Am I Doing Meditation Right?! (You’re Not Alone)

Photo credit: Ali Kaukas

Photo credit: Ali Kaukas

Part I

In our last yoga teacher training weekend at Sangha Studio, we focused on meditation and building a meditation practice at home. I’ve heard this following statement so many times from my students (and also had this same exact thought when I started my meditation practice): “I just don’t know if I’m doing it right.” Sometimes infused in this statement is confusion or slight agitation.

Well, I’m here to tell you that there is no wrong way to meditate. Sure, there are things that could set you up for a less successful meditation practice-- like falling asleep or not doing it-- but there is no one way to do it and it’s really hard to mess it up once you’ve committed to it.

Let me be more specific. Once we get clear on our sincere intention for meditation and why we are coming to our cushion, then it’s hard to mess up the structure of our meditation practice. There are a lot of methods: guided meditations, apps, silence, sound meditations, walking meditations. There are endless meditations you can find out there. I invite you to explore a bunch of them and see what works for you. If you are having blocks to meditation right now, maybe you just aren’t engaging in the right method for you. Committing to meditation is the biggest hurdle. Once you’ve done that, then it’s about exploring different styles, which can be really fun to play with.

I suggest sitting down first with a notebook and reflecting on your desire to meditate. Why do you want to do it? What is the driving force or motivating factor that will continue to inspire you to get to your seat? We should love meditation and want to come back to it again and again. It shouldn’t be something we feel we have to do or something we dread.

My intention for meditation is simple: to get to know myself more intimately so I can walk through life with more ease.

What’s yours? Figuring that out is the first step. Then we can move on to this next part.

Part II

Helpful tips for when you get to your seat and begin meditating.

You can think of meditation as...

whatever you are holding in the embrace of consciousness.

That could be cheesecake. Are you only thinking about cheesecake? Awesome! Let that be your object of focus and try to only think about cheesecake. What a nice reprieve from the thousands of thoughts that run rampant through our brains. When you sit down to meditate, are  you only thinking about your to do list? (join the club). I invite you to focus on one of those to do list items, follow the thread, and see where it takes you.

Caitlin Pascucci shared with our training group something that her teacher Lorin Roche said. What if your to do list was the greatest gift to the world. I love that. We often think of mundane or familiar to do list items as bad to think about in meditation but what if, for example, you followed the thread of having to go grocery shopping. What a beautiful thing that you can buy food and nourish yourself and your family, roommates, friends, whoever you share your life with. We don’t need to eliminate parts of our life from our consciousness; we can work to shift our attitude towards them.

Once I began to approach my meditation practice with curiosity and flexibility, it all clicked for me.

Flexibility

Know that meditation might look different for you depending on the day. Some days, I sit on my meditation cushion in quiet and look at what’s going on in my brain that day. Other days I’m less traditional and I sit down with my journal and I write. Writing is such a cathartic activity for me and often gives me the same benefits as meditation. Some days I just can’t focus so I need to turn on a guided meditation (I like Tara Brach’s podcast).

Curiosity

Approaching anything with a curious mind does wonders. I find myself saying “interesting” to myself and to my thoughts as I meditate. I find that to be very helpful. Interacting with our thoughts in a curious, interested way can not only help us let go of any resistance but also lead us to the deeper roots of the thought and discover what it’s trying to tell us.

Tips for Meditation

  • Sit upright with a tall spine. This will keep you energized, alert, and help you from falling asleep.

  • Use props. I like to fold a blanket and sit on the edge of the blanket so my hips are propped up and my pelvis is slightly tipped forward. You want your knees in line with the hips or below the line of your hips (this will help your lower back).

  • Consistency over quantity. It’s much better to meditate 1-5 minutes every day rather than 30 minutes one day a week. Consistency is key. It’s like learning an instrument or a foreign language. We’re learning about the instrument that is our brain and we really are learning the language of our Self (which can definitely feel like a foreign language at times).

  • Once we give space and attention for thoughts to be seen, they have less of a hold on us.

Thoughts are amazing! Thoughts mean you are alive. When someone calls you “thoughtful” you take it as a compliment, right? I never aim to villainize thoughts and make someone think that meditation is about stopping all thoughts. In my opinion, it’s about getting curious about the quality of thoughts we do have in this moment, and if they aren’t serving us, how we can use meditation practice to shift the quality of thoughts into ones that feel more supportive and in line with our sattva (true nature).

Life isn’t always easy. But I believe that we can navigate life with more ease. Easy and easeful have two very different connotations. Meditation is just one of the ways we can invite more ease into our everyday life and move from reactive to responsive. What does your meditation look like? How would you define meditation? What is it that helps you connect back in with your true nature? Remember, it’s a practice. So keep practicing and trusting that with consistent and sustained effort, you’ll experience first hand why so many people say good stuff about this meditation thing.

Resources for Meditation

Two of my favorite books on meditation right now are:

  • Meditation for the Love of It by Sally Kempton

  • Meditation Secrets for Women by Camille Maurine