Why I Meditate
Fix your mind inwardly ... on the shoreless lake of peace. — Paramahansa Yogananda
Although I am a yoga and meditation teacher, and have been for nearly 15 years, I am first and foremost a student of yoga and meditation. In teaching yoga to my group and private students, I rely very heavily on my own practice. I believe that this is the only way to be a credible teacher.
Today, I’ve decided to share some of the benefits that I experience from having a meditation practice. My hope is that some of these will resonate with you and inspire a deeper commitment to your own practice. Here are my top seven reasons for meditating.
Focus. In order to get anything substantial done in my work and in any sphere of my life, I need to be able to focus and think for stretches of time without disruption. In meditation, I continually train my mind to focus on just one thing, such as my breath, and this gives me the resilience I need to keep my focus steady when yet another email or phone notification attempts to pull it away. Sometimes, if I feel overwhelmed by stimulus during the day, taking two minutes to tune up my focus back onto my breath can also be a big help.
Grounding in the body. How often do we experience being in our body? I have found that it is easy to take the body for granted unless something is wrong, and when something does go wrong - an illness, impediment, pain - all the attention on the body is negative. Meditation allows me to experience being in my body as it is, and to focus gratitude on it. By directing this positive attention to my physical being, I cultivate better physical health and a healing mentality, preventing stress and negativity from being stored in the form of aches and pains. If you are dealing with illness, this kind of positive attention to the body is crucial for helping the mind attain its highest healing potential.
Answers through intuition. We all face times in our lives when we need to make important decisions, big or small, and we are not sure what to do. In times of such indecision, you might hear the advice “go with your gut,” or “you already have the answer within!" But it’s not easy to hear our gut, is it? We are so good at analyzing and second-guessing that our inner voice gets drowned out. For me, meditation is the single most effective way to hear that inner voice, because meditation can quiet the mind chatter just long enough. I have had multiple experiences when I would sit in meditation, ask myself the big question that I faced in that moment, and have the answer pop up in my mind immediately and clearly.
Relaxation away from anxiety. When I feel anxious, sluggish, or tired, it can be the most difficult time to remember to meditate. A regular meditation practice is training for such times: it conditions the mind to remember. Physiologically, in times of stress, we breathe at the top of our chest and lungs - the breath is shallow, we may even hyperventilate. In meditation, we cultivate the opposite kind of breath - slow, long, steady, and grounded in the belly. Doing a short meditation in times of anxiety has always calmed my body, and then calmed my mind; having a regular practice makes it more likely that I will remember to do the short meditation in the first place.
Slowing down the mind and perspective. Our minds think tens of thousands of thoughts a day (estimates vary, so I will not commit to one, but it’s a very big number). Those thoughts, to-do lists, obligations keep us pretty set in a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of mindset. I recently learned about the concept of tunnel vision that occurs when a scarcity of something, including time, can completely rob us of perspective on the bigger picture of our life, and I’m pretty sure I have experienced this. Meditation allows me to step aside from that constant thought stream, slows down the thoughts, makes more space between them, so that I can regain some perspective on life, and lift above the stress of the daily grind long enough to see that I will be OK, no matter how busy.
(Aside: if you are curious about tunnel vision, a.k.a. the scarcity trap, here’s a great podcast on it.)
Quieting the judge. I don’t know about you, but I have a pretty noisy inner judge. You know, that voice, often subconscious, that is constantly suggesting that I’m not good enough, I haven’t done enough, etc. Meditation quiets that voice down. Not forever, of course, but for stretches at a time. In fact, it was thanks to meditation that I even became aware that that voice was so persistently there, and that maybe it wasn’t something I wanted to keep around. Similar to stepping aside from my thought processes, meditation helps me set the judge aside.
Experience of my true nature and inner calm. What am I? Am I defined by those to-do lists, obligations, noisy judge? Is my life nothing more than the grind? In meditation, I tap into a different state of being. When all of the things I just describe happen - I focus on the breath, the breath becomes deep and slow and belly-focused, the thoughts slow down just a bit - I connect to a different, calm, joyful state of being that is always present deep inside, but that is often lost under the layers of the day-to-day. Suddenly, all the challenges of the moment don’t seem so overwhelming. It’s a deep state of peace that could be summarized, somewhat inadequately, with “I’m just fine!” It is a wonderful reminder to come back to, over and over again. And it can be attained in the midst of any circumstance, even illness, with practice!
No one is “good” or “bad” at meditation
Have I convinced you yet? Let me say one more thing to counter an objection that I often hear. Meditation is not something that you can be “good at” or “bad at”. Meditation is a moment by moment, day by day, practice. You do not achieve a single and permanent transformation in meditation, it is not a one-time or multi-step set of accomplishments, liberations, or fixes. Instead, meditation is a very gradual and continual process of tiny transformations that amounts to life-changing magic, but in steps that are very tangible and within reach of everyone. All you need to do is make a commitment and sit. Very often people tell me that they are not “good” at meditation, because their mind is too busy, that the moment they sit down to meditate, their mind takes the reins, and so “meditation is not for them.” As it turns out, this is everyone’s experience in meditation, including very experienced meditators. Even the Dalai Lama has reportedly said that meditation is hard for him. So let that be your inspiration, and go for it!
If you want to meditate but don’t know where to start, download the guided practice on the home page of this website. And as always, feel free to get in touch!