Yoga is more than poses. It also includes holistic guidelines to improve the body, mind and emotions. One of the most important parts of yoga is learning how to meditate. Meditation is broken down into stages: the first of which is to improve the mind’s ability to focus on a thought. The first stage of meditation teaches the student to learn how to focus the mind on a single thought. The largest challenge for a novice meditator is to quiet the mind. We can’t change the past and we can’t know the future but we do have control over the right now.
Focussing the mind on one object in the right now and trying to maintain that focus begins with the novice meditator training the mind to stop jumping from thought to thought. This is often called monkey brain in yoga where thoughts just whiz through the mind often without any way to control them or even think deeply about each thought. Training the mind to slow down and only concentrate on one thought at a time is difficult, but the following guidelines are good for the novice meditator to begin the process:
1) Have a ritual that signals the body that it is time to meditate. Always starting with a certain sequence of breath techniques, or sitting in the same position in the same room, and/or putting on the same music are all signals to the body that it is time to meditate and to relax.
2) Perhaps integrate beginning to meditate with svasana; allow the body to completely relax and learn how to ignore the information from the senses. At that point of relaxation, it is a good time to start a basic meditation exercise.
3) A critical step at the beginning when learning meditation is to learn to focus the mind on one thought. But this process may be very different for each student. Try different types of focussing techniques and let the student find the one that is most beneficial for them. Some different techniques are:
- a) Mantras: have people develop their own mantra or they can use some common yoga mantras. Saying the same sentence or series of sentences as long as it has meaning to the person can bring them internal focus and quiet the mind.
- b) Visualisation: students who learn visually and are adept at observation may feel best with a visualisation cue. For example, visualize a structure like a table that has a light source on it. They then build a very detailed picture in their minds of what the structure is, what the light source might be, and what are the surroundings. Introduce all of the senses: what does the object feel like, what color is it, are there any odours (like a candle burning), can you hear anything are all helpful for the mind to really focus on the picture being built. There visualisations can be quite detailed which engages the mind on one idea.
- c) Cues: senses or kinaesthetic A cue in the room like a lighted candle that people focus on or a certain music that is played each time, or perhaps a walking meditation (in which students walk in a large circle concentrating on how their bodies are moving and what each step feels like) are other ways to quiet the mind and begin the focussing process.
- d) Setting goals: Have the student concentrate on a goal they wish to attain. Again using all of the senses, how would they feel if they had this goal, how would they know they had reached the goal, what would be different in their life if they attained the goal, why do they want to reach that goal take the student deeper into the thought and begin the training for focussing.
Students have to be reassured that although this is a difficult process to learn and it will take time to eventually train the mind to focus on one thought, it is doable. It is important to remind students that when a stray thought enters the mind as they try to focus to not engage with it, but just let it float through, attach no emotions or judgement to it. Let the stray thought gently disappear and bring your thought back to the single idea that you are trying to focus on. This can happen many times during a session as the novice meditator starts to learn how to focus and it is perfectly normal.
There are more steps in learning how to meditate but the beginning step of learning to focus, quietening the mind and learning how to really think about a single thought is often very hard for students. Let them learn these steps over multiple classes with lots of encouragement. Meditation can have a very beneficial effect on the mind and the emotions as people begin to focus and allow themselves to slow down mentally and emotionally.