Tag Archives: meditation practice

Why There’s No Such Thing as a “Bad” Meditation

shutterstock_63307786My morning meditation was fairly half-assed. I didn’t ride my bike at sunrise to my preferred Buddhist center in Cambridge, over the Mass Ave. bridge with the elegant crew boats manned by chiseled athletes sculling the Charles River below, sit in silence for 45-minutes, and emerge a more kind, patient, and productive person afterward. Sometimes, my meditation is like this, but not today.

Today, it was 5-minutes, dutifully timed by my iPhone. I sat on my loveseat, which is not hippie code-speak for a special form of cushion or zafu. It’s just a loveseat from West Elm. I didn’t even light a candle. No time. No need, really.

It’s tempting to judge this juxtaposition of experiences. One looks, sounds, and feels more Zen. The other looks, sounds, and feels like nothing much. My reason for mentioning any of this is that, in my experience doing yoga and meditating since the age of 16 (I’m now 34), it’s become clear that people genuinely want to meditate. They may even go so far as to get a routine going, perhaps started on a retreat or with the help of a guided program by a local teacher or remote one via the Internet or audio files by Deepak Chopra (friends raved about his 30-day program with Oprah earlier this year) or Jon Kabat-Zinn, to whom I introduce all new meditators (his resources are so lovely and accessible).

Then, we fall off the wagon. It’s not as easy back home as it was in Tulum with the ocean waves crashing outside and only pressing responsibility being to get to the dining hall for fresh fruit and herbal tea afterward. We don’t have much space at home and no real cushion or seat meant for meditating. It’s trash day, and the damn truck outside is so noisy. We’re already late for work. We didn’t get enough sleep. We overslept. I just don’t wanna we mentally whine, or we forget altogether. It happens.

Alternatively, some never try (for any length of time, at least). They mean to. They want to. They hear meditation would be good for them. It reduces stress, relieves anxiety, increases focus, combats depression, and on and on. Many people can practically recite the benefits by heart despite never encountering them. It’s just so hard, they lament, gamely resigned to an immutable fate. They’re just “not good at it.”

Here’s the good news: it’s not possible to be bad at meditation. There’s doing it and not doing it. That’s all. If you want to try: try. And be assured that it doesn’t always look, sound, or feel Zen. Sometimes, it feels wretched or boring or like nothing much at all. It doesn’t matter how long or where you sit, whether roused by an antique Buddhist gong or iPhone.

All experiences of meditation are good and valuable because they cultivate the skill of being present, of strengthening the mind. How many other skills would we expect to master without much practice, especially life-altering ones? Even your chaturanga took a while, didn’t it? Moreover, it’s not only the immediate results of meditation from which we benefit. They accumulate over time, whether 45-minutes here or 5-minutes there. Like modern yoga, depictions and descriptions of meditation can be very skewed, prioritizing the beautiful, effortless, and happy–no itchy noses or furrowed brows– which is why it’s important to gently remind ourselves that these are images.

Forget the images. Forget how other people do it. Grab a spot, set a timer, close your eyes, and breathe. That’s all. It might not look like much, but when it amounts to you being less dominated by your thoughts, emotions, agenda, and judgments and more at peace with yourself, it’s everything you need.

Originally published on my website, Om Gal.

Meditation: What Is It and What Are Its Benefits?

Have you ever meditated? Perhaps you’ve dabbled but haven’t found the right groove to make it a daily practice. Or perhaps you meditate multiple times a day and could talk for hours about its effect in your life. Whatever your relationship to the practice, many people out there have only heard the term, “meditation“, but have little understanding of what it actually means or how the practice developed. In this episode of “Ask Deepak” on The Chopra Well, Deepak Chopra defines meditation and discusses it’s history and context in Vedanta. He also explains some of the benefits of its practice. Take a look!

If this video inspires you to explore the benefits of meditation in your own life, then we encourage you to try it out! It might seem daunting to dive in right away, but by starting with short, daily meditations you will find it gets easier and easier over time. Here are two guided meditations to help you get started:

Do you have any tips for starting a meditation practice? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

Better Breathing for a Better Life (VIDEO)

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 1.33.10 PMWhen you find yourself in a situation where you get stressed, frightened or caught off guard, what’s the best thing to do?

Scream? Sometimes. : )

But seriously, what did mom or grandma or your loved one tell you to do?

Breathe.

Yes, it’s as simple as that.

But time and time again, while walking around the streets of San Francisco (and while being in the car with certain eh hem, friends with road rage) I witness screaming and feel their blood boiling. What good does that do?

I try to make it a practice to breathe deeply every morning.

Here’s how:

I love filling up my lungs and expunging all the air and imagining my lungs deflating like a balloon. I do this almost every morning with a 20-30 minute yoga routine.

I’m an early riser, so I like to take in the stillness of the morning silence with a meditation practice. People may get freaked out and discouraged about “not knowing how to meditate.” The truth is, there isn’t a “right way” to meditate. Simple focus on your breath, deep breath in…deep breath out.

Other times when I’m running and gunning, I just take three quick deep breaths. If you’re over-programmed like me and have a busy schedule, set a reminder on your phone to go off three times a day to remind you to breathe.

Here’s a video I made for you that will help you focus on your breathing. This is what I usually see on my morning run at Aquatic Park in San Francisco. Breathe in when the waves come toward the shore. Breathe all the way out when the waves recede. It’s only a minute long, but the effects are long lasting.

Enjoy!

Feel better?

According to Men’s Journal, here are some stats about how deep breathing can be aaah-so-good for your health:

Relax: Breathing is an “accurate and honest barometer” of a person’s emotional state. Train your breathing to maintain your calm and lower stress levels.

Maximize Potential: The average person uses just 50 to 60 percent of his lung capacity. Breath training expands the lungs, and better oxygen intake means higher athletic performance.

Improve Health: Research suggests that developing proper breathing habits can play a role in treating conditions like asthma, acute bronchitis, ADHD and sleep apnea.

Don’t we all feel better after taking a few deep breaths? The next time you feel your panties or boxer briefs getting in a bunch, smile and relax (those butt cheeks). Namaste!

What other breathing exercises help you get through your day? If you follow our @goinspirego Instagram feed, you’ll notice that I often post pictures of beautiful cityscapes and snapshots of nature. Surprisingly, many people tell me the pictures remind them to slow down, be present and breathe. I’d love to hear/see what inspires you to breathe. Please share in the comments below.

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Tara Brach: Meditating Daily…”No Matter What”

Even after practicing and teaching meditation for more than 35 years now, I truly understand that sustaining a regular practice can be challenging. During the twelve years I lived in an ashram, for instance, I had others to practice with each day. With that kind of support, creating the time for daily meditation became a given in my life. It wasn’t as easy after I left. Within a year I gave birth to my son, Narayan, and found myself with a new infant and an increasingly erratic schedule.

One morning, I woke up feeling particularly ornery, and, after I snapped at Narayan’s father for forgetting something at the supermarket, he recommended that I take some time to meditate. I handed the baby over, plunked down in front of my little altar, and immediately dissolved into tears.

I missed the rhythm of my practice. I missed making regular visits to myself! In those moments, with the sun flooding through the windows, and the background sounds of my husband chatting away to Narayan, I made a vow. No matter what, I’d create time each day to come into stillness and pay attention to my experience. But there was a “back door”: How long I sat didn’t matter.

Ever since, I have made the time. I usually meditate thirty to forty-five minutes in the morning, but there have been days, especially when Narayan was young, when it didn’t happen. Instead, I’d sit on the edge of my bed right before going to sleep, and would intentionally relax my body, opening to the sensations and feelings that were present. Then, after a few minutes, I would say a prayer and climb under the covers.

As my body has changed and long sittings have become more difficult, I’ll often do a standing meditation. Still, the commitment to daily practice “no matter what” has been one of the great supports of my life.

For some people I know, my approach is a setup for self-punishment. Something happens—a bad cold, falling asleep early, simply forgetting—and the promise has been broken. The bottom line is to enjoy, not stress over, a meditation practice. As Julia Child famously said, “If you drop thelamb, just pick it up. Who’s going to know?” If you miss practice for a day, a week, or a month, simply begin again. It’s okay.

So, how long should you practice? Between fifteen and forty-five minutes works for many people. If you are new to meditation, fifteen minutes may seem like an eternity, but that impression will change as your practice develops. If you meditate each day, you will experience noticeable benefits (less reactivity, more calm) and you’ll probably choose to increase your practice time. Whatever the length, it’s best to decide before beginning and have a clock or timer nearby. Then, rather than getting entangled in thoughts about when to stop, you can fully give yourself to the meditation.

Many contemplative traditions recommend setting a regular time of day to meditate—usually early in the morning, because the mind is calmer on waking than it is later in the day. However, the best time for you is the time you can realistically commit to on a regular basis. Some people choose to do two short mediations, one at the beginning of the day and one at the end.

If possible, dedicate a space exclusively to your daily meditation. Choose a relatively protected and quiet place where you can leave your cushion (or chair) so that it is always there to return to. You may want to create an altar with a candle, inspiring photos, statues, flowers, stones, shells—whatever arouses your sense of beauty, wonder, and the sacred. This is certainly not necessary, but it can help create a mood and remind you of what you love.

Unless you feel enriched by meditation, you will not continue. It’s hard to feel enriched if you get mechanical, if you practice out of guilt, if you judge yourself for not progressing, or if you lock into the grim sense that “I’m on my own.” One of the best ways to avoid these traps is to practice with others. You might look for an existing meditation class with a teacher, or find a few friends who are interested in sharing the experience together.

If you are able, attending a weekend or weeklong residential retreat will deepen your practice as well as your faith in your own capacity to become peaceful and mindful. This is a wonderful time to be practicing meditation! Meditators have a growing pool of resources—CDs, books, podcasts, teachers, and fellow meditators—to support and accompany them as they walk this path.

The most important thing to remember is your commitment to practice “no matter what,” even if it’s for just a few moments out of your day. As one of my students put it recently, “Just having those moments to be quiet is a gift to my soul.” It is a gift to the soul. Stepping out of the busyness, stopping our endless pursuit of getting somewhere else—even if it’s just one minute at a time—is perhaps the most beautiful offering we can make to our spirit.

Adapted from Tara’s upcoming book, True Refuge – Finding Peace and Freedom in your Own Awakened Heart (Bantam, Feb, 2013)
For more information on Tara Brach go to: www.tarabrach.com

 

photo by: No²

The Teja Challenge (Revised)

In the New Year 2011, are you ready to free yourself from addictions? Are you willing to commit to doing regular, daily spiritual practices? If you answered yes to these questions, be sure to read my blog article, entitled "The Teja Challenge (Revised)" at http://yogini-bliss.com/174-the-teja-challenge-revised.html.

Om Shanti (Peace),

Teja Shankara

 

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