"The mind is like a lake, and stones that are dropped into it (or winds) raise waves. Those waves do not let us see who we are. (...) The waters must be calmed. If one remains quiet, eventually the winds that ruffle the water will give up, and then one knows who one is. God is constantly within us, but the mind obscures that fact with agitated waves of worldly desires. Meditation quiets those waves" ~Bhagavad Gita V.28
— Huston Smith, Foreword, The Bhagavad Gita: Twenty-fifth–Anniversary Edition
One of the first yoga sutras says, "Yogas citta vrtti nirodha": Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. Our brain, or mind, is a powerful tool of perception, creativity, problem solving, and identification. However, the nature of the mind is to think, plan, analyze, and compartmentalize, and it tends to work on overdrive. If we can see the brain for what it is, an advanced instrument to use as we need it, and rest when we don't need it, we can broaden our sense of self to beyond the workings of our mind, and begin to notice the interconnectivity of our being with the entire cosmos. By practicing awareness of our thoughts, or mindfulness, we can access moments of peace and stillness unavailable to us when our mind is constantly racing. Mindfulness practices bring us to focus on what we are doing and thinking, and gradually through these practices, we begin to notice we have more control over our powerful brain, rather than letting it control us. We realize that what we think determines the reality we experience, and notice that by directing our minds to thoughts of peace, joy, and gratitude, we begin to truly live the experience of peace, joy, and gratitude.
There are as many ways to practice mindfulness as there are people alive on the planet. The following are a few powerful practices that have worked for me. I encourage you to explore beyond the practices outlined here. Some of these can be practiced anywhere: in the car, waiting in line, brushing your teeth, etc, while some are more suited to a traditional seated meditation posture. Focused breathing is another way to practice mindfulness. The breathing practices in the Pranayama chapter before this one are all also mindfulness practices. Mantra repetition is another way to practice; the following chapter offers many powerful mantra practices. As we are learning in the Yoga Sutras and the Baghavad Gita, the practices of quieting the mind and regulating our energy are to lead the mind to a state of such peace and clarity that we actually expand our conscious from our individual mind/body to a sense of vastness, the union of our small selves to our higher Self.
"One must elevate, not degrade, oneself
By one's own mind.
The mind alone is one's friend
As well as one's enemy.
The mind is the friend
Of those who have control over it,
And the mind acts like an enemy
For those who do not control it.
One who has control over the mind
Is tranquil in heat and cold,
In pleasure and pain, and in honor and dishonor;
And is ever steadfast with the Supreme Self.
A yogi is called Self-realized
Who is satisfied with knowledge
And understanding of the Self,
Who is equanimous, who has control over the senses,
And to whom a clod, a stone, and gold are the same."
Krishna, The Baghavad Gita, Chapter VI
Wake up/Bed time Gratitude Practice
First thing in the morning when waking up is potent time to offer a blessing/prayer/gratitude, because as you are first waking up is a quiet time of stillness before the business of your day brings all its distractions. Similarly, just before you fall asleep, as you lie in your bed after the day done, is a very sweet time to take a moment to reflect on all the things in your life that support you. As you lie comfortably in your bed, before making your daytime lists or reflecting on your day, take a moment to silently say "Thank you" for each of the people/places/things that nourish you, support you, bring you joy, and even the things that challenge you, honoring these as a vehicle for personal growth. You can also use this time to say your prayers.
Mealtime Mindfulness Blessing
Before meals, take a moment of mindfulness to acknowledge the source of the food you are about to consume, to feel gratitude for the nourishment, as well as for all of the blessings in your life. Begin by taking a deep breath as you let the right words come to you. You can memorize a specific prayer that you repeat each time before eating, or you can just let the words of gratitude flow in the moment. For example: "I take this moment of gratitude for this food, saying thank you to the farmers who grew this food, thank you to the sun and water and earth which nourished it as it grew, thank you to all the hands and transportation that brought this food to my kitchen, thank you to who prepared this beautiful meal. I say thank you for this home, my family, my friends, my work...etc. May this meal nourish my body so that I may do my work in the world for the benefit of all beings."
Water is the basis of life. Without water, nothing can grow and we would quickly die. Water is a precious resource that needs to be protected. We can do our part by recognizing our use of water. Taking a moment to bless water each time we use it, whether we are washing our hands, starting a load of laundry, taking a drink, washing dishes, going for a swim, or taking a shower, will remind us to be grateful for this precious resource and to use it conscientiously. You can simply say, out loud or silently, "Thank you Water" at each of these moments, or come up with your own water blessing.
Here is a beautiful song by Katrina Blair to chant while using water, or enjoying the rain: "Thank you, Water. I love you, Water. I'm so grateful for you Water. You are the rain falling down, you are the river flowing over ground, you are the ocean. The sweet big body water mama ocean."
Metta Loving Kindness Meditation
Mettā (Pali) or maitrī (Sanskrit) means loving kindness, a feeling of benevolence and friendliness towards others. It is one of the four Brahmaviharas, or sublime attitudes, that the Buddha taught will bring the practitioner to a state of communion with Metta Meditation is a way to direct our mind to cultivate these feelings towards people we know, people we like, people we dislike, and to all beings. It can be easy to feel loving and have positive thoughts towards people we really like, and it is usually very challenging to do this for people that we resent in any way. Opening our hearts to generate good feelings towards others helps us to be more compassionate and less judgmental to others, and more loving towards ourselves. There are many variations on how to practice Metta, but usually you practice visualizing others in a state of well-being, while silently repeating words that pray for their well being and freedom from suffering, such as "May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering." Begin by conjuring up a vision of a benefactor; someone who has always been loving and supportive of you. Picture them seated in front of you, radiating contentment and joy, health and ease of mind, and for several moments repeat the prayer for them silently. Next, picture a neutral person, like the cashier at the grocery store, to whom you don't have any positive or negative judgments towards. Then, pick someone who irritates you, or who has harmed you in the past, and recognize them as a human deserving of love and happiness, and direct the blessing towards them. Next, take your hands over your own heart, and direct these words and loving feelings towards yourself, offering and receiving the blessings. Finally, direct your loving thoughts and words towards all sentient beings. Spend a few moments, 1-5 minutes, on each of the 5, then rest your mind and sit for another moment, noticing the feeling of ease and openness in your being.
This meditation is useful to still your mind when it is racing. It can be practiced on its own or after the following self-guided Yoga Nidra practice. Simply use the silent phrase, "I notice", followed by any sound, thought, or sensation you observe. If you find yourself in silence without noticing anything, great! Just rest in the silence. As soon as another sound or sensation occurs, say to yourself, "I notice...." If you notice you are following a train of thought, just notice it, saying to yourself, "I notice I was thinking", then bring your attention back to whatever else you notice in the moment. You can practice this in a traditional seated posture, a comfortable lying down position, or while waiting in line somewhere, while sitting on a bus/train/plane, etc, to focus an over stimulated mind and take your attention to the present.
Taking a mindful walk is one lovely way to still the mind while getting some exercise at the same time! There are many ways to practice a walking meditation. A walking meditation can combine mantra practice or simple Pranayama. For example, a simple counting breath combined with an intentional walk would look like this: Inhale for four steps, exhale for four steps, repeat. Or, take one step with each syllable or word of your preferred mantra. A very grounding and simple practice is to go outside to a trail or meadow, take off your shoes and socks, and practice walking very slowly and mindfully to avoid stepping on anything sharp or stubbing your toe. While walking, keep your gaze soft, looking just a short ways ahead of a you, while allowing your peripheral vision to take in your surroundings without become fixated on any one thing. Notice your mind observing the sights and sounds around you, without attaching. If you become absorbed in a thought process, notice, without judging yourself harshly for it, and bring your attention back to the intentional rhythm of your stride and breath. Walking meditation can be a prelude to a seated meditation in place of asana practice to work out stiffness in the body and bring a scattered mind into focus. If the weather is not cooperating, you can even practice this while walking in circles around your house!
Your Highest Self Meditation
This meditation should be practiced while in a comfortable meditation seat, or lying down. With closed eyes, visualize yourself in a beautiful meadow, walking along a worn path. Imagine a place that makes you feel safe and happy, so that your walk is casual and pleasant. After a while, you notice a person is seated ahead of you on the trail. From where you are you can't make out yet who it is, but you can sense it is a person of great presence. As you come closer, you notice the person is truly noble and beautiful, and you become very interested to meet this person. As you continue walking, you notice the clothes she/he is wearing are well made, flowing, and lovely. You notice something familiar about this person, and see she/he has beautiful skin and hair. Finally you are close enough to realize this person is You! It is the You you have always imagined as your most gracious, healthy, beautiful, and composed self. As you arrive in front of this highest version of you, the being smiles serenely and you take a seat. Now ask this being if he/she has a message for you. Take several moments to be still and listen for any message that your highest self has to offer you.
Count to 10 Meditation
This is a method of stilling a restless mind. Sit in a comfortable position with the spine erect. Silently count slowly to 10, then begin again at 1 and repeat. If you realize you lost the count and the mind became distracted with thoughts, simply start over at 1. Practice for 5 minutes to start and gradually increase.
Instant Stress Relief
This mindfulness practice cultivates the healing power of the breath and can be used anytime to quickly settle the nervous system and provide instant stress relief. Start by taking a few deep breaths, holding at the top of each breath for a moment for releasing it fully. Then begin to count each inhale to the count of 4, and each exhale to the count of 8, so that you are slowing down the exhalations and bringing your awareness fully to each breath.
Yoga Nidra, translated as Yogic Sleep, is a practice of the 5th limb of Ashtanga Yoga, Pratyahara, or drawing the senses inward, through listening to a verbal guided relaxation. The deep relaxation this practice produces is not actually a sleep state, but the stage just before sleep, or the "going-to-sleep" state. It has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and has been used to treat people with PTSD symptoms
Satyananda Saraswati is a modern exponent of Yoga Nidra who began to popularize for the West in the mid 20th century. He developed a method and began training practitioners to offer this guided relaxation technique. The eight phases of his method include: internalisation, sankalpa, rotation of consciousness, breath awareness, manifestation of opposites, creative visualization, sankalpa and externalization.
Other teachers have also described Yoga Nidra as a state of conscious deep sleep, in which the mind is still aware and experiences can be recalled later.
The practice of Yoga Nidra can be done be attending a class, or playing an audio recording, and is usually practiced lying down comfortably in a quiet space. It can be practiced any time of day. In the morning it can be used to promote a calm state for the day; in the afternoon it can help refresh and rejuvenate, and it can be used just before going to bed as a sleep-aid.
You can download Yoga Nidra tracks online or buy audio CDs to play. You can also guide yourself, either by recording and listening to your own voice describing a step by step relaxation, or by memorizing such a technique. Here is one technique you can learn to practice on your own, anytime youhave at least 10 minutes to lie or sit comfortably.
Self-Guided Yoga Nidra Relaxation Script
I bring my attention to my right thumb, second finger, third finger, fourth finger, pinky finger, back of the hand, palm of the hand,
wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder, armpit, side waist,
right hip, thigh, knee, shin, calve, ankle,top of the foot, sole of the foot, big toe, second toe, third toe, fourth toe, fifth toe.
I feel the entire right side of my body.
I bring my attention to my left thumb, second finger, third finger, fourth finger, pinky finger, back of the hand, palm of the hand,
wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder, armpit, side waist,
left hip, thigh, knee, shin, calve, ankle, top of the foot, sole of the foot, big toe, second toe, third toe, fourth toe, fifth toe.
I feel the entire left side of my body.
I bring my attention to my sit bones, pelvic floor, groin, sacrum,
low back, belly, sternum, mid back, chest, shoulderblades, upper back,
collarbones, neck, base of the skull, back of the head, top of the head,
forehead, temples, eyebrows, space between the eyebrows, temples,
eyelids, eyes, nose, throat, tongue, teeth, lips, chin, jaw.
I feel my whole face.
I feel my whole head.
I feel my entire upper body.
I feel my whole lower body.
I feel my whole body.
I feel my entire body,
I feel my entire body.