When I bring up the topic of meditation, many people scoff, “I can’t meditate, my brain won’t turn off.” Or maybe it’s “I can’t meditate, I can’t sit still.” There are many false beliefs surrounding meditation that I cover in “3 Myths about Meditation and Why it’s Easier Than You Think!” a free eBook you can get here. We tend to make it harder than it actually is by misunderstanding what meditation is all about.
Meditation is a process, not a destination. While some people can drop into a meditative state (after years of practice), the journey is more important than the destination. 2 of the 8 Limbs of Yoga are focused on this transition, from Concentration (Dharana) to Meditative Flow (Dhyana).
We begin by training our mind to focus on one thing at a time, i.e. Concentration (Dharana). This Single Pointed Focus is a way that we bring our mind into the present, an attempt to wrangle our “Monkey Mind.” I have always loved this image, of a monkey jumping and flying all over the place, not staying still for a moment. The mind can be a lot like that, with thoughts flying in and out so fast we don’t even fully register them. They become like mental clutter, taking up space but with no real purpose.
Remember, this is a PRACTICE not a perfect, so the goal is not to stop all thoughts. They are not going to stop. The goal is to concentrate on one thing for as long as you can. When your mind wanders (and it will), bring it back and start again. With practice there will be more space between the thoughts, and the thoughts will bother you less.
Put it into practice:
The focus of Dharana practice could be anything, a sound, a sensation, even your breath. You could focus your eyes on a candle burning. The focus subject is less important than the practice, choose something that is easiest for you. When you do Savasana as the last yoga pose on your mat, you are practicing Dharana.
I find the breath is easiest to start with as we have it with us all the time. Come into a comfortable position, either seated or lying down. Take a deep breath in, then let it out, just to “clear the palette” so to speak. Notice your breath as it happens. No need to breathe in any particular way, just notice what is already happening. Notice the sensation of your breath as it moves in and out through the nose. Notice the temperature, where you feel the breath in your body. Observe your breath for as long as you can, and when you notice the thoughts taking over, pause, and come back to your breath.
With practice, you’ll find more ease in your concentration, and your ability to focus will improve. Also, when the thoughts come in to distract you, you will be less bothered by those thoughts. Through this practice you can cultivate more gentleness and compassion for yourself.
Dhyana is an extension of Dharana, where you take the momentary concentration practice into a longer flow state. Your concentration becomes more sustained, as you’ve built up your concentration “muscle.” The distractions become more background noise and you are no longer playing the “mind wanders, bring it back” game in the same way. There is more space internally, less clutter, less noise overall.
This is why many people think they can’t meditate. You don’t start here, this comes after years of practice, and you may only taste it for a moment. Again, this is not the goal of meditation, though it can happen. This is something to move toward, but whether you get there or not doesn’t matter. What matters is practice, as all the benefits of meditation come from practice.
Dharana and Dhyana are 2 limbs of yoga (#6 and #7) that are specifically inner practices. The physical body is still, while we explore our inner self. The longer you practice Dharana, the more likely it will be that you experience Dhyana. If you practice daily for 5 minutes per day, it will take you longer than if you practice daily for 30-60 minutes or more. However, any amount of time that you practice will affect how you feel.
A 5 minute meditation practice can get you out of feeling stressed and anxious. A continued practice can keep your stress and anxiety levels down . It’s like taking vitamins: they don’t work as well when they stay in the bottle, you need to swallow them. When you practice meditation regularly, even for just 5 minutes, it gets easier, and takes less time, to settle down. Your mind learns what to expect and it’s ready to “drop in.” You develop your mind’s “muscle memory,” and like when you practice anything else, you understand it more as you go.
Follow this 6 minute meditation practice and see what you notice about how you feel!
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Diving Deeper into Your Yoga Practice is coming up in October! This is your opportunity to explore all 8 Limbs of Yoga to live with more peace and mindfulness. This 8 month program is for you if you want to learn more about yoga, both on and off the mat, and incorporate yoga into how you live your life. Click here for more information or to sign up!
Practice yoga and meditation every week, online at Purple Room Yoga! Mondays at 8-8:40am ET I teach Movement and Meditation. 20 minutes of gentle yoga movements to work out the stiffness, then 20 minutes of guided and silent meditation. My students claim that it’s the best way to start the week! Sign up here!