How yogic techniques help to calm your thinking

Meditation occurs in many philosophical and spiritual traditions as a way to become aware of one’s true nature and thereby reach peace within one’s self, and it forms one of the fundamental pillars of Yoga.

It’s a discipline that you can spend your entire life cultivating and refining, but as a starting point, we can think of meditation as the art of doing nothing – easy enough so far – yet being totally aware of all that is happening.

Each of us has the ability to meditate. (In fact, we’re born with all the attributes we need for a peaceful and fulfilling life. We just forget the fact because it gets buried under so much mental gunk as we grow up and have to deal with the outside world.) So why is it that sitting by yourself trying to access all this zen-like stillness can seem so damn difficult?

For each of us the obstacles to meditation will be slightly different, but there are a list of usual suspects that almost everyone has to tackle. One is the presumption that we should somehow stop ourselves thinking, which leads to frustration and disappointment when we “fail”.

The truth is that we can no more stop thoughts from coming than we can stop clouds from drifting across the sky, or our next door neighbour’s dog from barking at passing cyclists.

What we can do is choose not to interact with the thoughts: to simply watch them come and go, unfollowed, unargued with, uncommented upon.

By working on our physical body we can combat another of the inhibitors towards successful meditation. Tension in the body and breath are reflected in the flow of air in and out of the body.

If the breath is not flowing freely and smoothly we can usually see a corresponding erratic and jumpy pattern of thoughts in the mind. The link between the breath and the mind is so close that in Yoga it is said ‘where the breath goes the mind follows’.

This is the reason why shavasana at the beginning of a yoga class is quite a different experience from at the end of a class. As we practice Asana tension dissolves from the body, and the breath becomes smoother and more relaxed. The behaviour of the mind alters in a way that aids the practice of meditation.

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