I have wonderful sisters. We always support each other, encourage each other, and help lift each other up. Approximately 50 days ago, we decided that we were going to do a ‘10 days of meditation’ challenge. The goal of the challenge was to meditate for at least 10 minutes everyday and to help us stay on track; we would send daily text messages to each other once we had completed our meditation of the day. Our goal was consistency rather than length. Instead of aiming for 30 minutes or one hour of meditation a day, which we would never have been able to stick to (I understands the benefits are far greater with longer meditation but…) we figured that if we only ask ourselves to do 10 minutes a day, we are more likely to stick with it for 10 days. Some days I would be too busy or forget to meditate, in those instances I would make up for the missed day by meditating at least 10 minutes longer on the next day. The 10 days challenge turned into 20 days, and I decided why not keep going for 100 days? Later I realized that I should aim for 108 days because of the significance of the number 108 in Buddhism. So as I write this blog, I am on my 50th day of ‘almost’ consistent mediation practice. This has been the longest continual meditation practice that I have done in my life.
I always wanted meditation to be part of my daily practice, but I could never stick to it. I have done a one-week Tibetan Buddhist meditation retreat and 10 days of silent meditation called Vipassana in the past. For those periods I was 100% dedicated and I immersed myself in the practice. But once I come back to the “real world”, it was always too difficult to maintain the practice. Hence, the idea of a 10-minute meditation everyday-- ten minutes a day is not very daunting and not too demanding for anyone, no matter how busy you are. Of course I may have had a busy day or a busy weekend when I missed my daily meditation, but I always made up those days by meditating a little longer on the following day. With this mindset I have been able to continue my daily meditation. By the time I reach 108 days I think it will have transformed into a daily habit or daily ritual that I can continue.
Here are few of the things I have learned from my meditation practice that relate to yoga:
1. The Importance of Stillness
Our minds are constantly thinking, working, and being active during our waking hours. We can benefit by quieting our minds. Just sit still, close your eyes, it is inevitable that your mind will start wondering off to random topics such as a to do list, memories, desires etc. It can be difficult in the beginning but come back to your breath every time you catch your mind wondering off. I believe that giving your mind the space and time to slow down is part of self-care and self-love.
This can relates closely to shavasana in yoga. Shavasana means corpse-pose, and it is usually the final pose in most yoga classes. We just lay down on the mat, eyes closed, relaxing every single muscle on our body. After a whole class of moving, strengthening and stretching the body, finding that stillness can be rejuvenating. For some people it is extremely hard and uncomfortable to be in stillness or silence. Some people even leave the yoga class before shavasana to avoid this discomfort. Especially in Western societies, we are so busy with our lives, work, families, technologies, materials, appearances, etc. that we forget to slow down. In the West, we are encouraged to keep going, keep working, and we are told that a moment of stillness is a waste of time. Some have forgotten how to be still. So shavasana can be uncomfortable. Perhaps the people who feel most uncomfortable in stillness are the ones who need it the most. You might be surprised what you can learn from just sitting through your discomfort to stillness.
Yoga is the journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self. – Bhagavad Gita
2. Non-attachment (Equanimity)
The practice of non-attachment is very personal to me. It appears in my yoga practice, my relationship to material things, my personal relationships, and when I am traveling. And it will continue to appear in my life. I learned non-attachment to material things when I was robbed in Central America and lost everything I owned. I learned non-attachment to places and people when I continually moved from one place to the next, when I lived a nomadic lifestyle I learned to detach myself from social norms and ideas, and I am still struggling to learn to love with non-attachment.
During Vipassana, I learned that while sitting down to meditate for hours and hours you will experience many feelings. Good feelings and bad feelings, but you cannot be attached to them. You should not cultivate desires or aversions to those feelings. As soon as you grow to like or dislike those moments you have lost the balance or equanimity. You have to accept all good and bad emotions and feelings with open arms, let them come and go freely. If you try to hold onto what you like and push away what you don't like, it will cause suffering when things do not go as expected.
Here is example of non-attachment in my yoga practice; if I become too fixated on the end results or on doing fancy yoga poses as my ultimate goal, then I will not be able to enjoy the journey. I cannot get attached to the ideal image of how a yogini is supposed to look or behave. I must keep working on detaching myself from any idealized image of a yogini. This non-attachment becomes harder, especially in this modern age of social media where appearance and status become overly important. Especially as a yogini I need to constantly practice non-attachment to such ideas and images.
Remember, it does not matter how deep into a posture you go, what does matter is who you are when you get there. -Unknown
This section relates to both stillness and non-attachment. I learned from my sitting meditation that I need to become an observer of my mind. Good and bad sensations will rise and fall as I meditate, but instead of reacting to those sensations, I need to just acknowledge them and become an observer. Just watching them come and go, without any attachment. I may feel an itch during meditation, instead of moving my hand and scratching, I just recognize the itch, feel it, and wait for it to pass. This practice can relate to anything that happens in your life. When someone says something mean to me, I can choose to react by getting mad or sad, but then I’m only bringing suffering to myself. Instead I can choose to be an observer, recognize the situation, feel the anger rise, but then choose not to react to the anger, merely observe it, and wait for it to pass.
An example from my yoga practice; in a simple pose, such as Virabhadrasana 2, Warrior 2, can be extremely difficult when I have to hold it for a long time. My legs start to get tired, it becomes difficult to keep my attention and focus on the pose… I want to drop my arms… I want to fidget… I want to scratch my nose…I want to fix my shirt or my ponytail… I will do everything I can to avoid sitting still in a challenging posture. Just like meditation, just like life, feel it, wait for it and let it pass. Observe the mind wondering off, observe the body wanting to move, feel it and let it pass. I once heard a yoga teacher say that, “how your body reacts to holding a yoga pose for extended period of time reflects how you react when life gets hard”. Do you fidget? Do you quit? Do you hate the yoga teacher for making you hold this pose? Do you start to avoid the pain by moving, or your mind starts wandering so you don't have to deal with it? Do you look for distraction? OR do you sit there, hold on to the stillness, focus as hard as you can, work hard as you can and hold the pose until the distractions pass? Think about this next time your yoga teacher makes you hold a pose for a long period of time.
The pose begins when you want to get out of it. –Unknown
I hope my personal experience of meditation have sparked something in you. Or the link between meditation and yoga allowed you to understand meditation a bit deeper. I am not encouraging everyone to meditate, you could find something that works for you. It could be praying, gardening, dancing, singing, or cooking, whatever works for you to quiet your mind. Something that feed your soul, fulfill your spirit and encourage you to live more mindfully.