By Katie Hoener
Recently I had developed a steady meditation practice, and then it went away! I don’t know what happened, and the techniques that I am accustomed to through studies of mindfulness haven’t been helping. Do you have any other suggestions?
Darren, Ann Arbor
This struggle is real and persistent for many of us. As outlined in the Yoga Sutras, there are only a few among us for which meditation comes naturally and with a sense of ease. For the vast majority of us, meditation and yoga in its totality takes practice and practice and more practice. And to answer your question, yes, there are options to try until you find your groove again. The Sutras suggest that once we find a technique that does suit us that we stick with that space for the duration of its effectiveness.
One meditation practice that aids in the calming of the mind, and assists in retuning us to our practice, is meditation on an object. Yoga Sutra 1.39 outlines that the object of meditation is of our choosing and can help us attain quieting of the mind. A common object for meditation is a lit candle. By fixing the eyes on the dancing flame, we can attempt to move into a place of stillness. Or you could choose another object that holds special meaning, whether that is a picture or a small statute.
Another meditative practice that assists with clearing the mind is japa meditation, or chanting. Most people’s introduction into japa meditation is through the repetition of the word OM, though there are many other beautiful chants that can aid in the quieting of the mind.
I was having tea with a few friends the other day after class, discussing the idea presented to us in that class about replacing a negative thought with a different, positive thought, and my friend said, “Ahh yes, the tuning of the mind.” I didn’t have the chance to ask further questions. Could you provide a little more insight into this?
Carol, Ann Arbor
I would be thrilled to. This queston gives me another chance to take a look at the Yoga Sutras, specifically Sutra 2.33, though this concept weaves throughout the foundational elements of yoga. Sutra 2.33 states, “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.”
We often refer to pratipaksha bhavana, the turning of the mind, and use this throughout our practice, though most notably in our mindfulness meditation. When a thought of judgement comes into the mind, we replace it with something akin to its opposite.
Oftentimes these opposite thoughts fall into the camps of love (or lovingkindness) and gratitude. If we can draw from those wells, and build that habit, it becomes easier for our minds to access areas of kindness.
Though integrating pratipaksha bhavana is often most intentionally introduced in meditation, it certainly has a place in our asana practice. When we have ideas that we aren’t able to do something, can we replace that thought with “how” can we attain [whatever goal]? Can we add a prop, or make a modification? There are ways to and through that which we, at times, view as barriers.
Following a summer of outdoor work, and fun, I would love to use my yoga practice to maintain the strength in my arms. I have found that my shoulders and wrists feel better with this newfound strength!
My amazing yoga partner, Courtney, came up through Ashtanga practice, and that will give you some arm strength! And those of us who have spent a fair amount of time with Vinyasa in its various forms have likely seen its benefits on defining the body as well.
One wonderful practice in engaging the arms on a regular basis is through the practice of Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutations. If you do your research, you can find that there are many variations on the Sun Salutation, and you can explore those until you find the one that meets your needs. In a previous discussion, I wrote about the whole-body benefits of the high plank, which in a Surya Namaskar leads to Chaturanga Dandasana, or low plank. In the flow of a Sun Salutation, this low plank transitions to an Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, or Upward Facing Dog. This posture (pictured) engages each muscle within the arms, as well as a majority of the muscles in the shoulder, as we are engaging through the body to lift through the heart.
If participating in a Surya Namaskar A, of Sun Salutation Series A, the Upward Facing Dog transitions to a Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog. These transitions, and postures, provide ample opportunities to engage the arms in multiple ways.
We are also using our own body weight as resistance, and developing our ability to transition more fluidly over time. If in your initial attempts you are setting the body on your mat between your Low Plank and your Upward Facing Dog, do so! It is important that you keep the shoulders and arms safe while building this strength and flexibility. As always, if you have questions on form or safety, it may be nice to attend your local studio to get some pointers. I know for myself, a few Surya Namaskars is a beautiful way to open the body and the breath for the day, and yes, provide some extra definition to the body when I stick with it! Enjoy.
Katie Hoener is an RYT 500, receiving her 200 and 500 hour trainings. She is also a Licensed Master Social Worker. She is a partner at Verapose Yoga in Dexter (www.veraposeyoga.com). Please send your own yoga questions to Katie@veraposeyoga.com.