Reflections of An Amateur Meditator

I first got to learn more about meditation earlier this year when I took up a module on mindful psychology. There was an experiential component of this module, through which I was required to start a daily mindfulness practice involving a daily activity and a 20-minute meditation. For the daily activity, I chose to prepare and eat my breakfast mindfully, for my mind was often elsewhere, most likely planning for the day ahead, so this would be a good morning reminder for me to stay in (or return to) the present moment. For the formal meditation practice, I could alternate between various meditation techniques including a body scan meditation, seated breath meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and walking meditation. After my first formal practice, I felt that having to still the mind for twenty long minutes felt like eternity – having to continually pull myself out of that habitual mind wandering was a struggle. But like most things in life, the beginning is often the toughest. I found myself more often than not practicing the seated breath meditation - I like things to be simple, and this meditation technique simply involves returning to one’s breath whenever one’s mind inevitably wanders off. I find this a comforting practice, for the breath remains a constant in life when everything else changes. When I return to the breath, I return to the present moment. One of the first things that struck me when I first started my mindfulness journey was the extent that I was not fully living in the present moment. In fact, I often found, and continue to find, my mind lingering in the past or in the future. Perhaps the only times when I was living in the present moment was when rushing last-minute work, during test situations, and when engaged in a balancing pose during yoga class. The other thing that struck me was that not living in the present moment is naturally the reason for my inefficiency in schoolwork and habitual procrastination. My mind still wanders, but I notice that I am able to break that cycle with a gentle reminder to myself to just focus. I am also quicker to realize my mind wandering “adventures”. I suppose this is how I am beginning to integrate mindfulness into my life, and allowing mindfulness to be a part of who I am. One related example that comes to mind is perhaps how I am learning to be more mindful of the way I communicate or interact with others. I do try to pay attention to how the things I say could possibly affect or impact on others. This has been quite challenging although I am a very self-conscious person. Being a mindful listener has also been difficult. Often, I catch myself being more concerned about showing the other that I’m listening than truly paying attention and empathizing with what he or she is trying to convey. I can’t be sure my daily mindfulness practice has really translated to communication with others, but I am more aware of when I’m not really being mindful when listening or talking. Most gladly, the daily mindfulness practice has definitely benefitted my yoga practice. Having practiced for just two years, I am still very much an amateur yogi. I used to pay more attention on my postures and the accuracy of my alignments, but I often forgot about the importance of the breath during each session. The seated breath meditation and body scan meditation have hence helped me to tune in to my body and better coordinate my breath and movements during yoga, such they flow more naturally. Indeed, I’ve come to the realization of an asana practice as a moving meditation – when one moves with one’s breath. Along the way, I learnt to set a clear intention at the start of each meditation practice, and that really helps because it serves as an overarching little goal that I should achieve for that 20 minutes of my life. Mostly, I set myself the intention of “treating myself with acceptance and kindness”. I find that this simple act of intending does help me get through the practice with greater ease, as I view it as less of a chore. By reminding myself to be more self-accepting and self-compassionate, I learn to welcome the inevitable mental struggles that I experience during each practice. Gradually, after several weeks of mindfulness practice, I started to look forward to the daily practices. Instead of a mundane task that I felt obliged to do, mindfulness practice became a special time and mental space set aside to calm my mind and explore the pure sensation of breathing itself (in sitting meditation). Having “a beginner’s mind” has been most helpful as the focusing and refocusing of attention upon the breath repeatedly then does not imply insipidness of the practice, but rather, an interesting new experience waiting to be discovered and explored each day. I hope to better infuse these little things learned from meditation to my newly learned Ashtanga primary series. PS: I believe meditation would be a form of Swadhyaya, one of the five Niyamas in Patanjali's Eight Fold Path 🙂 “Study, when it is developed to the highest degree, brings one close to higher forces that promote understanding of the most complex.”  -The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 11.44 YY (200hr YYT – Weekday Hatha/Ashtanga, July 2015)