I have meditated during the best of times and the worst of times. I meditated when I knew my heart would break over an ill-fated love affair. I meditated when, in one year, I mourned the death of three yoga students. I meditated when chain saws buzzed in the construction site next door. Yet, now, when I need the focus, grounding, and calm that yoga meditation brings, I cannot sit still to meditate because I sit all day to teach Zoom yoga.
Before the quarantine, I raced to five different spaces and taught six different classes a day. Everything changed with COVID 19. In one week, the studio closed. The next week, I began teaching yoga from Zoom online. Now, I sit for hours in my home and I teach virtual yoga to students in different parts of the country in three different time zones. If you are looking to do yoga in your home start here with “Energize Your Day with a Short Yoga Sequence” video.
My sitting yoga meditation practice began to unravel. My quarantined brain festered with chaotic thoughts. After the quarantine ends, what will happen to the free cookie samples at Whole Foods? What will CPR look like if someone needs help in a yoga class? What will happen to hugs? Before I began a downward spiral, my festering brain compelled me to explore other ways of meditating.
Modes of meditation are as infinite as the stars. I used to love the phrase: Don’t just do something, sit there. Now the reverse proves true: moving yoga meditation, candle gazing, and eating meditation can cultivate the same mental, emotional, and intellectual strength I gained from sitting still. I write this article to provide you with a buffet of yoga meditation options.
As you sample different styles of meditation from walking mindfully to gazing at a candle flame (Trataka) to loving-kindness meditation (Metta), you may let go of the idea that there is only one way to sit and meditate. Better still, meditation will meet you wherever you are. Find a way to meditate that suits you. Thanks to COVID 19, I now practice mindfulness in the world and away from my yoga meditation cushion and you can too.
Walking Yoga Meditation
Walking in the park and meditating soothes the COVID 19 stressed brain by getting you out of your house. Walking meditation deposits us into the NOW by making the stepping of the foot on the ground all-encompassing. Walking meditation asks you to plunge deeply into the act of walking and let all else fall away. You will feel transported and calm with each step because that step is all there is at that moment.
Concentrating on the placement of the foot as you walk requires only a path or space where you can walk (or be in your wheelchair) and move…whether it is countryside or cityscape. If you chose to invite a friend, walking meditation combined with social distancing means you can be with someone you adore outside.
I instruct students to use the word “stepping” or “placing” with each foot’s movement. Switching focus to the left or right foot’s movement alerts you to how asymmetrical the body may be. Noticing the heel, ball, and toe action further sharpens your awareness.
- Select a clear path with a smooth surface.
- Keep your head up and gaze forward a few feet instead of looking at the ground.
- Breathe and keep the paces unhurried and measured while relaxing the arms.
- Feel the air and notice the sounds around you while you walk.
- Some teachers employ phrases: breathing in would say “In the here.” Breathing out would say, “In the now.”
Follow along with me in the video below:
Benefit: Walking meditation encourages you to engage in your body instead of falling into autopilot. As the mind-body connection strengthens, you will feel grounded.
Metta: Loving Kindness Meditation
Years ago, I took a course with Sharon Salzberg, the co-founder of Insight Meditation Society and teacher of Loving Kindness or Metta Meditation. With her no-nonsense guidance, I learned that I am deserving of the same kindness and patience I gave my sweet puppy. Self-compassion endowed me with joy that I reserved for my curious labradoodle, Yogi Bear. I gave myself compassion when I fumbled at being a stellar human being the same way I gently taught Yogi Bear to use the doggy door.
Loving-kindness meditation invites the practitioner to repeat the select phrases over and over. These phrases cancel and neutralize the non-supportive, negative self-talk that plagues our minds. Try these phrases and/or develop your own unique statements to address various areas of your life:
- May I be safe.
- May I be healthy.
- May be happy.
- May I be at ease.
- May I be filled with loving-kindness.
- May I be peaceful.
Repeat these phrases while grocery shopping or suffering night terrors, as I do lately. At 3 A.M., instead of looking at the news, I repeat these phrases and sleep finds me. Over time you can expand this kindness to someone you adore: may mom be happy, may mom be healthy, may she be free, may she live a life of ease. Any phrase will do. The recipient can even be someone neutral like the casual passerby. As you get more skillful, you might even try sending kindness to someone who irritates you.
Benefit: Loving-kindness strengthens your capacity for self-compassion. The more compassion you have, the more you can give others!
The Tibetan word Tonglen means give/take. With each exhale and inhale, you send your chosen person healing and comfort and take away their suffering. Tonglen strengthens our hearts to generate compassion and take on the pain of another while replacing that pain with healing energy.
I do Tonglen and visualize my heart filled with green flames. These green flames destroy sadness, fear, and negativity. If I am really brave, I envision a person who angers me. I see that person before me and I look into that heart. I visualize the heart’s pain. Next, I draw the pain out their heart and I toss the sadness into the powerful green flames of my heart to be destroyed. Next, I send healing pink light into that person’s heart. Not all Tonglen disciplines use flames. Tonglen practitioners sit and trade places with another to create healing where once there was suffering. In times when I am angry at myself, I draw the anger out of my heart on the exhale and I take healing love into my own heart on the inhale. The self-soothing that relieves and liberates can often come from our own hearts.
- Come to a comfortable seat. Sit tall. Establish a natural breathing cadence; pause between the inhales and the exhales.
- Visualize a person sitting in front of you who may be suffering or causing you suffering.
- When you inhale, visualize yourself taking that person’s sadness into the flames of your heart and destroying the suffering.
- As you exhale, send loving healing into that person’s heart where once there was suffering, fear, anger, or pain.
Tonglen enhances your ability to show up and support others in times of distress.
Trataka: Candle Gazing Meditation
Candle gazing taps the hypnotic effect of sitting around a campfire or in front of a fireplace on a snowy evening. Time flows like honey when you look into a candle and feel completely taken by the shapes and colors of the flames. Trataka or candle gazing originated around 3000 BC and cultivates memory retention and concentration.
- Sit in a slightly darkened room in a comfortable seated position.
- Remove your contacts and eyeglasses. The eyes may water as you hold your gaze steady.
- Light a candle and place it three to six feet away from you. (Watch this candle and do be careful not to drift off.)
- Keep your spine tall and soften your face and eyes as you gaze into the flame. You need not make laser focus with the eyes. It is better to let the flame come to you.
- Select different parts of the flame to make the mind aware. You may notice the colors of the flame or the way the flame drifts into smoke and wavers.
- Focus your gaze on the flame as you breathe.
I’ll walk you through the process here:
Benefit: Candle gazing sparks the mind to generate ideas. You can see the flame lighting the way for those in darkness or despair. You can see the light of the flame sparking the unlit candles in the hearts of people suffering alone. You can see the flame burning away impurities of your own mind and giving you clear, unwavering thoughts.
Similar to walking meditation, eating meditation focuses on the task at hand. Eating meditation slows down the process of eating. You smell the food. You touch it and examine the color. The process of mindfully nourishing your bodies flies in the face of eating while multitasking. Pre-COVID, I spent time in my car gobbling down a sandwich while I drove. At home, I ate while standing over the pot. Eating meditation will satisfy not just appropriate caloric intake but also nourish the hunger for connection through gratitude.
Eating meditation and mindful eating encourages me to savor food instead of gulping food. Food eaten with contemplation allows for gratitude to enrich every bite. When you take time out to eat mindfully, you digest the process of how connected you are to one another. Someone grew that apple, an agricultural laborer picked the apple, a trucker drove it to the market, and another person set up the display in the grocery store so you could place the apple in your basket. You are made of the food you eat.
- Select your raisin, cookie, apple, or any other food you want to eat.
- Hold the food in your hand and notice the texture and color.
- Take the food to your nose and smell the aroma.
- Place the food in your mouth and close your eyes and chew before rushing to swallow.
- Silently pause and feel the food filling you without rushing to gobble the next bite.
- Repeat and notice what slowing down can do for your understanding of the food arrived at your table.
Sit and have a bite with me:
Benefit: The taste, smell, and feel of food will come into focus and you will have better digestion when you eat more slowly.
So…I have offered you a buffet of other ways to meditate. No need to completely abandon sitting meditation but try other yoga meditation styles as well. Be patient with yourself. Even though the pandemic seems like the darkest night, yoga meditation illuminates your mind and brings you peace. You will emerge from the COVID 19 chaos with new mental stamina and emotional fortitude.
May be healthy. May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be filled with peace.