Have you ever been in a yoga class and the instructor says, “We will spend the next five minutes in a silent meditation where you can be alone with your own thoughts”, and you think you must be broken, because during those five minutes,the “meditative” thoughts that come up include (but are not limited to): “I must remember to pick up my ClickList on the way home. I hope I remember to put eggs on it for when my in laws come. If I forgot the eggs, I guess I can run out tomorrow night before they arrive or modify the receipt. I wonder what is an egg substitute in baking. I should have paid attention in cooking class but I liked …”
…and then the instructor says, “exhale–I hope you feel lighter–namaste”, and you realize that those five minutes of meditation were actually not calming at all but actually amplified your anxiety with all the stuff you may or may not have forgotten to do…
Like any posture during your yoga class, meditation is a practice that we refine throughout our lives, so we can give ourselves tools in order to make our meditative experiences more fulfilling and useful; when you first started your yoga practice, you did not automatically do a perfectly beautiful crow, but rather, you refined your hand placement, learned to engage your core, played around with your entrance, and one day–through tools, cues, and refinements, you achieved crow; meditation is the same.
A few years ago, I read a book about breathing techniques in which the author outlined two types of meditation: one, an inward meditation, in which you close your eyes and turn off all outside sensory cues in order to focus on your internal space, and a second, an outward meditation, in which you keep your eyes open and pay attention to the outward space around you. Prior to this experience, I thought meditation was just simply sitting on my yoga mat for an extended period of time, and it wasn’t until this moment (in which I’d been a practicing yogi for at least 12 years) that I realized that meditation may take a little more direction than simply, “be one with your thoughts”.
If you are finding it difficult to simply just “meditate”, then you are not alone, and I’d like to offer three distinct techniques to bring into your meditation practice:
Meditation to Center: This, I believe is the most mainstream version of meditation. This is a great meditation style to utilize when you feel nervous, anxious, stressed, or out of control. If we think of our brains as iPhones, as we go throughout our days, we open a series of “apps”: the spouse app, the grocery list app, the child-drop-off app, the book club app, the social media app, the don’t-forget-to-feed-the-dog app. And, like a good iPhone reset (or in my case, you forgot to charge your phone), when you turn your phone off and on again, all of those apps running the background shut down, and your phone establishes a better performance.
When we feel our own performance dipping due to too many open apps, we can use meditation to close down those apps, and to re-center. As a high school teacher, I often spend 3-5 minutes in the afternoon, meditating to center, before I teach my afternoon classes–it helps me to close down the running apps from the morning and to be present for my afternoon classes.
To do this, find a quiet space (even if it is only for 3 minutes). Turn off the lights, close your eyes and focus on your breath–you may even find it helpful to count your inhales (to 4) and to count your exhales (to 4). This is an excellent time to find yourself in a child’s pose, legs up the wall, sukhasana–a resting posture. The goal here is to find a guided, repetitive thought pattern that allows you to center and turn off those background apps.
Meditation to Resolve: Other than simply centerning, we can use meditation in order to help us resolve issues in our lives, whether those are internal or external situations. When you have a song stuck in your head, what is actually happening is that your brain is trying to find the lyrics to complete the song. You may notice that, as the song rotates around in your head, you usually get stuck on a certain line, and then your brain reiterates that part over and over again, because your brain is trying to remember the last lyrics of the song. The trick to getting the song out of your head is to allow yourself to finish the song; once your brain has finished the song, it no longer is stuck in your head.
When you have a nagging thought in your head–maybe you are trying to write a grad school paper, you are ruminating about how to approach a coworker, you can’t stop thinking about an interaction you had–you can use meditation to help you “finish the song lyric”, resolve a situation, and allow the nagging thought to pass on.
In order to do this, find yourself in a comfortable reclined position (child’s pose, savasana, fallen bridge, etc.) Begin to bring the thought, the interaction, the situation to your mind, and as you roll it over in your head, try to visualize whatever that situation is until you feel that thought begin to weigh less, and travel out of your mind space.
For me, this meditation was very successful when I had a grad school paper to write and could not quite settle on a thesis. Prior to my meditation session, I would load my mindspace with whatever topic I was going to write about, and as I sat, I would allow those thoughts to roll over in my mindspace–until it seemed there was one dominating idea that I would eventually use as my thesis. Or, in most recent times, when I had to think about which holiday presents I wanted to gift my family–I would “load” my mindspace with the people I wanted to shop for and allow their names to roll over in my mind until I settled on a gift.
(For the record, I ended up buying my family subscription boxes to fit their interests–a gift that keeps giving!)
Meditation to Manifest: And sometimes, we want to use meditation to manifest some kind of outcome in our lives–perhaps we want to achieve a goal for ourselves, like running a half marathon, or we want to have a successful career change, or we want to express more gratitude. They say that, in order to be ‘successful’ in these endeavors, we must first visualize ourselves in the situations in order to manifest the thought.
Many years ago in England, they wanted to study the collective consciousness and whether or not our thoughts impact future outcomes. In order to do this, they gave two groups a crossword puzzle to complete; the first group received the crossword puzzle on the day it was released in the newspaper, and the second group received the crossword puzzle the day after it was released. What they found was that the second group completed the crossword puzzle at a much speedier rate, suggesting that perhaps there is such as our thoughts influencing future outcomes. So, when we want to manifest something for ourselves, it may just begin in our thought patterns.
To use this in meditation, first find yourself in a seated position, close your eyes, and place your palms face up on your knees (this signifies that you are ready to receive). Set a mantra for yourself–a short word or phrase that you will repeat to yourself throughout the meditation. Examples could be, “I am powerful”, “I am worthy”, “I am strong”. With each inhale, repeat the mantra to yourself, and with each exhale, allow yourself to visualize whatever scenario you are trying to manifest; perhaps you are beginning a training regime and want to visualize yourself, running the last mile and breaking the finish line tape at your half marathon; perhaps you are gearing up for a big job interview and want to visualize yourself in the job interview chair, crushing the interview questions; or if you are working on gratitude, perhaps you simply visualize yourself writing ‘thinking of you’ cards. You can use this meditation practice in order to send your thought into the collective consciousness and manifest a future that you desire.