Lots of people ask “why meditate?” I’ll give a more scientific answer below, but I’ll start by sharing my personal experience.
I had been taking Kundalini Yoga classes for several months before I did my first 31-minute meditation. Most of the meditations in my regular Kundalini Yoga classes were three to five minutes, and I was curious what would happen if I tried to go longer. When I saw that Akiva Satnaryan was offering a class with a 31-minute meditation at the Hayes Valley Yoga Tree near my house, I decided to sign up.
The class started in the regular sequence: we tuned in, we did a short kriya, we had our deep relaxation and then we were ready to meditate. The meditation itself wasn’t physically hard. We sat cross-legged, with our right elbow at our side, hand pointing forward with the index finger pointing up. We were asked to turn this same arm in small backward circles for 31 minutes. As we started, I remember thinking “This isn’t hard. I can do this.”
And at about minute five, it all began. My mind started in with:
“Why are we doing this?”
and then “I don’t know if I like this teacher..”
followed by “I don’t think I like Kundalini Yoga…”
At minute ten it started getting more personal.
“I don’t like Yogi Bhajan, and he’s dead anyway. Why are we sitting here twirling our hands? This is ridiculous.”
“I don’t like my mother. Actually, my whole family is kind of messed up.”
“Why am I here wasting a perfectly good Saturday sitting in a studio?”
“This is bullshit.”
At about minute 20, it was getting tiring being angry at so many things–really tiring. When you meditate, nothing new is happening so you really are just alone with your thoughts. And without fresh fuel to keep the anger going, for me the anger eventually started to die out.
By minute 25, my mind was quieting down, and I was relaxed again. And from minute 25 to 31, I don’t really remember what happened. It was almost like I was in a trance. When we were finished, I remember feeling tired, like I should go home and lie down. And I remember being confused about why I would feel that way because nothing physically hard had happened.
Over the years, I’ve done lots and lots of Kundalini Yoga meditations, ranging from 3 to 61 minutes. And I’ve observed layers upon layers of “stuck” emotional energy gets released during these meditations. My thoughts become clearer and more present. I’m not as interested in the past or as anxious about the future. If you ask me to talk about my past, I can still access those memories but I rarely have an urge to bring it up. It isn’t part of my daily narrative. And I feel very little anxiety about the future. I think of my Kundalini Yoga meditations as a workout or a reboot for the mind.
Meditation is a broad word with a wide spectrum of options. Before finding Kundalini Yoga, I was trying Vipassana meditation, where you sit in silence. I tried this for many months, sitting with small groups for 40 minutes at a time. This works well for lots of people, but the truth was for me, this wasn’t working. I was extremely anxious during that period and rather focusing on my breath, I would daydream for 40 minutes: planning my weekend, thinking about my next meal, scheduling my day, etc. I didn’t feel like I was cheating, but I didn’t feel like I was doing it right either.
Kundalini Yoga meditations worked for me because they are generally more active. There are breath sequences, hand motions, and the occasional mantra to keep track of. This required my attention and meant my anxious mind wasn’t as free to daydream. And it worked. I started to see my anxiety drop off, and I began to enjoy my life more.
While this is anecdotal, the benefits from meditation are now scientifically observable from fMRI scans. Belle Beth Cooper offers this great explanation in her post “What Happens to the Brain When You Meditate”. In essence, our brains stop processing as much information, stop perceiving imagined threats and go more “offline.” This slowdown offers a relaxation response. And based on this relaxation response, a meditator experiences:
How do you get started? There are lots of options. For those interested in KundalinI Yoga meditations, my YouTube channel offers many short meditations. For those curious, on Sunday, Feb. 23, I’m offering a Kundalini Yoga class with a 31-minute meditation (here in Athens and you can dial in remotely as well). And if you aren’t sure Kundalini Yoga meditations are the path for you, you can explore Headspace, which gives you lots of options.