Recently, I spent some time at a Buddhist monastery and took part in a course that involved 48hours fasting (24 of those no water either) to build compassion for those who don't have access to food/water. We also meditated, chanted and did about 40 mins of full prostrations each session - 4 times a day (adds up to just over 2 hours of prostrations per day). The experience was transformative - I had some deep meditation, and it really helped me to appreciate (again) my meditation and pranayama practices. The prostrations were actually quite physically intense. After the first couple of sets, my body was complaining and I felt very tired. Then I did a really beautiful chakra meditation and this allowed me to easily make contact with my prana body in the next and following sets. The prostrations became light and easy. On the second and third morning, when I expected to be in pain, and exhausted, I felt replenished, and the prostrations felt easy. It also helped that they were being offered for the sake of others, and I was able to practice surrender (Ishwara Pranidhana) as well. Plus during the fasting time - whenever I felt hunger, I simply said to myself - "oh, I've had so much prana today, I feel completely full - I couldn't eat a thing" and the hunger went away and I felt full! I felt grateful for these practices in this moment, without taking away from the suffering of those in real need. I was amazed how the power of the mind could literally transform a physical experience, and how prana really was completely nourishing. I felt like I broke through a limiting belief - by feeling at ease in the prostrations even when I didn't think I could do any more - and again getting up early (4.20am for 3 of those mornings) after I had thought I was too tired to get up that early. Every time we break a limiting belief, we open up to the possibility of breaking other limiting beliefs. In other words - what else can I do, that I don't think I can. The story of Hanuman reflects this idea - he didn't think he could cross the ocean to the Island of Lanka (to rescue Sita) until his friend Jambhavan the bear reminded him he was divine - the son of the wind god Vayu. When he remembered, he flew across the ocean. This story asks us to reflect on our magnificence - we are all divine, we are all miracles - by forgetting, we are keeping ourselves small. Time to remember and step into our fullest potential! Namaste <3
your meditation is part of an integrated 8 limbed system. Consider the things that usually distract you or make meditation difficult – thoughts & emotions from the events and interactions in your life, body aches and pains, a disturbed nervous system, noises and external influences. The rest of the eight limbs will help you manage/reduce all of these conditions to allow for deeper, more steady meditation practice.
Begin with "kaya sthira
" - steady body. Ideally in your seated position, the hips are in line, or a little higher than the knees. In this way, the spine is held naturally upright without effort, the energy can flow up the spine, and the mind is held lightly alert. The back muscles can fatigue after a few minutes if they are asked to hold the spine up when the back is rounded. This leads to slumping, blocking the lungs, a drop in vitality and a sleepy mind, maintaining your meditative mind becomes a struggle. This is why lotus and kneeling postures are favoured - to access this natural effortless lift - to stay in meditation for longer and more easily. If you are a little stiff in the hips, hamstrings or back, you may wish to sit on blankets, a cushion, a stool or chair - so that you can access this ease.
There are many gateways
to the meditative state. Patanjali includes meditating on om, japa mantra (mantra repetition), meditating on a guru/one who has attained a realised state, pranyama and at the end of the list – meditating on anything that quietens the mind. So what brings you peace? The sound of waves gently lapping on a secluded beach? Nature? The image of a candle? The memory of a quite moment? Watching grass grow? Then use that. Quietening the mind is the first stage, letting the multi-pointed focus of the senses be drawn away from the external world to the internal where it can rest.
Many Buddhist traditions
suggest acceptance, going deeper into the sensation to ultimately dissolve/transcend. The old saying goes what you resist, persists, and this is true with the mind. Just observe, accept, view with compassion, investigate, and it will eventually soften of its own accord.
can be very helpful if you have a creative and active mind. I particularly enjoy meditating on the chakras – visualising the energy centres, seeing the coloured light they emit, feeling the qualities they awaken, and sometimes repeating the bija sound that activates them. There are many forms of visualisation – it is not what you visualise that counts, but the result – do you quieten and/or expand the mind, does the external drop away, do you access peace, tranquility, a sense of pure being, of pure knowing? If you get excited or lost in the story, it has stopped being a meditation and become an enjoyable way to pass the time (e.g dreaming about winning the lottery!)
– modifying the breath has a huge impact on modifying and calming the mind. Pranayama is a science in itself, but in its simplest form an even steady breath, slightly pausing between the breaths, or observing the breath in detail all help to direct and steady the mind.
there are two main brain networks – the active default mind that deals with what we need to DO, and the secondary network that allows us to simply BE. They cannot both be active at the same time. As the ability to “be” is beneficial to a meditative state, this is the network we try to access. The best way to do this is to focus on the sensations of the body. This activates the brain network that keeps us in the moment and the ability to be deeply present.
Drop your expectations
. The meditative experience is different for everyone, and can be different every practice. Sometimes blissful, sometimes agonising, sometimes boring, frustrating confronting, peaceful. It can be all of these things. Over time, with regular practice the busy mind begins to relax and naturally return to a quieter and more natural state. Almost as if you have cultivated a reservoir of centeredness, that is there, ready and waiting to support you through difficult or challenging times. The idea that you have to have no thoughts is impractical, better to allow your thoughts freedom, while gently encouraging them to stillness through providing guidance and a focal point.
. Begin with 10 minutes a day, and build up over time. A sustainable and effective time for daily practice is 20-30minutes, although that can increase with experience.