Dear Maura, I keep hearing tons of good things about meditation. Since you’re a yoga teacher, I was hoping you could speak about this. I’ve tried it a couple of times but I just can’t sit still! Do you have any tips on how to develop a regular practice? ~ Stephanie S.
Thanks for writing in, and being willing to give meditation another try. You’re right—sitting still is not easy. I’ve got a ton of energy and a ton of things to do, so I find it really challenging. That said, meditation has increasingly become an important part of my regular practice. (I also incorporate meditation into every yoga class I teach: yoga postures were traditionally practiced to prepare the body to be able to sit for longer periods of time, more comfortably in meditation, so it’s the perfect time/place to practice.) So, I’ll answer this question in two pieces. The first piece will provide information on benefits of meditations, for those readers new to the concept; and the second piece will lay out a simple 10-minute meditation for readers to try at home.
The Medical Dictionary defines meditation as a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation and enhance personal and spiritual growth. Studies show that meditation can help lower blood pressure, increase red blood cell count, reduce anxiety, lift depression and lower cholesterol. It also helps the practitioner calm their nervous system (move out of the flight or fight response) so the body can rebalance and heal itself. Finally, meditation can lead to a deeper connection to the self and the source (that which you perceive to be bigger than yourself). Meditation as a spiritual practice existed long before science was able to point to its many health benefits.
All that information is great but totally useless if you can’t find a way to sit still for a few minutes. There are many ways to meditate including yoga, breathwork, visualization, prayer or chanting. What I’m about to share is a very simple and accessible technique I have been practicing over the last few weeks. I prefer to practice in the morning, to set the tone for the rest of the day ahead of me, but you can actually practice at any time.
- Dress in comfortable clothes and sit, either on the ground, cross-legged or sitting upright in a chair. (I’m not a fan of lying down for meditation. Chances are high you’ll fall asleep.) Find an area that is relatively quiet. If you’d like, you can light a candle or burn some incense, but it is not necessary.
- Close your eyes. If the body feels stiff, do a couple stretches—rolling the neck and shoulders, stretching arms overhead. Once you get comfortable, let your gaze draw inward and let the rhythm of your breath start to settle down.
- Take your attention to your feet and spend a few breaths encouraging that area of the body to relax. Then move to ankles, legs, knees, hips—all the way up the body, finishing at the crown of the head.
- Once you have relaxed your whole body, start to count down from 100. Nice and slow. Try to stay focused. Let thoughts leave the mind just as easily as they came in. Nice and slow.
- Once you count down to zero, count up to 30. Nice and slow.
- Then count down from 30. Nice and slow.
- When finished, let yourself bask in the silence and stillness all around you. Enjoy the present moment of nothingness. Sit here for as long as you like, or for at least one minute.
- When the meditation feels complete, press your hands together in front of your heart in prayer position. Set an intention, say a small prayer or send out a positive wish for someone in your life. Take a very deep breath in (fill up as much as you can), hold the breath in for 5 to 10 seconds, and let a long slow “haa” sound out of your mouth to exhale.
- Gently flutter open your eyes and step peacefully into the rest of your day. Remember that this feeling is always available to, just a couple breaths away.
Happy meditating and Namaste,
>> How do you meditate? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments. And if you have a question for Maura, email us, and your question could be answered in a future column. Find more of Maura’s advice here.
Maura Manzo is a yoga teacher and health coach specializing in integrating diet, health and wellness. She supports others in becoming their best possible selves. Maura is available for private instruction and coaching, as well as on-site corporate classes and speaking engagements. She is co-creator of the Beyond Asana 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training and the Art of Letting Go: Maya Tulum Mexican Yoga Vacation. Learn more about her teaching schedule, coaching practice and yoga trainings at MauraManzo.com.