Why Do I Struggle with Meditation?
Those familiar with Tantric Hatha Yoga know that the focus of this practice is meditation. A classical form of Yoga, Tantric Hatha distinguishes itself for its depth, its slower (if still challenging) pace, and its focus on building a personal relation with meditation by learning to work with the breath.
Breathing is present throughout the entirety of our practice and, by moving with it, we learn to ride its ups and downs to one-pointed concentration.
But Tantric Hatha also makes abundant use of meditation Kriyas. Kriyas are specific meditation techniques where awareness is mobilized and directed to different sensations, parts of the body-mind, and phenomena to attain one-pointed attention. By practicing Kriya meditations not only do we not have to worry about one of meditation's greatest misconceptions ––the need to 'suppress thinking'–– but, over time, Kriyas help us develop greater sensitivity towards phenomena beyond the body and the mind as well.
Still, for a large number of people, meditation remains something of a myth; something they've heard about but never truly experienced, never mind of how hard they try. Their struggle is real and the main reason for it has to do with what they 'think' meditation is about. Indeed, we have a tendency to identify ourselves with the mind and therein lies the first problem.
A Question of Dis-Identification
As noted earlier, there is a general tendency to equate meditation with 'not thinking,' as if meditation were that state where the suppression of thought takes place. But meditation and the absence of thought are not one and the same thing. Meditation is rather about attaining and maintaining a calm, balanced and completely focused state; and that may sometimes still include some form of thinking.
In the road to a completely focused state, however, the main impediment is our mind and our identification with it. The mind is an inherently rajasic entity. This means that its innate condition is that of movement, action, and transformation from one state to the next. Trying to turn meditation into an exercise where thought is controlled to the point of complete suppression, then, is like trying to stop the ocean from having waves: a futile endeavor; one meant to frustrate any person that starts her meditation practice this way. This is one of the reasons why so many newbie meditators give up meditation after a few weeks or even just minutes! Because, try as they may, thoughts still pop up all over the place. There's just no way to get rid of them...
A much better approach in the road to meditation is that of observation. Tantric Hatha Yoga kriyas, to continue with that example, teach us to slowly get in touch with our awareness, to learn to direct it to different places by following a series of steps, and thus, to progressively rest in the seat of the observer as we learn to observe different visualizations. The idea is to progressively learn to rest in a state of complete relaxation by detaching ourselves from whatever the nature of the experiences taking place within our minds; and this way, day by day, we learn to observe our thoughts without judgement and learn to detach from them. Disindentifying what we think from who/what we are is of the utmost importance to our own spiritual growth and a key step in meditation.
Moving with the Breath
In order to start meditation from an optimal state, however, Tantric Hatha Yoga recommends the practice of a few rounds of pranayama or breathing techniques to appease our minds. Our breath has an incredible potential when it comes to rewiring our nervous system and balancing the two brain hemispheres to even out their functioning, thus reducing the innately rajasic condition of our minds. A few minutes of candle gazing (or trataka) is also a great method with which to prepare for meditation, as it naturally helps develop concentration by purifying our nadis and lessening the white noise present in our minds.
So, if you've tried meditation but still find it hard to relax and concentrate, try practicing a few rounds of nadi shodhana before actual meditation, for instance. Also, be consistent. It is better to allot fifteen minutes daily to a brief meditative practice than doing half an hour just one day a week. In fact, giving up too soon is probably on the top five mistakes all newbie meditators make. This refers not just to quitting meditation altogether way too early, but also, to stopping our meditative practice after just a few minutes.
In our particular case, meditation is part of our daily ritual ––pretty much like showering or brushing our teeth. Because of this, we perform it preferably first thing in the morning or right before we go to sleep. We choose those hours for their quiet and tranquil nature and we put all electronics aside for as long as we practice. Still, not everyday is the same. Even for meditators with a solid practice, there are still good and bad days. It is not the same to practice meditation in a relaxed state after a quiet day of reading and walking, as when we are worried, in a rush, or have a lot of things going through our heads. Sometimes, the external and internal noise won't simply go away and that also part of our meditation practice: to learn to sit with what is and allow it to be, observing it, and observing ourselves.
The main thing to remember when it comes to meditation, then, is to let go of all expectations, including the fact that the way we meditate and the way other people meditate may not look or feel the same. We all have different entryways into this practice because we all come from a different place. So allow yourself some time to find your own personal meditation 'sweet spot.' To discover what works and what doesn't work for you. If you struggle with just sitting quietly doing nothing, try kriya meditations. If you find pranayama soothing, start with 'meditation on the breath.' The variety of methods and techniques available is so vast that there's really no reason to get frustrated if the first few approaches you try don't stick. But should you be curious about Tantric Hatha Yoga kriyas and their different methods, a good place to learn more about them is by practicing with Jonas, or else, by reading the volume Meditations from the Tantras. They'll both help you in different ways.