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Meditation and Me: Truths, Tricks and Tips

In my teens, my mum tried to introduce me to yoga...it didn't go down too well. I didn't understand why we were hardly moving. I thought this was supposed to be exercise but I didn't even break a sweat! Fruitless I thought. Little did I know that this was a traditional yoga class, focusing on meditation. Well I had no interest in this despite many more attempts on my mum's behalf. Yes, she laughs now that I'm a yoga teacher.

So my practice began when I found a teacher who taught a very physical practice, and to start with it was merely a form of exercise. I can't pinpoint a time when I started to take an interest in 'the rest of yoga' but it happened. Its not just meditation either; there's thousands of years of documented philosophy on a yogic way of life including a comprehensive list of aphorisms on the path to freedom (Yoga Sutras, Patanjali).

My understanding of mediation was sitting for hours cross legged on a mountain somewhere and clearing the mind. So naturally I felt frustrated when I couldn't control my mind for more than 5 seconds. I've since learnt to let go of the word 'control' and instead to be thankful for those few seconds of clarity. Meditation is not about blocking thoughts or having an empty mind. For me its about recognising the thoughts I have and learning to become ok with them, the good and the bad. I find that when I stop trying so hard, it starts happening.

Patanjali suggests cleansing techniques, pranayama (breathing exercises) and asana (postures) before sitting in meditation. I agree in the sense that body, breath and mind tend to be more relaxed and able to focus after following these steps.

I've shared some of my preferred techniques. First of all, find a comfortable seat. This could be on the floor, on a cushion or on a chair. Try to keep a straight spine and if you are sitting on a chair, have the soles of your feet in contact with the floor.

Trataka (candle gazing)
  • Place a candle about a metre away, at eye height if possible.
  • Sit comfortably on a chair on on the floor with a straight spine.
  • Set a timer for three minutes.
  • Stare at the candle and try not to blink (there may be tears if you're new to this, it's normal).
  • Try as best you can to focus your attention solely on the flame. If the mind wanders, don't worry, just bring it back to the flame when you realise.
  • When the three minutes are up, close the eyes and try to retain the image of the flame in the third eye, the space between the eyebrows. Stay here for as long as you like.
  • When you open your eyes, take a note of how you feel.

Chanting

Chanting mantras is a whole other topic, but I find the repetitiveness extremely meditative. Using mala beads is a great way to keep count as traditionally, mantras are chanted 108 times, or any multiple of 108! Mantras don't have to be long, you can even just use OM and it won't take long at all. Have a go and see how you feel!

Guided meditation

Organised guided meditation sessions are great because they talk you through it which is especially helpful if you have a short attention span like me! It's like listening to a story, only you get to close your eyes and become part of that story.

Apps

Online meditation apps are becoming increasingly popular. The ones I've tried are:
Stop, Breathe & Think – a free app that lets you input how you're feeling and then gives you a choice of meditations based on your emotional state. Additional meditations are available at a small charge which is donated to charity.
HeadSpace – initially free with a great ten day programme to get you started.
Insight Timer – free app with mantras, chants, meditation timers and all sorts. This is the one that intrigues me the most as it seems to be an endless resource of meditation material.

One last note: don't stress about doing meditation every day. Yes it requires effort, but self-encouragement rather than trying to force it will be much more effective and you won't resent having to do it. After all, your meditation is for you. Enjoy!

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