My journey through meditation has gone hand-in-hand with my yoga practice. I wanted to share a little about how they are related, and how having a regular meditation practice has enhanced what I do on the mat.
I first encountered yoga (or more specifically, asana) while doing my masters at the age of 21 (quite a while ago now!). I became enraptured by the possibility of doing a headstand. I kept coming back for the sense of quietness it seemed to produce in my mind as well as the obvious benefits to my body.
I embraced mindfulness meditation at the age of 27 . My father had been diagnosed with a serious illness, and a latent anxiety, which I’d managed pretty well until that point in my life, began to assert itself. My then-partner worked in mental health and had successfully applied a variety of mindfulness based techniques with her clients.
She suggested that I explore some audio recordings by a guy called Jon Kabat-Zinn (who has been a major force in the introduction of mindfulness techniques into western culture over the past 40 years). A deep and abiding interest in the power of meditation was born.
People often feel the benefits of mindfulness meditation after a short period of time – sometimes a few sessions is all it takes, and I noticed some changes pretty quickly. Taking time to consciously observe my breath gave my nervous system some time and space to decompress, which had an instant effect on my anxiety.
A central idea of mindfulness practice – that “you are not your thoughts and feelings” – they are simply part of your experience, you can choose to give them more or less value – has stuck with me ever since. My meditation practice reminds me of this every time I sit.
Patanjali tells us “yoga chitti vritti nirodha” – yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. So many of us experience this stilling of the mind for a period of time after an asana focused class, which keeps us coming back for more.
Movement unified with breath removes physical tension, which allows the mind to settle quite naturally – presenting us with those moments of peace we both crave and need.
Asana is a hugely important part of practice, particularly given the stressful and sedentary ways we live today. Often we emphasise it in favor of a seated meditation practice – which is given equal importance on the yogic path.
Asana is the most common way we explore the yogic path. At its best, asana is a moving meditation, practiced with full awareness of breath, body and mind. I have found that having a regular meditation practice has helped my asana practice enormously. In particular I’ve seen impacts in these three ways.
A settled nervous system means a mobile body
A few years ago, I went on my first long silent meditation retreat. My physical movement was limited for eight full day, restricted to brief of gentle walking. Upon my return to the mat, I was afraid that I would struggle physically. To my surprise, I found that my body was extremely supple and mobile. I found myself deeper in poses than ever before!
On reflection, there was a simple explanation. The body stores tension in muscle tissues. Releasing psychological tension through meditation had loosened up my body and improved my mobility. Even to this day, I notice a settled mind means a physically more expansive practice in general.
Embodied practice is effective practice
Mindfulness meditation develops your capacity for being aware of your experience on a moment by moment basis. This includes cultivating awareness of how your body is feeling.
Having a deeper awareness of the condition of my body means I am better equipped to make decisions about where I need to back off, when I need to rest, or indeed when I might choose to explore deeper variations within my asana practice.
This both keeps me safe, and helps me to explore and expand my boundaries in a conscious way.
Savoring the sweetness
The moments of sweetness – the sukha in the “stirha sukha asanam” that we experience as a result of our physical practice – can be all too brief. It’s very easy to quickly stand up from the mat post-savasana and rush back to join the frenzy of the real world.
Developing the capacity to sit for a few moments – to meditate – allows us to savor the stillness that we’ve created through the efforts of our physical practice.
It’s rare that I’ll leave the yoga room these days without sitting for a few extra minutes at least – unless I’m rushing out the door to a meditation class so I can really soak it in!
My meditation practice has helped my physical practice, and my physical practice has deepened my meditation.
So why not explore what it can bring to your practice? BodyMindLife offers meditation Check out the timetable here.