What can I get out of group meditation, that I don't get sitting alone?
When we talk about what we do at WITHIN, that's one of the biggest questions people have. We asked WITHIN student Atosa B. to sit down with us to help answer it.
She's been practicing meditation with us since early 2018. Coming to our studio with a fair amount of meditation already under her belt, Atosa has found that the anchor of regular group meditation – and the insights and support of our teachers – are a great complement to her personal meditation practice.
WITHIN: We’ve so enjoyed having you with us in the studio these past few months, Atosa. Many of our students come to us with no meditation experience, and we always love introducing them to it! But that wasn’t your particular story. You had already been practicing for quite some time when you started sitting with us. How did you get started meditating?
ATOSA: My introduction to a sitting practice came with a ten day silent retreat, in the Vipassana tradition.
Vipassana is an intense and transformative form of meditation where you basically sit still, and start focusing the mind by breathing in and out through the nostrils.
You then graduate to scanning the body up and down over and over again, to tap into your senses: you visit a sensation, and move on.
W: That’s no joke, doing a 10-day retreat right off the bat! What was your biggest takeaway?
A: Among the many things the Vipassana technique highlights and teaches is to detach from our thoughts lovingly, and to notice that the nature of the mind – of life, really – is that things change, so why cling?
It was unbelievably difficult, but afterwards I realized I was on a path that brought with it exactly what I needed to grow and heal.
W: Retreats can be really intense, in good ways, and hard ways. What was your experience?
A: It’s difficult to face the bevvy of thoughts and feelings that come up when you’re challenged to find stillness. It’s as if you’re under siege. All the memories, all the mistakes, all the regrets come forth – unrelenting in the noise and punishment they bring.
I sat, I fidgeted, I sat, I suffered, I sat, I calmed...and so on and so forth; this constant dance, a great circular journey, finally accepting that this wasn't about achieving the “right” way to sit, or even BE, but it was about practicing surrender – having patience – as these “doings” were going to take time to undo.
W: What kept you going through it all?
A: I found a great comfort in being with other like-minded souls who decided to throw themselves into this alchemical fire.
It was very strengthening to sit in community with others who were just as tired and fed up by old patterns and illusions running their lives.
W: How have you kept up your meditation practice since then?
A: After the retreat, I was encouraged to start my own meditation practice, and I’ve continued to sit pretty consistently on a daily basis. But I missed sitting in a group, and having guidance from a teacher.
I was so thrilled when WITHIN began holding their classes at Satori yoga studio, my beloved and wonderful workplace, where I get to teach yoga four times a week. The community and guidance I had had when I first came to meditation were now back in my life in such a beautiful way!
W: What is it about sitting with us at WITHIN that’s so powerful for you?
A: When we sit together in a group, there’s an uplifting feeling. A support. I love the teachers I've been guided by at WITHIN (a shout-out to Hannah, Nathan and Devon; you guys are the best :) ).
The teachers are thoughtful, have their own personal technique and passion that they share with their guidance, and, best of all, they encourage us to check in at the end, with them and with my fellow meditators.
W: That check-in moment creates such connection among the students, and with the teacher.
A: Yes! I feel my heart opening more deeply to myself, and others. Neuroses are a great leveler. It doesn't matter what you do or where you come from – we all share the discomfort of a chaotic mind.
Some of us are more privileged then others in the worldly sense, and our spinning monkey mind may not compare with the hardship of someone who struggles to get their basic needs met. It’s quite a thing to discover, that even with all this material privilege, we can be so internally impoverished.
When we check in at the end of class, I hear stories of those who struggle in all kinds of ways, and I admire them for showing up and sharing their vulnerabilities. They encourage me to do the same, and we can all feel the abundance of generosity and compassion in the room.
W: How has coming to class regularly affected you, as someone who already had a well-established personal meditation practice?
A: After just a couple of months, I already see a change in my own thinking, and in how I relate to myself and others. I’ve softened considerably: I’m reminded every time I sit with a group that we’re all in the same boat.
Even on those difficult noisy mind days, sitting together never feels like an obligation, or something I feel forced to do; it’s a pleasure.
It’s a deep dive, a soul search, a vital connection, and a gift. I’m so grateful for it – and for my fellow meditators, and, most of all, for the guidance of these very talented and committed teachers; you are amazing.