Does this sound familiar: you really, really want to meditate. But within seconds of sitting still, your mind’s a riot of buzzing thoughts. You love the idea of meditation, but it just isn’t working for you. Why?
Let’s ask that question another way. When did you last enjoy a refreshing cup of tea without going through the ritual of boiling the kettle, putting the tea in the cup (or pot) and pouring the hot water on the tea?
It’s the ritual of preparing the tea that makes drinking the brew both possible and pleasurable. Now think about the way you approach meditation. Do you just sit down, close your eyes and jump straight in? It could be that lack of preparation is sabotaging your practice.
Don’t just sit there.
After more than 20 years of practice, I still find it very difficult to simply sit still and meditation. So I don’t.
It took me a long time to figure out how to meditate without being driven crazy by my own restless mind. Here’s the secret – use all eight limbs of yoga to prepare. If you’re not practicing all of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs (or you don’t know what that means), it’s about to change how you meditate forever.
The ancient text, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, forms the foundation for the yoga we practice in the west today. Patanjali knew a thing or two about human nature. His observations of our busy brains and ability to delude ourselves are as true today as they were when he wrote them nearly 2,000yrs ago. He used his deep understanding of the human mind to create a road map to help us to let go of the things that cause suffering and move towards a state of yogic bliss.
Patanjali makes it very clear that yoga has eight components, or ‘limbs’, and we need to engage with all of them if we want to enjoy the benefits of practice. Deep meditation comes right down the bottom of Patanjali’s list, suggesting that there are a few things we need to cover before sitting down to silent contemplation.
Patanjali’s ‘road-map forms the basis of my own meditation practice and is at the heart of all the meditation courses and trainings at Adore Yoga. It looks like this:
- Yama – 5 guidelines for living in harmony with others
- Niyama – 5 guidelines for living in harmony with yourself
- Asana – physical postures
- Pranayama – breathing techniques
- Pratyahara – how to avoid things that are distracting you from concentrating
- Dharana – learning to focus the mind
- Dhyana – deep concentration
- Samadhi – the state of bliss that arises with deep meditation
Following the Eight Limbs perfectly prepare your body and mind to experience the bliss that arrives when the mind settles. I went to an audience with a high Tibetan lama once and was amazed to hear his followers describing how he’d broken his hip due to long hours sitting in mediation. I couldn’t figure out how that could be a good thing – if the body isn’t comfortable, that can only add to the many distractions that get in the way of meditating.
Yoga embraces the WHOLE being. When you mindfully practice yoga, including movement, sound and breathing practices, you start to relax muscle tension, calm the nervous system and settle the mind. All the things that make meditating possible.
Don’t forget the first two limbs, the Yamas and Niyamas. These are guidelines for living a good life, teaching us ways of thinking and acting that reduce conflict – both internally and with those around us. Sitting in meditation is much easier when your mind is clear of the stories that arise when we are not living in harmony with ourselves and our community. You can learn more about the Yamas and Niyamas in this blogpost.
If you're a beginner and want to make meditating easier, my advice is ‘don’t sit still’. Well, not at first. Learn how to prepare yourself to sit comfortably using all Eight Limbs of yoga and you’ll discover how much more pleasurable meditation can be.
Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.