A very good friend of mine owns a yoga studio here in town, and a few months back, they offered a beginner-level class that introduced all different forms of meditation. Of course, I knew the benefits of meditation – decreased stress, improved focus, increased happiness. I’d even heard that it can slow aging; wouldn’t that be nice? I’d been trying meditation on my own off and on for years, but I could never get it to work well for myself. So I paid my admission fee and went to the class.
Now, I’ve been to this studio before. I took an introductory yoga class there. Yes, yoga. I’m really not sure why. I guess I was kind of grasping at straws trying to find something that could motivate me to get in shape. What I found out was that it really helps to already be in shape when you do yoga. Some of those stretches, wow! I was in pain for days.
Anyway, there I was. At a meditation class. I remember thinking, “at least this won’t be physically painful like that yoga class was.” As I walked barefooted into the back of the studio to pick out a mat and a pillow, the voices of my happy, well adjusted, stress-free friends crept into my head, chiding me, saying “you’re taking a meditation class? What for? Meditation is just a bunch of new age mumbo jumbo”.
But I was determined to see if this class could help me, so with a concerted effort, I shut those voices out and walked onto the studio floor. It’s really a nice studio. Dark, highly varnished wood floors, walls painted a kind of light mauve color, potted plants (fake, but effective), and not much else. But hey, what else do you need for yoga and meditation? I then noticed that there was ambient music playing softly from a small portable stereo in the corner. Next to the stereo was an essential oil diffuser, and suddenly I noticed that the air smelled slightly of lavender.
One end of the room is open to the front of the building, and the morning sun provided just enough light to see, but not enough to be annoying. As participants straggled in with their mats and pillows, some dressed in yoga pants, some in sweats, a couple even in jeans, they each picked a spot to settle in for the class. I noticed how some picked spots as far away from anyone else as possible, while others immediately set up right next to others and chatted away.
Now, obviously in a small town with one yoga studio, people will know each other. And such was the case with most of the people who sat close to others. They knew each other. As for myself, since I’d only been there once, I didn’t know anyone there, except for the owner, and she was busy with another class upstairs. So I sat as far away from everyone as I could – which, unfortunately, meant about six feet, since the room was half full when I got there.
I was sitting there, trying to get as comfortable as I could on a thin foam mat set on a bare hard wood floor, when someone came in and sat right next to me. Before I looked up, I thought to myself “great, now I have to talk to someone.” When I saw who it was, I immediately relaxed. It was a good friend of mine who had recently been through some very stressful times, like myself. We exchanged niceties, like “how have you been”, and “how is the family”, etc. You know, nothing too in-depth. Although, we did confirm with each other that we were here for the very same reason.
After speaking to my friend, I had immediately felt comfortable. I had felt like this was no longer another awkward, uncomfortable situation that I had, yet again, put myself into. Right then, I felt that for once my anxiety was not going to get in my way.
So the class began. The instructor walked in quietly, in her peach(?) colored yoga outfit, smiled, greeted us warmly, and began talking about the different forms of meditation, and what the benefits are of each one.
I’d heard of most of them. Transcendental, zen, mindfullness, heart rhythm. But one I actually had not heard of, and therefore had never tried, was guided visualization. We briefly practiced each method (except TM; that would have just been weird). As we progressed, I found myself simply doing the motions of the other methods, since I had already tried them and they did nothing for me. I wanted to get to the visualization method! I mean, I am a visual learner, so this sounded like the perfect thing for me. Finally, it was time. Here we go, I thought. This is the one that’s gonna work.
We started out just like the other methods by breathing, and focusing on our breath entering and leaving our bodies. She told us to try and not focus on any random thoughts that may pop up or any sounds or sensations that may occur. She said that random thoughts, sounds and sensations will occur. Always. That’s just natural. What we shouldn’t do is focus on them. This was interesting to me, because every time I had tried this before, when a random thought crept in, I focused all my energy into pushing it out. What I should have been doing was ignoring it. Just knowing it was there and letting is pass right on through.
Then she told us to visualize a ball of light coming down from the sky to rest right in front of us. OK, so I visualized that, all the while trying to ignore my nerd thoughts of aliens or sci-fi spacecraft. Focus. Just focus.
So, I saw the ball of light in front of me. I heard my breathing. Slow and steady, good. Then she said to see myself breathing in light from that ball. That when I breathe in the light, to focus on any issues I may have, physical or mental and direct the light to them. She then said that when I exhale, to see the light stay where it is and see the issue I had focused on, physical or mental, leave my body or mind like a dark color dissipating in the air, leaving only the light.
As I continued trying to focus on different areas of my body and mind, I found it easier to visualize the light entering and the darkness leaving. And also, as it got easier, I started feeling different. For example, if I focused on my right shoulder that had been hurting lately from a recent injury, I could feel the pain subside with each exhale. If I focused on the sadness and feelings of self in my mind, with each exhale I felt happier and more self-confident. This was amazing! I had finally found something that may actually help me!
We continued focusing on specific areas for a few more minutes. and then she told us to visualize the light that we breathe in filling our entire bodies. Starting from our toes to our upper thighs, to our torso, our hands and arms, and finally our shoulders, neck and head. She said to visualize the light getting so bright in our bodies that it shone out of us, like an aura. We visualized the light shining out so far that those around us would absorb it and benefit from that same light. She said to picture our loved ones in front of us, and that with every breath, the light would spill over to them, filling their bodies, too.
I was ecstatic. I was happy. I felt really, really good! I’m sure if I could have seen what I looked like sitting there, back against the wall, legs stretched out in front of me (hey, I’m 54, and out of shape, so I can’t sit cross-legged), my hands, palms up, loosely resting on my thighs, I would be smiling. But I couldn’t tell. I was focusing on the feeling. And it was fantastic!
Suddenly, I heard the instructor say that it had been fifteen minutes, and we would be finishing up. Fifteen minutes? It seemed like five! She had us visualize the ball of light travel back into the sky and disappear. Once again, little bits of space alien thoughts started to creep in, but this time it was easy to dismiss them. Then she had us just stay there for a couple minutes, focusing on our breathing, enjoying our newfound feelings. Then she had us open our eyes, just for a second. Then back to breathing. Then we opened our eyes again and stretched just a little, then closed our eyes and breathed again.
Her explanation for this was that she has found coming out of meditation slowly like this seems to help it stay with her longer. That if she simply stops focusing on her breath and suddenly opens her eyes, that the world just rushes in and everything she has just accomplished is jarred out of her. So, finally, she had us open our eyes and the meditation was finished. And she was right. The bad emotions, feelings and physical pains that I had eradicated during the session were still gone. And it was amazing!
I have been practicing this meditation ever since. Fifteen minutes every morning, although I still struggle from time to time with the random thoughts, but I have learned that a good night’s sleep and a shower before I meditate helps greatly with concentration and focus. Then there’s the occasional ‘cat rub’, when my cat decides that since I’m sitting still that this would be the perfect time to show his affection for me. Either that or beg for food.
Ultimately, it was money well spent to find the thing that has, so far, been the best way for me to change myself. I would recommend visualization meditation to anyone. Not just introverted, mildly depressed, stressed out people like me, but to everyone. It’s an amazing method for managing your daily life, and hey, if it doesn’t work for you, it certainly doesn’t hurt, and at least you tried.
Please feel free to leave comments. I would love to hear about your meditation stories!
Till next time, Namaste’