Think back to the first time you practiced yoga. What drew you to the mat? A 2013 study published by Global Advances in Health and Medicine found that of 600 study participants surveyed, 92% viewed yoga primarily as a form of exercise
While yoga is, indeed, a great way to build strength and flexibility, it’s also a gateway to meditation. In my experience, many practitioners come to yoga to exercise, but they continue to practice for its other benefits. Developing a meditation practice is a potential positive side effect of practicing yoga.
Meditation for your well-being
Meditation reduces stress, one of the instigators of all sorts of ailments. People with strong meditation practices may experience reduced depression and anxiety symptoms, improved digestion, and decreased inflammation overall. Meditation can increase grey matter in the hippocampus (your brain’s memory center) and the amygdala (responsible for stress and reactivity).
Scientific studies have done a great job of showing us how meditation physically alters our bodies, but it also plays a role in our perception of the world. Meditation in elementary schools has been shown to cut down on the need for disciplinary intervention. Prisoners who participate in mediation programs report having better self-control and discernment. Any way you slice it, meditation gives people the tools they need to take on challenging situations.
Bridging the gap
While we may think of yoga as the exercise you do in a 60-75-minute class and meditation as the mindfulness practice you do on our own time, the two are not mutually exclusive. While it's true that most classes focus on the physical practice, Dhyana (meditation) is one limb in the eight-limbed path.
It's never a bad idea to seek opportunities to focus on meditation the same way you dedicate time to asana. Retreats are an ideal place to explore the eight-limbs in a way that you simply can't in class.
The connection between meditation and asana
Asana can be a form of meditation in itself. The act of transitioning through postures deliberately, breathing, and turning down the static of life is excellent practice for seated mindfulness meditation.
Moving through the asanas helps you build the mental muscles you need to let go when you meditate. Utkatasana (Chair Pose) may have started as the torture pose your teacher made you do every time you did Surya Namaskar B (Sun Salutation B), but it becomes an experience in a string of experiences. Meditation practitioners must learn to let things go and release judgment in much the same way.
The asanas also prepare your body for meditation. After you've gotten your energy moving and burned off pent-up anxiety, it's often much easier to sit quietly for a few minutes.
4 Obstacles that keep people from meditating
You know that mediation is good for you, and you understand that there's a connection between meditation and the other limbs of yoga, but you may still feel like you can't meditate. Here are some of the most common barriers that people cite as keeping them from meditating.
1. I don't have time.
This is a big one for students today because we're all busy. The good news is that you don't need several hours per day to start reaping the benefits of meditation. If you're starting out, five minutes may be all the meditation you can handle. As you become more comfortable with the practice, you may find it easier to make more time.
Going on a retreat can be a great place to develop a meditation habit. Carving out a portion of your day to practice can seem more feasible in a retreat-setting. After you've set a foundation for your practice, it will be easier to access when you are at home. If you're specifically looking to learn more about meditation, find a retreat that places some emphasis on the practice.
2. I don't have a place to meditate.
It'd be great if we could all go to our favorite spot in nature or have a room dedicated to meditation, but that's not always possible. This shouldn't stop you from giving meditation a shot. A quiet corner in your house, your office first thing in the morning, or your mat after at the end of class are equally wonderful places to meditate.
3. I'm not doing it right because my mind won't empty.
This is so discouraging for students--especially the perfectionists who want to do meditation "right." The misconception that you have to "think about nothing" or "empty your brain" has led many students astray. Your mind doesn't have to be completely empty to be in a meditative state.
Calming the "monkey mind" is one of the most important things you'll learn to do through yoga and meditation. Meditation is about slowing down and breaking cycles of reactivity.
4. Meditation is way too uncomfortable for me.
Whether you're tense from a busy day or have a medical condition that prevents you from sitting for long periods, aches can be a big nuisance during meditation. Doing a short asana practice to limber up can certainly help.
You don't have to sit cross-legged like the archetypal yogi if your body doesn't like it. You can also meditate while sitting in a straight-backed chair, while walking, or while lying on your back. You may find that your body's fussiness during meditation sessions subsides as you make meditation part of your daily routine.
Give meditation a chance
Making time to tend to your well-being every day is a life-changing gift you can give to yourself. You'll be able to be present, you'll be better equipped to take things in stride, and you might even add a few years to your life in the process.
Yoga has so much to teach us beyond the obvious benefit of moving every day. If you're practicing asana on a regular basis, the door to meditation is open. It's up to you to walk through it.
Spend time cultivating your meditation with us in Panama!