Why is the meditative state one that we should all aspire to? How can we live happier and more fulfilled lives when we live from this state of meditative awareness? These are the questions we will explore in this reading, as we continue down the path of yoga.
First of all, what does it mean to be meditative? On the physical level, it’s a calm and relaxed state of being. The parasympathetic nervous system is leading the way, rather than the fight-or-flight cortisol-fueled state of anxiety. This means our thoughts are clear and our hormones and bodily processes are in a state of balance.
From this meditative place, we let go of tension and are able to make better decisions. We’re responsive, rather than reactive – creating a healthier place from which to communicate in our intimate relationships. When our mind is relaxed and in a meditative condition, we’re able to see things more clearly, and we’re less attached to our conditioned beliefs, assumptions and expectations.
To be meditative is to rest in present moment awareness. This is where life unfolds, and it’s where we want to rest in as many moments of our lives as is possible. To further cultivate this meditative state, we can do a number of things.
The most obvious is, of course, to practice meditation on a regular basis. If we can work up to meditating for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening, we’ll find ourselves moving through the other minutes of our lives in a more meditative state than we would otherwise. However, if this sounds like an overwhelming amount of time for meditation, you can practice short periods of meditation throughout the day. By simply taking five minutes to meditate every hour, you’ll be dropping into a meditative state much more easily as you go about your work or daily chores. (Learn more about meditation and trusting the practice here.)
Take Care of Your Body
To be in a meditative state we need to take care of our bodies, because it’s really hard to rest in a state of relaxation when our body-minds are agitated. That said, good sleep, proper nutrition, and plenty of water are all necessary for good health. Sunshine and daily exercise are essentials, too. And when it’s not sunny outside, be sure to take vitamin D.
During the winter we need to practice meditating for longer amounts of time because there are no warm temperatures or relaxing sunshine and poolside days to get us there. Luckily, the winter months are intended to be a time of planting contemplative seeds that will spring forth in the springtime. So, commit to a regular meditation practice as soon as the temperatures begin to drop.
The physical practice of yoga helps us become meditative. As we tap into our breath and slow our thinking minds down to move through asanas, we get really present in the moment as we drop into the sensations of our physical body and the practice of synchronized breathing. When you simply can’t sit still to meditate, roll out your sticky mat and take to your yoga practice.
Yin yoga is an excellent style of yoga to help you drop into a meditative state. With Yin yoga, we hold postures for long periods of time, and with a gifted teacher talking you through the practice, it becomes quite natural to enter a meditative state. By the end of a Yin yoga class you’ll feel so deeply relaxed you can typically rest in a meditative state long after the final pose of savasana, or corpse pose. (Learn more about Yin yoga here.)
The breath is also a portal into meditative states of being. Whenever you want to enter this place of calm, you can begin by practicing some of your favorite pranayama techniques, or deep breathing exercises. With pranayama, we take deep breaths, learning how to elongate the inhalation and exhalation. We learn how to become masters of our breath, which, in turn, quiets the mind and drops the body into a state of relaxation. Some of the most popular meditative breaths are: nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breath), complete yogic breath, ujjayi (ocean breath) and breath of fire.
Chanting mantras are another powerful tool for helping us drop into meditative states of existence. This is commonly referred to as japa meditation, and it’s a really effective practice to help quiet the mind. All you do is chant a mantra (such as Om Namah Shivayah) over and over again until the thinking mind settles and you’re resting in present moment awareness – in a meditative state of being. (Learn more about mantras here.)
Practice Yogic Sleep
Another way to enter into a meditative state is through yoga nidra, the practice often referred to as yogic sleep. In this practice, you’re guided by a teacher into a deep state of relaxation – by scanning the body and relaxing every part of it with your focused attention – and without actually falling to sleep. By the time this practice is finished, you’ll be able to rest quietly in a meditative state for quite some time.
Of course, we can’t always live from a state of meditation. Modern living doesn’t allow it. But we can certainly shift our attention more and more in that direction as we follow and practice the amazing practices of yoga!