FAQ: Meditation and Yoga

FAQ: Meditation and Yoga

Meditation

My mind is too busy to meditate. What do you recommend?

It’s helpful to cultivate dispassion towards thoughts.

When we detach from the thought stream, we create space in our awareness.  Without thoughts anchoring us in a story, we’re more likely to catch the meditation current that draws us inside.

When we cultivate dispassion to our mental-emotional inner landscape throughout the day, we tend to suffer less. Dispassion frees us from the tendency to grasp and attach to outcomes.

With dispassion, we have more mental-emotional space to enjoy the breath and become aware of what’s happening now.

On Dispassion

I get derailed when I try to meditate because I'm pressed for time, tired, get bored...

Here is some support for overcoming some of the most common obstacles to meditating.

 

Overcoming Obstacles to Meditating

I want to learn to meditate to reduce anxiety. How do I calm myself?

Meditation is a deep practice that offers us many benefits including clarity, deep insights, and joy. Meditation also helps us cultivate equanimity—calm states of mind—but there are also other simple practices that help us calm ourselves.

Calming Ourselves 101

What's the secret to becoming a meditator?

Read about the secret here, in this blog for total newcomers to meditation.

One important tip—in meditation as in life, a sense of humor goes a long way. Don’t take your thoughts or your new practice too seriously. Just keep sitting. Your meditation practice is likely to deepen and unfold organically if you do.

The Secret to Becoming a Meditator

I just sit and watch my thoughts the whole time. How can that be good?

Even if you feel like you’re just sitting and watching your thoughts, it can be very beneficial.

It’s good to be aware of the thought-stream (perhaps until now unconscious) that’s running you.

If the thoughts that are arising are critical, toxic, or disempowering, recognize you can talk back to your inner critic, have compassion for your self, and choose different, more empowering thoughts.

After meditating, you can spend a few minutes journaling to explore these kinds of questions: What thoughts surfaced? What was the conditioning that caused you to have those thoughts?

Watching thoughts can be tiresome when your intention is to meditate. It might help to:

  • Understand that thoughts are not solid; they’re energy. Notice how evanescent they are as they arise and subside. Ask yourself: What is the space thoughts are arising out of and subsiding into?
  • Keep bringing your attention back to the breath; enjoy the breath.
  • Repeat mantra.

When you watch your thoughts, you become aware that you are not the thoughts that arise and subside; you are the space, the awareness, that holds thoughts.

Yoga

What's the difference between practicing yoga and working out at the gym?

The physical practice of yoga is an awareness practice; it’s not just a physical practice.

In yoga we do much more than simply strengthen and stretch and become more flexible.

As we practice yoga, we tune into the breath and sensations, we become aware of thoughts and feelings, and we access meditative states.

We also clear out what yoga refers to as our “subtle body,” comprised of nadis, which is Sanskrit for “little rivers.” In Chinese medicine and acupuncture, they’re called meridians.

When we practice yoga—when we breathe deeply and well, in well-aligned yoga poses—our mental-emotional state shifts.

Yoga helps us calm, ground, and center ourselves. We can also use certain poses to energize ourselves. Backbends, for example, are helpful when we need to brighten our mood.

I don't have time to get to a group yoga class. (Or I don't like group yoga classes.) What do you recommend?

Group classes are not everyone’s cup of tea and they’re not necessarily the best option for everyone. In 2020, with COVID-19, group classes (if they’re not in cyberspace) are not a good option for anyone. Even when COVID-19 is not an issue, group classes are not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea.

Both of the Western medical doctors I’ve studied yoga therapeutics with emphasized this point: It’s more beneficial to do a short home yoga practice that targets your specific needs on a regular basis, than an hour and a half group class in a studio once a week.

One example: Dr. Fishman’s “yoga for osteoporosis” can be done in 12 minutes a day.When you’re busy, doing one pose in great alignment is beneficial.

It’s important to learn the basics of good alignment from a certified yoga teacher to keep yourself safe before you embrace a home yoga practice.

When do Privates make sense?

Privates make sense when you:

  • are new to yoga and learning the basics of alignment
  • want to refine and deepen your practice
  • have therapeutic issues (back pain, osteoporosis, scoliosis, torn rotator cuff, arthritis, anxiety, depression, etc.) and need individual attention
  • prefer privacy over group yoga classes
  • are pressed for time but want support to stay motivated to practice
  • want to connect more deeply with presence, ease, and bliss

As a Teacher, I much prefer working with someone who has therapeutic issues in private or semi-private sessions rather than in a group class. Private sessions make it much easier to provide the focus and individual attention that’s needed.

A very skillful way to approach yoga is to work with a Teacher to master the basics of the poses that target your specific needs, and then practice at home in a way that works for you. For many people it’s a better strategy to do short (15, 20 or 30 minute) practices when they can find the time at home.

As both a practitioner and a Teacher I still enjoy the energy of group classes and workshops. A community that we touch base with periodically can strengthen and support our commitment to practice.

How has the way we practice yoga changed over the past decade?

There is a lot more support for making your yoga practice your own than there was 10 years ago, especially now that we’re navigating COVID-19. When I started practicing yoga in 2005, the main option if you wanted to learn yoga was to attend group yoga classes in a studio.

Now you can work with a Teacher in private sessions via Zoom or Skype, which works surprisingly well.

There are also some great yoga classes available online. I don’t make global recommendations for online offerings but when I’m working with someone, I might recommend a particular class to support their practice.

As a practitioner, I much prefer my home yoga practice—tuning into what I need in any particular moment. I love night-time yoga—doing a very grounding practice to breathe, stretch my thighs, open my hips, twist, lengthen, align, and relax into a meditative state before sleeping.

As a Teacher, I like helping students develop a tool kit of poses and some sequences that target their needs. When developing recommendations, I take into account many factors including their preferences and their mental-emotional tendencies.

I always offer people options for when time is limited. What are the 2 or 3 most important poses that will provide the most benefit in the shortest amount of time?