As I began to think about writing for this week’s Silent Sundays, I realized that I was distracted by the ample amount of reading I need to do for an upcoming meditation training. It quickly became clear that I needed to address my ironically divided attention: Thus was born the following introduction to tomorrow’s practice.
When I taught my first yoga class nearly 25 years ago, one of the comments I heard most often from potential students was: “I can not stay still long enough for yoga;” or, “I get bored too easily.” Because I began my yoga adventure in the ashtanga tradition, I was able to assure high-energy skeptics that their need to move would be accommodated.
Although ashtanga yoga links multiple poses through fast-flowing vinyasa and acrobatic jumps, the tradition nevertheless requires intense focus and attention to breath. As such, like all other physical forms of yoga, the foundation for meditation is being set: In order to sit for long periods of time, the body needs to be aligned and relaxed, without the distraction of physical discomfort.
And lo and behold, by the end of any class—even beginners, who often arrived as runners or “workout fanatics”—high-energy students would welcome Svasana, and be able to “sit still long enough” for a brief closing meditation.
Cut to 10 years later: By that time, I had begun studying kundalini yoga; often, I would bring the tradition’s spinal warm-ups to the ashtanga students. Over time, the blending of the styles seemed natural to me and my students. With the added emphasis on spinal flexibility, students further developed the ability to sit for meditation. Inevitably, closing meditations became longer, if not an integral aspect of each practice.
During this time, I attended my first silent retreat, which lasted a week. I fell easily, naturally, blissfully into “social silence”: Upon departure from the retreat center, I mourned the loss of Truth that seemed to arise when one is unencumbered by the need to speak or respond. From that point forward, I have taken one day a week to be in silence: Hence, Silent Sundays.
As with my entree into yoga and teaching, I was met with bafflement when describing immersion into silence. Any suggestion that it could be a beneficial practice for stressed-out clients or friends was met with a bewildered shaking of the head: “Oh, I could never be quiet for that long!”
The ability to sit comfortably in an aligned manner requires practice and continual attendance to the key muscles associated with posture and general physical ease. The ability to be silent requires a willingness to convene with your thoughts and emotions; this, too, necessitates mental strength and ardent discipline. As with those yoga students who never dreamed that yoga could or would be conducive to their energy, those new to meditation may have preconceptions that are directing their reluctance.
Whether one cites an energetic, physical, or intellectual reason that “meditation is not for me,” I would suggest one session in which to experiment with the basics of sitting and moving inward. The “way in,” in my opinion, begins with the body: If achy or stiff, no one can be expected to sit with proper alignment for more than a minute or two. Further, to introduce and develop mental focus, the body also offers an inroad, by dint of tangible focal points and anatomical visualizations.
The practice that I will introduce in tomorrow’s piece is conducive to any style of meditation. Further, the movements and suggestions are physically and mentally strengthening and centering: The routine would serve as a wonderful start to any day, as well as prepare anyone for seated meditation.