By: River Cummings
If you are like many people out there, you’ve been hearing about the myriad benefits of meditation. It’s all the rage in the press these days and is supposedly the “magic pill” for all that ails you. I mean, I’ve heard testimonials claiming that it cures everything from mental illness to muffin top! It’s clear that it works… but how do you approach it? How do you know if you’re doing it “right”? What even is meditation… and what should you expect from it?
As a yoga teacher, I hear a variety of opinions on meditation from my students – usually a hodgepodge amalgamation of truth and fiction that reveals some important gaps in understanding. In this article I’ve addressed three of the most common misconceptions I’ve encountered. I hope these fundamental teachings and tips from the yoga tradition help to demystify – and de-mythify – meditation for you and put your mind at ease.
Myth # 1: the goal of meditation is for your mind to be totally peaceful and free of thoughts.
A while back I had a student come to me expressing a tremendous amount of frustration with her meditation practice. After a little bit of inquiry (ok, prying) by yours truly, it turned out that she had started meditating for 15 minutes every morning because she thought she “should be meditating.” (A statement punctuated by a visible sinking of her face and chest, as if her “to do” list had just gained 3 pages and 300 pounds.) After a couple of weeks she bailed on her practice because she “wasn’t good at it.” Further prying revealed that she thought she wasn’t good at it because she experienced a near constant stream of thoughts and was frustrated that her mind wasn’t suddenly clear, calm and, well, thought free. Hmm…
In the yoga tradition there are several states of mind that are differentiated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (a primary source text). They cover the spectrum from the completely distracted and random – equivalent to a serious mental illness like schizophrenia – to the coveted completely-clear-and-mindful-Buddha state most beginning meditators assume is the goal. These are not considered “good” or “bad” states (after all yoga is not a moral system in that sense) but rather are viewed as beneficial or non-beneficial depending on the results they create. As well, these states of mind are assumed to exist and to be constantly in flux.
Reread that last sentence, please.
That’s right. It is totally human, totally normal for the mind to have thoughts, and for those thoughts to fluctuate. Focused on your breath one minute, daydreaming about lunch the next? Join the club! So just expect that your mind will wander and that random thoughts will show up. This is not only not bad, it’s actually very good because it gives you an opportunity to notice your mind wander and guide it gently back to the technique at hand.
Are you really meditating? Find out next week.
River Cummings is a dedicated long-time student of yoga, yoga therapy, and Vedic chant in the lineage of T.K.V. Desikachar and T. Krishnamacharya. She joyfully calls Boulder, CO her home and is honored to offer yoga teacher trainings, workshops, retreats and consulting worldwide
Health is a precious gift and my goal is to help you live a healthier, happier life through yoga. Every private session is uniquely designed just for you. For a free telephone consultation call me at 303.818.4181. Discover whether personalized, private yoga instruction is right for you.
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