Meditation: How & Why

 
Meditation: How & Why
 

This past weekend I taught an eight-hour workshop on meditation to a wonderful group of aspiring yoga teachers. I am always so inspired by this particular training and how, with guidance and support, meditation becomes demystified and so much more accessible. Throughout the past few years of teaching this workshop, I am always struck by how this core element of yoga is so difficult to begin and to consistently stick with—and yet it is such an amazingly simple practice that increases ease, health, comfort and joy in life. Meditation is a practice. It is essential to remain dedicated and consistent to reap the benefits of meditation.

If you are unfamiliar with how meditation fits into yoga, I’ll give you a quick overview. Yoga is an eight-limbed system that can create inner peace and the ability to truly know yourself on the deepest level. It allows you to become the highest expression of yourself. Yoga is not a religion and actually can compliment every religion quite nicely. Often people mistake yoga for exercise or just stretching, which, of course it can be, however, the yoga postures are just one element of the eight limbs. While they are indeed an important element, they are not the “be-all-end-all” of what yoga truly is! You can learn more about eight-limbed path of yoga by reading my blog here.

The purpose of the physical postures within the eight-limbed path of yoga is to create a comfortable and strong physical body to assist in the ability to draw your awareness inward. The physical postures create the ability to concentrate without being distracted by aches and pains in your physical body. The postures also create strength in your body in order to sit comfortably for an extended period of meditation without your body becoming yet another distraction—your mind will be enough of a distraction to contend with!

Now that you know a bit about how meditation fits into the structure of the aspects of yoga that you may be more familiar with, I’ll get to the goods about how to meditate and why bother meditating in the first place. Meditation is the process of bringing your awareness into a single pointed focus. You find ONE thing to focus on and attempt to keep your attention on that ONE thing. Many people tell me “oh I’ve tried meditation and I can’t do it, my mind just won’t be quiet.” I always say, well of course it won’t! Nobody’s mind can go from its typical state of noise-noise-noise to perfect stillness in one minute! The purpose of meditation is not to empty your mind, but to offer a space for it to create less thoughts, more distance from them so you don’t identify yourself as your thoughts and more clarity and awareness of your internal world.

Once you select your single point of focus—which could be your breath, a word or phrase, an image or anything you find to be worthy of your focus—you aim to keep your attention on that ONE thing. As you begin this process, I can guarantee you that your mind will wander and wander and wander. Your mind will tell you things like—this is boring, pointless and stupid—or it will get caught up in your laundry list of to-dos’ or worry about that meeting or wonder what so-and-so meant when they said…blah blah blah… sound familiar? This is where the practice comes in. You have to put forth effort to bring your attention back to your ONE point of focus over and over and over again.

Let’s say your mind wanders one hundred times during your practice, then you aim to bring your attention back to your chosen point of focus one hundred and one times. With practice, you begin to find space between your thoughts and the distractions become less and less. Let’s say in a typical minute your mind has sixty thoughts. If you meditate for one minute and have forty thoughts in that minute, that may still feel like a lot of noise, however, it’s still fewer thoughts invading your mind!

I always encourage those new to meditation to begin with just one minute a day. For one week, commit to one minute per day and the next week increase to two minutes and so on. Over time it will become more and more comfortable and the minutes won’t feel like an eternity. There are many meditation apps out there, I prefer Insight Timer because it is free and has a ton of nice guided meditation options or you can use the timer which rings a bell at the beginning and end of the time you set for your practice. You can find meditation classes to take and of course there are plenty of books to read. However, the most important thing is not to get caught up in the learning about it—it is something that must be experienced consistently to gain the benefits—I recommend that you just get started. Meditation has to be practiced as it can be difficult to talk about as language diminishes the practice. Really we have to talk around what it is like because it is more about the experience.

So you might wonder, WHY meditate? If you haven’t noticed, meditation has gotten a ton of press recently. It is being studied profusely and all of the studies seem to be offering quite promising benefits to our health and well-being. Benefits include stress reduction, improved sleep, delaying the aging process, reducing cognitive decline, improving emotional well-being and self-awareness, increasing attention span, increasing compassion and kindness plus many more. Who doesn’t want all of these? Um, yes please!

Do you have one minute right now? Of course you do! Choose a point of focus, anything from paying attention to the rhythm of your breath or a word or phrase such as “love” or “be still” or an inspirational image. Turn on a timer for one minute. Anytime you notice that your mind has been pulled to a distraction (sounds in the environment, sensation in your body, thought or emotion), release the distraction and return your attention to your chosen point of focus. When you try it, let me know your thoughts and experience. I’d love to hear how adding in just one minute or more of meditation daily impacts your life.

5 Body Positive Mantras

5 Body Positive Mantras You Need Now 

(And How To Use Them!)

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When working alongside women who struggle with emotional eating, I am able to witness their renewed commitment to themselves as they create a healthy mindset. They work hard for months and months to change old, self-defeating behaviors with new, self-care focused behaviors. They challenge themselves to shift their perspective around food and emotions in order to develop a deeper connection to themselves through awareness. This is tremendously powerful work! After all of this positive and healthy change, there is a lingering challenge that seems to plague most women (and most likely men). This lingering challenge is how they feel about their body---it is never good enough.

Why is it that we struggle to be content with our bodies? Why can’t we appreciate all of the amazing things our bodies can do? As women, we spend time complaining about our various body parts and feel that some distorted perception of “perfection” would somehow create happiness. Thoughts such as, if I had this-- or-- if I didn't have that, then I could be happy with my body-- seem to plague our minds. There are all of these conditions we place on our ability to be satisfied with our bodies. However, this is simply not true!

Happiness originates from aligning with what is true right NOW. Happiness is not a place to get to later, not before when things may have been different, but an experience of accepting what you have right NOW. Being body positive means being grateful for and content with your body as it is right NOW.

So how do we work to heal this long-standing negative perception of our bodies? How do we shift from disdain and disgust to appreciation, acceptance and gratitude for the body we have right NOW? With practice! So, what do we practice? We practice appreciation, acceptance and gratitude for our bodies in the here and the NOW.

So, you may be wondering what exactly is a mantra and what does it have to do with healing a negative body image? The word mantra means instrument of the mind. A mantra is a powerful tool used to center yourself in order to create a single pointed focus of the mind. When you first begin the practice of using a body positive mantra, your mind will try to argue with the mantra, to disregard it. Your mind will say things like, that’s wrong-- or-- that’s a lie. Your mind will inevitably wander to other random thoughts. This is why we have to practice!

When your mind wanders, try not to get caught into the story and roller coaster of your thoughts. Judging thoughts will be there and are a result of mental conditioning that has been created over the many years you have been struggling with a negative body image. All of the negative stories you have been telling yourself, negative stories you have been hearing from media influences and other people have become deeply engrained.

Remind yourself that this is a challenging process to shift from a negative body image to a more grounded, grateful and positive body image. It will become more comfortable with time and consistent practice. Again, each time your mind wanders, return your focus to your mantra. So, if your mind wanders 100 times, return to your mantra 101 times!

Try this challenge: for the next month, use one or more of the following body positive, self-love mantras. Spend 5 minutes repeating the mantra silently within your mind. After 5 minutes, spend 5-10 minutes journaling to reflect on your experience and how you feel. This time for reflection and journaling is a helpful because with practice, you will begin to notice a positive shift internally. Mantras are a powerful source of transformation that will be evident and reflected back to you through your reflective journaling process. So now, here they are!

5 Body Positive Mantras

1.    In this moment, I accept my body unconditionally.

2.    I am grateful for my body and all that it can do.

3.    I am just right, just as I am.

4.    I am beautiful, inside and out.

5.    I love myself, wholly and completely.

When you embark on this body positive, self-love mantra adventure, you will begin to heal your relationship with your body and in turn with yourself. You will grow in your self-confidence and find a deeper level of appreciation, acceptance, and gratitude for your body as well as for yourself. Most importantly, you will feel this growth from within, the only place that really matters.

One of the best ways to maintain your focus is to reach out and encourage others to practice with you! Who can you inspire to heal their relationship with their body? I’d love to hear how your month-long body positive mantra adventure goes for you, so please, keep in touch!

Yoga Beyond the Postures: Healing Through the 8-Limbed Path

 
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Yoga is often portrayed as a physical, body focused practice, but it is SO much more. Yoga is a practice. It is an 8-limbed path that allows you to connect deeply with the present moment, your highest self, with the divine. Yoga offers the opportunity to peel back the layers of mental, emotional, environmental, and social conditioning. Yoga is an opportunity to tune into your limiting, self-defeating thought patterns that cause discomfort, pain, and unnecessary suffering while at the same time offering growth and healing on the very deepest levels.

When I incorporate yoga therapy into the work I do as an integrative therapist, it typically has very little to do with the physical postures. The focus on the yogic elements is a process of creating a connection with your own internal guidance, inner knowing, inner wisdom and inner truth. The mind/body are intimately interconnected, really—they are just one thing—so addressing the physical body is absolutely a necessary part of the process, however, it is just one limb along the 8-limbed path to freedom.

When engaging with the 8-limbs of yoga there is time to set an intention, contemplate, and integrate the five Yamas and five Niyamas; which together create the first two limbs of yoga. These simple yet powerful concepts (such as the first Yama, Ahimsa: non-harming or kindness) allows a connection and renewed intention with how to approach your internal interaction, your external and environmental interactions with more kindness and love. Ultimately contemplating and integrating these ten concepts leads to emotional balance, internal balance and well-being.

The third limb, Asana, or the physical postures, address the physical body. The postures create freedom and comfort in the physical body by reducing tension, increasing flexibility and developing strength. When engaging with and practicing an Asana it is useful to abandon all attachment to any particular outcome (what the posture looks like). This can be a challenge as your ego may have its own agenda. Practicing a posture offers an opportunity to once again return to contemplating the Yamas and Niyamas. The physical postures, or the Asanas, are meant to combine steadiness and ease in your physical body, promoting and offering steadiness and ease in the mind.

The fourth limb of yoga is Pranayama. This limb offers a dedicated time to breathe and connect with the present moment. When you breathe you draw in prana which is our healing life force and life enhancing energy. Pranayama offers a time to release what does not serve you, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Breath work creates a sense of grounding, preparation and training for the nervous system to be calm and quiet.

As your body becomes steady and at ease, the breathing practices create a calm and serene internal experience, the body/mind is then ready to move into the fifth limb of yoga, or Pratyahara. This is an experience of true relaxation by withdrawing your senses. This limb is all about deep relaxation. The process of surrendering to true deep relaxation is tremendously powerful and allows the possibility to feel, to experience, to open to the expansiveness of your being. The process of deep relaxation is the bridge to the inner limbs of yoga.

The inner limbs begin with the sixth limb, or Dharana, where you create a concentrated point of focus. To create this focus you might use a mantra (word or phrase), your breath, an image, a chant, a candle flame, or anything that is useful for you and assists in the process of creating a one-pointed focus of your mind. Concentration requires effort. The mind will wander, there may be physical sensations that distract you, noises in your environment, emotions that arise and impact the mind/body. The practice is all about returning to your point of focus and maintaining effort to concentrate on your single point of focus.

This practice of concentration can directly lead you into the seventh limb, Dhyana, or meditation. This limb offers the opportunity and ability to completely absorb with the present moment: the only moment. Dhyana offers the opportunity to dive into the space between the fluctuations of your mind. Meditation offers precious moments of complete stillness, complete connection to your point of focus without effort, complete peace. Essentially, yoga IS complete absorption with the present moment. Yoga IS the present moment.

When you experience this deep, timeless connection with the present moment through concentration and meditation you may experience the eighth limb, or Samadhi. Samadhi is sustaining the complete absorption and allowing a connection with your highest self, the divine.

As you embark on your yoga journey, know that yoga is always available. When you set an intention, reflect inward, take a breath, calm your mind/body, you are engaged in the practice of yoga. Samadhi is an opportunity, not a goal. It may be an outcome but not the driving purpose of the practice. When you practice without attachment to outcome, without expectation, you create a deeper freedom and complete surrender. There is no quick path to reach it. In life, you get good at what you practice. With yoga, that is all that is needed: practicing with dedication, consistency and effort. Practice being present, and you are practicing yoga. Practice yoga and can come home to yourself and find true peace, the divine, and a deep connection to all beings.