NEW YORK — Yoga originally slipped into western culture under the guise of a fitness trend, promising improved flexibility, long, lean muscles and relief from aches and pains.
But yoga's true original purpose was to prepare the body and mind for meditation.
Now, the ever-increasing speed and constant activity of today's lifestyles are boosting the popularity of the meditative aspects of yoga, as we hunger for ways to leave multi-tasking behind and enter a more centered state.
"Movement of the body is another way to dive into the present moment by focusing on all the sensations of your body," said Christine Malossi, 33, of Inwood, a yoga instructor enrolled in an eight-week program to become a certified instructor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
Simply linking your inhale to movements that lengthen the body, and your exhale to
movements that fold or shorten the body, is a common way to unite mind and body through
breath. More specialized yogic techniques can help center and calm us further, making
meditation more accessible.
► "Pranayama" refers to a variety of yogic breathing exercises that help prepare the body and mind for meditation by bringing your attention to the qualities of your breath. Specific pranayama exercises aim to extend and deepen the breath, which in yoga is synonymous with the vital life force.
► "Yoga Nidra" is another yogic practice often associated with meditation. Carolyn McPherson, founder of Pranavah Yoga, in Long Island City, Queens, leads Yoga Nidra classes.
"The slow deep breath and still body, sitting or lying down, helps to induce a state of deep relaxation. For those new to meditation, we go through a mental rotation of consciousness or count the breath to keep the mind active, aware and awake," McPherson explained.
Yoga Nidra translates to yogic sleep, but actual slumber is not the goal. A state of consciousness deeper and more restorative than conventional sleep that leads to an otherwise inaccessible level of awareness is the objective of Yoga Nidra.
► "Vipissana" is an ancient Indian form of meditation, handed down through a lineage of teachers, beginning with Buddha. It is taught worldwide in free 10-day courses funded by former students who have already completed the program and want to pay it forward for new students.
Vipissana is for serious students who are willing to make the required lifestyle changes, including abstention from killing (including animals for food), stealing, sex, lies and intoxicants during the period of the course.
How to Get Started:
You can begin a simple, generic meditation practice virtually anytime, anywhere. Here's how:
Sit comfortably upright on a chair or the floor. Pick something to focus on — your breath, a mantra, a candle flame, or a guided meditation recording, for example.
When your mind drifts off, as it is bound to do, and you notice that you are thinking of something in the past or future, or anything at all other than what you have chosen to be your focus, simply and non-judgmentally acknowledge that your attention has drifted and gently bring your awareness back to your anchor or focal point. Commit to a minimum of 10 minutes each day for the first week. Gradually increase the number of minutes each week, moving at your own pace.
You may also choose to commit to a daily informal meditation practice instead of, or in addition to, a more formal practice. Here are some ideas:
► As soon as you wake up, before getting out of bed, bring your attention to your breathing. Observe five mindful breaths.
► Cultivate awareness of the changes in your body as you move from sitting to standing and vice versa.
► Pick a sound — a ringing phone, a bird singing, a passing train, laughter, wind, a car horn or closing door — and let that be your mindfulness reminder. Whenever you hear that sound, stop what you are doing for a moment and tune in, becoming fully present in the moment, aware and awake.
► Focus fresh attention on one of your daily grooming activities such as brushing your teeth or hair, washing or dressing. Notice the sensations that the activity brings as if it is the first or last time in your life you will engage in that activity.
► Record your progress in a meditation journal noting any insights you may have along the way.