I recently read in a magazine that meditation is the new yoga. Upon reading this I wasn’t sure whether to sit with disappointment or celebrate with hopefulness. Of course, this particular article was alluding to meditation’s recent rise in popularity in the West. However, whenever Eastern spirituality gains mass appeal, its philosophical practices start moving farther away from its roots. This leads to less and less people applying the original systems and intended techniques.
Take for instance Ashtanga Yoga/Patanjali’s 8-Limb Path. There is a practical and functional purpose to the progressive stages of this path-Yama (Social Code), Niyama (Personal Code), Asana (Postures), Pranayama (Breathing Exercises), Pratyahara (Withdrawal of Senses), Dharana (Concentration), Dhyana (Meditation), and Samadhi (Self-Realization). Meditation comes in the latter part of our inner work for self-realization because we first have to prepare the mind with the initial stages.
Yet, how many people do you know who are putting in an equal effort with the Yamas and Niyamas, as they are in perfecting their Asana poses?
Preparing the mind differs from the kind of preparation associated with creating a sacred space or finding a quiet place to sit. Although creating the optimum physical environment is very important to our practice, if mentally you are holding on to resentment, anger, anxiety, or jealousy, it will be impossible to focus and quiet the mind no matter how many candles you light on your altar. You may be able to temporarily push down these emotions, but sooner or later they will resurface, forcing you to take an honest look at what has been preventing you from finding inner peace.
Most people fail to sustain a meditation practice because they don’t devote enough of their energy and time to creating the everyday changes that will maintain regularity.
This includes letting go of attitudes and patterns that inhibit personal development. At a certain point, you will reach a roadblock and will not be able to either continue or advance in your meditations until you properly deal with the obstacles of your mind.
This is not to say that you should wait to meditate until you feel like you have sufficiently overcome every experience that has left a negative imprint on your mind or until you have worked through the first 6 stages of Patanjali’s 8-Limb Path. Rather, begin to sit and you will slowly realize what you need to work on. It will eventually lead you to the other aspects of the yogic path.
Having a regular meditation practice will help you get to the root of your feelings and gradually provide you with the tools to engage with them in a healthy way. You have to be willing to do the deeper work alongside a consistent meditation practice. What this requires will be subjective for each person. Naturally, we all have different challenges that we need to work through in life. It’s called karma.
Below are some tips on how to easily get started:
Meditate for short periods of time. Start with a daily 1-minute meditation practice. Something simple like following the inhalation and exhalation of your breath will immediately put you in a calm state. Once you get into the routine of bringing your attention inward, this will spill over into the other areas of your life. You will find yourself becoming more self-reflective and intentional with your actions.
Be patient. Consistency is the key to change and improvement in our lives. Keep at it. At 2 weeks you may not be where you had hoped to be, but constantly check in with yourself, at 1 month, then 3 months, 6 months….5 years! I promise you that you will see some type of positive change happen. It takes a lifetime, and in most cases many lifetimes, to reach total bliss. Instead of being discouraged by that, find comfort in knowing that you are able to take your time in this process.
Create a ritual. A simple way to prevent losing motivation for a daily practice is to find something you enjoy doing and incorporate that either alongside or into your meditations. Think of this time as self-care. Journaling, saying affirmations, lighting incense, taking a walk before you sit, chanting, are all ways to help us reflect and go deeper into ourselves. Shift your thinking about activities that help you to feel centered from being optional to mandatory. Taking care of our physical and mental health are absolutely necessary and should be followed like a medicine prescription.
As we go through life, we go on accumulating more experiences. We discover new lenses in which to view past experiences. We are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating. With all of that activity, we need to give our minds daily nurturance so we can eventually find steadiness in our thoughts and peace in our lives.