Updated: Oct 19
Meditation promotes a deep and tranquil state of being. This ancient and sacred practice is the foundation of spiritual deepening.
The practice of meditation frees one from all affliction. This is the path of yoga. Follow it with determination and sustained enthusiasm. (Bhagavad Gita 6.10)
For spiritual aspirants, meditation is the cornerstone practice. As students of yoga, all of our movement and breath practices are leading us towards being able to sit comfortably for longer periods of time in meditation.
These days, meditation is well known for its numerous health benefits including stress and anxiety reduction, pain relief, sleep support, and an array of other physical and emotional benefits.1 I wrote a piece about some of the benefits here.
Yet, in spite of our sincere desire to meditate, sitting and doing it can be a struggle for many of us. It's challenging to keep the body still. Our minds are constantly wandering all over the place and the stiff or achy body is begging us to stop. Many end up dropping meditation when it doesn't work out easily.
The good news is that everyone goes through this. You aren't alone, and there are ways to make the practice of meditation more manageable and sustainable.
For starters, proper guidance and good methodology are essential. Work with your teacher to establish good practices. I've outlined a simple one, below adapted with permission from my lineage teachers. It takes time, consistency and patience with yourself. Along with that, there are tips that can help you succeed in your practice. Here are some tips that can keep you on the path and help you to stay consistent. 2
Regularity of routine
Pick a point in your daily routine and stick with it. Keep your practice at the same time in your routine, not necessarily the same time in your day. For example. You don't need to wake up precisely at 6:02 every day to meditate. But do maintain the same ROUTINE every day: wake up, wash up and then sit for meditation no matter what the exact wake up time is.
Habit stacking is a game changer. It involves building a new habit (meditation) around an existing habit that requires no work or effort on your part. Stacking a habit on top of an existing established habit (like brushing your teeth, or washing up in the morning) leads to the successful creation of a new habit because its easier to remember. For more, check out this post I wrote about habit stacking.3
If possible, keep your practice space free from other vibrations and associations: a clean and simple space that exists for meditation or sadhana alone. It can be a corner of your bedroom, or living space that is not too cluttered or distracting. Keep a special cushion or meditation shawl that you use just for your practice.
You can face your sacred space if you have one; or face north or east to take advantage of favorable energetic conditions as outlined by the sacred principals of Vaastu-Vidya.
Alignment & accessibility
When sitting, keep your spine long, aligning your head, neck and back. Sit cross-legged or in any comfortable seated position. Use a cushion or block under your hips and/or knees. You can sit against the wall to support the back or use a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Ideally set up your body to promote as much relaxation in the legs as you can. If you are using a cushion, sit in a way that raises the hips above the height of the knees.
Sanctify your practice.
Start your practice in a good way. Initiate your practice with an opening shanti mantra, your personal mantra, an invocation, an intention, or the universal mantra, "Om". This creates the intention and energy for a good practice, informs your body and mind of the start of the practice.
Regulate your breath.
Start with a steady inhale for 3 and exhale for 3, observe as the breath becomes rhythmic and steady. Observe as the breath becomes more subtle. Watch the pool of breath, the pathway of breath, action of the lungs or the nature of the breath with out reacting to it or changing it.
Work with points of concentration and see which suit you and your practice. Two points commonly used are the ajna chakra (point between the eyes) and the anahata (heart center). Other can be tip of the nose, point where tongue meets roof of mouth etc. Gently return mind to focal point when it wanders. Allow your awareness to rest on these points.
Repeat your personal mantra (you can use the universal mantra Om) . Coordinate the breath with mantra repetition. Repetition is key for working with mantra. Repeat until the mantra is automatic and there is almost no awareness that you are repeating it. Over time, you will flow from vocal repetition ---> to mental repetition ---> to subtle awareness of the mantra.
Focus on a positive or uplifting object
An uplifting symbol, deity, image etc. You can choose anything that represents an ideal, or that which is supreme to you. This practice is known as Ishwara Pranidhana, surrender to the ideal. Many choose a deity or a universal symbol like Om. Allow your awareness to rest on the physical symbol, then become aware of it and over time connecting with the subtle essence of that object.
Be gentle with yourself!
The function of our mind is to give us options. We can't fault our mind for doing what it is supposed to do! It's normal for your mind to wander - everyone's does. Just allow it to happen. Don't force your mind to be still or command it to stop. That won't work. Instead just observe the wandering mind and when you notice it happening, gently guide it back to your chosen focal point.
Consistency over content
Don't miss it. Stick with it even if you are travelling or something comes up. Try your very best to be consistent. It isn't about how elaborate or long your meditation is, what matters is that your practice is regular and steady. A 5 minute practice every day will be better than a longer weekends-only practice.
Happy practicing! If you feel drawn to deepening in yoga and meditation, please consider my Hatha Yoga Immersion. A small group of like-minded individuals lovingly guided to deepen in sadhana. Now enrolling for Jan 2024
3. S.J Scott, Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less.