This week, we feature meditation and mindfulness classes for #everyonetriyoga. Read on for Ayala’s overview of what is meditation and mindfulness, and try her raisin meditation at the end!The Buddha said, “Whatever you frequently think and ponder upon, that will become the inclination of your mind.”
2,500 years later, modern neuroscience backs this up, describing how neurons that fire together, wire together, creating neurological pathways in the mind. Once created, these pathways tend to be followed again and again.
For most of us, most of the time, our attention cycles around the same familiar stories and obsessions. Am I good enough? Is this safe? Do I fit in here? Do they like me? Are things going to be ok? How can I fix and improve things? How can I be better?…
It’s said we have 80,000 thoughts a day. And 98% of them we had yesterday!
So what’s the inclination of your mind?
Meditation is a practice that leads us step by step to see and feel more clearly what is really here in our body, heart and mind. It is a practice that widens our lens from a narrow, obsessive (and often life inhibiting) focus to include the full spectrum of experience.
Have you ever felt that life appears less vivid than you remembered it to be as a child? One of the effects of meditation is that our senses really wake up! On meditation retreat, smells, tastes, textures and sights become miraculous again. Try the raisin meditation below to see how something you have done so many times before can seem fresh and exciting simply by being fully present!
Of course, this aliveness is a gift that extends beyond raisins! Meditation also teaches us emotional intelligence. We learn to gently feel emotions that may have been suppressed for years, or that have been continually triggering us to act unskilfully. In place of suppressing or reacting, we discover the freedom and spaciousness of being fully present to something as it arises. This intimacy allows for an appropriate response: one that is motivated by love and wisdom rather than my habit and conditioning.
Finding the appropriate response is a central gift of meditation, because it can be applied to every moment of your life. When you feel lonely, rather than opening the fridge door, you allow yourself to feel the emptiness inside, and sense into what you really need. When you feel blame, rather than undermining someone else, you allow yourself to feel the pain behind it, and can reflect on the most constructive action. When you feel anxious and find catastrophic thoughts circling around your head, you come back into your body, and discovering the grief or fear behind the anxiety, attend to that. When you feel momentary awkwardness and reach for your phone again, for no other reason than to fill the space, you choose to feel the space rather than fill it, and discover that there’s a simple joy in that.
I am a devoted yogi as well as meditator, and find that the two practices are more and more inseparable as they call to wake up through body, heart and mind. But I find that the mind training aspects of both practices are the parts that have changed my life more radically than any body training could ever do. This is where I feel the effects most potently day by day, moment by moment. As a working mother of three children living in a busy city in times of great upheaval and change, on the whole I feel grounded, awake, open and at ease in the ever accommodating arms of my practice.
Try this mediation on a single raisin! This is best done with someone else reading it to you, slowly, so that you can focus fully on your new small friend the raisin!
Look closely at this object in your hand. Notice its shape, its colour, texture, how the light reflects off its wrinkled surface, where the light is absorbed. Observe it from different angles, as if you’d never seen one before, looking at every tiny detail.
You might notice its ‘navel’: the place where it broke off from the stem. Reflect for a moment that this raisin was once attached to a vine, which was nourished by the soil, the sun and rain. It experienced wind, cold, warmth, the presence of the sun, stars, the moon… Think of all the people who have been involved in this raisin’s lifetime, people with their own dreams and challenges, who picked, dried, transported, packed and sold this raisin. All the Earth’s resources used to grow, prepare and transport it to this moment.
Now pick up the raisin and move it between your fingers. Is it soft, spongy, hard, rough, smooth, sticky?
Now bring the raisin very close to your ear and roll it between your fingers. Listen carefully. Crackling, popping? Did you ever know a raisin could make sound?
Bring the raisin to your nose. Smell, taking your time, breathing deeply. Both nostrils.
Looking at the raisin again, very slowly bring it to your lips, feeling your hand approach, place it between your lips and feel it there, noticing what’s happening inside your mouth. Close your eyes.
Allow your tongue to take the raisin and suck it. Notice any flavour.
Notice how your tongue knows exactly how to place it between your teeth. Notice any emotions: impatience, desire, anticipation, resistance, worry?
Bite down on the raisin, taste the flavour. Very slowly, chew and taste.
When you are ready begin to swallow. Feel it moving down your throat. Notice your tongue moving to the crevices of your teeth. Notice the taste in your mouth now.
Feel your whole body now: exactly one raisin heavier! Think of the journey the raisin is continuing to have inside you, unseen once again as its journey was today. Becoming a part of you. And in its way connecting you to everything that has been a part of it.Ayala has been practising yoga since she was six years old, and teaching since 1997. Her classes combine precise alignment with stillness and reflection. She is trained in Iyengar yoga, has studied with the Iyengar family in India, and has also been practising Vipassana (Insight) meditation since 1994, which remains a central part of her teaching. Ayala is an Accredited Mindfulness Teacher and mentor with the Mindfulness Training Institute, and has been endorsed by Sarah Powers as an Insight Yoga teacher and mentor. She is passionate about exploring how yoga and meditation can together support our journey towards wholeness and freedom. Ayala’s love for pregnancy yoga has arisen out of her own experience of yoga and meditation during her three pregnancies and births. For retreats, her pregnancy yoga app, and more information, see http://www.ayalagill.com/