The experience of training in Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy begins Sitting in a Circle. This is where you delve into the experience of being with yourself while being with others – it’s how you first step into the journey of learning how to be be fully present. The process requires developing and deepening a practice of yoga and meditation.
How does this translate into the skills needed to become a yoga therapist? Yoga and meditation form the foundational ground on which the building of skills and techniques is done. It’s not productive to plant seeds in ground that isn’t fertile; in the same manner there needs to be solid ground that supports the growth of a PRYT practitioner.
Why these two? Why is not a yoga practice sufficient since it involves both body and mind? Perhaps because meditation offers a way of connecting with your whole self with no focus other than to challenge who you really are and lay bare the stories about yourself that you carry inside. Sounds daunting, but fortunately the pace of this journey is one step at a time.
In my experience as a mentor to students and faculty, it often seems that meditation practice is the more difficult. It can be easier to accept working one’s own body-mind to fully understand and appreciate the intention of a yoga posture. It is “yoga therapy” after all. But sitting in silence, facing thoughts and emotions that surface at a rapid and continual pace, is a less structured task. It’s also more intimate – there is only you and the moment of being you. And while there is support around how to choose the type of meditation that serves you best as you progress through the PRYT program, struggle often continues even after a practitioner is certified and out in the world.
So, how best to befriend your meditation practice? Beginning with clear intention is always a great way to ensure a successful launch. Don’t meditate in order to control your mind or to stop thoughts and emotions from happening. The process of meditating is two-fold: 1) Building concentration or being able to focus, and 2) Appreciating what comes up with an attitude of mindful awareness. While these go hand in hand, building concentration is the basic step in the sequence.
Generally, concentration is best strengthened by having an anchor – a tool to use to pull focus back when it wanders. Most often the breath is used, since it is always available and requires no special handling. So, at the first noticing that the mind has wandered, bring focus back to the breath – it’s a bit like training a puppy. It doesn’t happen overnight; it takes repeated effort. Even on those days when it seems not to be working, there can be benefit in the practice. Where does mindful awareness come in? Consider that it might be like accepting the puppy’s behavior with unconditional love, no judgment, no yelling, appreciating that this is the way things are. And, then, remember that the puppy is you.
No surprise then that continuing a meditation practice might be difficult, since the intention is really about befriending and accepting yourself, seeing who you really are – clear seeing. Having a meditation practice is a process, an important one for those especially who do the work of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. It’s no different than putting the oxygen mask on yourself when the cabin in the plane loses air pressure. You must do that first before attempting to help anyone else. It makes all the difference in how effective you can be, not to mention how important it is for your own well being. A meditation practice can be your personal oxygen mask.
Written by Carol Capper MS, OTR/L, PRYT