The following stories are from my experience, and my experience alone. They are not reflective of all yogis or indigenous yogis. As are my other posts on this blog which are my experiences and stories that I want to share with people like yourself. I hope after reading this, you find some synergy or motivation in wanting to learn about gathering your head space, and tuning your energy inwards.
For a little over 6 weeks, I have been meditating daily as part of yoga teacher training (YTT). In this short amount of time, I have noticed similarities between this practice and the practice of our ceremonies such as those in inipi or sweat. The beautiful yet difficult thing about inipi as you go through each round is that it doesn’t get easier. Even though you’re in the same place, even though you may be sitting the same way the entire time- it gets harder. It takes discipline, being able to listen, and trust in something outside of yourself in order to make it through all of the rounds of inipi. Through the difficult times of inipi, humbleness, love, and compassion often come to the surface. I think back to all of my experiences in inipi and how my body, my mind, and my spirit feel afterwards. There is a lightness and being in tune, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually. You may start to feel the vibrations of your energy from your head to your feet. It’s as though you have energetic reservoirs in your hands. This must have been the way my ancestors often felt when they walked this earth. This is the best way I can describe my experience with meditation.
Our people talk about ayaa and refer to this in phrases like gimino-ayaa na? This is the beautiful thing about our indigenous languages- there is complexity and description to the root words or verbs that it makes it hard to translate into English. Ayaa is more than just being, it’s the vessel of that which is your physical body. What we put into our vessel affects our vessel. Meaning, what we consume and don’t consume, have positive impacts or negative impacts on the longevity of our vessel. When thinking of our physical and mental being in this way, it makes more sense to focus inward by quietly meditating and only noticing our breath, or our heart beating. We may observe or hear sounds and noises or external vibrations surrounding us, but our focus is on mino-ayaa. Helping us to reconnect and remind us what is at our physical core.
I wake up early every morning to meditate before I start my day to have some headspace for myself. And let’s be real, I wake up before my son and husband wake up so I can have some quiet time! It motivates me based on the feeling I have after meditating. I look forward to waking up early every morning so I can have time to tune my mind to looking inward, and to not think about anything. To let all of my thoughts run through my head, but only observing them and not attaching to them. This is a practice I do every morning. I meditate, do some movement like ashtanga yoga or kettlebells if I have the time, write, and put some asemaa out. It has been a good way for me to start out my day mindfully and with a simple ceremony.
We some days will offer a song when we feel it is needed. In these moments of silence and concentration in meditation, there is always room for metta, or gratitude in sanskrit, the language of yoga. Much like in our anishinaabe way of life, when we offer a prayer or asemaa, we are focused, concentrating on our energy and words from our core as we ask for help, and offer our miigwech’s. In metta, we take a few moments of looking inward, to remember what brings us thankfulness and teachings in this life. We send our energy, our internal light, and our love to those things- just as we do in prayer or song with our asemaa. I have noticed that building relations, reconnecting with your relations, and honoring all of your relations all around you extends from these moments of metta. In this way, there is reciprocity with this practice.
Sometimes as I’m meditating, my son wakes up and curls up on my lap. I don’t push him off or break my meditation. Rather I wrap my arms, a blanket or scarf around him, or just let him rest on me in silence. It’s probably one of my favorite ways to start my day. Even when he is grumpy and tells me to go lay back in bed to snuggle with him! If you’re a caregiver to tiny humans, you know what I’m talking about! I observe this. I hear him. But I don’t attach or let my focus go towards what I’m going to do next. Instead, I listen to what he says. Then I breathe. And I breathe. And I breathe. Calming my mind. Which calms my body. Then I hear him sigh and his body falls heavy on me. His curled lashes close, his head turns to the side, and his little sticky hands find the sides of my belly, just as he does when he nurses. I actually caught him meditating on his own the other day before we set up some things to play with!
This is a mom win for sure! When I was my son’s age, I would have benefitted from this type of practice. Even knowing that it was a thing back then. I know through learning more about meditation and how it can be found in many indigenous cultures, I am introducing a practice that is giving myself and my family a way to reconnect with our ancestral knowledge and way of life. I imagine the way meditation makes me feel in my body and mind is how my ancestors six or seven generations ago must have felt walking this earth. That their light and love came from within and radiated outwards. They were whole. Connected with their body, their spirit, and their heart.
After reading the above paragraph you, too feel a sense of calm and would like to give meditation a try. The things I find the most difficult and challenging about meditation is silencing your thoughts and sitting still for long periods of time. We are so used to filling our head space with so much information, so many tasks and to-do’s to cross off of our lists. So many noises or thoughts constantly running through our minds. When practicing meditation, it challenges us mentally and physically to focus on stillness. It can be more uncomfortable for some than others. The busyness we are used to in our lives can make sitting in silence and stillness difficult. However, when we notice our breath, we can turn our attention inwards to our spirit, just as we do in inipi and other ceremonies. Stillness makes room for processing. Stillness makes room for growth. And stillness, makes room for healing.
We started out with 20 minutes of meditation for YTT and have now worked to almost 60 minutes of meditation. It’s hard. Knees and feet can start to fall asleep, shoulders may hunch, the breath may lose its focus, thoughts are wandering all over the place. It’s hard to maintain a good posture of sitting up straight, yet relaxing your shoulders, your breath, and your mind for 20 minutes or more. Even in the discomfort of feet falling asleep, you observe it because it is impermanent. It is only for those few moments or 20-60 minutes and then it is gone. This practice takes practice. It takes stamina and discipline. The focus of this practice is inward. Your gaze is inward, focusing on the movement of your breath. Only observing everything else. It can be uncomfortable or very uncomfortable if sitting with yourself, and your focus is your breath. Sitting in silence allows us to connect with our body and quiet our mind. This is where healing can happen and the ability to lighten the weight we carry in our headspace. By observing thoughts passing by, noticing our breath, and turning our attention inwards- where our energy and spirit reside.
By taking 20 minutes for daily meditation, I have noticed so many changes and benefits to the way I think, the way I act, the way I speak, and how my energy is throughout the day. I’ve been journaling alongside practicing meditation and it’s helped me to see how much has changed over the past 6 weeks. Here are the main changes I’ve noticed by making meditation a daily part of my life:
I feel calmer. All day. Surprising?! Even though I tend to look calm on the outside, there is always a lot going on internally that I’ve learned to quiet.
Energy. I feel my energy. I feel it in my hands. In my feet. In my throat. And it feels like it’s sitting there lightly. Bringing my light to my hands and feet in everything that I do.
Letting go is easier. Until I started this training, I didn’t fully see how I was hanging on to things that weighed me down or took up brain space. I often would vent about something that bothered me to my husband and he would just say “don’t let it bother you” or “just let it go”. This seems to be so easy for him and so hard for me. Once I started to include this practice in my daily life, I started to notice that I can truly let go of something. Let go of a thought or comment that was heavy. Or anything that has been weighing me down. It feels good to let it go.
Patient. In the time of this pandemic and extra overt racism, being at home with our tiny human has brought some emotional and pretty heavy days. It may be like that in the future. And I noticed that when I got stressed with doing both work duties and daycare duties, I would lose my patience. Never yelling or invalidating my son’s feelings. But instead of having patience, I was short. I wouldn’t allow for him to have time to transition from one thing to the next. Things had to be abrupt. Because that’s how I was feeling internally. And that’s not okay. For anyone in our home. With this practice, I realize that I can always reconnect through my breath before I react. I can take a step back and give space that is needed for my husband or my son. Or even my dog when she’s being a diva! I recognize my inner reaction right away and am able to calm it.
Being present. I am more present each moment during the day because of meditating. I’m not letting my mind or thoughts wander as often. This helps me to notice when I do let my thoughts wander or think of the next thing so I can quiet them, let them go, and sit in the present moment.
I hope you have gained some insight into meditation from reading this. Perhaps you have done this practice before and would like to learn more from an indigenous perspective. I’ve shared some resources below just for that. And if you’ve learned something you didn’t before, I hope you share it with others!
Neurodecolonization and mindfulness - Dr. Michael Yellow Bird
Decolonizing our Minds and Actions by Waziyatawin and Michael Yellow Bird