Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Meditating: A Primer

What does a meditation practice look like? How do you start, what do you do, and how do you finish? Do you need anything special?

For the purpose of this explanation, I will focus on my personal experiences and what I do each day as I practice Kundalini Yoga. Other meditation practices will likely follow a different routine and structure.


Ideally, you would wake up before the rest of your household (between the hours of 4 am - 6 am are best), sit in a quiet room with a special cushion or rug. Many yogis use a small sheepskin rug (I love the symbolism of that, which I'll go into another time) and a small, firm cushion to sit on.

In reality, in my life, I roll out of bed and tend to the baby and sit on the couch away from her eye-poking fingers while she plays on the floor nearby. I'm still in my pyjamas and peer at my timer on my phone without my glasses because I couldn't find them. If I've slept in, my older children are charging around the house while I try to focus on my inner self. It isn't always peaceful!

But that's okay. Kundalini Yoga isn't for cave dwellers. It's for every-day life, and can benefit you no matter if you do it "perfectly" or not. One of my teachers said that your intention is 90% of the meditative practice. If your goal is to centre your mind, calm your spirit, commune with the divine, whatever - you'll succeed. Just keep at it.

Tune In to Begin

Before starting a meditation session, we must always chant a specific mantra, called the Adi mantra. It is known as "tuning in" and I like to think of it as similar to an opening prayer in a Mormon church meeting. Why do we say an opening prayer? To invite the Spirit, to open our hearts to the words that will be spoken, to prepare our minds to be taught and to draw closer to Christ.

Tuning in has a similar purpose for beginning meditation. The terminology is different to "Mormon speak", but the ideas are familiar. Tuning in prepares us to receive Divine Wisdom. We chant the words:

Ong Namo Guroo Dev Namo

which mean "I honour the Creater of the Universe, the totality of all things that exist. I honour the Divine Wisdom within my own consciousness." 

Interpreting that in Mormon terminology would mean "I honour God and all His creations; I honour the light of Christ, the Holy Ghost, whose influence brings truth and light."

So that's quite nice.

And just as we have a specific way of sitting and holding our bodies during prayer (or, in my house, a fiercely whispered "close your eyes!" between my children during prayers), tuning in requires a specific Mudra, or body position:

Sit in Easy Pose (legs crossed over each other, or as best as you can manage) with your hands pressed flat together at the centre of your chest in Prayer Mudra. Press the joints of the thumbs into the sternum. Close your eyes and focus at your third eye point (the point between the eyebrows and about ½ in up). Inhale deeply and chant the mantra all in one breath. (If your breath is not capable of this, then take a small sip of
air after "Ong Namo" and then chant the rest of the mantra, extending the sound as long as possible. The sound "Dev" is chanted a minor third higher than the other sounds of the mantra.

Chant this mantra at least three times before beginning your Kundalini Yoga Meditation.

Now What? Choose your Kriya

What is a Kriya, and why should you choose one? I thought we were meditating over here...?

  1. In Kundalini Yoga a kriya is a series of postures, breath, and sound that work toward a specific outcome. Practicing a kriya initiates a sequence of physical and mental changes that affect the body, mind, and spirit simultaneously.
There are hundreds of Kriyas that have specific purposes. If you are struggling with something like undue stress, or persistent headaches, or you need an emotional boost, there's probably a Kriya for that.

Some Kriyas require a LOT of physical movements. This is a Yoga practice, after all. When I first started practicing Kundalini Yoga, I was focused on the meditation aspect only, so when I took a more advanced class the yoga side of things kind of surprised me. Hilarious, since the word Yoga is right in the name of the practice! If you want to do something energetic, just be prepared to work up a sweat.

But one of the best, most all-encompassing Kriyas is called Kirtan Kriya. This doesn't require any bendy legs or backs, or any jumping around. It is much more sedate in physical movements, but your mind is doing a lot of work without you realising it.

My routine includes several different Kriyas; some are short at 2-3 minutes, some are longer at 11 minutes. In total, I take about 30-35 minutes of meditating. I save the more physical kriyas for a different time of day, since I'm sooo not up to exercising when I first wake up. Babies do that to me.

To end, Tune Out

So you've completed your set, whatever that may be, and you want to finish. There is a closing song that we sing, which has lovely words (and in English). It is a peaceful, calm way to end your meditation session.

May the long time sun shine upon you,
All love surround you.
And the pure light within you,
Guide your way on.
You can repeat this three times if you wish, or just the last line three times. The first repetition is for your ancestors, the second is for yourself, and the third is for future generations. I like to mentally change the spelling of "sun" to "son" and make the song about Christ. All good things point to God.

What you choose to fit in between the specified Tuning In and Tuning Out mantras is entirely up to you. I will post a few suggestions on the blog in the future, some basics for you to start trying out. If you have any questions, feel free to add them here.

I also have a YouTube channel that I need to link to the blog somehow, which will have some demonstrations of different meditations.

Sat Nam!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

What is Meditation? And why bother?

One official definition of meditation is:
focus one's mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.

As a teenager, I attempted to meditate once or twice, but was always under the impression that in order to meditate one needed to clear the mind of all thought. That never worked for me! I was constantly distracted by the background noise of my mind; the constant chatter that I never really noticed when I was going along in my day suddenly became very loud when I tried to purposefully quiet myself. I gave up on meditating fairly quickly.

I have also experimented with guided imagery. This, too, is something that I found more difficult rather than relaxing. I can't seem to imagine things with the clarity required of this method (feel the sand between your toes, or the sun warming your upturned face), and always got distracted by a wayward itch or constantly wanted to wiggle around.

These methods of meditating are great for other people, however. If it speaks to you, then go for it! Meditation in any form is beneficial for the body and mind, and I wholeheartedly endorse every form of it. In fact, the scientific research on the benefits of meditation is so vast and overwhelmingly positive, it's hard to believe that anyone wouldn't want to try it! Fifteen minutes a day is all it takes to see wonderful changes in your life.

Kundalini Yoga and Meditation is the modality that I have chosen for my daily meditation practice, or sadhana (pr. saad-naa). It involves mantra repetition and physical movements that have a powerful affect on the mind and body.

This power was unclear to me when I first started, about 20 months ago. I signed up for an online class that was a good price (the dollar-to-pound ratio was in my favour!), and started a 40 day practice.

As a quick background to my life, I experienced and witnessed abuse as a child and carried around a lot of anger inside me as a result. This anger always seemed to get the better of me, even when I tried my hardest to overcome it through prayer, repentance, scripture study, etc. I carried around a lot of guilt and shame, especially when my anger was directed at my own sweet family.

After starting my daily meditation practice, sometimes half-heartedly, sometimes in the twenty minutes before I climbed into bed at midnight, sometimes first thing in the morning before everyone in the house woke up, I started to change. The darkness inside of me, that I was so scared to process as a child and that I tried to ignore (in the hopes it would go away) as an adult, sort of burst out of me in one go. My anger seemed completely uncontrollable and I was terrified of myself. I kind of thought I was going crazy!

But it turns out that the monster hiding in the closet is not so scary in the daylight. Meditation really was re-wiring my brain and allowing me to process all those scary feelings I bottled up as a child. The anger that I could never truly control had dissipated. I didn't lose control anymore.

Meditation isn't only helpful to people with deep-seeded emotional issues, however. :) It's beneficial to us all. It helps clear the subconscious of all the extraneous "junk" that gets lodged in there from advertising, negative thoughts, random ideas, and so on. It is the window-cleaner for the soul, helping us to feel the Spirit of God more deeply and fully.

Kundalini Yoga is kind of crazy-looking on the surface. Many people wear all white, they wear head scarves or turbans, they chant words in a different language, and sometimes even hop around on one foot. It's all good though. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and in my life, I've seen so many positive and wonderful changes that I can't deny the power of meditation.

As a Mormon (member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), we have been taught by many church leaders to meditate. It is in our scripture, it is advice given for the past 100+ years. For some reason, meditation gets glossed over when we discuss the need for daily prayer, scripture study, etc etc. I think part of the reason is because we don't know how to do it. Meditation seems kind of new-agey and weird. And Mormons are weird enough as it is, right? It's okay to be weird though. I'm happy being weird because I'm a better person now and don't want to lose this new-found peace, calm and light.

So let's talk a bit more about meditation. Let's learn from each other and let's do this! Meditate every day, for fifteen minutes. It doesn't matter when right now. Before bed, when you just wake up, during your lunch break, whenever. Fit it in. Find a way. You will not regret it.