5 Effective Steps Towards True Meditation
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As a dedicated yogi, meditation has come up quite a bit in my practice over the years. My teacher would advocate for at least one hour of meditation time in a day. During that hour, I learned to still my mind, chant mantras, and quiet the outside world so that my inner self could emerge.
It may seem easy. After all, how difficult can it be to sit in Sukhasana (easy pose), close your eyes, and focus your mind? There’s no need to work on your core strength or your flexibility. All you need to do is breathe and focus.
But meditation can be hard. As challenging as an asana can be, meditation can be even harder.
This is because meditation is stripped of all physical embodiments. In an asana, you can focus all your thoughts on grounding your feet. Or on pressing your palms down on the mat. The focus is, for the most part, external.
But in meditation, your thoughts are on nothing. The mind should be quiet. There’s no need to focus on something external to keep the mind still because the mind is already void of thoughts and emotions. It is akin to still water. Constant. Unmoving.
For most of us, that seems like an unachievable goal. How can we possibly quiet a mind that is full of thoughts and opinions? How can we meditate?
Here are a few important and effective steps to follow if you wish to achieve true meditation:
Accept that it is difficult
The first thing to do is to accept that meditation is difficult and a lifelong process. In the eight limbs of yoga, meditation, or dhyana, is featured as the seventh limb before enlightenment, or Samadhi. This means that the practitioner would have ideally achieved the previous six limbs before even attempting meditation.
True meditation is difficult and probably one of the most challenging things you can achieve in your life. You might get there one day, or you may not. Understanding and accepting this is key to helping you move forward.
» READ MORE: 7 Meditation Styles For Beginners
Practice pranayama, pratyahara, and Dharana before dhyana
If you’re practicing yoga, chances are you’re already practicing asanas on a regular basis. Where you can, you should also try to incorporate the practice of pranayama, pratyahara, and Dharana, and do it in that order.
Through pranayama, you learn to connect breath with movement so that your breath flows in a harmonious way. Pranayama is a yogi’s first contact with meditation, as it requires you to consciously focus on your breath and nothing else.
Pratyahara – withdrawal from the senses – requires us to disassociate from our sense of touch, taste, feel, sight, and hearing. When practicing pratyahara, it is not to say that we don’t experience these senses, rather, we make a conscious effort to withdraw from them and to detach ourselves from them. We may feel happy or sad, but the emotion does not affect us in any way. We become observers of our own emotions instead of participating in them.
Dharana – one-pointed concentration – is a crucial practice to master before one begins to think about meditation. In Dharana, we bring our focus inward to focus on a single mental point. Through this concentration, the mind and its ever-flowing thoughts slow down and eventually go quiet. In Dharana, we begin to bring our focus inwards towards the mind.
Once you’ve mastered these three practices, the process of meditation (dhyana) not only becomes smoother but also more effective.
» READ MORE: Why Should You Go on a Yoga & Meditation Retreat?
Begin with short periods of meditation
Once you are ready to meditate, keep your first few sessions short. Start with 10 minutes each time and then build from there.
It is better to be fully still in 10 minutes than to meditate for an hour where only half that time is spent in true meditation. With practice, you will eventually be able to lengthen the time you spend meditating. Slowly increase by 5 minutes each week until you reach an hour, or however long your lifestyle allows you.
Practice, practice, practice
Working to quiet the mind and focus on nothing is no easy feat. Like the muscles in our body, we can strengthen the mind through practice. To say that meditation means not using the mind at all is nothing but a myth. Separating your mind from the senses, and disassociating it from the external world is hard work!
Try to meditate daily. Be consistent with your practice and like your asana practice, your meditation will get better.
Above all, practice aparigraha (non-attachment)
It is almost human nature for us to be fixated on a goal. We are, in many cases, result-oriented. In meditation, we look forward to the day that we can achieve that stillness and peace that many speak about. Our focus is always on the prize.
Focus is not a bad thing. But ever so often, the focus can turn into an obsession.
Find balance by practicing a sense of non-attachment – aparigraha. Learn not to be attached to meditation. Understand that what is most important is the process. Focus not on the prize but on the experience at hand.
Remember that even if you never truly and fully still your mind, it’s okay.
Take your practice to the next level! Go on a silent meditation retreat in a tranquil setting free from distractions, and recharge yourself on all levels.