Why You Should Meditate:
5 Types Of Meditation To Try This Week
By Julie Schoen
I have realized, as of late, how misunderstood meditation is. Of course I have only come to this realization after being one of “those” people who not only did not understand meditation, but who truly disliked the practice. The first time I meditated was in a college yoga class at the University of New Mexico. I was beginning to love practicing yoga – the sweat, the poses, the stretching, the overall just good feeling you get from it. I sat down for meditation thinking that it would be easy and that, considering it had something to do with yoga, I would like it. Wrong.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
I hated meditation. I didn’t even finish that first ten-minute session in my class. I ran out angry and in tears. Embarrassed, I skipped class for the next week. I began to wonder if I could still practice yoga without meditation. And the answer was of course I could. Of course I could stretch and flow and Chaturanga just for the physical benefits (like any exercise) and skip anything that I didn’t like, which included meditation and chanting (chanting for a whole different reason at the time).
So, that’s what I did for the next several years; I avoided meditation like a New York subway rider avoids sitting next to the crazy person without pants on.
This strategy worked for a while. Most yoga classes I went to and taught did not include any meditation, barring the brief intention setting to start class and the Savasana post class, both of which could easily be consumed with thoughts about dinner, movies, and the crazy person on the subway without pants on.
But just like that crazy person slowly makes his way over to you despite your best effort to avoid eye contact and pretend that you’re busy, meditation kept coming to find me. I read about its many benefits in magazines. I heard fellow yoga friends talk about how they start every day with meditation. And when I heard that the notorious celebrity Russell Brand was changing his addictive lifestyle by meditating on his rooftop every morning before and after his yoga session, well I decided to give it another try.
My deciding to really start meditating (or at least give it a good old fashioned go) coincided with my finding out that I was pregnant with my first child. Learning that I was going to be a mom was the most exciting and terrifying news. I was flooded with emotions, new and old, and I knew that I had to find a way to deal with them.
So in an online prenatal yoga class I sat down in my apartment and prepared for meditation. I was scared. Every time I had even for the briefest moment attempted meditation in the past I was terrorized by flashbacks and premonitions.
My freshman year of college my friend from high school was murdered – shot in the head by an armed man high on meth. A few weeks later I was raped on campus. That summer I was given a date rape drug by a bartender in Buenos Aires (luckily my friend and I got away). A month after returning home from my summer in Argentina I was raped again, this time by a friend at a party. A couple months went by and I was held at gunpoint in the parking lot of a bakery I worked at (I managed to escape by throwing my keys out of my car window while the gun was pointed at my head. When he looked away to see where my keys went I climbed out the passenger side and ran to safety – thank you to my mom who made me watch that Oprah special a few years before!)
All of these events, events that I had worked to bury deep, deep down would come to the surface when I would meditate. And I know I am not alone. In fact, now as a teacher of meditation I have spoken to many students who refuse to meditate because of the trauma they relive every time they sit with their thoughts.
If you happen to be one of these people who hate meditation for this reason know that you are not alone. Starting to meditate is hard. It will force you to deal with your issues and emotions that you don’t want to deal with. But it is so worth it.
I think that very few people find meditation easy and I believe that is because we are conditioned to multi-task, to be busy, to be “on” all the time. When you look at history, this is new for humans. Relatively recently, when the sun went down, work activities stopped. There was no email to check. No posts to create. No cell phones to answer. Nothing to pin or tweet or gram. People lived in the present for the majority of their day, hearing only bits of news from neighbors or letters.
What does that mean? People had time to process. People didn’t have to hurry from one event to the next like it seems we do today.
Just got married – when are you buying a house and having kids? Graduated from college – what job are you going to get? Family member died – when are you going back to work? Have a baby – when are you going back to work? Got back from vacation – when are you going to post your pictures?
It’s just go, go, go, share, share, share, move, move, move. It’s crazy. Seriously.
It took me a long time to be able to meditate without being overwhelmed by flashbacks. And even still they bubble up from time to time. But I have learned how to sit with them when they do. I have learned to accept, to not cling, and to be grateful. I don’t try to run from them or hide them away like I used to. I don’t just say to myself, “Move on. Get over it.” I process. I sit and process and it has changed my life infinitely.
Because of my meditation practice I am calmer and much happier. I am better able to be a mom to my (now two!) children and a wife to my husband. I have learned to listen and to be present. I can accept things – changes, people, reactions, etc. – without feeling like I need to change them. Learning to meditate has set me free in so many ways.
And I think that is what meditation really is – a chance for us to change our relationships with thoughts and free ourselves from them, to see things as an observer, not from the seat of “I” that we all too often act and react in.
I would love if everyone in the world meditated, because I know it would change the way we live and interact with each other. There’s that old saying that goes, “Everyone should meditate for twenty minutes every day. If you don’t have twenty minutes, meditate for an hour.”
Although I agree wholeheartedly with that, I believe ten minutes (or even five) is a great place to start. If you have any preconceived ideas about meditation (what it is, what it should be like), let them go. Try to approach your meditation each day with a beginner’s mind. If you do (and stick with it!), you will be amazed at where it will take you.
5 Types Of Meditation To Try This Week:
Recently I discovered this form of meditation via a yoga teacher of mine in Santa Fe. After a discussion about meditation, he recommended this traditional Zen meditation for me to try and to teach my students.
I have been practicing this style each morning for the last six months and I have come to love it, mainly for its simplicity and effectiveness at calming my nerves and bringing me back to the present moment.
To practice this form of meditation, sit in a comfortable seat, preferably on the ground if you are able. While seated, make sure you really are comfortable – your knees should be below your hips (sit on a pillow or stack of blankets if necessary), your shoulders should relax away from your ears, and your spine should be long and erect. Allow your hands to rest in your lap in Cosmic Mudra – your dominant hand palm face up cradling your non-dominant hand, thumbs touching.
Close your eyes and take five to ten deep breaths. This is simply bringing you into your meditation – this is not your meditation yet.
After you have settled into your seat and your breath, open your eyelids slightly, keeping your gaze down and soft. Begin to count the breath (one – inhale, two – exhale…) until you reach ten. Then start again. Try not to control the breath or tell your body when you need to be breathing or how long each breath should be.
Once you feel comfortable in this practice and the chattering of your mind begins to subside, change your count so you are only counting the inhale or exhale (one – inhale, exhale, two – inhale, exhale…)
Eventually the goal is that the counting of the breath will subside completely and you will be left with a still and present mind. Note: this does not mean that you will not have any thoughts. You will. You are human. The idea is that the thoughts will be fewer than when you started and that they will be less disruptive. Again, the entire goal of meditation is to change your relationship with your thoughts, not get rid of them completely (in my experience – that is completely unrealistic.)
I love smile meditation. People often ask me how I can be so happy and optimistic all of the time, and this is my answer. Not only is it fun (and we’ve all seen Julia Roberts finally master it in Eat, Pray, Love), but also it’s easy and makes you incredibly happy!
To begin, make a huge, fake (but beautiful) smile. Focus on how the muscles around your mouth feel when you smile. Then, find a comfortable seat. While smiling, create your mantra (your focus, intention) by finishing the phrase, “I am smiling because…” and begin repeating this phrase over and over in your mind. My favorites to use are, “I am smiling because I’m alive” or “I am smiling because I am loved”. And it’s okay for your mantra to manifest into something new as you continue saying it to yourself. Often I start with, “I am smiling because I am loved” and end up in something like, “I am smiling because I have a beautiful life, a wonderful family, and a sexy husband”.
As you force a smile, your brain is tricked into genuine happiness, and by the end of the meditation you are flooded with an inexplicable and contagious joy.
We so often go through every day looking at the world like it owes us something and getting frustrated or even angered when things don’t go our way. This form of meditation gives you the space to focus on gratitude; gratitude for all of the little things we take for granted and overlook during the busyness of our day.
In yoga, breath is often referred to as prana, “life force” or “that which is infinitely everywhere”. It courses throughout our bodies, the vital source of energy, breath, and life. Ayama literally means to “stretch” or “extend”, making the meaning of pranayama apparent: to extend our life force, to extend our breath. T.K.V. Desikachar states in his book The Heart of Yoga that the state of our mind is directly linked to the quality of prana that flows within. By adjusting the flow of prana by controlling the flow of breath, we can control and alter our state of mind. If our mind is focused within instead of distracted by objects, desires, and negativity of the material world, we are able to move the flow of our inner prana to where it is needed most. Hence the saying, “Where the mind goes, prana flows”. However, it is important to note that prana can only be received into the body when there is a positive shift in the mind. Without this mental shift, prana will avoid your body and you will continue to suffer.
When seated for meditation, Patanjali suggests a focus on the exhalation as he views it of particular importance. From my understanding, as we exhale we release negative feelings and other harmful habits or grudges we are clinging to. Inhaling has the opposite affect, bringing in positivity and an awareness of the true beauty that surrounds us. Therefore, by focusing on the exhalation, listening to how it sounds, the way our chest and belly feel, we are cleansing our bodies of impurities, both physical and emotional.
Many people do not realize the profound importance a simple exhale has in our daily lives. In fact, very few people even take notice as they exhale throughout the day. Let me ask you, how many times during your day do you stop and meditate on the pure bliss of an exhale? If you’re answer is never, you are missing out, not only on the meditative experience but on a myriad of health benefits as well.
By far one of the most accessible forms of meditation, moving meditation is exactly what it sounds like: moving while meditating. For people who have suffered trauma and who have a difficult time sitting still with their thoughts, this is a great place to start. It’s as simple as choosing your favorite activity, walking, jogging, running, hiking, biking, gardening, etc. and being mindful of being present while you are doing it. Oftentimes people feel like they need to be doing something while they are exercising, so they turn on music or a podcast or even check their emails while jogging on a treadmill at the gym. By doing this they are missing out on a fantastic opportunity for meditation.
Next time you go out to move (whatever that movement might be) ditch the phone and the iPod. Go be present. Listen to your breath. Notice your surroundings. Observe your thoughts without judgment. This is meditation. It’s simple and powerful and, most importantly, accessible to nearly everyone.
Inner Light Meditation:
This method of meditation is especially powerful for visual learners. During this meditation you choose a part of your body, traditionally the spine or the heart, and envision it as ethereal, glowing from the inside out.
With your eyes shut, picture a reflection of yourself sitting across from you. Or, feel as if you are coming out of your body and looking down on yourself from a different vantage point. Imagine seeing your heart literally coming out of your body, glowing for the entire world to see. Know that the heart is the center of you being. Your heart allows you to be both present in the world and yet free from it. With your heart illuminated, you are a ray of hope for the world. You are a force of power that cannot be stopped.
Or choose to focus on your spine, the highway of energy and life force throughout your body. See your spine as a translucent tube of light, surrounded by a galaxy of stars. See the energy shooting up and down your spine, traveling freely and effortlessly. With each breath, feel your spine elongating and see the energy becoming stronger as it passes up and down, back and forth.
Both of these visual practices bring your mind to focus on a powerful image, one that is both tangible (the reality of the physical being) and intangible (the impossibility of truly grasping the illumination). Let these images transform in your mind as you meditate, exploring the endless possibilities of your imagination.