Does your (possibly infrequent) meditation practice involve squeezing your eyes shut and asking yourself questions like “Am I doing it right?” or “Why can’t I clear my mind?” And waiting for something to happen? You’d be in excellent company. (Namely, ours.)
Fortunately, many of the city’s top meditation teachers host group sessions where meditations are done as a group, and there’s time for questions and airing frustrations.
Sharon Salzberg, who’s one of the country’s leading meditation teachers, says she tries to “impart some clarity about what to expect and not to expect, and some confidence. Meditation is not just about [feeling] peace and joy, it's really more broad, and about a quality of awareness."
Want to kick off an awareness-based meditation practice or fine-tune yours? Here are five top meditation teachers in New York (most also lead workshops around the country), who’ll help you find your piece of inner peace. Or at least help you find your way to your meditation pillow more often. —Jennifer Kass
Photo: Dharma Punx NYC
Paula Tursi, Founder, Reflections Center of Conscious Living, Midtown Manhattan
The Tradition: Meditation for the senses
Tursi teaches you to engage with your surroundings on the sensory level. Focusing on “really listening and feeling” is meant to "pull us out of our minds and into our bodies." Tursi says "meditation is not about shutting off thoughts; that would be like asking your heart not to beat. It's about allowing thoughts, but not giving them energy, and instead noticing sensations."
Who's it good for? Those with an active mind and who maybe isn't used to feeling their emotions, so they might be experiencing stress or anxiety instead, says Tursi. She recommends sitting quietly and focusing on the environment around you and accepting all the thoughts coming in. "What feels like an unsuccessful meditation is actually highly productive when you're allowing whatever is, to be," she says. "If your mind is really busy, then you can watch that. And that's a successful meditation. How we deal with frustrating moments is how we deal with life."
Josh Korda, meditation teacher at Dharma Punx on the Lower East Side and Greenpoint, Brooklyn
The Tradition: Buddhist meditation infused with punk philosophy
There are two main forms in the Buddhist practice: concentration, where we focus on breath or a phrase, similar to transcendental meditation. And Vipassana, which is awareness of the breath and body, but we allow thoughts to arise, creating a calm, balanced awareness where we can observe what arises without getting caught up in the stories; this one is more of a feeling meditation, says Korda, who says punks and the Buddha both question those stories and reality. As a result Dharma Punx often draws sober, tattooed types.
Who benefits from this approach? “Someone who’s prone to anxiety or panic attacks will benefit from the breath work. It's also very helpful for those having issues of depression or confusion in their relationships or career. This meditation style creates the space needed to process some of those difficulties, allowing a safe way to relieve stress by releasing emotions, which is very healing," he says. "When we run from emotions, we wind up with more serious emotional imbalances or stress-related health issues.”
The Tradition: Insight meditation and loving-kindness
Salzberg helped popularize this form of meditation in America, which teaches you to deepen your concentration and stabilize your attention (no small feat for modern day multi-taskers); cultivate more mindfulness in order to really connect to your experience (learn what habit and what's you); and loving-kindness, which is the broader sense of inclusiveness as collective beings. Salzberg says, "Meditation returns us to who we are; we can see ourselves beneath the level of habit and the projection of fear and see some beautiful qualities of strength."
Why it's good for beginners: Breath meditation is good place to start because you don't have to believe in anything to feel your breath. Also, "the breath is portable, so if we sit for 10 minutes a day and rest our attention on feeling our breath, then that's something you can take on the subway, use while waiting in the doctor's office or in line in the grocery store, and no one has to know you're doing it.”
The Tradition: Shambhala, a form of Buddhist meditation with a Tibetan lineage
"Tibetan master, Trungpa Rinpoche, said the purpose of meditation is to make friends with yourself, and, like when making friends with others, we need to give it time to get to know them," says Nichtern, who, at 33, became the global Shambhala community's youngest Shastri, or senior-level teacher.
Nichtern likes to merge Buddhist psychology and philosophy with the Western world, bringing the practice into daily life in an easy and accessible way.
Best tip for beginners: "Don't start with a marathon. Sit for 10 minute periods to flex the meditation muscle. It's like a yoga practice for your brain; it relaxes and trains the mind. It's both soothing and training you to operate differently in your life."
The Tradition: An individualized approach
The primary purpose of meditation is to connect with yourself on a deeper level, Wagner explains. “For some, that means reducing stress or depression. For others, their intention is a spiritual one—a desire to connect with the Sacred,” he says. “So I train people to have their own rewarding relationship with God or themselves. We start to get nourished energetically from the inside, rather than always looking to the outside (like success or having people like us) for what we need.”
Meditation tip for control freaks? Make sure your desire to meditate is coming from a place of self-love and self-care rather than self-improvement and self-correction, says Wagner. “People have been taught that [meditation] will be difficult, and so many enter into it like it's going to be a cold shower; that it's good for you but hard to do. So I like to change that perception and make it an enjoyable, hot bath.”
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