We all know that the practice of yoga is about more than just the asanas, but many of us—myself included—struggle to incorporate other aspects, like meditation, into our practices. Meditation is important to a well-rounded practice (and general well-being) but it can also be very challenging.
I spoke to Sadie, who leads a donation-based meditation session at the studio on Sundays, about how she began practicing meditation, her tips for meditation beginners, and what students can expect from her meditation sessions.
How long have you been practicing meditation?
I was introduced to meditation by my parents at a pretty young age, but I didn't really get it. It was like, "You want me to sit still? For how long? Why?" Needless to say, it didn't stick. It wasn't until my 200 hour yoga teacher training that I started to understand the how and the why of a meditation practice. My teacher, Brittanie DeChino, introduced us to many different styles of meditation, and also to some breathing and visualization practices to help train the mind. That's when I began to experience the benefits of pranayama and meditation in such a way that I was inspired to learn more and to keep exploring. So to answer the question, I think it's fair to say that I've been practicing in a more dedicated way for about 3 1/2 years.
How do you think meditation benefits you?
The gift of hitting pause is so essential. My life as a freelance teacher and artist tends to have me running around a lot, so to give myself a break from the constant hustle and be still is so important. Sometimes it's incredibly difficult, there's always a feeling of "I have so much to do!" but I'm always grateful when I do give myself that time. And perhaps most importantly, practicing mediation helps me to watch my thoughts in a way that allows me to react to things in my day to day life much more purposefully and consciously. It's sort of hard to explain, but it's kind of like in the Matrix when (spoiler alert!!) Neo realizes he's The One, and there's a bullet coming towards him and he's able to slow it down so it doesn't hurt him. Things happen in life that are distressing or scary or frustrating, but I've found that practicing meditation has helped me think about my reactions to moments like that before speaking or acting, so essentially, a major benefit of practicing meditation is that it allows me to be more thoughtful and more compassionate.
What tips do you recommend for beginners?
First of all, be kind and patient with yourself. This is actually a tip for everything in your life in general, but it definitely applies to starting a meditation practice. Meditation is HARD, but you don't have to be perfect at it, that's why it's called "practice." For example, when you're finished reading this sentence, try closing your eyes and thinking of absolutely nothing for just ten whole seconds. Were you able to do it? If so, that's truly amazing. But very likely-- nope. It only takes a moment for thoughts to come flooding in, like "what should I make for dinner?" or "I think it's been about 10 seconds," or "my nose itches," or, "am I doing this right?" and honestly, you could easily have all those thoughts and more over the course of ten seconds. But don't beat yourself up about it, just keep trying to slow down your thoughts, or at least sit very still. Maybe you can only sit still for one full minute. Okay, so then that's your practice. All this to say, you have to meet yourself where you are, and then go from there.
Another tip—find a teacher who inspires you! One who you feel comfortable enough with to receive their guidance, and ask any questions you might have.
Do you think there’s an optimal time to practice?
According to the Yoga Sutras, mediation is the 7th limb of yoga. So according to Patanjali, you would first study the ethical principles of yoga, then do your physical practice, the poses, then the breathing techniques, then you'd start to turn your focus inwards, and begin to concentrate until that concentration is so focused that it becomes meditation. That's my yoga text book answer. But I'm also inclined to share a wonderful saying from my teacher Sri Dharma Mittra. He says, "You have to find your own tricks!" Meaning, figure out what works for you! If you like the quiet of the early morning, then wake up and do your meditation. If you feel most settled right after a yoga class, do it then. If you're schedule is ever-changing and inconsistent, maybe you just fit it in whenever you can on a given day. Whatever works best for you is what's best.
Can you tell us a little about what the donation-based mediation class on Sundays looks like?
Each week is a little different, depending on who's there, the mood of the room, and how familiar I am with each person's practice. But in general, folks can expect two or three pranayama (breathing) exercises. I'll spend a minute or two explaining how to do the exercise, as well as some of the benefits you may experience as a result, and then we'll take 3-5 minutes to do the practice together. Then we'll do a meditation practice. This might be "seedless mediation," in other words, trying to clear your mind, or it might be a meditation focusing on compassion, or perhaps a simple visualization to sharpen your concentration.
Huge thank you to Sadie for sharing her insight with us! Do you make meditation a part of your regular practice? Let us know in the comments!