Simple meditation: no yoga mat required

 

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In my garden: Granadilla fruit and flower

Many people today are interested in meditation in a more ‘functional’ way, perhaps as a means to help us to manage stress or health issues and to help us to cope with our busy, demanding lives. Meditation therefore is something we might look to simply as a tool to help us to manage our daily demands.

In his book YOGA (6th Edition_ 1983), Swami Venkatesananda describes meditation as “..the art of realising the universal self, beyond the ego-sense” and as a state of being and awareness where “..the ‘I’ has disappeared and only consciousness remains”  

 

Swami Venkatesananda spent many years as a recluse and ascetic disciple. His yoga practice extended to serving humanity and he believed in teaching through his word and example the ideal of an enlightened life. He believed that there is a way for us all to benefit from a meditation practice and believed in a ‘common sense’ view of our seemingly complex problems.

So how CAN we use meditation in a ‘common sense’ way, in a way that helps us to feel calmer, happier, healthier and more in control of our lives?

I have used my own morning meditation routine as an example of a light meditation practice before starting the day. The practice can take as short a time or as long as you like, even five minutes if that is all you have. I sit for fifteen minutes on average. The important thing is to make it part of your daily routine so that it becomes a habit.

First, I make sure I have a hot cup of tea in my hands and I sit comfortably in bed with my back supported by pillows. The routine is more or less as follows:

Sit with your cup up close so that you can feel the warmth under your nose and between your hands. Breathe gently, noticing the scent and warmth of the steam in your nostrils (coffee will have a strong scent of course). Notice the colour and texture of the fluid and how it contrasts against the inner surface of the cup. Notice whether there are any reflections on the surface, maybe you can see your own eyes mirrored back at you from the surface of the contents. The idea here is just to notice, to observe without judgement or question. Simply notice the sights and sensations of what is in front of you, of what you are holding in your hands. Now bring the cup up closer and take a sip. Notice the feeling of  heat on your lips and tongue,  and the taste and texture of the fluid as it reaches your taste buds. Close your eyes and experience the sensations and the taste of your tea as you continue to gently sip. Pause as you wish and notice other things, such as the sound of the tea being sipped and swallowed, the weight and texture of the cup that you are holding, and the feeling of the breath in the nostrils. The idea is to remain gently focused on the experience of Drinking a Cup of Tea, without the intervention of thoughts about what the day ahead might bring, or about things that happened yesterday. If you find that your mind starts to wander, make sure that you are still sitting comfortably, and gently bring your mind back to the moment. If need be, keep a piece of paper and a pencil close at hand in case something comes to mind that you just can’t ignore and might want to attend to later. Continue with your meditation for as long as is comfortable for you, breathing slowly throughout to help you stay gently focused. Get out of bed slowly so as not to ‘jar’ yourself out of meditation. Take a few moments to yawn and stretch to encourage blood flow through the face and body, and then begin to prepare your day.

You will hopefully find that daily morning practice of light meditation assists to create a feeling of calm, focus and positivity ahead of your busy day, and that it soon becomes a habit!

If you find meditation difficult in the beginning, don’t worry, and be assured that even experienced meditators have their good and bad days. You will notice that I have included all the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and hearing. You don’t need to follow my suggested sequence to the letter, as we are all different in how we relate to our five senses. For instance, there is no reason that you cant take a sip (taste) of your tea before looking (sight) into your cup. Over time, work towards keeping the eyes closed as much as possible with the focus on the other sensations as suggested. There is no wrong or right here in terms of sequence. The key issue is to find what keeps YOU in the moment, without your mind wandering off.

Please note that what I have suggested are guidelines based on my previous experience as a yoga practitioner and teacher (please see my About page).

If you are interested in learning more about meditation and in developing a more intensive practice, here are some suggestions Here and Here

 

 

Breathe in, Breathe out

I was a Hatha Yoga Teacher for many years, both while living in Cape Town and up until a few years back here in Johannesburg. The traditional Sanskrit term for yoga breathing is Pranayama, and it encompasses a variety of practices, some of which are quite intense and not intended for the yoga beginner. One of the first things that the new hatha yogi is taught is the importance of the breath as part of the yoga practice. To the outsider, Hatha Yoga may appear to be a series of physical movements and postures, but in fact it goes far deeper to a place where the inner organs and systems, and of course the breath, are involved in the practice.

 

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Springtime in the garden: Indigenous South African Clivias

 

One of the cornerstones of the practice of yoga is awareness of the breath, which brings me to the point of this article: The importance of the awareness of breathing in daily life. It is a known fact that our thoughts and feelings have a direct impact on our breathing and this in turn affects the inner workings of our body’s vital organs. Feelings of stress tend to cause shallow breathing which restricts the vital flow of oxygen and the removal of impurities in the body. Simply put, we need to breathe effectively in order to perform effectively, and we need to breathe effectively in order to manage the feeling of tension that is inhibiting our breathing in the first place.

The texts we studied from as teachers placed an emphasis on how to BREATHE DEEPER into the abdomen and rib cage in order to optimize the uptake of the breath, and then to extend the exhalation by drawing the rib cage inward to fully empty the lungs.

When I taught my new students about breathing I would encourage them to BREATHE SLOWER, as a starting point.

I believe that to develop “stress free breathing”, we sometimes need to focus simply on breathing slower, as opposed to breathing deeper. Try the following next time you become aware of feelings of stress, tension or shallow breathing: JUST SLOW DOWN. Relax, and don’t force your breathing -it must not feel uncomfortable in any way. Just breathe normally, preferably through the nostrils, but through the mouth is fine if you need to, and allow your breathing to slow down slightly. Feel free to sigh or yawn if you feel the urge- those are good stress relievers too. Continue reading