The Benefits of Meditation
YOGA ON A SHOESTRING (YOAS) interviews Ceri Lee
What does meditation mean to you?
The following quote by Swami Vishnu-devananda, encapsulates perfectly what meditation means to me, and how important it is to practice if we want to free ourselves from increasing levels of stress, which I think is a real issue and concern for most people. Not only this, it also enables me to tune into the rhythm of the life breath and enjoy a sense of connection to the universe itself.
‘Real meditation is liberation from the clutches of the senses and lower mind. By definition it is transcendental, in which all fears, desires, longing and negative emotions are transcended. In this transcendental state there is no awareness of body, mind or duality, and the knower becomes one with the knowledge and the known.’
When did you first come across meditation?
It was in the 1990s and I was attending at a workshop in The Actor’s Centre in London. During the session we were introduced to concept of meditation with a story about a successful Hollywood director. Whilst working on a shoot, he would routinely work all morning, and then spend the afternoon in meditation. I still remember how this story puzzled me deeply for months. How could he waste people’s valuable time during a film shoot by meditating for a couple of hours a day? I was in my mid twenties and life to me was all about action and ‘doing’.
Of course the point is that those two hours of meditation each day was the key the director used to unlock inspiration whilst in production. For it is only when the mind is still and quiet, that true creativity has the space to rise to the surface of the mind and reveal itself. It wasn’t until I went on my first teacher training course in 2001 to Kerala, and we were disciplined to practice meditation twice a day, that I finally got that!
How does it benefit you in your life?
As a busy single mother of two young boys, time is very sparse. With looking after them and attending to their needs, running a yoga business, and keeping up with my own yoga practice as well as the housework, it’s all go. And precisely for this reason I need to take time each day to find some stillness in the mind, and step away from the bombardment of outside stimuli. I’ve found that if I don’t give myself this time, then life can become quite overwhelming and anxious thoughts creep in, which then invariably leads to insomnia, and so the downward spiral begins.
As well as helping to quieten, and bring a sense of peace of mind, I also feel that it’s really helped me come to terms with some difficult emotional issues. Several years ago I went through a personal situation which evoked such strong feelings, it was like an explosion of emotions erupting in my head, and I just didn’t know what to do with these strong feelings – anger particularly was very prevalent. In these horrendous moments I would want to react immediately to the provocation I had received, but knew that would be so detrimental to making any kind of resolution. Instead of reacting, I learnt to just sit with the emotion when it came up to the surface, observe it and wait for it to pass. In a way, I suppose it’s about mediating on a feeling as it arrives, studying it, observing it, and noticing how it eventually shifts. I now wait until the moment that compassion returns, before making a level headed and clear response to any challenging situation.
How do you meditate?
It can take a variety of forms – the most obvious is to be sitting cross-legged in an upright position and working with whatever cue I feel I need to work with at that time. For example it might be to work observationally, of simply noticing the breath as it enters and leaves the body. Or I may feel the need to practice some formal pranayama (breath work), to help me into a calmer state of meditation. This is particularly useful when my mind is in overdrive. Sometimes, when feeling emotional, I envisage the inside of my body and allow my mind to find a place in the body where it feels safe and secure, and keep the mind focussed there for some time. Sometimes I like to work with a candle (tratak), and use this as a means to help focus and still the mind. Occasionally I find it beneficial to go on a walking meditation, and work with the rhythm along with my footsteps to keep my mind focussed and steady. It really all depends on the mood I’m in at the time, as to the form it takes. I do incorporate many of these practices and techniques into the classes I teach, and on the yoga holidays, a silent walking meditation is always popular.