A Beginner's Guide to Meditation and Yoga
Meditation and yoga are highly effective techniques for relaxing the body and clearing the mind. 1500 years ago, a sage named Patañjali, who was working from far older sources, compiled the 196 sutras, or aphorisms, that form the basis of Ashtanga Yoga. Among these was this simple but transcendental saying that has survived the centuries:
"Yoga is the effort to still the thought and feeling waves of the mind."
This "effort" comes from finding a calm place within us. A place where the body is relaxed, the mind is quiet, and the attention is focused neither in the past nor the future, but in the immediate moment. To reach this calm and relaxed place, you needn't be sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed, or hanging upside down on a tree limb. You can meditate just about anywhere in any position. And you can meditate on nature, your breath, a mantra (a mystical syllable or poem), sensations in your body, even the wind rustling through leaves, or a babbling brook. Meditation involves focusing the mind and deadening the incessant chatter and clutter of the outside world.
Meditation is like a breath of fresh air for your mind. To breathe properly, it helps to practice what most people have forgotten--to breathe from your stomach. You will take in more oxygen this way. Find a comfortable place to lie or sit. Place your hands on your stomach and inhale slowly. Breathe in for a count of four; breathe out for a count of six. Breath deeper, keeping exhales two counts longer than inhales. Do not hyperventilate. Breathe slowly and evenly, and become conscious of the breath coming in and out as you breathe through your nose.
You can also meditate at a walking pace. Make sure each step is timed to coincide with your rate of breathing. Look straight ahead, feel the shifting of your body's weight as you deliberately take each step. With every step and breath, you should begin to clear your mind of extraneous thoughts. Practice walking this way for 10 to 15 minutes a day.
You can easily practice this highly versatile meditation technique virtually anywhere, anytime. This "body wave" method is especially relaxing when you're stressed out at work. It can also be the precursor to a good night's sleep before bedtime. Imagine a wave of energy moving across your body from your feet through each body part to your scalp. Breathe deeply as this wave moves across skin and muscle. Empty your mind of extraneous thoughts and feelings. Do this for several minutes each day.
Once you have mastered these basic breathing and meditation techniques, you may want to practice some basic yoga. The key to a successful exercise session is the attitude--that means a small ego and a big heart. Be sure to wear loose fitting clothes or a stretch suit, and use a mat, blanket, and pillow.
One of the best ways to learn yoga techniques is to take a class from an experienced practitioner. You can also find books and DVDs to show you the various physical poses and exercises--such as sitting, standing twists, supine and inverted poses--as well as proper warm up and wind down exercises.
Meditation as Medicine Yoga Journal