Sitting meditation is a simple and effective tool to settle the mind in a state of spaciousness. While it is simple, it is not necessarily easy. So I’ve created a simple introduction to sitting meditation + guided meditation, that is yours for free below. This is an excerpt from my practice book, Ashtanga Yoga For Beginner’s Mind.
Why Practice Sitting Meditation?
Sitting meditation is a basic technique of taming and training the mind. The kind of meditation I share is called shamatha meditation, from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
Shamatha in Sanskrit means peace. With experience, this practice will show you how to make peace with your mind. That doesn’t mean that you will always be peaceful. But you will discover how to cultivate this quality, and eventually to let it permeate your daily life more and more.
I recommend setting aside a separate time and space for the formal practice of sitting meditation. Early morning, evening around sunset, and just before bed are auspicious times. More important than how long you sit is how regularly. It is better to sit every day for five minutes than once a week for an hour. Even better is to sit every day for an hour. Regularity reinforces your commitment to yourself. It sends a message (that we may not even hear consciously at first) that you are serious about practice. This can have profound effects on your life.
Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Sitting Meditation
When you are learning a new practice, it is very important to stick to the traditional instructions. Later, when you have some experience, you can improvise a bit. But like any good musician, technique is required before you have the skill to play your heart out. Even though ashtanga yoga and sitting meditation practice are complementary, I do not recommend combining the practices at first. Eventually, after some training, shamatha meditation can be done at the end of the yoga practice, as the mind naturally rests after pranayama.
Shamatha meditation and ashtanga yoga are two different approaches to working with the mind. Yoga practice emphasizes steadying the breath—which will take you to awareness– and meditation practice emphasizes training awareness directly. Each one can inform the other. In the end, however, the goal is not to perfect the practice; the goal, if there is one, is to tune in to awareness. The practice is just a tool. You can spend your life crafting the perfect sword, but unless you put that sword to good use, it is not very helpful.
Signs Of Success
You may notice with sitting meditation practice that you start to develop a sense of kindness, acceptance, non-aggression, and peace as a result. Your experience will be different than mine. But these are some landmarks just to see if you are heading in the right direction. Too often, I see people who have a lot of practice under their belts, and who can’t seem to get along with others. It makes me wonder why they continue to practice. If practice is serving only to turn you into an arrogant expert, then perhaps another approach is necessary. As Milarepa, Tibet’s great yogi observed, “The best signs of success [in practice] are a decrease in self-centeredness and the easing of mental afflictions.”
Eventually you may want to consider doing your own retreat, so I have created a guide to organizing your at-home meditation retreat as well.