When people talk about yoga, most of the time they are talking about asanas, which are the postures you do as part of your practice. A common pose is Child’s Pose, for example, called balasana in Sanskrit. “Bala” meaning “Child”, and “Asana”, meaning “Pose”.
As a yoga teacher, sometimes I like to remind my students that the practice of yoga involves more than asanas. In fact, it is only one of what yogis know to be the “eight limbs” of yoga. These eight limbs – I suppose you could call them “aspects” or “steps” – of yoga are meant to help us navigate the world and ourselves, providing a map or guide of sorts for cultivating inner peace and spiritual growth.
Since I broke my foot, I’ve had the opportunity to delve more deeply into one of these limbs other than asana – namely, dhyana, widely interpreted to mean meditation.
The Sanskrit word itself describes a mental process that goes beyond sitting still and trying to keep your mind clear of distractions. But here, let’s focus on the act of meditation and the benefits it can bring you, especially if you’ve been feeling some anxiety due to Covid-19 or the upcoming holidays.
The science and tech of meditation
The benefits of meditation are well-documented. In July this year, researchers found that people who meditated had a lower risk of high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, stroke and coronary artery disease. You can read about the study here.
Meditation also has remarkable benefits for mental health. Indeed, just look at the explosion of meditation and mindfulness apps in recent years, including Calm, Insight Timer, and of course, Headspace.
Since early this year, the Covid-19 pandemic appears to have accelerated this trend.
According to a new report published from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower, the world’s 10 largest English-language mental wellness apps in April saw a combined 2 million more downloads during April 2020 compared with January, reaching close to 10 million total downloads for the month.
The charts were dominated by market leaders, including No. 1 app Calm with 3.9 million downloads in April, followed by Headspace with 1.5 million downloads.
Incidentally, Headspace has just announced a three-series deal with Netflix that kicks off next month, starting with the Headspace Guide to Meditation.
How to start
Using an app to guide your practice is a great way to start, especially if you’re new to meditation. For my students who are beginners, I tend to speak more in class, allowing my voice and my words to serve as an anchor for them to focus their concentration.
Other students who are more experienced might prefer a more silent meditation, which allows them to tune in to their thoughts and feelings more intently.
Everyone has a slightly different process. There is no right or wrong way to meditate. For some, movement is meditation. What I gain from sitting still, you may gain from working out or dancing at a club.
We all have different ways to access the transcendent.
If you want to try the sitting-still version, however, here are three things you can do to get started.
1. Pick a spot that’s quiet and calm
This might seem like a no-brainer, but picking the right spot can make all the difference. If you have children or family at home, try to find a room or space where you won’t be bothered for at least 10 minutes.
2. Stick to a schedule
Whether every day or once a week, pick a day and time that you can commit to. You’ll find it easier to keep your concentration once your mind and body understands it’s on a schedule. For me, I meditate at least once a week, every Friday at 9am.
3. Start and end with your breath
No matter what kind of day you’ve had, start with your breath. Allow your awareness to settle on your breath, and let your breath guide you more deeply into your body. Our minds are easily distracted. When that happens, simply bring your attention back to your breath.
When you’re done, count down 10 long breaths, and slowly open your eyes.
If you need a bit more help, here’s a wonderful guide by New York Times’ David Gelles.
Returning to a regular meditation practice has really helped me to think more deeply about the anxiety I’ve felt since breaking my foot. Understanding what those anxieties are, and where they come from, was the crucial first step for me to begin to let them go.
Meditation isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve never tried it, consider giving it a go.
Sleep on it. Actually, better yet, sit on it.