The purpose of Meditation, Yoga and other mindfulness practices is not to stop or control our thoughts, but rather stop our thoughts from controlling us.
The notion that humans only use ten percent of their theoretical brain capacity has been floating around since the late Victorian Era. It has been mis-attributed to many people, including Albert Einstein. Scientist claim that we use all our brain all the time and Neurologist Barry Gordon* says, "we use virtually every part of the brain, and that (most of) the brain is active almost all the time." The entertainment industry has jumped on this myth and several movies have been made that are inspired by this notion. Lucy, in particular, depicts a character who gains increasingly godlike abilities once she surpasses 10 percent, though the film suggests that 10 percent represents brain capacity at a particular time rather than permanent usage.
Often when I encourage my students to introduce meditation to their lives they say that they are no good at meditating, their minds are too busy. That they can't stop thinking. The purpose of our mediation practice is not to stop all our thoughts. It is to be still and quiet long enough to hear what lies between the thoughts of our conscious mind. The thoughts we wish to stop are the thoughts of duality - planning, shoulds and should haves, the misconceptions or Vrittis that function as a conversation with ourselves. One of the oldest yogic texts Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, (100BC - 300AD), tells us that if we sit quietly, pay close attention to our mind, and practice this diligently, then we will gain supernormal powers, very much like Lucy. These advanced capacities, known as siddhis, are not regarded as magical; they’re ordinary capacities that everyone possesses. We’re just too distracted most of the time to be able to access them reliably.
So what lays beyond our conscious mind?
People practice meditation for different reasons. Some turn to meditation for its many benefits for the body, mind, and relationships; others are seeking personal growth, emotional healing, or spiritual development. Regardless of what your initial intention was or is for starting the practice, when you meditate long enough, you are bound to discover many things about yourself. These are the things and thoughts we want to focus on, these are the thoughts and emotions that once worked through will bring us healing and allow us to bring change into our lives.
Our personality, together with our conscious thoughts, emotions, decisions and interactions with the world, all happen at the level of our conscious mind (10% of our brains capacity) Could this be what Einstein was referring to? However, that is just the tip of the iceberg of our consciousness. Beneath this conscious layer of our mind is our subconscious mind (50%) and, even deeper, our unconscious mind (40%). Together they are the structure of our personality. They are the hidden motivating forces behind all our decisions, thoughts and feelings. They have a profound influence in our life, and yet we know very little about them. Our conscious mind is so busy and agitated that we rarely get the chance to look deeper.
Very much like a beginner Yogi will discover emotions, thoughts and behaviours previously hidden within themselves, so will a beginner meditator discover challenges and discomforts within that they have not before come across. They may think, “Since I started meditating, my mind has become busier”, or “Meditation is making me feel more anxious and restless.”
Giovanni Dienstmann writes on his blog that meditation is not making your mind more noisy or anxious. It’s simply revealing the noise and anxiety that was already there. However, with fewer distractions, you see it all too clearly. It’s like allowing a cup of muddy water to settle, so you can clearly see all the dirt that was already in the water.
Apart from making your mind more calm and clear, meditation also heightens your sensitivity, and sharpens your attention—so you will be able to perceive things in yourself that you were blind to before. Trapped energies in your psyche will come up. It’s the opening of the “Pandora’s box” of your subconscious mind. It’s not always a lovely sight, but it is a sign of progress in the practice.
As meditation deepens, our attention begins to dive into the subconscious. The conscious mind becomes less busy, and the awareness is thus allowed to recede back to deeper levels of our being. With that, things that we had repressed, or chosen to overlook in life, are there waiting for us.
You are meeting—and freeing—your shadow!
Diestmann continues to write that our shadow self is made up of everything we feel ashamed of thinking and feeling, as well as every impulse that we have repressed, consciously or unconsciously, for the sake of keeping ourselves tame, likeable and “civilised”. According to Jungian analyst Aniela Jaffe, the shadow is the ‘‘sum of all personal and collective psychic elements which, because of their incompatibility with the chosen conscious attitude, are denied expression in life’’.
The idea, in Jungian psychotherapy, is that to genuinely become a whole and healed person, you need to fully integrate your shadow. You need to meet it face to face, understand it, unlock its secrets, and reuse its energy.
This has always been the purpose of meditation. All of this messy work is part of the liberating process of meditation. The question to ask yourself is: Am I ready to hold up the mirror and look at the remaining 90% of my brain. Are you up for this challenge?
If you look at meditation as a tool for personal growth, healing, or spiritual development—you may say “Yeah! Let’s do it”.
But if you see meditation as a simple stress-relief exercise, or a no-pill approach to manage depression, or a tool to improve your cognitive skills, then you might not want to go through this shadow work thing. “That’s not what I’ve signed up for!”, you may rightfully object.
In any case, there are steps you can take to either avoid going through this or to at least make the process feel safer and less troublesome.
*Live and Dare
Over the last few months I have often wondered what brought me here, what made me decide to come to Sardinia and the truth is I don't know. I didn't have a plan laid out nor did have anything lined up. I did however have an idea of what I wanted to achieve...I wanted to rest, I wanted to have time to become still, to read and meditate. I wanted to have time for yoga and teaching...meeting people. And of course time for sun and beach. I also felt that this would be a great opportunity to write more and to share my experiences and thoughts, but most of all I wanted to have time to get to know myself better and find what is important to me. So far I have achieved all the above apart from writing.
The thing that has become apparent to me over the last few months is that the more I get to know myself the less I feel I need to share. The more time I spend learning what is important to me and what makes me ME the more I learn to listen. The more I look inwards the less I look for others approval. We have become addicted to likes, shares and tweets and we are forgetting what it is like to really connect to the world around us. To see people, be in nature, to see things for what they are rather than through a lens. To live each moment and not wonder how we can best share the moment with people who are not there rather than sharing the moment with the people or person that are actually there...even if that person is yourself. I don't mean in any way that all social media is done to get approval from others, to get more followers or to compare our life to others...but it happens whether we like it or admit it or not. We judge, compare, like or dislike and ultimately feed the part of ourselves that takes us away from who we really are because that is what media tells us to do. As for me, what I am learning is that I need to unlearn the behaviours and habits I have learnt that tells me I need to fit and be a certain way to be considered successful. We spend most of our time trying to Find what we feel is missing rather than looking at what we already have and most importantly what we can bring to the world. All of us are blessed with one talent that no one else has, something that is unique to us and somewhere along the way we have lost sight of this.
It is time to let go of our fears and inhibitions! It is time to move from Tension to Flow.
"There is so much to unlearn to become who we truly are. So many layers of impressions and experiences to peel away before we remember what it is to be our true, authentic selves. We often look in the wrong direction when in pursuit of finding ourselves, when seeking that feeling of wholeness and self-love. We have been conditioned from birth to seek direction by looking outside of ourselves, often in search of that which we feel we lack. This perceived lack is at the core of our absence of self-love...as if we come into the world needing to Find our purpose, Find love and happiness just as seek to Find satisfaction in our work by looking outside of ourselves to what we need to learn and become.
But all this searching and becoming is actually moving us further away from our truth - away from love.
It is time time to change direction, to turn inwards, to find yourself there among all the untruths you have learned. It is time to look at what you are and stop focusing on that which you are not. By looking at what you are, what you have always been and not what you need to fix or find, you are opening up to a completely different perspective of yourself - a perspective where the only fixing needed is to heal the damage caused by not knowing your true self throughout your life, and by the belief that there is a "normal" that you need to adapt yourself to.
There is no normal. There is only uniqueness! And YOUR uniqueness has a place in the world, a purpose, a role to play, and things to see, experience, and do.
You are here to be you, not to become anything. You are here to live authentically and courageously from the heart. To shine your light on the world and be an example living truth. That is the biggest achievement you can ever accomplish. That is the most healing thing you can ever do for the world. That is your purpose. It will bring you more abundance than anything you can ever become.
There is so much to unlearn, and it begins with shifting your focus from what you lack to what you already are. It begins in the heart.*
Chi (qi) is that which gives us life. In terms of the body, chi is that which differentiates a corpse from a live human being. A strong life force makes us feel totally alive, alert and present while a weak force makes us feel sluggish and fatigue. You can increase and develop your chi to overcome illness, become more vibrant and enhance mental capacity.
Chinese Medicine and The Model of the Body is founded on the balance of the five elements: Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, and Fire.
The elements are infinitely linked, consuming and influencing each other.
Each element corresponds to different organ in the body. The organs act as representatives of the qualities of different elements, which impact the physical and mental body in respective ways.
Each organ governs energy channels, which distribute chi and connect all parts of the body to one another. These channels are called meridians.
Our kidneys are the home of the chi of fear but also the seat of great wisdom. Being able to identify, investigate, and sit with fears can lead to a surge of wisdom.
In our modern society, fear has many disguises. Some people may not identify strongly with the word fear, but they may relate to one or more of its manifestations: feelings of anxiety, a loss of personal power, or feeling generally devoid of incentive and endurance. Being able to realise and explore any of these conditions can help us to address fear and potentially lead to the wisdom that is present as well.
The one-hour Yin Yoga sequence that follows is designed to balance kidney chi. In looking to target a possible imbalance of kidney chi, it is necessary to look at its pathway. Kidney chi and its associated pathway are said to relate to the health of the low back, adrenals, bones, and joints. The main part of the kidney meridian that we can target with our Yin Yoga practice travels up the inside of the leg and into the tailbone and then up the spine. Therefore, in a Yin practice that is focused on the kidney meridian (such as the one below), many of the poses will specifically tug and gently pressurise the connective tissue in the groin and lower back (where the meridian passes through).
In addition to working with chi, the practice of Yin Yoga can be calming, soothing, and contemplative. It encourages non-striving, which makes it a particularly lovely practice to try if you’re feeling anxious, stressed, or depleted.
As you practice this sequence, visualize a coin, with one side representing fear and the other wisdom. Resolve to metaphorically turn the coin so that the wisdom side faces up every single day.
Yin Yoga Sequence
Opening: Five minutes Sit and notice the sensations of your breath, the temperature of the air around you, the way your clothes feel on your body. Become aware of the breath without trying to manipulate it.
Butterfly: Five minutes (plus a one-minute counterpose on each side) Move into butterfly (a wide bound angle pose): Your heels should be one to two feet away from your groins, so that your legs make a diamond shape, and you can place just your sitting bones on a bolster or folded blanket if your lower back rounds. Your arms are soft and hands can be on the floor or legs. If you have found your edge in this position, or if spinal flexion is contraindicated for you, stay here and breathe.
If not, tilt your pelvis forward (anterior) and fold over your legs. Walk your fingertips forward on the floor. Let the weight of your arms softly draw your body further into the fold until you find your edge, and then allow the spine to round.
To come out of the pose, slowly rise up as you walk your hands back toward your body. Move your legs into a comfortable seated position like sukhasana (easy pose). Twist to the right for one minute and to the left for one minute.
Half Butterfly: Five minutes (plus a one-minute counterpose on each side)From sukhasana, draw your right heel closer to your groins and extend your left leg out to the side. Fold forward down an imaginary mid line between your legs, allowing your spine to round if appropriate. If flexion of the spine is contraindicated for you, keep your spine extended as you hinge forward only slightly.
To come out of the pose, slowly unfurl the spine. Place your hands about half a foot behind your hips and lean back into them. Lift your heart to the sky in a gentle backbend for one minute. Repeat half butterfly on the other side.
Anahatasana: (Melting Heart): Three minutes (plus a one-minute counterpose) Come onto your hands and knees. Walk your hands as far forward as possible while continuing to keep your hips stacked right over your knees. Press your fingertips into the mat to make “cupcake fingers,” with your tented hands protecting the imaginary frosting. Let your heart melt toward the mat. Your forehead can rest on the mat or a block if that feels right for your body. Or there is the option to keep the head lifted, neck in line with the rest of the spine.
If your shoulders are tight, try taking your hands wider. You could also extend only one arm, bending the other at the elbow and resting your forehead on that forearm, switching after a minute and a half on each side.
If both arms are extended, hold for three minutes, and then sink back into child’s pose for one minute.
Square Fold: Four minutes (plus a one-minute counterpose on each side) From child’s pose, make your way into a comfortable cross-legged seated position. Then adjust your shins so that they are as parallel to the top edge of your mat, as is comfortable for you. See if you can tighten up the cross of your legs while maintaining a right angle in the knees.
The goal is to feel a stretch in your hips, not in your knees. If your knees are okay with the movement so far, you can try placing one shin on top of the other so that ankles and knees are stacked—making a square shape, just as in the yang pose double pigeon, aka fire log pose. There can be a slight flexion in the ankle. If your top knee is way off the floor, you can place a blanket or bolster underneath for support.
If it's appropriate for you and feels good, feel free to fold forward, which will stimulate the urinary bladder meridian. The urinary bladder meridian is paired with the kidney meridian, and it can be useful to target them together.
After four minutes, uncross your legs, place the soles of your feet on the floor under your knees and your hands half a foot behind your hips (fingers pointing toward the body), and lift up into reverse table.
Move in any direction that feels good here for one minute, and then repeat square fold on the opposite side.
Stirrup (Happy Baby): Five minutes (plus a one-minute counterpose) From reverse table, lower your hips, back, shoulders, and head to the floor. Keeping your knees bent, draw them into your chest. Reach for the backs of your thighs, your ankles, or the inner or outer edges of your feet. Take the knees wider than your torso but keep the big toes touching and your heels close to your sit bones.
You can remain here, or if possible, start to take your feet away from each other, so that your shins are parallel to each other. Maintain the intention of directing the soles of the feet parallel to the ceiling, and gently draw your knees to the floor. You can either reach the tailbone toward the floor or allow it to lift up off the ground. Keep your shoulders and neck soft.
After five minutes, keeping your knees bent, release your feet to the floor, taking them mat-width apart. Gently drop your knees to one side then the other, windshield-wipe them for one minute.
Cat Tail: Five minutes (plus a one-minute final counterpose) From windshield wipers, extend your legs out onto your mat. Lift your right leg up so that there’s a 90-degree angle in your hip and your foot is reaching toward the ceiling. Let your right leg fall across your body to the left, until the big-toe edge of your right foot rests on the floor, and you’re pretty much lying on the left side of your body. Bend your left elbow and prop your head up on your left hand. Bend your left knee and catch your left foot with your right hand. Ideally, your left thigh will be facing into the floor. Stay for one minute, pulling the foot toward your left glute.
Then release your left foot to the floor and inch your left thigh farther back; allow your right knee to bend. Extend your left arm and, arching back slightly, release your head and shoulders to the floor and look over your right shoulder. This pose has now become a gentle backbend and reclining twist, which stimulates the kidney meridian even more.
Hold for four minutes and then switch sides. Finish with knees to chest for one minute.
If this pose does not feel good in your lower back you can release the bottom leg and choose a gentle twist.
Savasana: Five minutes
Fear and anxiety can be powerful emotions. The flip side of that coin is wisdom, which can be used to look at fear and anxiety. When we adjust our focus we can often see where these emotions are coming from and gain clarity about how to best address the issues that accompany them.