Taking the leap into Meditation

I’ve always struggled with the idea of meditation.  I have just never felt Zen enough.  I’ve read all of the studies.  I know the advantages of meditation but to be honest, I’ve always struggled with getting there.

However, when I began my yoga certification, meditation was just a part of the process. The first time I dreaded it.  Especially, when I found it was going to be an hour.   Now, I know this story should go something like…”I was amazed on how the feeling of meditation was, once I was able to stop my mind from rambling, I discovered incredible focus, energy and enthusiasm to continue with my day.”   What happened was, I fell asleep.

I struggled with the first few meditations.  I had no clue what to do but my instructor helped pave the way, providing techniques and tips that were both positive and inspiring.  However, I still pondered, What was meditation? And how could I do this when I have so many things on my mind.   I had to break my meditative process into small increments.  An hour was overwhelming.  But two minutes was doable.  I’m not a jump in kind of person.  Instead, I like to take the time to evaluate, reflect and try out a new task in small increments.

Last week, I went back to the first stage in the meditative process: the sixth limb (Dharana: concentrated focus).  It wasn’t until I worked on a concentrated focus and extending it that I could go onto the next stage, meditation.

The focused concentration helped clear my mind and simply observe.  I used a variety of objects from a plant to a cloud but my favorite was the flame of a candle.  The light of the flame mesmerized me: the red, orange and blue merging together. While staring at the flame, I naturally felt myself transcend into the next stage: meditation.  I began, simply, by timing my breath with the dance in the flame.

This week, I’m going to try to go a bit deeper with my meditative practice.  This week’s focus is the seventh limb of ashatanga: Dhyana (meditation).

Simply put the difference between Dhyana and Dharana: is awareness.  In concentrated focus, Dharana, you focus your mind on a particular task to allow the rest of the mutterings (unfocused thoughts) to quiet.  In Dhyana, you remove the object and just allow yourself to be present.

I love this article in Yoga Journal, the metaphor of rain and raindrops is absolutely beautiful and a perfect way to describe the difference between Dharana and Dhyana.

In focused concentration, there are periods of concentration and periods of distraction.  As the period concentration lengthens, Dharana seamlessly shifts into Dhyana.   Just like the rain drops transcend from single individual drops to a puddle or pool in the floor.

Sometimes I find it difficult to leap right from Dharana to Dhyana.  So in those moments, I use a tool to help me get there.

Some techniques I use are:

  • Focused tasks such as coloring (I love coloring mandalas)
  • Staring at a flame
  • Focusing on my breath
  • Pursuing a challenging asana
  • Using mantras or chants
  • Picturing a warm gold fluid or similar thing flowing through my body (guided meditation)

The biggest thing that I struggled with in meditation, is not realizing that I was in fact meditating.  When I no longer recognize that the pieces of the flame are there, or  the area around the flame exists, I am meditating.  I never believed that it could happen.  But it does.  Some days, it lasts only a minute or two.  However; there are other days where it has lasted much longer.

But why, bother? What is the purpose of meditation?

In January 2011, a blog from the New York Times discussed that meditation can actually change the way the brain functions.   Meditation has been found to:

  • Increase the amount of grey matter in the brain
  • Develop longer attention span
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Decrease stress
  • Develop natural empathy and intuitiveness

In yoga, meditation is a way of bringing the breath, body and mind together as one.  It is about unity and connecting.  It is not a simple process, however, I think it’s well worth it.

This week, I’m going to continue to lengthen the amount of time in my concentrated focus.  I’m going to realize that there are some days that my body will naturally transcend into meditation and that there are some days when I’m just not ready to be there.   To me, this is part of the process.  I’m continuing to learn to become more self-aware and accept the way I am, today.

Helpful resource – Checkout this article on Fitness Goat for a great overview of the different ways to meditate and some great how-tos: Meditation 101

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