Written by: KrishnaPriya
As an Atma Kriya Yoga teacher, this is one of the questions I get asked most frequently. ‘How do I deepen my practice? How do I go farther into it?’ And when they ask, it’s often in reflection of their own desire to love their practice and to go deeper into it. It also comes up when they feel it should be different or they feel distant from God somehow.
And these feelings are normal. Painfully normal. As in, I’ve never met a yogi who didn’t have these thoughts at some point. No one sits down one day, deciding to meditate, and experiences a linear progression to enlightenment. Literally, no one. It’s more like a relationship - there are bumps in the road, ups and downs, but ultimately you love it so you stick out the rough times and put your effort in no matter what because you have faith that it is worth it.
So this is for you - wherever you are in your meditation journey - if you’re just starting out, decades down the road, or somewhere in between. And remember - love happens in its own time. Love cannot be forced. Not even for meditation.
Here are 8 tips to help you deepen your meditation practice.
Expectations. They are the bane of our existence. Expectations get in the way of happiness, joy, service and yes, of your meditation practice. Meditation, at its core, is about becoming absorbed so fully in something that nothing else exists. On the bhakti path, that something is God, it is the love relationship you have with God.
Even if you think you don’t have expectations, analyse the thoughts you have. Any thought that contains words like ‘should’ or ‘why doesn’t it….’ or ‘why isn’t it like this…’ are expectations hiding as questions and curiosities. Whenever you notice these thoughts coming to your mind, take a deep breath, give a nod to them, and then move on to something else. Don’t entertain the thoughts because your meditation doesn’t owe you anything. It just is.
Therein lies the irony too. When you lose expectations, what you’re left with is acceptance. It’s the acceptance of exactly what your meditation looks like today. That’s when the true beauty of your practice will begin to reveal itself.
Sometimes the spiritual path is about just being practical. You’ll never tease out the depths of your practice if you don’t make time for it. Schedule some time every day that is specifically dedicated to your practice. Put it in your day planner or calendar and defend that time.
It might take a little creativity and innovative planning in the beginning. Thoughts like ‘I don’t have time’ might run rampant. But you do have time. It’s all a matter of getting creative how you spend it.
(This particular statement is probably fairly easy for someone without kids to say. Check out our blog post ‘Making Time to Meditate Once You Have Kids’ for some parent-to-parent suggestions on this tip.)
Do whatever you need to do to protect your time for meditation and be present for this.
Establishing a routine is all about spending that time you set aside to actually meditate and make the most out of the time you have. There are three parts to the routine:
Set yourself up for success by turning off your phone, closing the door, and if your thoughts are running a million kilometres an hour, spend a few minutes emptying your brain onto paper or chanting japa out loud. The goal here is to focus your mind a bit and get ready to meditate.
Then you have the meditation itself – whether that’s japa or Atma Kriya Yoga or something else, develop your practice. This can change over time. The goal is simply to do your practice with as much love and focus as you can muster in that moment.
The hardest part of the routine might be the closing. It can be super easy to just get up and go about the rest of your day as soon as you’ve finished. Take a few extra minutes here to sit in silence, to pray, or do japa. Give yourself the gift of this moment – the rest of the world can wait a little bit longer.
Most of us start meditating for many reasons. We meditate to calm our minds, to open our hearts, to cope with our anxiety, the list is endless. And yes, meditation does help with all these things. These things are not the sum total of meditation.
But more importantly, meditation is your time with the Divine, this is your time to experience your love-relationship with Him. All the reasons you might have to meditate become side-effects. They may arrive, as a gift, simply by loving Him and your practice.
When being with Him becomes the goal, the rest comes easy. Setting an intention is your opportunity to remind yourself of this.
The mind follows the body. When the body moves, the mind moves. When the body stills, the mind will still. Be as still as possible and resist the urge to move. It will be challenging at first but over time this becomes easier.
If you remember any of the tips I’m laying out here, remember this one. The principle behind this is that what you focus on, your mind becomes. It’s like a sponge. If you focus on negative things, your mind becomes negative. If you focus on positive things, your mind becomes positive. And if you focus on the Divine, your mind becomes divine.
Now, there are three ways to chant. Out loud, whispering and silently to yourself. You can learn about all three ways here but for this tip, we’re focusing on chanting out loud.
Chanting out loud is especially good when your mind is super active, full of expectations or more oriented towards what is going on around you. It utilizes your sense of hearing and brings the mantra to where your mind is. As you chant, your mind will begin to calm and as this happens you can quiet down to a whisper and then silently to yourself.
Start by chanting out loud and let the japa ease you into your meditation practice.
Bigger is not always better. Quantity is not always better than quality. This is most definitely true for meditation practice. Here’s the big little secret – five minutes of high-quality practice is worth a thousand times more than an hour of low-quality practice.
What is a quality practice?
Remember our definition of meditation – focusing on something so intently that everything else ceases to exist. Now that’s an advanced state and I don’t suggest worrying yourself too much about it. But it does help us understand that quality practice is one in which you are focused on your practice and ultimately on the Divine.
The goal then isn’t to meditate for a long time. It’s to meditate with devotion and awareness of the Divine for as long as you can. Over time, that duration will increase much like a muscle gets stronger with use.
Being hard on yourself isn’t going to help. No amount of self-judgment is going to help you go deeper into your spiritual practice. Meditation is kind of like being in a relationship with someone – if you spend all your time judging it or yourself, you’ll never experience the beauty the relationship has to offer.
And if that’s not reason enough, consider this: In a recent satsang Paramahamsa Vishwananda said when ‘you are dragging yourself in a crazy way, do you think that’s what Bhagavan wants? No, He doesn't want all these things. He wants something which is from the heart, spontaneous, natural because when we talk about spontaneity, we are talking about something which is natural. An outburst of love, an outburst of tears, an outburst of calling from your heart. Then He runs quickly.’
So be kind to yourself and the love will flow naturally.
Meditation is between you and God, you and yourself, you and the love within. Sometimes it will bring you to incredibly uncomfortable moments of confronting yourself. Sometimes it will be the sweetest, heart-opening part of your day. No one can tell you what that is going to be like or what you will find there.
But maybe that’s where the beauty of it all lies. No matter what you’ve been told or what you think should be, your meditation can show you something so much grander. The only way you can experience it to leave it up to God and just enjoy the ride.