Each week at our yoga studios in San Diego over 150 people come and enjoy our meditation, mindfulness and pranayama classes. Many of these students are brand new to this type of practice. Two of the questions I get asked most often are: "How do I know if I'm having a good meditation?" and "How do I know if this is the right technique for me?"
These two questions are intrinsically connected, and they are the same questions that I asked myself many years ago when looking for a spiritual teacher and an approach to meditation into which to invest my time and energy. The sheer number of teachers and approaches available today can be overwhelming, and as a beginner, sitting in meditation can be a puzzling experience. As your mind whirls and you feel the urge to fidget again and again, it is natural to wonder: is this working?
After all, choosing a meditation technique is a big decision. If you select an approach which is not a good fit, you are unlikely to continue with your spiritual practice. If you dabble in technique after technique without ever settling on a path, you may never see benefits. On the other hand, when you find an approach that really resonates, you will enjoy your practice more. Through consistent and ongoing practice, you will begin to see results: relaxation, focus, and peacefulness, among many others.
Once you have found a path, it is important to have tools with which to evaluate your experience. The challenge is that unless you're hooked up to biofeedback equipment or inside an MRI machine, the experience of meditation is entirely subjective. You need a benchmark to evaluate both your own efforts and the techniques you are using.
My meditation teacher, Sri Chinmoy, was asked the same questions about meditation many years ago. His answer was simple yet profound, and forms the basis for the advice I offer to seekers at our studios and when I lecture around the world. I've taught meditation is 25 countries, and we are all dealing with the same basic challenges.
My teacher said: "We can easily know whether we are meditating well or not just by the way we feel about the world around us." How we feel about the world is a direct reflection of how we feel about ourselves. Meditation, if done correctly, will make us more conscious of our deeper nature, which will make us feel good about ourselves. When you feel good, the world is a happy place. When you are down on yourself, everything will annoy and bother you.
He continued: "Right after our meditation, if we have a good feeling for the world, if we love the world or see the world in a loving way in spite of its imperfections, then we can know that our meditation was good." Notice how my teacher says "in spite of its imperfections." True meditation allows you to love unconditionally, and yet at the same time, see reality clearly. In seeing things clearly, we know some things need to be transformed both in the world and in ourselves. The meditation that is right for you will give you the ability to love both yourself and the world "in spite of its imperfections."
Of course, the practice of meditation will also bring up unresolved issues that you need to deal with. As Bob Marley said, "You're running away, but you can't run away from yourself." Through meditation you not only stand your ground, but you consciously turn and face the challenges. For me, meditation is synonymous with transformation. Genuine meditation gives you the energy, patience and wisdom to tackle those situations that need to be changed.
At the end of his answer, my teacher said: "Also, if we have a dynamic feeling right after meditation, if we feel that we came into the world to do something and become something good, this indicates that we have done a good meditation." Look for that dynamic feeling in your practice. The meditation that is right for you will give you energy. It will not make you lethargic or lackadaisical. Meditation enhances and energizes your mind and body, and gives you the impetus to take action towards the transformation you desire.
Following these simple guidelines will help you find a meditation practice that is right for you. During and after meditation, stay tuned in to how you are feeling about the world around you and about yourself. In this way, you can ensure that whatever path you are following is taking you towards your best self.