This is just an account of my experience with various types of meditation and self-work techniques that I have tried over the past 15 years. It’s listed in the order that I started using those techniques not in the order of my preference. By no means do I claim that what has worked for me has to work for someone else.
I first started experimenting with hatha yoga when I was about 19. That was driven mostly by curiosity. However, two years later, yoga became a pillar for me during a major existential crisis that almost drove me to the edge of psychosis (like feeling claustrophobic in your own body and questioning whether the surrounding world is real or just in my head). I would always feel calm and relaxed after a yoga class and certainly much more grounded.
I was practicing at home almost every day but looking back at it, the effects were quite superficial and certainly didn’t bring about any major shifts on the subconscious and unconscious level that I experienced later with other techniques. While I still do a little bit of yoga every now and then, it’s not a foundation of my exercise regime anymore either. I developed massive back pains during my yoga years simply because the exercise doesn’t put enough emphasis on strengthening.
It was in those yoga classes that I first experienced meditation and to tell you the truth – I hated it. I found it impossible to sit for an extended period of time quietly in the lotus pose. My back would heart and my legs would go numb, which was highly uncomfortable. I found it difficult to follow the instructions and my mind would usually wander off after a few minutes.
I developed more appreciation for guided meditation over the years and started experiencing pleasant states while meditating. When the Headspace app came about a few years ago, I did use it for a while and again, the same as with yoga, it would sometimes make feel good and relaxed but again, I did not experience any deep substantial shifts doing guided meditations.
Today, I don’t do guided meditation at all. I have a theory. In my opinion, guided meditation in a sense defeats the purpose of meditation, which is for you to connect with yourself. Meditation is about you giving yourself time to process your thoughts and emotions and find out who you really are underneath those layers of societal conditioning and bad patterns of protective behaviour stemming from the past.
Guided meditation makes you focus on the outside instead of the inside and therefore acts mostly as a natural tranquiliser. It makes you feel good but doesn’t really stimulate growth and learning about yourself
Yoga Nidra, or yoga sleep, is a guided relaxation technique during which you are meant to deeply relax your body to the point of nearly sleeping while staying mentally present. For me, yoga nidra has always been a great excuse for a super pleasant nap. In my early 20s, yoga nidras helped me survive years of severe insomnia. However, they wouldn’t always work. Sometimes, I would be able to put myself into these deeply relaxed states listening to the guided relaxation, but other times, I would just feel the agitation rising in my body and forcing myself to relax would only make it worse.
I don’t do yoga nidras anymore and my opinion about them is the same as about guided meditation. They are a tranquilliser, a natural sleeping pill, that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. I was certainly trying to use it to distract myself from the suppressed inner turmoil, which was the real cause of my sleep problems. I couldn’t have experienced any lasting results until I figured out how to really address the cause.
Learning Transcendental Meditation (TM) nearly two years ago transformed my life. I turned to TM during another major crisis, after s relationship that I used to consider my future fell apart in a way I wouldn’t have believed was possible. I was hoping TM would help me to quickly recover but it has given me much more. I described my experience with TM in a previous article.
TM as such is super simple. You are given a mantra, a short word in Sanskrit, and instructed to repeat it effortlessly in your mind while sitting with your eyes closed. The important bit of the instruction is the word ‘effortlessly’. The good thing they do during the training is that they really explain that whatever is happening in your mind during meditation is OK and that you shouldn’t worry about it too much. I believe that it’s this bit that allows people to relax and use meditation in the right way – to connect with themselves. Almost immediately after I started practicing TM following the 20 minutes twice a day prescription, the contents of my subconscious and unconscious mind started rising to the surface for me to process. It has been an enormous mind expansion and healing journey.
I do think though, that the TM technique and the TM teaching has it’s limitations. It is extremely efficient in getting that deep stuff out in a way that is frequently extremely physically intense and unpleasant. However, it is not that great in helping you process that stuff in the right way and learn from it quickly and efficiently.
TM is still the bases of my practice and I believe that it’s probably the best technique for beginners and for people with massively fragmented and overactive mind such as mine used to be.
Once you reach an overall calmer state of mind, mindfulness, observing one’s feelings and emotions, could be a useful technique for further growth. With TM, you allow yourself to have thoughts, with mindfulness, you actually pause and look at those thoughts as if you were an outside observer (“wow, this crappy thought that I’ve just had, I wonder where this comes from?).
I remember a talk about meditation I attended about a year ago. The speaker was comparing the process of meditation to the tale of the Sleeping Beauty – the Sleeping Beauty is your real self, hidden amidst a jungle of thorny shrubs – your mental garbage and all sorts of unhealthy subconscious and unconscious beliefs. The process of meditation is about you rescuing your true self by chopping your way through this thorny jungle of your mental crap.
Mindfulness can be practiced in all situations not only during meditation. You aspire to become overall more aware of what’s going on in your mind, how do you feel in the present moment and where do you store tension in your body. I’d say it cannot be practiced too successfully by someone whose mind is all over the place and totally fragmented such as mine used to be when I started doing TM.
Alternating between TM and a more mindfulness-y approach is currently what I do. In my every day life, I am constantly trying to be more aware of what’s happening with me on the emotional and mental level in all situations. It prevents me from turning to some automatic and usually unhealthy ways of reacting. I am not saying I am always successful but it’s certainly giving me a better learning curve than TM, which is simply instructing you to accept whatever is happening with you without subjecting it to any sort of examination.
By no means are you supposed to negate or suppress whatever is happening with you and in you at any given moment. In addition to accepting it and allowing yourself to feel your feelings, you are sort of trying to step back from it and look at it as if you were an external observer. Takes practice.
Inner Child Work
I discovered the Inner Child concept at about the same time as TM through the work of US psychologist Margaret Paul. I described this technique in an earlier article.
Inner Child work is about reconciling the two frequently conflicting parts of yourself – your feelings and your brain. Your Inner Child is essentially your true self, your essence and it communicates with you through your emotions. It’s the subconscious part of you that also holds all the wounds and trauma from your past. The problem is that many people in today’s society are conditioned to suppress their feelings. Feelings are seen as a weakness. Children learn to dismiss their feelings and than continue living as emotionally flat and crippled adults.
In a sense, Inner Child work is similar to the mindfulness approach as it also pays constant attention to the feelings but it deliberately goes deeper and into the past and is trying to uncover the reasons for certain triggers and blockages.
When practicing Inner Bonding, as Margaret Paul calls the technique, you are asked to lead a dialogue between your rational and feeling self. You can do it in writing, using your dominant hand for the rational (adult) part of you and your non-dominant hand for the feeling (child) part of you. The key to the success of this technique is total acceptance of the child and its feelings by the adult. The adult is not supposed to talk the child out if the feelings by rationalising. That makes things worse. The adult is supposed to want to learn about the child’s feelings and what is causing them and then take action in the world to make the Inner Child happy. It sounds a bit clunky to start with but it does work. I find this technique extremely useful when processing emotional releases triggered by TM (I have described the process of trauma and emotional release in earlier articles). Every time I feel queasy or outright upset, I am trying to ask the Inner Child why that is and what do I need to learn from it. And the answer usually comes. Quite frequently, the reason for the Inner Child’s upset is in some deeply ingrained subconscious beliefs of not being good enough or having to be a certain way to please others.
Spontaneous writing is an awesome way to download stuff that is rising from your unconscious. This process can be really unpleasant but is really important if you are serious about getting rid of the negative patterns and blockages residing in your unconscious. I have virtually covered tens of notebooks with this sort of stuff since having embarked on this journey. I believe that your mind is a powerful supercomputer that is constantly trying to process things for you and figure out your life for you so that you can be in line with who you really are deep inside. Journalling makes it easier to manage this process (it’s essentially the process of individuation as described by C.G. Jung). No excessive frontal lobe effort is required, just allow the mind to do its thing and it will first purge all the bad stuff and eventually find all the answers that you are seeking. I do keep a notebook on my bedside table to use every time I feel overwhelmed by some unconscious content rising.