After bowing in Namaste, glowing in your post-savasana bliss, many of you have asked, “What do you recommend that I can do at home?” Seated meditation — the physical postures of yoga are actually designed to prepare you to sit and meditate. Adding mindfulness meditation to your physical practice reduces tension, stress, anxiety and depression. Meditation helps promote healing, improves focus and contentment, and cultivates living in the present moment. The benefits are too numerous to overlook. But how do we begin? Sarah Powers suggests these three steps in her book Insight Yoga.
1) Arrive and Center: Take a comfortable seat, one that you will be in for 10-12 minutes. This can be practiced traditionally by sitting on a cushion or on the edge of a folded blanket with the knees lower than the hips, but a chair will do. Meditation can be done lying down, but keeping your eyes open and fixed on something helps assure you stay awake. Sit tall, lengthening through the spine, lining it up with its natural curves so that you will be comfortable for the duration of the meditation. After finding your seat commit to staying in this position through sounds, sensations and distractions. It is not necessary to have complete quiet or be completely free of distraction. Centering involves setting an intention and can include a ritual or a phrase of inspiration that can be helpful when your attention starts to wander.
2) Anchor and Label: Bring your attention to your breath and establish it as a home base. As you breathe naturally, without changing or enhancing the breath, simply attend to its rhythm, sensing and feeling its flow. Building this awareness can involve tracking breath cycles by noticing the beginning, middle and end of each breath. You can also count breath cycles, perhaps making your way to 10 and then counting your way back down until your mind settles. If you notice your mind wandering before reaching 10, patiently begin again. When you become aware of your mind wandering, label the thoughts “thinking,” “wandering,” or “planning” and return your attention to your home base — the breath. Over time, sounds, sensations, and even emotions can become anchors to the present.
3) Allowing and Letting Go: Suspend your tendency to judge and edit what you notice. Accept what mindfulness finds and be open to your entire experience. Observe the thoughts that come and watch as they pass, letting them go and resisting the urge to create or get lost in a story line. Eventually you will be able to track the flow of sensations, breath and thoughts and then you will be ready to gain insight as you explore the objects of your attention with an observer’s curiosity. You may notice how everything changes or how you resist the things that happen.
Meditation helps us quiet our minds and sit with our experience with a sense of being awake and present rather than avoiding or distracting ourselves from our lives. Commit to starting a meditation practice, even if it means observing your breath before you go to bed at night. Expect that your mind will wander over and over again and be patient with yourself. It is part of the practice to learn to sit, to learn from the discomfort, and really come to see yourself from the inside. The benefits follow from there. Pick up Pema Chodron’s How to Meditate or stop in for a meditation class for some additional guidance. Feel free to ask as questions come up and as always we love hearing how your practice makes a difference in your life!
by Denise Antonini, MS, LPC, RYT
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Dynamic, soulful, and empowering, Denise pours inspiration and creativity into her teachings, using her expertise in health psychology to elevate an ancient practice to a state-of-the-art yoga experience. Yoga is her art of movement, mindfulness, her art of attention, and awareness, her art of intention. At Stanford University Denise studied psychology and the mind-body connection graduating with honors. At Chicago Medical School her thesis and doctoral work in clinical psychology focused on maintaining health, improving quality of life and achieving wellness. As a therapist, consultant and professor she has helped people create the life they want to be living. As a yoga instructor her invigorating, fluid yoga sequences challenge the body helping students to disconnect from the busyness of day-to-day life– tuning in to their intuition by stabilizing the mind with the breath. Denise effortlessly guides anyone who comes to the mat to a place of meditative calm–finding the perfection of the present moment.
Denise and her husband Eric are the owners and co-founders of You and the Mat, an independent yoga studio and gallery for yoga inspired art. Together they strive to make yoga accessible to students, instructors, and the community through their classes, art and music events, Master Teacher and Support Local Workshop Series. Celebrating yoga as a fusion of art forms, they support artists, musicians, and creatives who share their vision.