Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Calming the Mind

Today is day 7, the end of the first week.  Any thoughts or experiences you would like to share so far?

I have talked briefly with some of you this past week and meditation seems to be the biggest challenge.  From my own experience,  developing a regular meditation practice took several years of curiosity and dabbling with different techniques before I made the commitment to a daily practice.  This is a topic that Kyra and I have talked in great length about....how to support those of you who are just getting started without "teaching" meditation or a specific method.  There are many schools of thought and technique on meditation and just like asana, we would advise that you experience them for yourself and find out what speaks to you.  I believe that most of us come to the proverbial cushion with a desire to calm the mind and find more peace in our lives.  Our lives are filled with a constant stream of distractions, multi-tasking and overstimulation.  And then we expect that when we come to the cushion, all of those distractions should just fade away.  When that doesn't happen, we are somehow deflated by the experience and the mind tells us a convincing story about why meditation is not for us.

Meditation is a practice and if it were easy, everyone would already be doing it.  I hear a lot of students say they would like to meditate but they just can't sit still or their minds won't stop racing.  Isn't that the case for all of us!  When do we get the opportunity in our lives to practice 'sitting still' or for that matter, do we even want to sit still?  How boring?  The distractions are so appealing and entertaining, who wants to give them up?  This is the work.  And I have the same struggles as you.  I continually have days where I am carried away in thought during meditation or I just don't want to make the time for it.  But I am also aware of the subtle changes that I have noticed in my life through meditation.

So here is some advice if you are struggling with meditation....Begin your meditation practice by making the time, staying committed to it (all that comes up) and starting again if you fall off.   If meditation is new for you, instead of coming to your cushion "to meditate", come to your cushion to practice being still and observe what goes on.  There are many techniques for quieting the mind such as following the breath, counting breaths or repeating a mantra or passage.  Try one of these techniques and see how it goes.  Take time to set yourself up so that you are comfortable (your hips are higher than your knees) or if sitting on the floor causes you too much pain, sit in a chair.   Begin again!

"Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet.
It's a way of entering into the quiet that's already there
Buried under the 50,000 thoughts
The average person thinks every day."
~ Deepak Chopra ~ 


  1. I decided to do the yoga immersion mostly because I thought it would help re-invigorate my sitting practice. Because I have a regular Mysore practice I wasn't worried about the asana component. It is odd how the complexities of life can make simple things complicated.
    So, Day 2 of the immersion (last Thursday) it turned out I did not set my alarm which is really odd because I always do and I thought I had. I knew Thursday I needed to get to the studio and that I would have no other time do anything related to the yoga immersion if I did not. My eyes opened at 6:23, I jumped into the shower, did not have my usual pre-yoga coffee and got to my map in a state of half-sleep, doing sleep-yoga for at least all of standing. If it had not been for the immersion I would not gone. And, of course, I was so happy I did.
    I had a very busy weekend and no time for full practices but I did some meditation everyday. I have done more mediation in the last week than I have in at least a year (and at one time I sat for an hour every day).
    So, it is Thursday again. I went to bed early last night but then ended up being up between 2 and 4 in the morning. When my alarm went off at 5:40 I could not get up and I knew if I did my teaching will suffer. So now I have to ask what practice will I do and when? I am not yet sure but the wonderful thing about this immersion is I know I will do some and I know I will be happy that I did. -Miriam

  2. My dad was a big meditator. He would tell me all kinds of stories about things that he learned during his meditations. The stories I liked best were the ones about the people that he knew in his previous lives and how they had come to him again in this life. These stories were probably a little unusual by most people’s standards, but I was intrigued. And although I lived a pretty “normal” life with my mom, I must admit that I too wanted to experience the kind of stuff that my dad had experienced. That was my first exposure to meditation and it wasn’t for another 20 years before I tried meditation myself.

    When I was thirty, I had become inspired from my asana practice to learn more and more about yoga. I was reading a lot and discovering that yoga really had the answers to all the questions about life that I had been searching for over so many years. I found a Tantric Buddhist teacher while living in San Diego who was amazing. Every Monday she would give the most life changing talks about how to live a full and meaningful life. The catch was you had to come to her hour long meditation in order to secure a spot for her talk which was to follow. So I started coming early and “meditating.” I had no idea what I was doing but I enjoyed being in her company and the quiet I felt from sitting still. From there I started meditating, or really just trying to sit still without external distraction, here and there, with no real regularity. That’s where I stayed for almost ten years as I tried to learn to be with myself in silence – not an easy task.

    Two years ago I found Paramahansa Yogananda. I had known of him and his teachings for 8 years – had read Autobiography of a Yogi 3 times, had visited his meditation gardens and Self Realization Fellowship Center repeatedly, but somehow never got onboard for meditation. It’s funny how that happens – we’re exposed to something over and over again and then one day it just clicks. That’s what happened to me. This time I was drawn to him like a magnet. He had everything that I was looking for in a teacher – but most importantly, he had walked the path that I was so desperately seeking. So now I practice. Sometimes my time on the cushion seems awful. I am fighting to stay awake, to stay with my technique, wishing the heebie jeebies would leave my body. Other times I feel present, awake, focused and a deep sense of calm. In the end, I just have to keep coming back, taking the little gains as they come and having faith that with time the rest will follow. Thirty years have passed since my first introduction to meditation. It’s been such a long journey and yet here I am at the beginning. Sometimes I wonder where I would be now if I had found Yogananda 10 years ago… but then I have to remind myself that I would not be here now without all the years of experiences that led me to this exact place. So I practice, with the belief that someday, in some lifetime, I too will go where where Yogananda has gone.


    “On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure.”
    -Bhagavad Gita 2.40