We live in an information rich, highly stimulating society. With our entertainment, media, work and social life now in the palm of our hands, for the first time in history our minds have a constant and immediate supply of information and stimulation.
Think about how much information your mind can receive in the space of 1 minute when scrolling through your feed on social media. For the purpose of this article I took the conscious scrolling test, setting my timer for 1 minute while I scrolled. In this time I read 3 different posts, and scrolled past 8 images. The emotions and thoughts that were stimulated within this minute ranged from admiration, to comparison, to entertainment and back to comparison, all in the space of a minute.
With the average social media user in Australia spending 25 minutes per session and browsing more than 5 times a day, we are looking at over 2 hours of time spent on average stimulating our minds in this way, every day! Add to that, the stimulation of everything else we are presented with in our modern world, i.e. traffic, advertisements, city noises and a seemingly never ending list of commitments; that’s a whole lot of stimulation to digest. It’s no wonder we are seeing a rise in depression, anxiety and mood related disorders, our minds are overloaded.
One positive that has emerged in response to our increasingly overstimulated society, is an increased interest in the practices of yoga and meditation. In our Western culture, there is a tendency to view “yoga” and meditation as separate modalities, however, yoga itself is an eight-fold practice which includes meditation as a tool to reach a state of enlightenment or pure consciousness. While for most people, reaching a state of enlightenment is not seen as a top priority; gaining clarity, calming a frantic mind, finding peace and feeling content with wherever you’re at in life, are all fantastic driving forces behind observing and practising the eight limbs of yoga.
Now back to our over-stimulated minds for a moment. Consider seeing the conscious mind as a still, crystal clear lake. When we add our sensory perceptions to the lake, it is like throwing pebbles, or in some cases large rocks into the lake. The addition of the senses creates ripples, that in essence distort the clarity of the conscious mind. Yoga, as Patanjali outlines in yoga sutra 1.2, “Yogas chitta vritti nirodha” is the “…cessation of the modifications, or fluctuations, of the mind.” Through enlisting the practices of yoga, and learning to counteract our sensory overloaded minds, we essentially bring ourselves back to a state of equilibrium and in turn enable ourselves to see and perceive our lives with a little more clarity.
If you’ve been feeling stressed, burnt out and as if your mind is in overdrive, try to practice some of the below yoga tools to help ease your mental chatter.
Pranayama - Nadi Shodhana
Pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga, is the practice of controlling your breath or flow of prana (life force) throughout your body. Nadi shodhana or alternate nostril breathing works to balance the right and left energy channels or nadis within the body and brain, which in turn brings about a state of calm and clarity.
To practice, find a comfortable seat, allowing the spine to lengthen so that your back, neck and head are upright throughout. Close down your eyes and begin by first taking a full, deep breath in, followed by a slow, deep exhalation out. Practice this breath a few times first to help clear any obstructions that may hinder your practice of nadi shodhana.
To begin nadi shodhana, bring your right hand into Vishnu mudra by folding the tips of the index and middle fingers in until they touch your palm at the base of the right thumb. Place your thumb over your right nostril and your ring finger over your left. Close down your right nostril and inhale through your left for a count of four. Close your left nostril and exhale out of your right for a count of four. Inhale through your right nostril for a count of four. Close your right nostril and exhale out of your left for a count of four. Repeat this for 10 rounds or set a timer for 3 to 5 minutes, ensuring you end by exhaling out of the left nostril.
Once you have finished practising nadi shodhana, take some time to sit in meditation and observe the still, centred quality this breath invites to the mind.
Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga and is composed of two Sanskrit words, prati and ahara. Ahara means “food,” or “anything we take into ourselves from the outside”, while prati means “against” or “away.” Pratyahara, therefore, means “gaining mastery over external influences.”
One way to understand pratyahra on an experiential level is through savasana, or corpse pose. This pose is done by lying on the floor, allowing the body to feel comfortable enough to completely let go. The first stage of savasana involves physical relaxation, consciously letting go of any tension or holding on within the body. In this stage, your awareness is focused on gradually relaxing your muscles, followed by your breath slowing down, and finally the body completely letting go. In the second stage of savasana you begin to withdraw from the outside world without completely losing contact with it. In this stage, you are aware of the sounds happening around you, but you do not react to this input, as if there is a barrier between your senses and any outside stimulus.
This conscious withdrawal of your senses from the outside world enables you to strengthen your mind to withstand being affected by the sensory influences around you. Just as the body needs to build immunity from outside pathogens and toxins, the mind needs to be strengthened to resist reacting to negative sensory influences around you. If you are someone who is easily affected by noise or the chaos present within our overly stimulated society, practising pratyhara regularly will help you to build an immunity against these disturbances, allowing you to remain calm and clear in amongst it all.
Dharana, also known as the direction of consciousness toward a single point of concentration, is the sixth limb of yoga, and an important precursor to Dyhana, meditation. It is the practice of fixing the mind on one specific point in order to still the chitta and vritti, or fluctuations present within a busy mind. When we practice focusing on a single point of concentration, whether that be your breath, your drishti (focal point) or a mantra, there is less room for other thoughts, memories or planning to take place within the mind.
In our modern life, we have become used to multi-tasking, flicking our attention from one thing to the next. Try to think of dharana as single-tasking, focusing and completely absorbing your attention into one task at a time. Dharana can be practised in a number of ways, whether it be through a seated practice of meditation or while cooking dinner, running, painting or practising yoga asana (physical practice of yoga). Focusing your awareness completely on whatever action you’re taking, will allow you to train your mind to focus when it comes time to practice seated meditation or savasana.
Dharana is a great tool to have on board at the start of or even throughout your meditation practice. Having a single point of concentration to bring your awareness back to, will strengthen the resilience of your mind from getting caught up in any conversations that may be unfolding.
If you’ve tried to meditate, but find your mind is stuck in a merry-go-round of your thoughts, try using any of the below meditation techniques the next time you sit to meditate.
Breath Counting Meditation
This is a very straightforward, yet highly effective tool if you’re having trouble focusing during your meditation. The idea is to count the sets of your breath (ie. inhale and exhale = one count) until you reach 10 and then start again. If you find your mind wandering off, start back at 1. If your mind has been racing or caught up in multi-tasking, you may find it hard to reach 10, but over time, with disciplined focus, you may find it easier to sustain a consistent count.
Mantra Meditation - Hari Om
Mantra is a word composed from two Sanskrit terms: man (meaning “mind” or “to think”) and trai meaning to “protect”, to “free from”, or “instrument/tool”. Mantras are therefore tools for the mind, or tools to free the mind.
Mantra meditation works like a tuning fork, using sound to create a physical vibration within the body and mind. To understand how this works, it’s important to first acknowledge that everything in the universe is vibrating; the earth, the cells within your body, your thoughts and feelings - all have a vibrational frequency and a rhythm of their own. Chanting a mantra or even just listening to a mantra being repeated essentially helps to tune your body and mind’s vibrational frequency to whatever mantra you’re using.
Hari Om refers to the Spirit that removes troubles, blockages, pain and attachments, essentially removing any suffering, allowing you to connect back to the universal energy. This is a great mantra to chant and listen to if you are moving through anxiety, depression or feelings of being overwhelmed by the stress of modern life.
Watch a video on Om Hari Om Meditation here.
Visualisation is an engaging form of meditation as it demands a high degree of involvement from the practitioner. Traditionally, a meditator visualises his or her chosen deity - God or Goddess in a vivid, detailed fashion. Any object, however, can work to calm the mind and align yourself with the qualities of whatever it is you are visualising. You might choose to visualise a place such as the ocean or forest, an object such as a flower or animal or colours associated with a particular chakra.
Guided meditations work well for visualisation exercises as they help to guide your mind along a particular path. The below meditation can be used to help create a sense of peace and freedom if you are experiencing stress and overwhelm.
Want to learn more about Yoga?
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