For years, I had the hardest time wrapping my brain around meditation. It seemed like a daunting task that required a great deal of skill. I remember saying to myself, “I really want to learn how to meditate”. So I asked one of my favourite teachers at the time how to do it. He said simply, “Just sit still.”
I was not impressed. This was certainly not the answer I was looking for. As a trained dancer, I am a technician. I was hoping for some advice on technique, some concrete, tangible explanation to what felt elusive and overwhelming . The answer I got felt like a cop-out.
I knew that meditation had a multitude of benefits, including reduced anxiety, increased serotonin levels (boosting mood and relieving mild depression), enhanced immune function and increased self-esteem. I was convinced I needed to master it.
So I searched for teachers. I took workshops and read books. What I found was, the physical technique of meditation is to actually “just sit still”, but what my teacher did not warn me of was how to deal with the crazy puppy mind that is revealed once you do.
In one workshop, my teacher, Padma, said that meditation to her was like taking a long warm bath. I wanted a long warm bath! How could I get that? I didn’t know yet, but I felt like I was inching closer. The more I sat, the calmer I felt and the more I wanted to sit.
In “The Wisdom of Yoga”, author Stephen Cope, discusses the crazy puppy mind. He acknowledges the fact that once you allow yourself to sit still and focus on breath, the mind wants to do everything but sit still and focus on the breath. The mind wants to fill itself with lists and stories and then realizes that it has strayed from the breath and punishes itself for doing so. The following is a quote from the book:
“[T]hrough watching the flow of our thoughts, we see, perhaps for the first time, how very identified we are with those driven, primitive, grasping thoughts. Lacking any other perspective, we have naturally assumed until now that our thoughts are who we are… We are not our thoughts. We are not our internal chatter.”
There are many meditation techniques and although I am far from expert on the subject, there is one technique that has helped me, that I thought I would share based on an ancient Indian mantra:
Sit in a quiet space. Make sure you are comfortable and begin to focus on the inhale and exhale breath. As you inhale, feel cool air moving into the body and focus on the syllable So and exhale with the syllable Hum. Feel the cool air moving out. So-hum. Say the words to yourself with each inhale and exhale until you feel the mind begin to calm. Continue for up to 10-20 minutes.
Sink into the sensations that arise physically. If your mind strays from the awareness of the breath and So-hum, gently draw it back without judgment. The more you sit, the easier it will become.
So go on, grab yourself a seat, and:
Just. Sit. Still.
- Jacci Collins is a yoga instructor, dancer and blogger living in Vancouver, BC. A lifelong student of yoga, she strives to find balance in the body and mind with humor and grace. Join her at www.jaccicollinsyoga.com, facebook, and twitter.