Meditation Mondays will be themed weekly posts on the topic of Meditation.
Meditation means different things to different people. To me, meditation is a way to reduce stress, have a much calmer day, be healthier, and to bring to reality the goals and dreams I am working towards. The benefits are endless. Today I would like to go through how I was introduced to meditation.
Before I even really knew about the benefits of meditation, I became interested in yoga. I attended a yoga class at the gym at the University of Rhode Island on Thursday nights. The class was an hour and a half, and I loved every second of it.
For about an hour, we did various poses in a dance studio in the gym. It was so relaxing; challenging, but relaxing. During the last part of class, the instructor turned down the lights, and we got to lay down on our mats while the instructor guided us through a good 20 minute meditation.
I had never done yoga or meditated before. I had no idea it was something you could just do on your own without the assistance of a certified yoga instructor at the end of class. This instructor had us lay on the mat face up after doing the final relaxing floor poses. I have heard many, many times that the whole purpose of doing the yoga poses is so you can meditate at the end of class. The poses allow the body (and mind) to relax into the meditation.
We then closed our eyes, and she had us take several deep breaths to relax into the corpse pose, or Savasana. By the way, this is all from my memory of over 10 years ago, so I am doing my best to recall. The specifics might be a bit fuzzy, but I remember the general process.
Once settled in, the teacher then led us through a body scan, focusing our attention on each part of the body going from head to toe, and releasing any remaining tension along the way. This part has stuck with me, because never before had I even thought to intentionally think about how my toes feel, for example. I also didn’t know you could just breathe into a space in the body that commonly holds excess tension, such as the neck and shoulders, and focus on just letting that feeling go.
After the whole body had been scanned, the next phase of the meditation was to allow the whole body to sink into the floor. I can’t remember the exact words she used, so I am probably butchering the whole experience, but I do distinctly remember her saying something about allowing your eyeballs to fall back into their sockets. The idea was to feel the body melt into the floor. To my surprise, this actually worked! Even to this day, I am amazed that I can lay on a hardwood floor and after about 10 minutes of going through this routine, it can feel like the softest place ever.
After the melting into the floor part, the teacher said to just let go of your body. It has melted into the floor; it is gone. All that is left is you, floating up above yourself. At this point, the idea is to let go of even your breath. Not that you stop breathing, but rather than focusing on heavy deep breaths as before, this phase is more about letting go of everything, and this includes focusing on trying to breathe deeply. During this portion of the meditation, I just breathe evenly and somewhat shallowly; basically, normal, relaxed breathing.
Then she stopped talking, and let us just be in silence for a good amount of time. I would estimate that the beginning guided portion was maybe 7 or 10 minutes or so, and then she let us have the silent meditation time for about the same duration. I always wished the silent part was longer though, because I enjoyed it so much.
I have learned that it is okay if at this point your mind is swimming with thoughts. The best part about meditation is that you are encouraged to not judge yourself. If thoughts come along (and they inevitably will) just allow them to move along. This is much easier said than done. The trick I have used over the years is to think of the words “in” and “out” as I am breathing in and out. I don’t think it diminishes the experience, and can be very helpful for extinguishing nagging thoughts during meditation.
Finally, following this period of silence, our instructor then had us slowly come back. First, we were instructed to start breathing more deeply, and then to slowly raise our forearms and hands from the floor to rest on the belly. Then, bring up the knees to the chest, and wrap the arms around the knees, giving yourself a hug. She had us rock back and forth, gently massaging the back on the floor. Then, roll to your right side, so you are kind of in a ball or fetal position (eyes are still closed during all of this). Gently push yourself up off the floor and come to a seated position.
We would take a cross-legged seat, and she would say you can either put your hands face up on your thighs with your thumb and forefinger touching, or place your hands face down on your thighs. She said a few more words of wisdom, and then she would say “when you are ready, slowly open your eyes to a soft gaze”. Usually the final word in any yoga class is “Namaste”. We would bring our hands to a prayer position at the heart and bow with a final “Namaste”.
This is the same process I go through in my mind today to meditate. I have tried other types of meditation, but this has always seemed to be the best style for me. I still enjoy other guided meditations, but if I am on my own to meditate, I will go through these steps in my mind. One thing I have added to this method over the years is to go through what I am grateful for during the beginning portion of the meditation, and I also go through some of my affirmations. This is something that I would like to work on, as I am revamping how I do my affirmations and goals. Once I get that completed, I will be sure to share in more detail how I use meditation to place attention on my goals and affirmations. Namaste!