The importance of meditation
Meditation and mindfulness are a real focus right now, but what benefit do they give us? Before I'd even tried them, I didn't pay much attention to them, I thought it was just what serious yogis and yoginis did or just part of a class to let you sleep. But I'm one of those people who need to understand why these things have been practised for thousands of years. How do they work and what are the potential benefits? I've spent the last five years practising both and read many articles, attended courses and bought books on the subject so here's a snippet of what I know.
My teachers have explained to me that yoga is preparation for meditation. By bringing the body into your practice, you start connecting to the present moment, and then your mind becomes more receptive and aware. Why is this important? It's because in our daily lives, our minds hardly ever shut off or take a break. We're always thinking, planning, organising, remembering. And if we're not aware of this at all, it can lead to illness, stress and anxiety. Your mind needs compassion. It needs soothe. It needs quiet. It needs control. How often do we get that time in each day?
I include meditation in each class I teach, just after the relaxation (savasana) at the end. I always ask my students to be seated upright so that they can remain conscious and alert and not slip into a five minute sleep (although it's quite tempting to do so!). I provide 'anchors' for my students to focus their mind on. These can be a visualisation or observation of the breath, the inhalation and exhalation and where they feel this in their body. I then ask my students to stay present and turn their focus inwards. They begin to observe the thoughts that come and go in their mind. People sometimes say to me that they can't quieten or empty their mind. That's not the main aim when you first start meditation and it takes a lot of practice to get to that stage. What you are trying to do is become aware. Start making friends with your mind. Observe the talk and chatter inside your head. Then smile, and let the thought or feeling go. Like a cloud across the sky or a leaf in a stream.
At the end of a meditation, my students say they feel relaxed. Less stressed. At peace. Even if it was just for a second or two. We rarely get that feeling when we are aware and conscious because we're always busy doing things. Doing, And not Being. So meditation gives us time, albeit a short part of our practice, to simply be. To watch. To allow. To be calm. And the good news is, it has been shown to reduce anxiety and the feelings of stress beyond your mat and your practice and into your daily life. I know from my own experience that this is so true. I used to be the busiest and most worn out person that my family knew. But now I take things in moderation and stop every now again to be. And they say they like me more for it!