What I learnt from meditating 10 hours a day

I was brought up in a staunch Christian family. In my mind, meditation has always been tied to religion and religion has always been tied to spirituality. A solo 2-month trip to India in December 2014 toppled all my previously held beliefs and perceptions about meditation and spirituality. It also led me to take a 10-day Vipassana Meditation course in Malaysia a couple of months prior to starting my YTTC in September 2015.
Here are 10 things I learnt from meditating 10 hours a day for 10 days:
1. Dress comfortably. This is pretty much a no-brainer.
2. Meditate in a clean, quiet and well-ventilated environment. You may choose to dim the lights or switch off the lights completely. If you are the type who falls asleep easily in such setting, keep the lights on. I find music a distraction, but you may, according to your preference play some music to help you relax and get in the mood.
3. Do not meditate in bed. If you nod off while meditating in bed, chances are you will just give up, lie down and sleep on. Personally, I find meditating on a meditating cushion works best for me. You may try it with your yoga mat laid flat or rolled up slightly. Try not to lean your back against the wall if possible, unless you have back problems. If all else fails, use a chair.
4. Sit cross-legged. There is of course standing and walking meditation but my experience so far has been limited to sitting so I can only comment on that. You can of course sit in many different positions eg, in lotus or with your legs out in front of you, but I find that I am able meditate the longest sitting cross-legged without compromising my back. Test out what works best for you.
5. Do not hunch. Sit up straight. Your weight should be equally distributed between your sit bones, which should be level with the ground. I find that when I sit with my spine completely erect, with my chest thrust out a little, my lumbar starts to arch. The position looks nice aesthetically but can be uncomfortable to maintain over a long period. Instead, what I do, is to keep my spine relaxed and comfortably straight over my tailbone. See what position you are most comfortable in.
6. Do not react to internal stimuli. At some point while you are sitting still, you will get pins and needles and itch to stretch your legs out or change position. It is normal and it is what your mind has been conditioned to do. Observe this physical sensation. Do not react with frustration. In case you are not aware, if you shift positions, the pins and needles will get worse, versus if you stay still. Stay still and the pins and needles will pass. In the next moment you might experience a different sensation – numbness. Again, observe this sensation with no reaction. After numbness, you lose all feeling in your legs. If you lose feeling in your legs, sitting in the same position won’t pose a problem any more. Notice how it changes from one form to another. Observe the impermanence. Other physical sensations will arise during extended periods of meditation. You may feel pain or discomfort in other parts of the body. I suffered from a stiff neck during my retreat, that manifested itself through a persistent ache in my right shoulder blade. I sat through it. There was a German woman in my course, who was 8 months into her pregnancy. She sat cross-legged on her cushion, just like the rest of us. Unless it is an acute pain, refrain from reacting. Just observe. Learn to observe. It really is very unlikely that you’re going to get injured from sitting still for 1-2 hrs.
7. Do not react to external stimuli. This could come in many forms. I  had houseflies incessantly flying and landing on me. The flies basically had picnics on every exposed surface on my body during my 10 days of meditation. Mosquitoes too. I had to will myself not to react in irritation. Recognise that there isn’t always a need to react. We react too much. Our whole life is made up of reactions reverberating through our bodies and minds. Here’s the thing, whatever manifests in our thoughts will manifest in our bodies. Someone makes a negative statement, our hearts start to beat faster, our temperature rises (body reaction) we react in anger and give a hurtful retort (mind reaction).   Learn to observe the moment without reaction. See what happens next. Most if not all of the time, the disturbance eventually disappears.
8. Refrain from reading, surfing the Internet , interacting with people prior to meditation. Refrain from using electronic devices. Switch your phone to silent, turn off your computer. That email can wait. Our minds are bombarded by external stimuli from the time we wake till we close our eyes to sleep again. Is it any wonder that the mind keeps wandering when you want it to be still? Of course, it is not always possible to avoid external stimuli before doing your meditation. Taking a warm shower or a short walk can help to still your mind and help you wind down from a busy day. You may also choose to do meditation before you start your day in the morning.
9. Your thoughts WILL wander and keep on wandering. You will get frustrated with your inability to focus. Let me assure you that it is completely normal! Do not beat yourself up over it. Your mind is like a wild beast. It will not be tamed and trained without putting up a fight. The very fact that you are aware your mind has wandered is a milestone. Say hello to Increased Awareness! Calmly acknowledge that your mind has wandered and bring your attention back to your breath and the only time that matters in this moment – NOW. Learn to live NOW. We live too much of our lives in the past and future .
10. Lastly, if you don’t already know, meditation is hard work  extremely HARD WORK. Many people don’t realise this. I didn’t realise it. If it were that easy, every one would be walking around hyper aware, with a halo above their head. Meditation is a test of body, mind and spirit. It requires commitment as well as great determination and bucket loads of discipline. And it takes time to see tangible results. For many people, myself included, meditation is even more difficult than asana practice. I think a great motivating factor to consistent meditation is when you realise how much your mind and ego have controlled your life to date and ask yourself to what end you are willing to go to in order to tame the wild beast that is your mind.
Finally we have come to the end! If you have read all the way, thank you very much! There are many different kinds of meditation and correspondingly just as many different ways to do so. There is no right way. I still struggle with meditation.  The above are just some pointers based on my personal experience but I hope that my article will help you in your practice and journey to greater consciousness.  Meditation and spirituality need not necessarily be tied to religion.  You can ask hard questions about yourself and the world around you without bringing religion into the picture.  Anyone can meditate.  Good luck!
Ei-leen Tan
200Hr YTTC Weekday September 2015

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