that I necessarily feel differently since I began meditating regularly. Not too long ago, though, a close friend paid me what I consider the highest compliment. She told me that she’s noticed a marked difference in me in recent years. To her, I seem calmer, more peaceful and better able to handle stress. So, although I might not be sure of the impact, those I near and dear to me seem to be noticing a difference.
Others I spoke to have experienced for themselves the impact of meditation .
“At the beginning I had so much emotional pain and noise in my head,” Marisa told me. “With time, my mind got quieter. The pain dissolved or was released. Life still has challenges, but the difference is that I can find peace faster than I used to.”
Words of Encouragement
Often, when I ask people if they meditate, the response is a sheepish, “I should.” Or, even more frequently, “I can’t.”
In my opinion — given our culture and its penchant for stress and over stimulation — just sitting quietly and focusing on your breath for a few minutes a day is a really profound practice. And I am pretty sure anyone can do that.
I think people (and by “people,” I am referring to myself) sometimes imagine that meditation means having “no thoughts.” But, as Michelle cautioned, “Meditation is not the absence of thought. It’s learning to notice thoughts; notice them and release them without judgement. That’s how we develop the ability to manage our mind versus the other way around.”
I’ll let Marisa have the last word:
“Meditating is a practice. We begin again every time we sit. Don’t over think, just sit and try it.”
Following are some of the tools that Kathleen, Marisa, Michelle, Suzie and I have used. If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of sitting down to meditate, try checking one or more of these out: