By Kathi Szabo
When I was looking for pictures to use in promoting my upcoming Mind Training 101 Series, I used the search words meditation and mindfulness, after all, Mind Training uses many forms of meditation and mindfulness. Scrolling through Canva, all I could find were IG yogis, sitting upright in a cross-legged seat, in a beautiful setting either outdoors or with candles and with their hands in some sort of mudra. Are these really the only images of meditation? Is this what everyone thinks meditation must be?
I hope not, because that is not my meditation practice.
When Mark and I first got married, he started meditating to lessen his overwhelm with a ready-made family with two middle school age children. What prompted him to try meditation? Not sure. I just noticed one day him sitting on the couch with his eyes closed, a How to Meditate book at his side. Could meditation actually be practiced by simply sitting quietly in a chair? I recall picking up the book and looking through it, but at the time I wasn’t interested. Mark though continued his practice for a number of months, could be he never stopped, and I simply failed to notice.
I thought that was my first introduction to meditation, little did I know I actually practiced meditation as a child. I was raised Catholic and learned to pray the rosary at an early age. Praying the rosary is simply another form of meditation, a mantra meditation, but Catholics didn’t call it that. They called it praying, saying the rosary.
Fast forward to 2014 when Mark and I began our yoga practice. I didn’t really think of the beginning and end of class as meditation, but I now know that centering at the start of class and then lying still in savasana at the end, are simple quick meditations. I started to like this, looking forward to every class just for those moments of solitude.
Soon after starting yoga, I took a restorative yoga class, and well that was pure bliss. Lying in stillness, supported by props, and allowing myself to relax. Again, sitting in stillness, just being aware of my body and surroundings, restorative yoga is another form of meditation.
And then… an instructor introduced me to Yoga Nidra and I was completely hooked! Again, Yoga Nidra is just another form of meditation. One with less work for the brain, and more relaxing in awareness.
But even in a yoga studio, my meditation never looked like this.
Or even this
This picture was actually far down in the search. And although it’s a bit more realistic, it’s still gives the impression that to meditate you must sit upright in a cross-legged position with your hands in some sort of gesture. This can be intimidating for someone who is simply looking for meditation in order to slow down, reduce anxiety and calm their own nervous system.
Now I’m not saying there is anything wrong with sitting this way for meditation. Occasionally you may even find me using a mudra. (the hand gestures used by many when meditating – the one in the second picture is very commonly used during meditation and is called Jnana Mudra and is the gesture of consciousness) However, if I am completely honest, it is usually when I am trying to be “zen” or when I’m leading a practice at a yoga studio.
Please, don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with mudras or sitting upright in a cross-legged position. I actually find the study of mudras very interesting, and I believe has benefits. If it seems as if I’m making fun, I’m not. I simply believe it is not necessary and it concerns me that all these pictures can be turning many away who don’t see themselves as a yogi. And all those people then are missing out on the benefits of meditation.
Mindfulness and meditation are proven tools to help in self-directed neuroplasticity, changing our thought patterns. They can reduce stress, decrease depression, slow age-related cognitive decline, lower blood pressure and a host of other positive effects on the physical, emotional and mental health of humans.
Everyone knows and understands the benefits of exercise. Most of us consciously try to ensure we get enough. Doctors prescribe it for our health. Heck many of us have a Fitband, Apple Watch or some other instrument to measure our daily activity. But how many of us track our meditation? How many doctors prescribe or even recommend meditation?
Meditation is an umbrella term for many awareness techniques, just like exercise is an umbrella term for a host of fitness programs. Yet our society still sees meditation as this yoga thing. One that you must sit still, fully upright and with candles and soft music playing in the background. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Meditation can be walking alone, listening to all the sounds around you. Feeling each step on the soles of your feet. Meditation can be eating a square of chocolate after mindfully using all our other senses to examine it, smell it and finally taste it. Meditation can be lying on our back and noticing how our breath gently moves the body rhythmically. Meditation can be a call and response Kirtan session with others.
Meditation is many times lumped in with yoga, but you don’t need to join a yoga studio or practice asana (the physical aspect of yoga) to utilize meditation to improve your mindset, your mental health and your physical health. You simply need to be aware. To be Mindful.
A few great resources if you are interested in mediation as a way to improve your mental and emotional health include:
- The Book Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence by Daniel J Siegel MD
- FitMind: Meditation Science and Training (a meditation app)
- Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman & Richard J. Davidson
- The Science of Well-Being through Cousera.com
And of course, there is Eclectic Well-Being’s upcoming Mind Training 101, a 4 week series. This is a Mind Training class that uses the ancient practice of meditation to give your mind a workout and help improve your levels of well-being.
If you aren’t meditating because you think you can’t, or you don’t see yourself in any of the pictures that Google shows you as meditation, I challenge you to give it a try. Download the FitMind App, read one of the books above, or just take my series! Your mind deserves to have a workout routine just like your body, maybe more so.