Many people learn to meditate because they hear it's a great stress buster. But, ironically, it’s hard to meditate when you’re stressed. When the body and mind are filled with tension, it can be very uncomfortable to sit still in meditation. This is why many people find meditation challenging or believe they ‘can’t’ meditate. We know that meditation is good for us, but we don’t know how to prepare to meditate. Like all good things, meditation is always better if we add a little preparation.
Read on to discover a simple ritual to prepare for a relaxed and satisfying meditation.
In the yogic tradition, meditation is part of a range of techniques that are designed to settle the body and mind. The great sage Patanjali taught that there are Eight Limbs of yoga, a set of practical guidelines to bring us to a state of deep mediation. These Eight Limbs are:
Yamas: Ethical guidelines for getting on with others, starting with the most important principle, Ahimsa – non harming.
Niyamas: Ethical guidelines for getting on with ourselves, from cultivating contentment to learning to surrender.
Asana: Physical postures that reduce tension in the body.
Pranayama: Breathing techniques that regulate our vital energies, bringing us into a more balanced state of being.
Pratyahara: Tools for turning the attention inwards and becoming less distracted by the outside world.
Dharana: The first stage of concentration.
Dhyana: A deeper stage of absorbing concentration.
Samadhi: A state of deep meditation in which we experience bliss.
If we dive into meditation in a state of high physical, mental or emotional tension, we’re going to struggle to sit still and concentrate. If we follow Patanjali’s Eight Limbs, we have a roadmap for gradually reducing those tensions so that we can more easily practice meditation.
Preparing for Meditation
There is a concept in yoga called ‘Vinyasa Krama’. It means taking intelligent steps in a logical order to move from where you are now to where you want to be. For example, figuring out the most effective way to move from a state of tension to one of relaxation in preparation for meditation. It's one of the key principles we teach students who study Meditation Teacher Training with us at Adore Yoga. When we use the process of Vinyasa Krama, we move from:
- Known to unknown
- Familiar to unfamiliar
- Obvious to subtle
In the context of reducing stress, the known and familiar states would be stress and tension. The unknown and unfamiliar states would be calm and relaxation. The gross would be physical and mental activity while the subtle would be a state of calm stillness.
To follow the principle of Vinyasa Krama, we would start with the known, familiar and gross and work towards the unknown, unfamiliar and subtle. How do we achieve that? By using the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
Ensuring that we are acting in a way that is not harming to others and that is moving us in a direction that is wholesome (in other words, observing the yamas and niyamas), our journey from stress to relaxation would start with asana, bringing rhythm and movement to unwind physical tension. It would then progress to pranayama, breathing techniques that balance the subtle energy. Finally, we can practice pratyahara, techniques that help us turn away from the many distractions around us and settle into a satisfying meditation practice.
We’ve created a short practice that follows these principles, moving you from stress and tension through to a state of calm relaxation. At the end of this practice, you’ll be ready to sit comfortably in meditation. You can learn to meditate here:
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.