Recently while I was talking with Gyandev McCord, the Director of Ananda Yoga Worldwide, we came upon the question, “What will be the next big trend in yoga in the West?”
Without hesitation, Gyandev looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Surely meditation is involved. It’s even starting to follow yoga into the corporate world. I would love to see more Ananda Yoga teachers riding that wave. Would you be willing to write an article about teaching meditation?”
I said “Sure,” but as I considered it a little more, I thought: “This is going to be a very short article! What can I possibly say about it except that it is a great joy? I can’t think of any subject I’d rather be teaching. I can imagine no other subject that could possibly offer greater satisfaction to me or give greater rewards to any student who is willing to learn and actually practice meditation.” That’s it!
What else could be added?
Since I was drawing a big blank, I decided it might be a good idea to ask our Meditation Teacher Training graduates (hundreds of them are out there right now) if they’d like to share what it is like for them to be teaching meditation, or if they have stories they could share about their experiences in teaching meditation. This turned out to be a truly inspired idea, because many responded with wonderful clarity and depth.
Before sharing some of their responses, I’d like to thank these folks, both for responding to my call and for all they do out there on the “front lines,” teaching in many different — and sometimes unusual or challenging — situations. Also, because their stories inspired me so much, I felt to write a bit more about my own experiences.
Do It Yourself
I first began teaching meditation as an extension of teaching yoga postures. This was back in 1976, and I was living in Texas. I had visited Ananda for a couple of months in 1975, and I was so lonely upon returning home that I felt compelled to find others interested in yoga or meditation. Since I could find no one at that time in my part of Texas, I supposed I’d just have to start some classes myself. Pretty bold of me, considering I had no training at all!
But it turned to be somewhat easier than I had anticipated, probably because practically nobody in those days, particularly in Texas, knew yoga from yogurt or meditation from medication. No matter how little I knew, I still knew more than they did. So I floundered about, did the best I could, and in the process, met many wonderful truth-seekers, Texas-style.
When I moved to Ananda in 1978, I got a job cooking in the retreat kitchen. Word quickly got out that I had been teaching in Texas, however, so I was asked to teach at the retreat, too. First it was leading sadhanas, which was pretty easy for me to do at that point. But then came more complicated classes on meditation and yoga philosophy.
I remember the first time I was asked to teach a guest, one-on-one, how to do the Hong-Sau technique, I was so frightened that I got sick and was not able to show up. Poor guy! I hope someone else was able to do this for him. But from then on, it got easier with experience.
There was little or no formal training here back in those years. But on the other hand, in a way we were being trained in a marvelous way. Swami Kriyananda, the founder of Ananda Yoga, taught classes almost weekly. In addition, I listened (over and over and over) to the audio tapes of his classes on basic meditation skills and yoga philosophy, took many notes, made outlines and handouts, and studied his lessons and books. I also learned by doing, and learned by my mistakes — finding out what worked and what didn’t work.
As I said in the beginning, it has been a great blessing for me to teach meditation for these many years. I often tell the people whom I am helping to train as meditation teachers, “If you really want to learn how to do something well, volunteer to teach it. For then you really have to apply yourself, not only to learn the subject, but to figure out how to communicate it clearly.”
This principle is especially true with meditation, which is so experiential. To be able to understand meditation well enough to be able to teach it, you really do have to be meditating yourself. So teaching meditation is highly motivational for your own personal practices — this is very good news!
The other side of the coin is that many people I know, who could and should be teaching meditation, don’t, because they feel their own meditation practices are “not good enough.” To them I say: “Even a little practice of meditation will free you from dire fears and colossal sufferings — including the fear that you aren’t meditating well enough to teach it!” (Paraphrased from the Bhagavad Gita).
Swami Kriyananda has often told us that the most effective teachers are sometimes those who have perhaps not had as much experience in what they are teaching. They are closer to understanding (from personal experience!) what their students are going through in their struggles with taking on a new discipline like meditation. They might be able to empathize much better with them than could an “ancient” meditator/meditation teacher, who may have forgotten what it’s like to be new to all this!
Please remember that thousands of souls all around you are crying out in desperation for the great life-changing techniques of quieting the mind and opening the heart. Let that thought help you through your fears of inadequacy. Even if you teach only one person to meditate in your whole life, it may very well change his or her life for the better, and he or she may in turn change the lives of untold numbers more.
I can think of many stories about folks whom I’ve taught to meditate, but one in particular stands out. This was a young woman whom I met in about 1984. She was the mother of four children, the youngest ones being triplet daughters (toddlers at the time), plus she had a demanding full-time job. I had little hope that she could find the time to meditate, but she was (is!) a lovely, intelligent, and energetic person; and she seemed so sincere in her desire to learn whatever I could teach her.
Now, some 20 years later, her children are grown and gone from home. She is not only still faithfully and regularly meditating, but she is also helping to lead one of our Ananda Centers and teaching meditation on a regular basis to many people! And two of her four children are now meditators, too!
Enough from me! The following comments and stories from Meditation Teacher Training grads will speak for themselves:
I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker providing mental health services to youth in custody in the Orange County Juvenile Hall. About four years ago I started to do a yoga group with each of the two girls units. The group has been largely successful, although there have been periods of fluctuating attendance.
This past year I have introduced guided meditation after we finish doing yoga postures. The meditation lasts for about 15 minutes and it is clearly the favorite part of the class for them.
The attendance in class is now more consistent. For background music through out the class I use Swami Kriyananda’s Mantra CD. The average age of the girls is 16, and they are incarcerated on a variety of charges from misdemeanors to felonies. I feel that the yoga and meditation are useful tools for them for stress reduction, anger management, to help them focus their minds, and to help them make better choices in life.
Rebecca Smith & Douglas Yourstone
The two of us have been teaching meditation and yoga postures for several years. We teach in a residential alcohol/drug rehabilitation center.
All of our students are in early recovery from addictions, and many are still in some state of detoxification. We have found that because these folks are so depleted emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually, they respond quickly and well. Because of this, it’s very rewarding when we see dramatic results after just one class.
The meditation program starts off as a formal day class entitled “Meditation for Relapse Prevention.” This is then supported by evening meditation sessions offered before lights out. We even have a “Silent Walking Meditation” on a Sunday afternoon.
The yoga postures classes, “Yoga for Relapse Prevention,” are also offered as part of the formal day classes. The yoga class is introduced as an adjunct to the meditation sessions (i.e., “The real reason for learning yoga postures is to enable one to sit for long periods in silence!”), and the meditation is tied into the yoga class by using some modified yoga before the meditation session and encouraging patients to try the whole class. Working with this population of people is both rewarding and challenging.
Sometimes patients attend to simply get out of some other class; they don’t take it seriously and can be quite disruptive to others. Every so often, however, the most unlikely looking individual will touch our hearts. After the meditation session when the lights are still off, or quietly coming up after the yoga class, a patient will tell a piece of his or her story (a tale of fear, destruction, and isolation), and then tie it in with how the meditation and yoga postures is helping him or her relax, feel at peace within, or even get a glimpse of his or her long-forgotten “Higher Power.”
Rebecca (an Ananda Yoga Teacher Training grad) and her husband Douglas (an Ananda Meditation Teacher Training grad) are also in recovery. You can contact them at www.olalla.org.
Susan Wilk, Annandale
I have found teaching meditation to be one of the most rewarding things (if not the most rewarding) I have ever done with my life. As a corporate attorney by day, and a meditation teacher by night, this teaching allows me to touch people’s lives in profound ways that, according to them, have changed the way they live their lives.
My “alumni” students tell me they found comfort, peace, release from stress (one even reported release from panic), from using one or more of the techniques that I taught them. Sometimes they mention things that I don’t even remember saying, or said in passing. You can’t really tell what will touch people in a personal way.
One of the most rewarding classes I ever taught was one given at a counseling center for women who are returning to the workplace after being widowed or divorced. These women were going through incredibly tough times, dealing with lots of emotional pain and stress on many fronts. That pain was so obvious on their faces as they entered the room.
We began with some simple yoga postures to release some tension and to get them comfortable. As the class progressed, it was clear to see that the meditation techniques allowed them to relax, to leave behind — for a few moments at least — their worries and concerns, to get in touch with themselves as spiritual beings, not the humans stuck in the struggles of daily life.
Through some guided meditations and some affirmations related to self-worth and value, they reclaimed parts of themselves that had become buried under the trials of their present circumstances. After the two hours we spent together, their faces were different. Their counselors were amazed, and I felt totally humbled and blessed to be the vehicle to bring some peace to them. Most had not meditated before, but I know they will not leave that practice behind for long. I received no monetary payment for that class, but what I received far outweighed any other form of payment.
Also, I have been teaching for almost three years in an arm of the local hospital, and that has provided a diverse student base. It always amazes me how the classes seem to arrange themselves with a cosmic order, grouping “random” students in a perfect arrangement, where there are common denominators that could not otherwise be explained. In my last session, there were several women whose chronological age would classify them as “seniors,” but their hearts were so young and their souls so open to learn.
At first, I must admit being a bit intimidated by those ladies, wondering what I could teach them, when their life experiences seemed to far exceed mine. The rest of the class was comprised of repeat students, one of whom had returned with her husband. What unfolded in the next six weeks was remarkable.
One woman had what is best described as a nervous temperament, a person who would constantly wring her hands and seemed to fret about all the things that might happen: snow, deer running in front of the car, etc. Another was an insomniac. Another had vertigo. Yet another was super-skeptical, to say the least. The first week’s homework assignment was, “at least five minutes of meditation per day.”
At the second week’s class, these new students were a little concerned (miffed? disappointed?) that meditation had not yet worked for them, although most admitted difficulty meditating everyday, even for five minutes. By week three, my nervous lady said she wasn’t sure it was working, but she did find about 10 – 15 minutes of peace after her meditation.
(Not working?!) When I drew that to her attention, she glowed. From then on, she was a star, and kept talking about that peace she found every day.
The vertigo woman asked me, “What are you doing to me? I asked my husband, ‘What’s happening to me?’” She said things didn’t upset her as before. She related an experience where she received a call from relatives that they were on their way over for an unannounced visit. She had no dinner prepared, but calmly took something from the freezer.
While it was heating, the power in the house went out. Even this did not upset her, which she says was totally unlike her. By the end of the series, she talked about formerly upsetting things that now made her laugh. She even laughed as she told the class about them. In addition, she was able to do some yoga postures, which was not possible for her in the first at class.
The insomniac related sleeping as she hadn’t in years after the fourth class, although that was still intermittent by the session’s end. Not bad for six weeks of practice, especially considering the first three were inconsistent. Anyway, we did a healing prayer/meditation for her one night when she was absent, and that was the first night she slept through in years. One of the students called her the day after class to see how she had slept, and that’s how the results were revealed on both sides. It was moving for all of us.
At week two of the series, one student brought her visiting daughter to class. I was a little concerned about my guest student, who literally could not sit still for two minutes without fidgeting. When I introduced her to the rest of the students, she announced that this just wouldn’t work for her. It would not work for her, as nothing ever had before!
Okay. I asked her to keep her mind and heart open (noting her crossed arms and legs, with one kicking away). I plunged ahead, and taught the class, confident that if nothing else, she would relax at least a little with breathing exercises.
At the end of class, I was truly amazed at the difference in her! She was calm, relaxed and smiling, hugging her mom, literally draped up against her. We had done a guided meditation — which came to me as a divine inspiration, I’m sure — that she said she wished would never end. She said she hadn’t been so relaxed or happy in years!
The last class was very sad for me in the sense that the session was over, and I felt so incredibly blessed to be with these great souls. My “skeptical” student approached me after class and said, “I don’t think this has anything to do with my meditation, but I wanted to ask anyway. I don’t get upset anymore. I don’t even yell at my husband. Could that be from the meditation?”
Wowee!!! You bet! One of my veteran students told me she couldn’t believe the difference she saw in these women. The thought of them all still brings tears to my eyes. I know it was what flowed through me that blessed them, and I’m still humbled and awed by it.
Annie Enea, Half Moon Bay
I really can’t imagine teaching yoga without meditation. Yoga is the perfect precursor for meditation. When I went through the Meditation Teacher Training, I really wanted to teach, but mainly I wanted to get deeper into meditation.
However, teaching meditation just flowed into my life in wonderful unexpected ways and has continued to do so ever since. In fact I had a contractor build a small yoga/meditation room in our backyard — it was just recently completed. I look forward to using it! It was not something I ever thought about; it sort of manifested out of nowhere and I now have my own temple to use whenever I want and to share with others. I was meditating in a closet before that.
Many people are willing to try yoga but not meditation. Yet I feel sure that if you add a sitting meditation to your yoga class, it will open the door for most of your students to let meditation become a part of their daily practices.
San Francisco, California
I am teaching a workshop called “Meditation: What It Is and How To Do It,” all around at local San Francisco yoga studios, Pilates studios, and chiropractors’ offices, as well as one-on-one classes. I truly love it! I have been sitting for meditation since I was a child of eight, so it seems as natural as brushing my teeth. But to share it with others and see the Light working through them, now there is a gift!
I also teach an 8-week cleanse program, of which meditation is a major part. They get one two-hour training session; we meditate as a group once a week, and students are encouraged to choose an amount of time to commit to daily meditation.
One of the students is a young mother living with her wonderful partner and several roommates on Haight Street in San Francisco. She works long hours, cooking for her family, and is also studying a lot. She has a very busy life and wants nothing more than to be a great mother and a good person. She was able to meditate for only a five-minute section of each day during the program, but she did it!
She told me her life is changing. She has always been a happy person, but she comes from a broken family, and her mother died young; so she has many anxieties about raising her child. Through daily meditation, a whole foods diet, and daily exercise she has begun to truly take care of herself and feels less anxiety about her performance as a mother. She says she feels more ease in her soul and is enjoying the craziness of motherhood and partnership in these financially tough times in the city.
I also had the pleasure of teaching her “Prenatal Yoga for Fun” while she was pregnant. She was not interested in meditation at that time, although she did feel that being pregnant was very meditative in itself, at times. I am honored to be a part of her journeys to self and love and to see a loving family in action, including this “tuned-in hip mama.”
I have taught a couple of very short (15-minute) segments on meditation at the end of some yoga classes, for which I was substitute teaching. The regular teachers weren’t doing any meditation at all at the end of their classes, and the students were eager to learn. It went well.
I regularly teach yoga at a health club and have been leading my classes in a few minutes of meditation after the deep relaxation at the end of each class. Once in a while I have offered to teach a simple meditation technique to anyone who wants to stay after class, and each time several students have stayed. Gradually my students have been getting more and more interested in meditation.
I now have more than twenty people interested in taking a meditation class, which I am offering in a few weeks. I don’t know what the actual attendance will be, but it is encouraging to see so many people open to the idea of meditation and wanting to learn! Most of them tell me they have a lot of stress in their lives, and that is why they want to start meditating.
A few months ago, one of my students told me that his friends tell him he is much calmer and more relaxed than he used to be. He tells them it is “yoga and meditation” that has changed him.
Meadow Vista, California
I have found that teaching meditation to my yoga students has helped me teach Ananda Yoga more effectively.
Before I took Meditation Teacher Training, when I would teach Ananda Yoga, I could barely get any of my yoga students to sit quietly for five minutes of meditation following Savasana. After I began teaching meditation in April 2002, I noticed that the students who learned to meditate would now willingly stay for fifteen minutes of meditation at the end of the yoga classes.
Williamsville, New York
This is my story about teaching meditation in a very simple way. I had a patient named Rosie who was very independent. Because of her failing condition she had to be admitted to a nursing home. She was dying. Fear overtook her and she continuously cried to the staff not to leave her.
Everyone was distraught at hearing her cries, because often they were too busy to comfort her. I stopped in to see her, and she cried bitterly for me not to leave. As we talked I realized that all she needed was to make a connection to the God that she had always believed in. I very simply taught her to focus on her breath and say a short prayer over and over.
The prayer we chose was, “Lord Jesus, be with me.” As I left her room, I heard her softly muttering over and over, “Lord Jesus, be with me.” Two days later, Rosie died peacefully.
Final Thoughts from Savitri
There were inspiring stories, weren’t they? I’m sure there are many more similar stories out there, but I think that’s enough for now.
We’d love to have you join us in one of the next Meditation Teacher Training courses. The summer courses tend to fill up quickly, so do plan ahead and call soon. Think of it in terms of the great joy teaching meditation can bring into your life and into the lives of all those with whom you come into contact.
If you have questions or concerns of any type, I would be most happy to talk to you at any time. Just use our contact form and ask for Savitri.