Illustration by Gemma Correll. www.gemmacorrell.com
Have you ever wondered why your mind goes crazy as soon as you stop doing stuff? I have.
When the time comes for savasana, usually near the end of a yoga practice, I’ve had varying experiences. From deeply relaxing, to deeply irritatingly fidgeting and just barely hanging in there. When I look out at a group of yoga students at the end of one of the yoga classes I teach, I can usually spot the whole range taking place out there too – some people deeply still and quiet, while others continually shifting their position or wiggling a toe or obviously tense.
What does it take to really let go and relax?
When I first began meditating many years ago, it became an ongoing battle with my mind going into overdrive nearly the second I settled into my seat and closed my eyes. I tried various techniques – having my eyes partly open, deepening my breath, repeating a quiet mantra, feeling into my sitting bones, noticing the sensation of the breath – all of these and more. Sometimes I’d achieve a moment or two of complete stillness, and then off would go my mind again… ever racing forward to tomorrow, next week, next year… or flipping backward to earlier that day, the week before, memories from my childhood, something I’ve forgotten to do suddenly surfacing with a start. The effort! Keeping my experience in the here and now was proving to be very elusive. Yet, there was something always compelling about the experience. I liked the quiet time by myself.
I read somewhere that our minds think something like 60,000 thoughts a day. Author Carolyn Myss said that “the soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.”
Now how was I supposed to do that?
I still have varying experiences with meditation, to be honest. It’s a moveable feast for sure. In the yoga tradition there are three energetic ‘states’ of mind/body/heart that are often referred to, and I feel these are very much responsible for how receptive I can be to a period of meditation. The states are ‘tamas’, which means a kind of sluggishness, heaviness, laziness; ‘rajas’, which means hot, fast, busy energy; and the more balanced ‘sattva’ – a state of equilibrium and centeredness.
Depending on what I’ve been doing in my life, I may find any one of those states most ‘up’ when I sit to meditate. So, the first step is to just notice what’s going on, without judgement. (Let go of any expectation about how I SHOULD be… such a tiresome word is ‘should’). If I’m noticing a real sluggishness of thinking/energy/body, I might do some particular breathing that will bring a bit more energy into my body. I might decide to do a couple of stretches and starjumps or something a bit active to wake up my system. Or I might decide that rather than sitting just at that time, a walk in the fresh air could be just the lift my system needs to bring me into a more ‘sattvic’ state of equilibrium.
The same if I find my mind jumping around like a crazy monkey, and my body jumpy and unable to settle when I come to my meditation. Some slowing of the breath might assist, tuning into the subtle sense of life energy in my body can help slow things down, or putting my hands over my heart and letting it fill with compassion for my sincere efforts – I try with the best of intentions!
The biggest thing is to listen to what’s really going on. To open the space to receive what’s really present. To suspend judgement. Don’t we all try our best? Aren’t we all dealing with mostly the same things?
I listen to the silence around me, and let judgement go. Today’s meditation might be wonderfully nourishing, diving deep into sensations of wellbeing and joy. Or not. In all cases, creating the space and time allows a continued exploration and opening of the boundaries that I define myself by.
This is the delicious exploration of meditation.