“I realized I know almost nothing about my mind, I have absolutely no control over it… It was the most shocking realization of my life.” - Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens, from Rich Roll podcast.
Many people are interested in getting in the habit of cultivating mindfulness in their daily lives. If you are reading this, chances are that you also are interested in learning more about meditation and mindfulness.
I’ve been meditating since 2015. It started out weekly only on weekends, then daily (well, almost). At some point I was meditating up to 75 minutes at a time on weekends. Needless to say I didn’t make too many friends at that time in my life ;)
I am also a 500-hour trained yoga teacher. Although I don’t pay to keep the 500-RYT title yearly, I could, if I wanted to. It was one of the best investments, which is still paying off till this day.
Meditation & Mindfulness
The words Meditation and Mindfulness are sometimes used synonymously and their meanings can be confusing to some. Although they are not the same, they do overlap :) Which is why they are sometimes used interchangeably, confusing us even more. Let me clarify a little bit of that for you.
What is Mindfulness?
By definition given by Oxford Languages, it is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment.
What is Meditation?
The action or practice of focusing one’s mind for a period of time.
By definition in the yoga practice, and more practically put, it is 11 seconds of thoughtlessness; 11 minutes of constant stillness.
Mindfulness and Meditation as collaborators
Whereas Meditation is a practice, Mindfulness is a state of your mind, whether you are doing something or just being/living.
Mindfulness constitutes an important part of meditation.
Meditation is a practice that can help you be more mindful in your daily life.
Mindfulness helps your meditation on the cushion, and your meditation practice leads you to be more mindful off the cushion.
Mindfulness is a state of being. Meditation is an action that applies, and also leads to, mindfulness.
Mindfulness is being, meditation is doing.
You get the idea.
They help each other out.
Simplicity in difficulty - sitting in discomfort
Even though it may be uber-challenging to do nothing (in case of meditation), or do just one thing at a time (in case of mindfulness practice), it is the simplest thing in the world. Take meditation for example. We’re talking about nothingness. What’s simpler than nothing? Yet, why is it so difficult to perform nothingness in our life? My guess is that our ego gets in the way, telling us stories, using fear tactics. Then our “gotta” mind takes over - gotta do this, gotta do that, gotta do it faster and better.
That is why this simple thing can be the hardest damn thing to do. We have so much going on, and our minds are always working, even when we’re asleep. We want to solve problems by thinking and using logic, we want to daydream, we want to use every single minute of the day actively doing something to get somewhere and to show concrete results of the productivity of the day.
“Meditative state of consciousness is a natural state, but we just forget how to get there.” - Charlie Knoles, Vedic meditation teacher, from Rich Roll podcast
We are so addicted to action and moving forward, that we even think that multitasking is an admirable quality. Believe me, I am from the tech industry, and so many job postings required you to be a multi-tasker who thrives in a fast paced environment. Basically, you gotta raise your hand and say, “I am a mindless machine, who will do and calculate multiple tasks at the same time. Oh and did I mention that I love a high-stress, high-anxiety-inducing workplace?”
I mean, if you were to tell them that you were a mindful person who likes to do one thing at a time mindfully, who does things at her own pace to ensure good quality work as well as good mental health which would prevent burn out and contribute to a happy life, you are likely to be passed on for the opportunity because you are “too soft” to “fit the culture”. AKA you are NOT a mindless multi-tasking machine that they are looking for. This may explain why the turnover is so high in the tech industry. At least they pay well. They keep people working for them year after year with high compensation and benefits, which I gotta admit, is very nice to have, if that is what you need at the time. Also it is very difficult to leave behind that level of comfort. Trust me, I was there for a decade.
Glad to hear that you are going to get into practicing meditation and live your life more mindfully! We definitely need more of you in this world. Join the club, my friend :) It will change your life!
Many people over the years have reached out to me asking about meditation and how to get started with it. Here are some practical answers that I give them, so that they can make their own informed choices on what works best for them.
Meditation is a big part of Yoga
With Asanas (yoga poses) we train our mind and actions to be calm and still, in rather uncomfortable and unnatural physical positions. So that in our daily lives we are trained to stay calm and collected in discomfort and even in difficult situations.
Just like that, with Meditation (which is part of yoga practice) we again train our mind and hence actions and reactions to be calm, still and more observant of what is happening, rather than jumpy, reactive and quick to judge.
My advice would be to sit down on a cushion while meditating. Lying down does not work for me. I like being conscious while meditating, and not fall asleep. It is amazing to be in that sleep-like trance-like state while being fully aware of the experience.
By sitting down while meditating, we are creating “active stillness”, just as we do in Asanas. When you are asleep, you might physically be still but you are also not so conscious about what is going on. Your mind is uncontrolled while asleep. When you lie down, there is too much “resting” energy, and we want to instill more of the “active” energy in stillness. When we are actively still, we are balancing both the Tamas (yin, feminine, still) and Rajas (yang, masculine, active) energies.
Different Methods of Meditation
There are many techniques to meditating. You pick and choose which one works best for you - and that requires trying out a few different methods :) Maybe you will like a couple. Maybe you will want to use different methods for different occasions. You are not married to just one. Choose a technique that resonates best with you for the day, and that’s what you will do.
Over time, you will also learn to feel it out and see what you need at the moment, and you will be able to choose one that would serve you best for that day.
It is good to expand your tool box so that you have different methods under your belt for different occasions, emotions and work you want expressed. Like building a house, you may not want to hammer your way through everything.
You could get help from an app or voice recordings, but if you ask me, the point of meditating is to minimize stimulation in you; physical and mental, whether it is caused internally (thoughts and emotions) or externally (e.g. noise from outside, or even meditation guides). For this reason, I am a firm believer in “less is more” when it comes to meditating. Even the slightest movement in your body, thoughts or in your environment can disturb the state of stillness of your mind.
As we discussed earlier, by definition, meditation is 11 constant minutes of stillness. Anything that disturbs the stillness is a disturbance. Disturbance includes stimulation through the sense of hearing as well, such as guided meditation through voice recordings, music, etc. At the end of the day, anything but silence or stillness can be a disturbance to your practice.
However, if you already live in a hectic environment, voice guides or apps can help you focus on a single audio rather than a million things going on. So as I always stress, listen to yourself, listen to your intuition - go ahead and do what works best for you for your situation. But do so informed that any kind of sound is still a stimulant, a vibration, a Vritti, a distraction to reaching stillness in your energy.
With that said, of course we can’t be perfect, and perfection is not our goal. I would go as far as saying perfection would never be the goal of meditation. So whatever helps you to still your mind, hence your energy, as much as possible, go with that option. Because investing 20 minutes a day trying to achieve this stillness and to spend time with yourself won’t be in vain. It won’t be for nothing, and you will be rewarded for it one way or another.
That is to say, stopping yourself in the middle (or at the beginning or at the end) of your day to listen to music for 20 minutes and meditate on the music, or meditate on a calming voice of a guide, would be 20 minutes better spent than not doing it at all. It is a dedication of time to enjoy a break from the narratives of the day, life and work. It breaks the patterns of going through the motions mindlessly. It is an act of taking control of your time and your life, rather than being chased by them. It is an active dedication of time to prioritize yourself, and taking back control.
Here are some of the methods that I use to meditate. This list is not exhaustive of all the methods in the world, and they are not in any order of effectiveness or otherwise.
1. Breath meditation (come back to your breath - doing)
Dan Harris, the author of 10% Happier, explains very well on the Rich Roll podcast on Mastering Mindfulness.
Step 1. Sit down, close your eyes, keep your spine straight so you don’t fall asleep.
Step 2. Try to feel where your breath is coming in and going out.
Step 3. Every time your mind gets lost and you catch your mind wandering, start again, start again, and start again.
You will for sure catch your mind going off again and again, and you might even get angry at yourself and become judgy for being “bad” at it. But you will also learn over time to accept yourself by just coming back to doing it over and over again.
Observing, without judgment. Just noticing and coming back to your breath over and over and over again.
Off your cushion, you will be able to notice when you get angry or edgy in your daily life. This practice gives you a superpower - the power to be able to control your reactions to those thoughts and feelings that inevitably arise as part of being human.
However, for me, this method has one little flaw.
It has a little too much movement while I am trying to still my energy. Noticing the constant movement of breath going in and out can sometimes be a little too much movement up in the air for me. It is still a great introduction and I still do use it, maybe not the whole 20 minutes but the first minute of getting into meditation.
2. Mantra meditation (come back to your voice - doing)
This is my latest discovery. The most known mantra meditation method out there is the Transcendental Meditation (TM). Ellen Degeneres talks about it, Jerry Seinfeld has been doing it for a long time, and it is the meditation that The Beatles practiced; it quickly became the celebrity meditating sensation. Maybe it gets the attention of the rich and famous because TM is rather expensive to learn for the middle class, although they do offer special rates for those who cannot afford it (still, not middle class). You can learn more about TM and how to practice it on the internet, as the information on it is endless.
TM teaches you to meditate twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, for 20 minutes each time. To be honest, if you did any type of meditation twice a day for 20 minutes per session, you WILL see the benefit. It doesn’t have to be TM or mantra meditation.
TM is not the only method using mantra in your meditation. Also, I don’t believe that you have to pay a lot of money to learn a form of mantra meditation. Basically, you can follow these steps (for free):
Choose a mantra - you can choose a mantra that means nothing. A made-up word that does not mean anything to you in any languages you speak. Or you can choose a mantra that means something and that you want to manifest in your life.
Sit comfortably on your cushion, close your eyes, and settle in for 30 seconds or so.
Start repeating your mantra in your head.
If you notice your mind drift, just bring it back to your mantra.
And if you are still curious, here is a video about what happens at a TM course.
3. Thought meditation (come back to your awareness - observing)
There are two kinds that I am aware of:
One that you come back to your breath/mantra if and when you notice thoughts come up (yes, part of what we do in breath and mantra meditation)
One that you notice your thoughts come and go, and observe them in a non-judgmental way, and without trying to shoo them away (AKA Vipassana meditation: observing oneself without judgment)
This technique can be incorporated with other types of meditation, as it is a great tool for when you notice a thought flowing in during your meditation, which is perfectly normal.
4. Nada (come back to nothingness - observing)
That’s right - it means “nothing” in Spanish. Coincidence?
In Yoga, Nada points to the buzzing sound in and around your head. You might be more familiar with this sound than you think. Let me explain. Have you ever got so drunk and next morning all you hear is this buzzing sound in your head? I know you know what I mean :) I am sure you have heard it before, even if you were never drunk once in your life. You can probably recall hearing this sound when you were exhausted, laying in bed doing nothing. And suddenly a very subtle beeeeeep.
That is the sound of your vibration! It is always there. If you focus, you can hear it without getting drunk! Or being really tired. In fact, you can hear it any time of the day if you choose to focus on it. Focusing on this sound is the method I learned and practiced under my teacher Ron for over 3 years.
For me, this is real meditation.
I do like the methods of coming back to the breath or the mantra. However, they still require creating or noticing vibration; vibration of breath moving in and out, and vibration of your inner voice creating the sound of the mantra. This effectively disturbs your energy and stillness.
On the other hand, nada is always there. It is the vibration of your soul, and the vibration of the universe. It is omnipresent. You just observe. No energy needs to move and create disturbance to the stillness you are trying to achieve. After about 15-20 minutes of meditating on Nada, you feel euphoric. You feel almost like you are not part of this world anymore. And you observe that with total consciousness. Then, even that euphoric feeling fades, and you are just…being.
I have created a Self Mastery Course using Yoga Philosophy as the basis, where I cover in depth Nada and Pranayama.
5. Pranayama as energy work (come back to counting - doing)
Many people know pranayama as the breath work. However, it is actually energy work.
As mentioned above, in my online course Self Mastery with Yoga Philosophy, I go in depth about Nada and Pranayama, and how to practice it as energy work, which is how the ancient yoga scriptures originally intended it to be, and therefore is much more effective and beneficial for you as a practitioner.
This way of practicing Pranayama is, unfortunately, not popular, wide-spread or easily encountered. You can’t really find this material elsewhere as many teachers still teach it as breath work, while Prana means Energy.
Without boring you with all the technicality, the way I use pranayama is to set me up for an amazing Nada meditation. In Pranayama, there is a lot of counting involved. Again, not letting your breath in or out of your nostrils (physical), but moving your energy through your being (physical, mental, spiritual bodies).
You do so by counting. Counting focuses your attention, from the external world with problems and your inner world with thoughts, to the work at hand: counting for the energy flow.
Although Pranayamas definitely play a trick for me to sit on my cushion for a longer time and it is a great method, I don’t use Pranayama as the sole method used in a meditation session. When I do Pranayamas, yes, it is part of meditation, but I always follow it up with Nada. It is more like a foreplay, a pre-work for the real deal - Nada.
Thoughts on the meditation methods
My two personal favourites are meditating on mantra and kicking the meditation off with a pranayama to end on listening to nada. These two (well, three technically) give me structure. Especially with Nada/Pranayama, I was able to sit still on a cushion and meditate for 75 consecutive minutes for some consecutive weekends.
It is about experimenting and choosing what method you like and works best for you!
Remember, the most important thing is that you take time for yourself to do it!
To be silent, to spend the time just for yourself, without distractions; external and internal noises.
So every time you do sit on your cushion to meditate, no matter how good or shitty your meditation is, don’t forget to pat yourself on the back and say, “great work, amazing effort, thanks for taking care of me, and I love you” :D
It really isn’t as complicated as it seems! There is nothing mysterious about it.
You sit in the way that is the least distracting to your energy levels, and do whatever helps you to still that energy. And do it not just for 10 seconds but really immerse yourself in it for longer - about 20 minutes is my recommendation. That’s IT!
As we mentioned before, it might even be the simplest thing ever! Doing nothing, thinking about nothing, just simply sitting.
Have fun experimenting and see what kind of wonders it does for your daily life :D
You are in it for the long-run. Not for the short-term gain.
“There’s no such thing as good or bad meditation. There is only awareness or non-awareness.” - A teacher of Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace
On being more Mindful
There are some things you can do to cultivate more mindfulness in your life.
Anything that involves doing one thing at a time with your focus on that single task only.
Surprise :) Needless to say, meditation, the ultimate mindful practice on your cushion, helps you be more mindful off your cushion.
2. Chocolate and wine.
I know I got your attention on this one.
There is a yoga term called “Boga” - it means mindful enjoyment.
Brew a nice black tea (if that’s your thing), put a piece of chocolate in your mouth and feel it melt away. Taste every note. Feel the texture. Fully engage with it, be one with the chocolate.
Isn’t it the purpose of wine tasting? To savour it with all 5 senses: appreciate the colour, aroma, touch on your lips, the taste, and the sound of you gulping it down ;)
I think the purpose of wine is to bring you to heaven with all your senses.
In fact, whenever you are eating something, eat it appreciating the experience it gives you. Enjoy every bite. Turn off that TV, move away from the computer, throw away your phone (just kidding!), and be there with the food, appreciate all the senses it gifts you, and maybe share it with a good company!
3. Body scanning.
I love this. This works magic for me when I try to soothe myself to sleep.
It is the best lullaby in the world, and the most effective self-soothing exercise for me.
I go from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head (or vise versa), calling out every part of my body and telling myself that the part of my body is relaxed.
“My toes are so relaxed” - pause - “my ankles are so relaxed” - pause - move up the body parts like that, fully putting your attention on each part.
It sounds really funny, but it works!
Sometimes I don’t even get to my knees (haha!).
4. A walk in nature.
Being in nature not only lowers your stress hormone cortisol, but it also brings you back to the simplicity of life, puts your worries into perspective, and resets your day.
It gives you a chance to focus on something other than you, your worries, tasks, and to-do lists. It brings you back to life, literally. Look around, and life is all around you. The trees, the birds, the insects, the leaves, the sky. You realize what a beautiful and truly alive world you get to be part of!
“ Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” - Lao Tzu
5. Five senses exercise.
It’s like what we did with chocolate and wine above. But you can do it without the props.
Take some time out of your busy work day, especially on a busy day, bring your attention to your 5 senses (touch, hearing. sight, smell and taste).
Close your eyes, get yourself comfortable on a chair, and do the following for 10 seconds each. Part of it comes from a tool that I learned from the Positive Intelligence (PQ Training Program) by Shirzad Chamine.
Touch - Rub your index finger and thumb against each other. Feel all the sensation that brings you. Feel the softness (or roughness) of your finger tips, and all the ridges and fingerprints.
Hearing - Notice the sound furthest away from you for 10 seconds. Then notice the sound that is the closest to you for another 10 seconds.
Sight - Look at an object, your body part, insect or an animal (I like to look at my dog) for 10 seconds, appreciating every detail.
Smell - I like to use incense, a candle, or lavender oil to appreciate their smell, but you don’t need to get any props. You can simply use your breath and feel it move in and out. For 10 seconds.
Taste - You can do the chocolate and wine exercise, or do it without props. Just bring the energy to your tongue. Think about something savoury and healthy. And notice your tongue water from the thought of food.
Bonus - You can do this while sitting down or standing up. Try to feel all of your toes individually. Go from the left foot big toe, to the second one, to the next one, then next one, and to the pinky. Do the same thing for the right foot. The idea is to really feel, or even wiggle, your toes individually, one at a time. This is part of Touch but also my favourite. This has helped me calm down, move away from anger, and reframe situations.
6. Deep listening.
This is a social one, and can be done anywhere, with anyone.
When you are interacting with people (at work, at home, on the streets, at a store), be there with them only, be there with them fully.
Notice their face expressions, notice how their eyes and lips move.
Try to hear what they are telling you, as well as sense what they are not telling you.
You can do this not only with people, but also with other living beings.
If you have animals living with you, take a few minutes to fully observe how they move, bark, meow, sleep, breathe, eat, drink, exist. You will be amazed at how intelligently they were created. You will be in awe of their individuality and endless beauty.
7. Dance! Go rock climbing! Play basketball!
Do whatever makes you happy, and what keeps you in that flow zone.
Do get to know yourself more to figure out what activities you enjoy, and do more of that.
While at it, do that, and that activity only. Fully engage with it. Fully emerge yourself into it.
What fun, easy, and awesome advice!
Mindfulness questions to ask yourself
What are some mindful practices that you are already incorporating in your life?
What are some low-hanging-fruit mindful practices that you can easily add to your life?
Do any of those activities mentioned above seem challenging to bring into your life? If so, what can you do to overcome that? Or would you rather stick with those that already work for you?
Have fun with them, and make sure to check out my online course on Self Mastery with Yoga Philosophy to deepen your understanding and practice.
Also, stay tuned for a future post to come, where we talk about all the benefits of meditation practices and mindfulness living.
Always with love,