A few weeks ago, I led a student in a meditation I had never led before.
Like most of my good ideas, it came to me in the moment, when I was relaxed and present. Nothing was rushed or planned; I was just there, sitting with my student, trying to feel into what she needed, and what I could provide. We had been talking about the power of the senses, and about how sometimes, just pausing to really feel our feet on the ground can change our whole perspective. I introduced to her the yogic concept of pratyahara, one of my favorite of the eight limbs.
Some define pratyahara as a “withdrawal from the senses,” but my teacher, Bhavani Maki, reframes it as the “integration of the senses.” The idea of integration resonates with me, and feels more useful than withdrawal. We relate to the world through our senses, after all, so why not learn to use them mindfully and wisely, rather than deny or retreat from them?
The meditation that follows came directly and organically out of the conversation with my student. And it felt so right in the moment that I wanted to share it with you. Feel free to read it to yourself, to a friend, or share it with a class or group you’re leading! (I will also post an audio version next week, so stay tuned for that! :))
Quick note: I don’t go into detail about all 5 senses. The meditation that follows speaks primarily to the senses of sight, feel, and sound. You can certainly add taste and smell to the meditation, but it’s not necessary - the important thing is to practice the skill of noticing through the senses, not necessarily focusing on all five individually.
Take a comfortable seat, or, if it's more comfortable, lie down. Take a moment to feel your body get a little heavier, and more grounded. As you feel your body settle, take a moment to notice the length of your spine, the length of your limbs, and the depth and rhythm of your breath. Take five more breaths here.
Now, allow your eyes to settle on an object. It could be something interesting and visually pleasing - or it might be something simple and mundane. Whatever it is, take the time to really see it - notice the colors, the shapes, the textures…
Now focus on just one part or aspect of the object - perhaps the top surface, or the upper right corner, or the pattern. Notice its colors, its shape, its texture… Let yourself see that one specific aspect of the object. Take a few more breaths here.
Then, bring your attention to your hands. Maybe they’re resting in your lap, or maybe you hold them up to really examine them. Notice the palms, the creases, the folds, the fingers, the hairs, the nails, the joints… Do your best to notice without judgment or story - just see your hands as they are. Take a few more breaths, witnessing your hands.
Now, close your eyes, and let your palms rest anywhere on your body. Turn your attention to what you feel, with and through your hands. You might let your hands stay in one place, or you might move them around gently, feeling the fabric of your clothes, the the texture of your own skin... you might even offer yourself a squeeze or a gentle massage. Take a few breaths, noticing what you feel, through your hands, and through your sense of touch.
Next, bring your hands to your belly. Invite your belly to relax, and notice what you feel, both through your hands as they touch your belly, and through your belly as it touches your hands. Breathe here, and feel your belly move with your breath.
When you’re ready, bring your hands up to your heart. Let your palms rest here, and notice what you feel through your hands as they touch your chest, and what you feel in your chest as it touches your hands. Feel your breath expand inside ribs, and inside your lungs. You might even notice your heart beat. Take a few more breaths, hands holding your heart.
You can keep your hands resting at your heart, or let them come to your lap, or anywhere else that’s comfortable. Keeping your eyes closed, and your hands resting, bring your attention to your sense of hearing. Notice any sounds you year - sounds from outside the room, sounds from inside the room, the sound of my voice, the sound of your own breath… Notice the symphony of sounds, all existing together, even as we sit here quietly…
(Integration & meditation)
We’ll stay here a few more minutes, and as we do, I invite you to choose one sense to focus on. It might be a visual focal point; it might be the feeling of your hands touching your belly or heart; it might be a sound you hear… It might even be a smell or taste, if that feels resonant. Whatever you choose, let yourself be present with that sense, without feeling too attached. Know that it might move or change, and that you can always re-focus if you need to. But whatever your focal point, let yourself be grounded in the sense that you’ve chosen. Let that sense be your entry point into yourself, and into the present moment.
We’ll stay here 5 more minutes.
As you take a few more breaths here, notice the feeling and sound of your breath… notice any smells or sounds… and if your eyes have been closed, open them, and let your eyes find a focal point. Take a few breaths to notice how all the senses integrate, allowing you to be here, in your body, in the present moment.
When you’re ready, we’ll come back together…