Meditation 101: Common Misconceptions + Easy Tips

I had a recent revelation and it wasn’t that I need to eat more veggies, practice more yoga or get more sleep. It was quite the opposite really. I acknowledged (for the thousandth time) that I need to meditate.

I have been fighting this notion for years. Honestly, it’s an old story. I have so many excuses. Mountains of resistance. I have no time. I don’t know how. I don’t want to wake up earlier because sleep is more important. I am happy in my life. What’s the point, anyway? I practice yoga daily. Isn’t that enough?

For a while, I used the physical practice of yoga (asanas) as my meditation. Prayers before bed and running in the park seemed to fall into the meditation category so I was content with not developing an actual seated practice.

That is, until I started a teacher training program at Ishta with Alan Finger and learned just how valuable and life changing a daily, consistent meditation practice could be. Throughout several lectures, my aversions, excuses and anxieties were broken down. After recognizing all of the benefits of the power meditation, I realized it’s time. No more excuses.

So as of this week, I set an intention to meditate every day. While it hasn’t been perfect, it’s more than I have ever done so while I like to acknowledge my attempt, I know I still need work. Finding stillness in a chaotic city full of distractions is so challenging! But just like anything else, practice is key.

 

So what exactly is meditation?

Meditation is a practice that trains the mind. In order to experience the state of samadhi (one-ness, blissfulness, no thought) the mind must become still by concentrating on a single point for an extended amount of time. Meditation then is to stop the incessant activity of the mind and experience a state of thoughtless awareness. It is a moment of neutrality, free from any distraction or judgment. It is also the development of concentration, mindful attention to the present and inner awareness.

To use an example, if our mind was like a windshield, meditation is the daily cleaning of the windshield so that we are able to see clearly.

 

Despite the growing popularity of yoga, many people are still really confused about meditation. Here are some common misconceptions.

You have to be a yogi to meditate. 

Wrong. You have to be a human to meditate. If you are breathing, you can meditate.

Meditating is too hard. 

Not exactly. Starting a meditation practice may feel difficult. But in reality, to take a few moments out of your day to breathe, find stillness and calm the mind can be much simpler than we think. All it takes is practice, guidance and patience.

My body can’t sit comfortably for that long.

There are easy solutions to this. You definitely want to make sure you feel comfortable so you can sit against a wall or chair. Use props like bolsters, blocks pillows or blankets. Practice some yoga poses before you sit down to help open the body. Find what position works best for you.

I don’t have time to meditate.

As I mentioned earlier, this was my favorite excuse but when I really thought about it, I definitely have time to meditate. Even for 5 minutes. Even for 1 minute! The amount of time we spend distracted with social media, televisions, mental drama and all the other nonsense that accumulates in our lives, we can easily set aside just a few minutes a day for this inner practice. For me, I know that mornings can be really hard given the nature of my work so I decided to meditate in the afternoon. I have time to sit, explore and enjoy the process rather than feeling sleepy or rushed.

 

Before beginning, here are four simple tips:

Tip #1 – Create a space. 

It is really helpful to have a special space set aside for your meditation practice. During the warm summer months, I like to practice outside in my garden in front of my altar. Since I am new to this, I am not sure what I will do in the colder months but I am already trying to create an area dedicated to meditation. Having an space especially for meditation will help you stay connected to a consistent practice.

Tip #2 – Meditate anywhere. 

Although creating a space is important, in reality, you can meditate anywhere, especially if you have an aversion to sitting still. Start while riding the subway, walking in the park or sitting at your desk. Better yet, find an activity that feels like a meditative process. For me, it’s running. For my husband, it’s painting. It can be cooking, drawing or any other creative outlet that helps you detach from your mental chatter and helps you focus your attention in the present. While this is not exactly a seated meditation, it could be used as a nice prep to calm the mind.

Tip #3 – Focus on the breath. 

It is really hard to just sit down and start meditating so the best way to begin is to pay attention to the breath. The yogis call this APA JAPA and it literally means “repetition with awareness”. You don’t try and change, deepen or lengthen the breath. You just observe how it is, naturally and without interference. Noticing the texture, temperature and overall sensation will ground you in the present and help you to stay focused.

Tip #4 – When finished, reground. 

It is really important to take time after your meditation before jumping back into life. Some yogis suggest a few minutes of savasana, others believe that you should rub your hands together to create heat and proceed to rub your hands all down your body. Or you can simply take a moment to rest so your body can adjust. Otherwise, you may feel dizzy, anxious or unsettled.

 

Ready to get started? Here is a simple guide for a 5 minute meditation.

Set a timer for 5 minutes.

Find yourself in a comfortable seat.

Remember, use any props or support so you can feel at ease.

Close your eyes, relax the muscles of the face, jaw, neck and shoulders.

Start to practice APA JAPA by paying attention to the breath.

Don’t change or interfere, just notice and observe.

After a few moments, bring to deepen the breath.

Every time you inhale, fill the belly, lungs, chest and ribs with breath.

As you exhale, feel the ribs, chest, lungs and belly deflate.

Inhale, expand and extend.

Exhale, relax back to your center.

Practice 10 rounds of full complete breaths.

Return to normal breathing.

Stay with your eyes closed until the timer rings.

To reground, gently open your eyes and look to a point on the floor.

Slowly lift your gaze and either take a brief rest, eat a small snack or do anything that will help you recalibrate back into daily life.

Try to practice every day for 1 week.

When you feel ready, increase you time to 7-10 minutes.

 

Keep in mind, meditation may feel weird, uncomfortable or even silly. Don’t worry, just keep at it. Just like anything, it takes time. And if your mind starts to wander, which it will most likely do, as best as you can, allow the thoughts to pass. Refocus your attention on your breath and try not to judge, criticize or give up. Practice, practice, practice.

There are so many ways to meditate and the more I explore, the more I will share with you. But if you are interested, check out the links below:

For amazing meditation classes in NYC, check out Alan Finger at Ishta Yoga.

For a center dedication to meditation, check out The Chopra Center.

Wishing you all the best on your journey inward!