If you’re ready to move beyond the practice of asanas (postures), you might have tried any number of the other practices of Patanjali’s eight-fold path. Dhyana or meditation (the seventh limb of the path), is the one that students regularly get hung up on and have trouble getting started, despite its extraordinary benefits. Research has shown that the benefits of a regular meditation practice can include decreased stress, anxiety and depression, an improved ability to regulate emotions, better sleep, and an increase in overall happiness. Who doesn’t want that? So, what’s stopping us? Some say they have trouble quieting their minds, others complain that there isn’t enough time in the day to stop and take a pause. Whether you choose to meditate with an experienced instructor before asana practice or after, or stick with a private home meditation practice, below are some helpful suggestions to help get you started.
- Find a good spot. Location is crucial. Of course, you wouldn’t want to choose a busy or loud area of your home to meditate–our thoughts are distracting enough without the addition of external noise or disruptions. Choose a relatively quiet place where you can sit for a length of time (ideally, at least 15-20 minutes), uninterrupted. This could be somewhere in your bedroom, outdoors in a semi-secluded or secluded spot, or even just a small corner in your home. Anywhere is a good place to meditate as long as it’s clean and relatively quiet.
- Choose a time of day that works for you. Research shows that the best way to create a habit is to do it at the same time each day. Your home might be most quiet in the early morning before everyone else rises or it might be more peaceful in the evening, before bed. Try meditating at different times of the day to find which works best for you. (Tip : Try not to meditate when you are either really hungry or directly after a meal when you are full. The feeling of your body could possibly distract you from calming the mind.)
- Use props. If you’re like me, you might have trouble just sitting cross-legged for an extended amount of time. If you have a (yoga) block at home, try sitting on it while you meditate. I’ve found this to be immensely helpful! Or you can purchase a meditation cushion. If that doesn’t work for you, you can also try sitting on a chair or with your back against the wall. Once you find the right spot, place your hands on your legs or in your lap before you begin.
Finally, just like our yoga practice, one size does not fit all. If you’re unsure about what kind of meditation practice might be best for you, try a few different styles until you find the one that works best. Here are just a few different kinds of meditation you can explore.
- Guided: Guided meditations are great for the beginner who might have trouble quieting the mind. Tara Brach, founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington has free guided meditations available online. And like most other things, there’s an app for that! Among the many meditation apps you can try are Headspace and Calm (most of these have a monthly or yearly subscription fee attached to them after a free trial period).
- Zen: Zen meditation (or zazen), is typical of the Buddhist tradition and relies on breath control and the observance of breath as a fundamental element.
- Mantra: In this type of meditation, a word or phrase is silently repeated over and over by the meditator. This can be done with or without the aid of a mala, which contains 108 beads that can be used to count each repetition of the word or phrase. Yoga Journal lays out step-by-step instructions for mantra meditation.
- Transcendental: Transcendental meditation (TM) is a type of meditation that prescribes a particular Sanskrit word (based on your age and gender), to be continuously and silently repeated to achieve a state of calm and inner peace. This type of mediation has gained lots of celebrity attention in the past few years. Paul McCartney, Ellen Degeneres, and Oprah Winfrey all practice TM. One downside is that TM is typically taught by a certified teacher and there is usually a cost associated with learning it.
The bottom line is, just do it. Once you start, stay with it and don’t give up. Just like our yoga practice, meditation is one of those things that you’ll need to continuously work on to get better. And ask for tips and suggestions from knowledgeable teachers when you need to. See you on the mat!
— Michele Novy