Shield yourself from stress with this simple meditation technique from Baron Baptiste, author of Journey Into Power: How to Sculpt Your Ideal Body, Free Your True Self, and Transform Your Life With Yoga.
Putting on Your Spiritual Armor
I try to meditate every morning and evening. When I don't, I feel it. My days just feel different. I feel less effective, less connected, more easily frustrated by little things, unable to see options. Something is just missing. But when I start my day by sitting quietly for at least ten or fifteen minutes, I've centered myself. It's like putting on spiritual armor that gives me protection from the stresses of life.
As I sit still, I'm reversing the flow of energy so that it comes from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. I know that when I start reaching for everything out there in the world -- all the distractions and temptations -- I am allowing the energy to flow from the outside in. I start to soak it up like a sponge. Experiences go through me, taking root and potentially growing into knots of anxiety and disease. But when I meditate there is a shift. The energy starts to flow from within me out into the world, like a river streaming down from the top of a mountain.
It can be very easy to feel connected and grounded within yourself when you are home meditating; the real challenge is to carry that sense of peace and light with you as you go through your day. Without this calm center you are like a ship without a rudder, influenced by every situation, every person, every mood. This is why it is so important to meditate every day, even if it is only for a few minutes. Even ten minutes every morning shifts your consciousness for the rest of the day. And those ten minutes will very often turn to fifteen, twenty, thirty, or more. It's like physical exercise: The more you do, the more your body yearns for it. Once you taste it, you start to crave it. It begins to work, and eventually you don't want to go out into the world without it.
As mentioned, the meditation technique I use is very simple, but within that simplicity lies its power. My experience tells me that this method works. However, as with anything, I always say that it is best to apply what makes sense to you and let the results speak for themselves, as they have for me and for thousands of my students.
The basic focus of this technique is to stay present by being aware of the fleeting thoughts in your mind, the ebb and flow of your breath, and the environment surrounding you. By stepping back inside yourself and observing your thoughts, you bring your mind from distraction to direction, from chaos to focus.
If you think it would be useful, you can take a tape recorder and read the following instructions out loud to play back when you do your practice. You can make whatever revisions or additions you would like to personalize the process and make it meaningful for you, though I encourage you to keep the basic structure.
Sit in whatever position is comfortable for you, as long as you can maintain a straight spine. I don't recommend lying down, because it is too easy to fall asleep, and it is important that you remain awake and alert. Place your hands in your lap in a prayer like position, thumbs facing up, your fingertips touching and your palms gently coming apart. Close your eyes and just come into your body.
Set your intention that there is no greater place to be than right here, right now. Let go of any head stuff that keeps you from being in the present. Let go of expectations. Drop your mask and be receptive to whatever comes up. Stop trying and doing and just come into a true and deep sense of surrender.
Bring attention to your base. Feel the floor, chair, pillow, or whatever it is you are sitting on. Just notice your base. And then gently walk the fingers of your mind up your spine to the top of your head.
Now, with your eyes still closed, look through the center of your forehead. Don't look with the pupils of your eyes, use instead your mind's eye. It is as though you were stepping back into the middle of your mind and looking at the inside of your own head. You may see flashes of light, you may see colors, or you may see total darkness. Whatever you see, simply notice it. Just watch the inner wall of your forehead as if you were sitting in the middle of a room and watching one of the four walls. Now bring your attention to your hands and rest your attention on them. Soon they will feel warm and start to tingle. Whenever we bring awareness to any point of our anatomy we are moving energy in that direction, so it will physically become warm. Don't force your attention on your hands, just feel and watch them with your mind's eye. Feel the energy flowing into your hands. Bring awareness to your thumbs, your first fingers, second fingers, third fingers, and fourth fingers. Shift your attention from one finger to another until your connection is steady. Make them glow with the calm power of your focused mind.
Funneling your awareness to your hands bridges your mind and body and brings you to the present moment. We are using your body as an anchor for your mind. Whenever you feel your mind start to wander (and it will wander!), just return your attention to your hands and begin again. Meditation is an unending process of beginning again. If your mind pulls you into forgetfulness and you slip into past or future thoughts, simply remember this moment and begin again by bring your attention back to your hands. Now radiate your awareness into and throughout your whole body. Be perfectly present and perfectly relaxed. Sense your body's presence in the room as though someone else was watching you. Notice the contact of your clothing on your skin. Observe the outline of your body, its blueprint.
Bring your awareness to your breath: to the ebb and flow, in and out of your nostrils. Watch it rise and fall, mentally noting the in and out of every inhalation and exhalation. Don't try to change or control the breath, just observe it as it is.
Open your ears and hear every sound in the room. Simply let every noise flow in one ear and out the other. Hearing grounds you in moment-to-moment awareness. It brings you into the here and now, and the being present to each "now" moment is the essence of mindfulness. When you hear the sounds around you, simply listen without manufacturing or creating any thoughts around them.
Begin to notice your thoughts. By this simple act you step outside your thoughts into the role of observer and increase the space between them. The light shines through the space, widening the gap between stimulus and response and giving more time and space for intuitive responses to arise. In our normal state of consciousness, we come to believe we are our thoughts. But you are not your thoughts! If you can observe them, then clearly they are something separate from you. Each time you become aware that you are thinking, you have slammed on the brakes and entered new mental territory, a new field of consciousness.
Notice every thought that tries to steal your attention. Just notice it and bring your attention back to your hands, your body's blueprint, your breath, your senses. Don't follow your thoughts into the stream of dream stuff. What tends to happen is that we have a thought, and before we know it, we start building a story around it. Thoughts come up and they carry us away. Maybe you flash to what you had for dinner. You think about the angel food cake you had for dessert. Then your mind goes to devil's food cake, which reminds you of grandma. And then you remember it's grandma's birthday next week and you have to get a card, which makes you realize you have to stop at the bank…and on and on it goes. You've built an entire story around one little thought.
Don't struggle to free yourself from your thoughts. Just become aware of them. As soon as you become conscious that you have become involved with mental chatter, you've freed yourself from it. Just bring your attention gently back to your hands and let the thought go as quickly as it came in. Beginning again and again is the whole act of meditation practice. Over and over, we begin again. Let it all be natural, no manipulation. Just be here and now, breathing and observing your thoughts and letting go.
When you first start to sit, your mind will be all over the map. Thoughts will race to the surface -- it may feel like chaos in your head. A torrent of thoughts, plans, conversations, anxieties, aches and pains, even musical rhythms will come flooding up. Your mind is like a Whitewater river. There is a constant stream of sinkholes that are trying to suck you in and currents that fight to whisk you away from the present moment. If you happen to get caught in the rapids o f your thought stream, don't fight it. Simply step out o f the current onto the shore and watch as the river of thoughts flows by you. Relax and come back into your body and breath.
You may feel fidgety, uncomfortable, ready to scream or jump up and leave the room. Your ego may say, "Thanks, but no thanks. This may be great for some people, but definitely not for me." Recognize that this is all resistance! Just let go and begin again. Emotions may bubble up to the surface for review and release. Don't struggle to contain them or react. Stay in your body and even have a little cry if you need to. Feel your feelings without losing yourself in the sadness, fear, pain, or grief Let go and let good flow in, and begin again.
Sit in this practice for at least ten minutes and work your way up to forty-five.
Like yoga practice, it's better to do a little bit often rather than a whole lot once in a while. The time will increase naturally as you are ready If you get caught up with counting minutes, just set a timer or alarm clock so you are released from having to worry about how long you have been sitting.
I encourage you to meditate every day, once in the morning and once at night. If you sit for even ten minutes every morning, you will feel a difference. Over time, your level of awareness will continue to rise so that you see people, places, and things in a whole new way. You will be given a new vision, so to speak. You will see the cause of suffering in your life and intuitively know what you need to do to begin to live in better, more fulfilling ways. You will begin to live from cause rather than effect, from within the harmony of your inner knowing rather than the chaos of your mind. Meditation isn't the magical way to the light, but it certainly is the way to the Way. Start your practice and watch the path unfold!
How to Cultivate a Daily Meditation Practice
- Plan to meditate at about the same time every day. You can do it as soon as you get up in the morning, in the afternoon, and/or in the evening before bed.
- Sit as long as you can every day. An ideal session is twenty to thirty minutes, but even five minutes twice a day will connect YOU.
- Determine before you sit how long you will meditate. This will prevent your ego from diverting your initial intention.
- Keep it simple. The purpose is not to induce a state of mind but to brine a new dimension of awareness and perspective to your daily experiences.
- Let go of expectations. Be open and receptive to what comes up. Let go of judgments and the head stuff that keeps you from being present.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Baron Baptiste, author of Journey Into Power: How to Sculpt Your Ideal Body, Free Your True Self, and Transform Your Life with Yoga (Copyright © 2002 by Baptiste Power Yoga Institute, Inc.), began to study yoga seriously at age twelve and trained extensively in all the major traditions before creating Baptiste Power Yoga in the mid-eighties. Baptiste has trained both celebrities and athletes, including Helen Hunt, Randall Cunningham, and Elisabeth Shue, and for four years he was Peak Performance Specialist for the Philadelphia Eagles. He divides his time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Sundance, Utah.