Yeah, that was me. I'd spent years thinking about meditating, reading articles about it and telling my friends how good it was. I even bought a meditation cushion. But I never got around to actually meditating. I tried to concentrate on those breathing exercises at the end of my yoga classes, but my mind kept wandering off to domestic tasks, jobs left undone, shopping lists to write etc. etc. etc.
Then I trained to be a yoga teacher and there was no hiding place – I simply had to sit down and do it! I tried various styles of meditation: walking, seated, concentrating on the breath or an object, mantra repetition – the lot. After several months of yoga teacher training, I still couldn’t keep my mind still for more than a few minutes. It was frustrating and embarrassing – how could I ever be a yoga teacher if I couldn’t even meditate? Then one of my teachers told me something that changed my experience of meditation forever.
She said that the objective of meditation was not to make the mind go blank. When we meditate, we are not trying to have ‘no thoughts’. Hallelujah! “Think of the mind as a naught puppy”, she said one day. “It has no discipline and it’s your job to teach it how to come to heel.” Yes, my mind was just like one of those young dogs you see in the park, pulling it’s owner over as it bounds off in every direction, chasing after endless distractions. “The trick is”, she continued, “to catch your mind when it wanders off, just like you would catch that naughty puppy. Then, gently, bring it back to concentrating on the meditation. And you keep on doing that until your mind learns a little discipline, just like the puppy.”
All of a sudden, my meditation practise changed. Instead of trying to keep my mind a ‘blank’ and beating myself up whenever I had a thought, I realised that the point of the practise was to ‘catch’ the mind when it wandered off. Of course thoughts are going to crop up. That’s what the mind does – it thinks! Trying to stop it thinking is a recipe for frustration and failure.
So, next time you try meditation, lighten up. It’s ok to have thoughts. The trick is to notice when you have them, then gently bring your mind back to concentrating on the meditation. Here’s an easy meditation practice to get you going:
1. Sit comfortably, using a chair or leaning on a wall if that helps you to sit in comfort with a tall spine.
2. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Watch the movement of breath in and out of the body for a few minutes.
3. Now bring your attention to the sensation of the breath passing over the tips of the nostrils. As the breath enters the body, it feels cool against the tips of the nostrils. When you exhale, the breath feels warm and moist as it passes over the tips of the nostrils.
4. Keep your attention focused on the passage of the breath over the tips of the nostrils. Eventually you’ll notice that your attention has wandered. Acknowledged that your attention has wavered (even allow yourself a little smile!), then gently bring your mind back to focusing on the breath.
5. Keep going for about 5 minutes. Try this practise every day and gradually build up till you can sit for 30mins at a time.
Want more meditation resources, including guided meditations, relaxation techniques and gentle yoga for meditation? Visit our Meditation Resource Page.
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.