Meditation is an opportunity to observe your mind, the habits it tends to go into, and creating space to bring yourself back to the present moment. Let's break this down to easier terms.
There are many ways to sit in meditation, and being comfortable is a key aspect to keep the focus on observing your mind (and not the physical discomfort of sitting). You can sit on a chair, or on the floor with cushions. Whatever you choose, sit up tall with a straight spine. Roll back the shoulders and have your hands relaxed on top of your knees or your lap. Keep your chin level or slightly tucked in. If you are sitting on cushions, sit at the edge of the cushions as if you are sliding off of them. This will keep your hips higher than your knees and add more comfort to your sitting position.
HAVE AN ANCHOR
Your anchor is where your focus will be when you begin to meditate and a place to return to when your mind begins to wander. Your anchor can be your breath, a mantra, a word, or a visual object that you see when your eyes are closed. Keep your anchor simple, so that it will be easy to come back to time and time again.
THE WANDERING MIND
When you notice that your mind begins to wander, gently guide yourself back to your anchor. This trains your mind to return to the present moment instead of being pulled out of it indefinitely. f you are new to meditation, set a timer and start with 10 minutes of sitting. You can then increase up to 20 to 30 minutes once you are used to the practice.
NOTICE YOUR PATTERNS
After meditation, take note of your experience and the patterns that came up when you were pulled out of the present moment. Were your thoughts related to the past? The future? Daydreaming? Planning? Comparing? What came up for you when you experienced discomfort? Was it craving for something to improve the experience? Was it anger, frustration, blame? How about boredom, restlessness, or tiredness? Were you doubting the benefits of meditation? These are all typical responses to discomfort and known as the Five Hindrances to Meditation. When we recognize the moment our attention shifts into any of these hindrances, and we can come back to the breath (or our anchor), it gives pause to the "runaway train" of our minds. Now reflect on whether these same hindrances come up in your daily life. By paying attention to our speech, we can also become aware of our habits. In conversations, do you often tell stories (and live in the past)? Do you spend a big portion of your time planning your day, week, life and living in the future? Where do you think this habit comes from? Is it to feel safe? Is it to have control? Is it from fear? See where this path of self-inquiry takes you.
Whether you are going by plane, train, or automobile, traveling can be tough on the body. We think that we're just sitting there idly letting time pass. However, a long journey can make us feel antsy, create stiffness in the body, and make us more tired.
To help release tension and tightness in the body, try these 5 yoga stretches for travel. You can try some of these poses in your seat, a designated standing area (ie., near the emergency exit of a plane), or at the airport gate or a train platform. Don't worry about any raised eyebrows that you might get; people will catch on! Or, just know that you will be the one that feels good in the end. :)
It was less than a year ago when I was sitting in my apartment, thinking that life was comfortable. I had a reputable, successful, and rewarding job as an international school teacher; more than three months of vacation a year; a generous salary; and the opportunity to travel and live where I chose. I really had nothing to complain about, yet I found myself asking, “Is this it? Is there more to life than this?” I felt greedy; that I ought to have gratitude for what I do have and not expect anything more. Over the past several years, I had built up my career, already took two separate years off to travel the world; and had a long list of professional and personal accomplishments. But I sat there envisioning the next few predictable years: work hard; then go on vacation for indulgence or adventure. Repeat. I did this in my daily life, too. Work hard; reward myself. Repeat.
What was this nagging persistence that I was missing something in life? I didn’t want more success, more wealth, or more vacations. I didn’t want to buy a house, settle somewhere, or whatever else most people thought I “should” do as my next step. I didn’t have a lifelong dream that I wanted to pursue because on many levels, I had attained my goals: to travel, teach, be financially independent, and live where I wanted.
So then began my journey of “Why Not?” You can apply this to your own situation, and for me, it was, “Why not quit my job and start leading worldwide yoga retreats?” Nothing was stopping me, and it was completely up to me how far I was willing to entertain this idea. One minute? One month? One year? Indefinitely? On good days, I’d take the initiative, stick with my idea, be open to uncertainty, experiment, and think unconventionally. On other days, I’d feel frustrated that things weren’t going as I had planned; impatient when things happened too slowly; anxious when I didn’t know what I was doing; or nostalgic of a secure lifestyle that I had given up. It was also easy to create excuses. “If only I had ______, then life would be perfect.” If only I had: time/knowledge/experience/connections/a particular person/money/help, then it would be so much better/easier/awesomer. Right?
What’s amazing about our thinking is that we can change it. Why not re-write my life plan to not have a plan? Although I am still practicing to let go of what life “should” look like, there is an incredible (and sometimes unnerving) sense of freedom to live my life as I choose. It is a big responsibility, but when it comes down to it, you are the creator of your own reality as much as your own excuses. You choose.
Choose if you want to stay in your situation, patterns, and emotions. Choose what you want to let go of. Choose what you want to focus on. Choose the depth of each of your experiences.
It was that moment, less than a year ago, that I paused and reviewed my life. That nagging feeling was the start of paying attention to that inner voice. What did I want? What was important to me? What did I like? What was not working? What was not happening? What was I triggered by? What was I dissatisfied with? Once I unraveled these pieces, there was much greater insight into who I was, where my fears came from, what I wanted, and the creation of fulfillment on the inside and out. Many people talk about finding your passion, but I like to think of it as setting yourself free. When this happens, life transforms and unfolds in remarkable ways.
I've been hearing the news about UNICEF and Giorgio Armani's campaign, the one that rewards you for not touching your phone for 10 minutes in exchange for giving a day of water to a child in need. Wow. I knew that our society has turned into device addicts, but this really sends the message that we are indeed living in desperate times.
I gave up my phone 6 months ago and was without WiFi for a week last December. I remember the initial adjustment as a shocking realization of my attachment to being online. The first few days offline were challenging and filled me with anxiety as I worried and wondered what I was missing out on.
That was the thing. I had been missing out on everything else that was happening around me, so I began paying attention to the present moment of sounds, smells, sights, details, people, life, and most of all, my emotional, mental, and physical state of being. Slowly, there was a noticeable shift and desire to tune into the present moment instead of tune out. It made me think of the times when I would habitually check my phone, which was usually when waiting (for a friend, the train, a coffee order) or when I needed my own downtime. I also began to notice when and why people were using their phones—to take a photo, text, update a status, read the news... ANYTHING that was turning that moment, whether it was by yourself, or with another person or group into not enough. It is not enough that you are having lunch with a friend. It is not enough that you are spending time with your child. It is not enough that it's Christmas. It is not enough that you are on a beautiful tropical island. It is not enough to let go of ego because you're fast forwarding a moment into how many shares, likes and comments you'll get. It is not enough that ___________.
That is a big, ginormous problem.
You see, whatever you are doing and wherever you are, it is enough. Yes, even if it's awkward, or boring, or amazing, it is what it is. By taking yourself away from that present moment and going on your phone, you create an instant out, a ready-made distraction that effectively diminishes the situation. Don't get me wrong; I do find a lot of joy and value in sharing news, interacting on Facebook, taking photos for the memories, and having conveniences with the click of a button. But I've learned that less is more.
The next time you reach for your phone, PAUSE. Ask yourself, Is this present moment enough? With this question, you can mindfully choose to use social media and devices. What's the outcome? Living in the present moment means greater awareness, the ability to focus, calmness, and contentment. And that is enough.
I dreaded the part of a yoga class if it began or ended with meditation. I felt like a student who had not studied for a test and would sit there not knowing what to do. Don't get me wrong. I like the idea of meditation—sitting peacefully, looking Zen. My friends who meditated swore by its benefits and would talk about their regular home practice which began at 4:45 am every morning. A few had done 10 day retreats with up to 6 hours of sitting a day, which quite frankly, would give the best couch potatoes a run for their money.
But to me, it was like the Holy Grail. How do I get it? How do I find it? Promises of reaching nirvana, enlightenment or an altered state of consciousness without caffeine— it was like a spiritual lottery ticket that I kept trying my luck at. I attended numerous meditation workshops, read books on how to meditate, and even went on a few 3 day meditation retreats. I kept waiting for something to happen, but no, nothing. I felt like a failure every single time.
The instructors all said the same thing. "Allow the thoughts to rise. Just notice. Tune into the breath." While sitting, I shifted, dozed, shifted, made lists in my head, shifted, held conversations with my self, shifted, glanced at my watch, shifted, peeked at the others in the room going inward, and shifted. When time was up (finally!), the instructor would blink his eyes open and look as if he has just finished eating a lovely piece of chocolate cake. At times, members of the group would say things such as, "Ohhhh. That meditation was soooo gooood." Seriously, people can be so insensitive.
My resistance towards meditation was as strong as my desire. The three year old in me wanted to move around, explore and interact with the world. Oh, but where was my gold star for being able to sit still like a good yogi? My readiness level was not meeting expectations. (Yes, that's the teacher in me talking.) My ego was not happy with this, yet I accepted that it was all part of the process.
Over time, I realized that meditation was not waiting for something to happen. Meditation is sitting and being in non-action. You see, I am a do-er, and carpe diem is my motto in life. I can multi-task my brain off, and my travels are far from relaxing. I had thought non-action meant boredom, as well as wasting time when there was so much to see, learn and experience. To do nothing and be fully present is one of the most difficult things I've had to do.
My last meditation was a turning point. Even though the instructions were the same, it made more sense to me this time. While sitting, I allowed myself to be free from distractions. I felt myself relax into the moment and the stillness. Cautiously, I approached that invisible boundary that we carry within ourselves and gently stepped inward. Like entering a warm bath, I first dipped my toes in to check the temperature, then my legs, my torso, up to my neck and my whole head. My brain then waited off to the side with the robe and towel, reassuring me that it will be there whenever I was done, but please, take your time. You're already there, right? Might as well make the most of it. Whoosh. My heart and sensations plunged into high definition, and let me just tell you that it was better than chocolate cake.
I remember the first time I tried yoga. I was living in Thailand in 2001. A friend had talked me into going to a yoga workshop led by Paul Dallaghan, and I was happily indifferent. Open to the idea, but thinking more about what I would eat for lunch afterwards. I can't remember which pose I went into, but there was a moment of several seconds where something shifted inside of me. The feeling was not unlike Bruce Banner transforming into the Incredible Hulk, except without the angst and green overtones. I had stepped out of my own skin, and my mind, body, heart and energy burst forth. Yes, that became the hook into yoga. However, my couch potato ways often interfered with the discipline I longed for with yoga. It took years for me to cultivate a regular practice and to undo negative self-talk. "I'm too lazy. I could never do a yoga teacher training; it sounds too hard. I wouldn't be able to learn the sanskrit. I'm not that good at yoga." What I FINALLY learned was this. I don't need to look a certain way to do yoga or teach yoga. That was all in my head. There were parts that I had overlooked which counted much more than being able to do a handstand. Can I offer my time and the space for people to have self-care? Can I get people to connect with their body, mind and spirit? Can I create a community? Can I make yoga accessible to every body? My training at White Lotus Foundation further confirmed my values. Out of the 30 of us, we were a medley of ages 18 to 65, different body types, backgrounds and experiences. We were a demographic of people who simply love yoga and who wanted to offer the benefits of it to others. And that is why I teach yoga.
Tammy is a location independent yogi.