Whether you practice big expressive asana and kirtan or focus on subtle internal kriya, pranayama or meditation, all yoga has points of coming into stillness. Sometimes that stillness is a welcome friend, and other times it feels like a challenge.
I have a mixed relationship with practices of stillness . I understand on a mental level their benefits. More importantly I have seen and felt these wonderful experiences first hand. But I still often resist coming to stillness – giving myself permission to rest in savasana, yoga nidra or putting the time into a daily meditation sit. Sometimes it is a daily battle. Other times I find a rhythm to fit it in to busy life.
As I start to teach simple meditation within my weekly yoga classes here are my top four tips to help you start to explore meditation:
- Comfort and posture. Take time to set yourself up well. This is not about trying to find a set position you think is ‘right’ such as lotus pose but rather finding stability in the body so it can act as the container for that inner experience of stillness. Basic adjustments you might think about are with tight hips adding height under sit bones (cushions, blocks, stools) so the lower back can retain a natural curve and the spine feel like it can lift. Also support under the knees or for the back may sometimes be necessary. There is an idea that we have to be rigid and still throughout practice. When we start out this can be difficult. Ultimately we need to discern between restlessness leading to movement of the body, and real pain and discomfort which is not useful to struggle and suffer through. Experiment with props including using a chair – this is about inner experience. Outer posture is ultimately just facilitating that. Be patient and let the practice of stillness come in time.
- Timing. In an ideal world it is good to sit when you first get up in the morning – framing the day with that stillness. In reality sometimes you may have to squeeze it in later in the day. I find it helpful not to be too rigid but there is a need for discipline to keep up a regular practice. When you’re starting out sitting for 5-10 minutes is great. As you practice more sitting between 10-20 minutes a day feels more satisfying as there is time to really settle into the stillness. Ultimately there are not set rules but consistency will help us develop our skill.
- Intention and attention. Sometimes I charge into practice trying to get it done and get on with my day but if I can slow down that entry into practice – taking time to settle mind, body, breath before trying any formal techniques it is usually a better quality sit. It is sometimes compared to tuning a stringed instrument – we don’t want to make it so tight trying to will a specific purpose from sitting but also we don’t want the string to be so lax we have drifted off into some daydream. As the buddha advocated – we need to find the middle way. Having a little attention and an intention for the practice can help keep us on track.
- Simplicity. There are countless techniques in mindfulness and meditation. I have certainly got lost trying to perfect complex techniques or fell into the trap of trying out lots of different techniques without sticking to one for any period of time. Keeping it simple is vital in the beginning and will help develop your meditation and exploration of stillness.
So here is a brief practice for you to try out for yourself at home – let me know how you get on.