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Take a Seat

If you're not meditating, are you really doing yoga?

By Alan Reder

What these techniques have in common is they give the mind something simple to do, so your consciousness—which is separate from thought—is freed from identifying with it. When you notice you are distracted from the meditation object, you refocus on it. This way you develop "one-pointedness" and also calmness, because the meditation object replaces the thought streams behind your anxieties.

To concentration, Buddhists add vipassana, which is a nonintellectual form of understanding and inquiry; roughly it involves "being there" at all times. This takes many subtle forms and extends beyond formal meditation to the way you attend to your life. Thus, it grossly oversimplifies matters to say all meditation is the same.

The right style for you may be a matter of taste. If you don't like "God talk," you may prefer Zen or the Theravada Buddhist forms taught by such well-known teachers as Thich Nhat Hanh and Jack Kornfield. Zen and vipassana meditation reflect similar values. Hindu and Tibetan practices can be a trifle more elaborate, although the "so-ham" mantra style I learned from Swami Muktananda (saying "so" on the inhalation, "ham" on the exhalation) is almost like mindful breathing in its elegance and attention to breath.

Putting in the Time
Convenience may also determine how you choose to meditate. Many teachers of concentration styles feel you need to meditate for at least 20 minutes once or twice a day for it to make a difference. Vipassana sitting also takes time. If you can't clear that kind of space, don't try to force it; otherwise, you may find yourself meditating about what you're not getting done.

Instead, try overlaying meditation on your regular activities. Do your job with focus and heart. If you take regular strolls, walk mindfully, observing yourself without indulging in thoughts. When standing in a checkout line, watch your breath and do a mantra. As you lie in bed before sleeping, count breaths, not sheep.

If you can set aside time to sit for meditation, recall Patanjali's words and choose a comfortable posture, which may mean sitting in a chair. And don't think the Full Lotus is the posture of choice for meditators. Indian yogis have historically meditated in Full Lotus only because "that's the way Indians sit anyway," says Johnson. The same is true of the kneeling posture in Zen.

If these positions are painful, don't feel compelled to grin and bear it. "Our practice should be intelligent," writes Thich Nhat Hanh, which means comfort for body and mind. He sometimes recommends lying on your back, arms loosely at your sides. If you can stay conscious that way, it's as good as any.

Both Hindu and Buddhist teachers traditionally advise meditators to do their sitting in a clean, pleasant space. The power of a neat office desk has the same effect at home, but if you're comfortable surrounded by creative clutter, then so be it. Incense and mystical art create an atmosphere that may help orient your consciousness to the task at hand, but, again, they are not necessary.

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