Meditation against stress

Оpen Yoga Journal

Meditation nowadays is often mentioned as a practice which helps people to solve problems in the modern world. Meditation is a way to harmonise our personal life and our interaction with the Universe. The ancient history of this practice is a proof of its effectiveness and makes it trustworthy. There are many questions regarding the personal practice of meditation. Which technique should we choose for achieving the best results? How can we add meditation into the practice of physical types of yoga? Is it necessary to adapt the ancient practice to the modern lifestyle?

What is meditation and why do we need it?

The European word «meditatio» is of Latin origin and it can be translated as «thinking». A classic interpretation of the word can be found in the ancient treatise «Yoga Sutras» of Patanjali. According to this text, meditation includes several steps: Dharana (concentration with some effort), Dhyana (concentration without any effort) and Samadhi (the meditation state). These three steps have one name «sanyama». By following this way, we learn subsequently to reduce the number of thoughts in our mind, until we are concentrated on a single thought, which is consequently removed from our mind and we concentrate on our true Self. The Meditation practice can be divided into two parts: meditation as a process and meditation as a state of mind. Meditation as a state has its own classification, however, it is always a deep personal experience. The process of meditation involves certain specific exercises for achieving set goals. The goals can be very individual. 

Originally, meditation had a spiritual goal and this goal was self-exploration. Nowadays its tools are used for resolving various vital tasks, such as general well-being. Meditation gives us rest and fills us with strength; we start feeling better, become calmer and more reassured, sharpen our mind, learn to set our goals and identify steps to achieve them, discover our useful qualities and abilities, understand others better, fight stress more effectively and become successful in life. 

How to personalize meditation.

It is important to remember that Yoga is not something brought from the outside, it is within each of us, and by practicing we just re-open this endless potential. We are all different, each of us is unique and valuable. First of all, we should listen to ourselves and trust ourselves, as Yoga can be realized only through personal experience. 

In meditation, as in any other type of yoga, it is important to adapt practice for each particular practitioner at every specific moment of time. Both for the beginner and for the experienced practitioner it is important to remember that meditation is a dynamic process. It can depend on many internal and external factors, that we have to consider.

Despite of various forms of yoga practice, we should always keep in mind the main principles, as eternal basis of yoga in general and of meditation in particular. They are the Principle of Kindness or doing no harm to any living beings unless it is necessary, and the Principle of Effectiveness or logic and consistency in our actions. 

Some general recommendations originating from these principles will help us make meditation stable, safe and the most effective. 

Our practice should be useful

If we practice yoga and our condition gets worse, it means we are doing something wrong or this is not yoga.

1. Our body should feel comfortable

We need to find the most comfortable position. We should restrain from early attempts to sit in a lotus pose, if our body is not ready for it. There are good alternative positions, such as siddhasana, virasana. It is also possible to use a soft support for the pelvis (a cushion, a blanket or a bolster). It can be any comfortable pose, sitting on a chair, or even lying down. No matter which position we use for our legs, it is important to keep ankles, knees and hamstrings safe. 

In case of any injuries, or body peculiarities, we should find the most adequate position considering any contraindications, even if this pose does not match the “correct” image in our mind. 

It could be difficult to keep the back straight during the whole time of practice. The excessive tension of the entire body or some of its parts can become an obstacle to the practice: breathing can be blocked, concentration weakens. In this case it is worth to think about some support for the back, for example, a wall, a column or a tree trunk. 

Relaxation. After assuming any comfortable position we should examine our body with the mind’s eye and relax all tense parts, as well as those muscles which do not support the pose. The whole body, including the face and the limbs, should be relaxed if possible. 

If the body becomes numb during the practice and we feel discomfort or pain, it is necessary to change the position, do a gentle warm-up (as an option, to stretch from side to side in standing position, or bend towards the legs in sitting position, or just have a rest). 

2. Our mental health also requires a caring attitude

Yoga teaches us to notice any discomfort: overthinking or excessive emotional tension, painful or unpleasant feelings. If we notice that our mental condition is getting worse due to our own actions, we need to make necessary corrections to our practice, choose a different one, or seek a specialist’s advice, if appropriate. 

3. Rest is an inherent part of any practice

No matter how long the meditation lasts – 5 minutes or 1.5 hours, our body needs some time to allocate the generated resources and to return to the daily routine. If there is not enough time for the proper rest in shavasana straight after the meditation, we need to relax for at least one minute, and have a good rest later, as soon as we have a chance to do so. In this case it is important to remind ourselves of the meditation we practiced and create the required association in our mind. As an option, we need just to sit quietly for a while. Ignoring the necessity to rest after practice can lead to negative results. 

It is important to start with simple and understandable actions

Before we start practicing meditation it is necessary to make the following decisions:

1. Aims and requirements

As mentioned above, we have different aims, which arise from our current needs. For example, our aim could be relaxation and rest; learning specific skills for better concentration (memory, attention, logical thinking, etc.); cultivation of personal qualities that maintain a stable condition (kindness, compassion, tranquility, etc.)

2. Time, duration and frequency

Time, duration and frequency of the practice depend on the experience of the practitioner, personal purposes and resources (availability and suitable external conditions).

Conditions permitting, it is recommended to meditate in the morning or in the evening, when everything around is waking up or getting ready to fall asleep. It’s a matter of natural cycles, as well as fewer distractions during these time periods, which makes it easier to dive into the process. 

It is better to start practicing every new meditation for a short period of time, say 15 minutes. If everything goes well, we can increase the time of the practice gradually. 

Regular practice develops the skill and makes the result stable. With each approach we feel better. It is important to use every suitable opportunity for practicing meditation. It is a good recommendation to practice every day at the same time, increasing the duration, listening to the body. However, our living conditions differ and we all need to cater to personal needs and abilities.

3. Selecting a meditation technique

Meditation technique is a complex of approaches, tools and methods. In order to build up an adequate personal practice, it is important to choose appropriate tools, depending on our aims and abilities.

In meditation we use our different abilities: to think, to visualize, to watch, to listen, to speak and even to move and so on. Some skills are better developed than others. Using the former contributes to a better concentration, and the latter develops the necessary ones.

The more we practice, the more developed our skills become. It benefits our practice by widening the selection of appropriate tools. The choice depends on the self-expression method which has the edge for us or which we would like to develop.

We can move on in two directions: by using the reserves of our own body (concentration on its parts or processes, using our abilities) or by the aid of complementary tools (external objects, natural events, ancient texts, music and etc.). It is easier to concentrate on an object which is pleasant for us. We also choose what has the edge for us – personal preferences are an important factor in any kind of yoga.

As any other yoga practice, it is better to start every new meditation with the method of Energy, relaxation and letting ourselves just be in the process. We watch what is happening with our body, and correct our practice as necessary, gently and delicately. We can continue to meditate by the method of Consciousness. We get experience by practicing regularly, studying and using different techniques. We should apply effort without violence. At a later stage we can alternate and combine relaxation and tension, i.e. use the method of Harmony, keeping in mind personal needs.

The best criteria of a successful practice is a feeling of joy from relaxation and overcoming ourselves, a feeling of calmness, tranquility and self-conquest.

Meditation harmoniously became a part of modern lifestyle. Its techniques help each practitioner overcome life obstacles, develop the ability to adapt to quickly changing conditions. We choose from many available methods whatever is the most suitable for us. However, yoga gives the beginners several basic recommendations for a smooth start and quick achievement of positive results. 

Meditate and be happy!

Article author: Katya Sana

Picture by: Katya Sana

Editors: Maria Gayatri, Alla Ravi, Olga Belous, Eva Mai, Evgenia Agni

Chief editor: Mirra

Project curator: Kerigona

Translators: Teya Sweet, Nat Satcitananda, Alex Vijaya

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