I’ve traveled a LOT. To over 100 countries. I can tell you from experience that my favorite part of traveling isn’t the food (amazing), meeting new people (even better), or the Instagram opportunities (they’re plentiful). No, my favorite part of traveling is this reminder that there are other cultures, other ways of life, that are so different from my own. Traveling has enabled me to discover worldviews and practices that resonate, and to incorporate them into the fabric of my own life and business.
One of these practices is yoga. I know what you’re thinking—it doesn’t take 100+ countries worth of airfare to discover yoga, especially in cities like New York and San Francisco where studios are popping up with more frequency than Starbucks. But I’m not talking about doing a few vinyasas to Macy Gray and grabbing a green juice after. When I think about the practice of yoga, I think about it in its purest form: as a lifestyle practice, rather than a one-hour class.
Did you know that there are eight limbs of yoga? These limbs serve as guideposts for living a meaningful and purposeful life, and help to connect to your true self, which is the ultimate purpose of yoga. They are:
Yama - Ethics
Niyama - Self-disciplinary practices
Asana - Physical poses (yoga practice as you know it)
Pranayama - Breathing
Dharana - Intense focus or concentration
Dhyana - Contemplation, meditation
Samadhi - Transcendence, bliss, or enlightenment
I could spend literal days talking about each of these limbs, because they are each distinct, complex principles, but for the purpose of brevity, I’m going to focus on a personal favorite: dhyana.
When’s the last time you heard the mantra “happiness is a choice?” It’s always dropped so casually, by a well-meaning friend trying to pull you out of a moment of despair, or by a self-help guru giving a pep talk. It always rang hollow to me until I discovered dhyana, and here’s why.
Dhyana is the practice of pure focus; of quieting the mind and controlling thoughts, of practicing mindfulness. We’re taught from a young age that we can’t control thoughts or feelings but can only choose how we react to them, and that’s really not true.
Meditation builds on principles learned in asana and pranayama (breathing) to allow us to learn to empty our minds, to watch thoughts float by without judgment or reaction, and to break the cycle of repetitive or stressful thoughts. In other words, meditation is a kind of exercise for the mind, one that’s at once incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding. That strengthening allows us to naturally de-stress, and to do something so lofty as choose happiness.
How to Meditate
Meditation is something that true yogis spend tens of thousands of hours learning. It’s called a practice because there is no end; the benefit comes not from some accomplishment, but from repetition and consistency.
The good news is that meditation doesn’t require any special space or equipment, and it doesn’t have to consume a lot of time, either. You can do it at home on the couch, on a plane or train, and for just 5-10 minutes at a time to start reaping the benefits.
Starting is as simple as sitting. Grab a chair, place your hands where it’s comfortable, and close your eyes. From here on out, you’ll be focusing on your breath, acknowledging thoughts as they float by but not reacting. It’s the beginning of the process of learning mindfulness.
Where to Learn More
If I’ve managed to pique your interest on meditation, here are a few of my favorite resources for learning meditation in an approachable way.
- The Yoga Sutras of Pantajali by Sri Swami Satchidananda: The seminal work on yoga, and a complete guide to practicing meditation and mindfulness.
- The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T.K.V. Desikachar: An excellent exploration of viniyoga and developing an impactful practice that’s responsive to your own needs with regards to age, health, and lifestyle.
- Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda: Written by a yogi for yogis, and considered one of the most influential books in disseminating yoga practices in the West.
- Bhagavad-Gita: The Song of God translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood: One of the great religious texts of the world, and the gospel of Hinduism. This translation is approachable and understandable for everyone.
- The Tibetan Book of the Dead translated by Padma Sambhava and Robert Thurman: This Buddhist classic provides basic instruction on meditation and the use of prayers, appropriate for all skill levels.
- Meditation for the Love of It by Sally Kempton: With 40+ years experience as a meditator and teacher, Sally has practical advice on your meditation practice and connecting with your inner self.
- Tara Brach podcasts: Tara blends Western psychology and Eastern meditation practices in her guided meditations and exploratory podcasts.
While books, podcasts, and apps can be great resources, nothing replaces in-person instruction. These are some of my favorite studios and retreats to help you disconnect from the external world, and connect with an entirely new world within yourself.
- Bali Usada TB 1, 2 and 3: Learn health meditation in the lush forests of Indonesia under the dedicated tutelage of holistic intuitive healer Merta Ada.
- Self-Realization Fellowship Student Lessons: Founded by Yogananda, Self-Realization Fellowship teaches Kriya yoga and other aspects of spiritual living through their take-home Student Lessons.
- Buddha and the Yogis: Head to peaceful Phoenicia, New York to experience the joy of deepening the consciousness through relationships during a three-day workshop led by yogi masters.
- Insight Meditation Center: This well-reputed center in Barre, MA offers instruction and guidance in vipassana and metta meditations during structured retreats.
- SF Zen Center + Tassajara Retreats: The SF Zen Center is one of the largest residential training Soto Zen Buddhist organizations outside of Asia, in three locations through the Bay Area. Visit their city center location, take a trip out to Marin, or book a longer retreat at the renowned Tassajara monastery and retreat center.
- Anchor Meditation: Learn the basics of meditation and mindfulness under the patient tutelage of Kelly Ryan, who knows firsthand what it means to balance practice with a 21st-century lifestyle in SF.
- Mount Madonna: Nestled among the majestic redwoods of Santa Cruz is this studio, conference center, and retreat site. On-site retreats range in length from a night to weeks.
- Sally Kempton: Learn alongside the master Sally Kempton during one of her in-person retreats. She regularly travels through the US and Europe, teaching meditation techniques and the benefits of mindfulness.
- MNDFL NYC: Drop in for a class at one of these zen studios in Brooklyn or Manhattan for a half-hour meditation class starting at just $10.
I’m curious, do you practice mindfulness or meditation? Have you ever wanted to try it? I’d love to hear more!