I’d always heard that meditation could benefit your health and wellbeing, but it was only after about five years of practising asana based Yoga that I finally gave it a try. It took a number of years beyond that however before it became a habit, even though I felt the benefits I had somehow failed to stick to it.
If you have a physical Yoga practice but do not practise meditation, even if it’s something you’d think be interested in, I’d like to help.
It occurred to me that developing a successful meditation practice is all about finding the right fit for you. The idea might seem appealing, but the actual process of beginning a meditation practice can cause resistance as the idea of sitting down in silence, the idea of “stilling the mind” seems rather peculiar. What exactly do you do?
I’m not going to list all the different types and tools of meditation, although I have actually tried a few of them myself over the years. I’m just going to begin by explaining the Mantra Meditation technique which is the method I find most effective. With this method, I’ll give you six steps to the process and also advise you on some of the benefits of committing to a meditation practice – physically, psychologically and spiritually.
What exactly is Mantra Meditation?
Mantra Meditation has become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to the widespread accessibility of Transcendental Meditation and Primordial Sound Meditation. The basis of these practices consist of silently ‘chanting’ mantras and using the ‘vibration’ of the mantra to help still the mind.
There are different perspectives with regards to correct pronunciation of the words or phrases of mantras as they tend to be given in sanskrit. Each mantra has different vibrations and you want to find one that corresponds to your intentions. Take for example the mantra AUM. Aum or Om is the most basic and powerful mantra you can chant. Whether you say it out loud or repeat it silently to yourself, this universal mantra will create powerful, positive vibrations in your lower abdomen that rise up through your body. It is often combined with the mantra Shanti. Whereas Om is abstract, the word Shanti has a direct translation, meaning Peace. Both these sounds have different ‘vibrations’. Regardless of their meaning or correct pronunciation, it is not about perfection – your chanting and your meditation are for your wellbeing and you simply do what feels best to you, remembering there are no prescribed rhythms or ways to chant your mantra.
Before you start
1) Choose your mantra – first of all what is a mantra? A mantra is a word or phrase such as ‘Peace’, ‘Love’, ‘Om’ or ‘So Hum’ that you repeat to yourself during meditation, maybe consider starting your Mantra Meditation with the following mantra “Om Shanti Shanti”. By silently repeating the mantra, you give your mind something to focus its attention on other than your thoughts, and when a thought does come along and distract you, the mantra acts as a tool to return your focus.
2) Find a comfortable place to sit – by supporting yourself with cushions, pillows and blankets or sitting on a comfortable chair and sitting as upright as possible, comfort becomes a priority and meditation therefore is an ENJOYABLE experience.
3) Get centred – by taking a few cleansing breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Then continue to breathe normally in and out through the nose.
4) Silently repeat your mantra – the repetition is soft, gentle and relaxed which means there’s no need to force it, and it doesn’t need to correlate with the breath.
5) Do not try to empty your mind – from time to time you will inevitably drift away from your mantra. You will find the mind keeps trying to wander, as is its nature – do not attempt to stop this from happening. You simply observe that a thought is present and then gently return to repeating your mantra.
6) Completion – after twenty to thirty minutes you can stop repeating the mantra and just remain sitting with your eyes closed. Spend a few minutes relaxing, simply being, not doing, keeping your eyes closed and just be ‘in the space’. You may use a timer with a gentle sound. Keep the volume low so you are not pulled out of your meditation too suddenly.
Even a few minutes of daily meditation is beneficial in case you read 20 to 30 minutes and thought there’s no way that’s happening! Start with whatever amount you can and work your way up.
So what are the benefits?
- Stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system – the part of your nervous system that helps your body return to a calm, relaxed state. When activated, your body can naturally rejuvenate, repair and rebuild itself.
- Clears your mind for better sleep.
- Improves physical performance – refining your ability to focus on a goal, situation, or mantra.
- Reduces anxiety and depression.
- Allows you to make better choices and improve critical thinking – by becoming aware of your thoughts.
- Breaks unhealthy habits, helping you detach emotions associated with an action from the action itself.
- Relieves you from the sights, sounds and stimulation of the material world and delivers you into a spiritual space.
- Arouses an experience of yourself as a spiritual being, experiencing the unity of all life and awakening your heart’s capacity for compassion.
- Soothing on a cellular, emotional and spiritual level.
Easy, yeah? Not necessarily. Sometimes the timer goes and you feel surrounded by peace and stillness. That’s great! Other times you feel like you hardly meditated at all. It’s a challenge for everyone! Sometimes you cheat and finish before the timer is up. Guess what, you’re not alone! That’s life, you come back to it the next day and it’s a different experience.
My intention writing this blog was to motivate you to try Mantra Meditation. So give it a go and don’t worry if you’re ‘doing it right’, you simply have to do it to start slowly reaping those benefits I’ve listed above plus more!
I can also recommend a couple of teachers if you would like to learn more from the comfort of your own home. Roger Gabriel from The Chopra Centre. I learnt Primordial Sound Meditation with this inspirational teacher during my Perfect Health teacher training experience. Rod Stryker from Parayoga has some amazing books and meditation cds if you want to learn more about visualisation and the Tantric approach to meditation. I ADORE both these guys. They both gave me a much better understanding of meditation and mantras and where to go from there.
How do you quiet the mind? Do you meditate already? Or are you looking for that next step in your practice? I often think of my meditation time as a ‘pressure release’ allowing any stress or tension from my day to slowly drift away.
Om Shanti, Lx