Softening into stillness through meditation teacher training
The journey to becoming a meditation teacher is one steeped in practise, patience and curiosity.
It’s 6am on a Thursday morning nearing the end of winter. My alarm has just gone off and I slide out of bed, walk upstairs to the mezzanine level of my home that acts as our yoga shala, burn some palo santo (lauded as “holy wood”), wrap myself in a blanket and sit in Burmese pose on my meditation cushion to begin my meditation practice.
This week’s homework is practising at least two different styles of meditation and reflecting on those experiences. I close my eyes and ask myself, how can I meet my needs today? This is one of the prompts suggested in our training manual to enquire within at the beginning of each practice.
This morning I am exploring mindfulness meditation, a style of the Buddhist meditation Vipassana that has been popularly adopted in the west. “This form of meditation teaches that thoughts do not need to be controlled, it encourages switching the focus from being the thinker of the thoughts to being the observer of the thoughts,” reveals Anne Hartley, CEO and founder of Hart Life Coaching, in the course notes of the Certified Meditation Teacher Training I am undertaking. Mindfulness is a practise of presence which, when done regularly, helps to reduce stress and cultivate calm.
An important element of this style of meditation is observing one’s breath, which is the main focus of my practice today. “The first stage of meditation is to stop distractions and make our mind clearer and more lucid. This can be accomplished by focusing on breathing,” explains Anne in the course notes. As guided, I close my eyes and focus on my breath. I breathe in deeply through my nose, observing the lungs expanding and, as I exhale, I watch the breath leave my body and notice how my belly softens.
In my morning meditation sits, my mind tends to fast-forward into the day ahead, thinking of the conversations I’ll be having, the food I’ll be eating, the articles I’ll be writing and editing, the problems that need resolving, the emotions that need to be felt. And every time I notice myself getting swept up in these distractions of the mind during this morning’s 12-minute meditation, I return back to my breath. I focus on the feeling of the breath as it enters and leaves my body. It’s a simple practice but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy practice. Being still and observing the breath requires practise, patience and curiosity.
I hear the sound of a Tibetan gong from my phone, which highlights the end of my formal practice. I gently come back into the physical space, returning to my body, and draw my attention once more to my breath. I slowly open my eyes, inviting back in the colours, shapes and textures around me. While I don’t walk through the rest of my day enlightened like many of the wise sages before me once did, I do feel more at ease, calm and present from simply sitting with myself in silence for 12 minutes. Not only is this an accurate account of my personal experience meditating, it is also one of the ways I will be teaching meditation at the completion of this course.
Learning from the inside out
I have been practising meditation for many years and find it just as pertinent, if not more, than my yoga (asana) practice. As such, my intention for teaching this sacred practice to others is to help share the stress-reducing benefits of mindfulness and the resilience-building effects of meditation, as described in the course notes: “Meditation increases our tolerance to stress. Mindfulness decreases stress.”
…every time I notice myself getting swept up in these distractions of the mind, I return back to my breath. I focus on the feeling of the breath as it enters and leaves my body. It’s a simple practice but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy practice. Being still and observing the breath requires practise, patience and curiosity.
Conducted online with the support of a mentor, the course contains 11 units with 10 written assignments to complete. You have the flexibility to take up to 12 months to complete the course but it can be completed in as little as eight weeks. A 100-page training manual/workbook is supplied, which explains the different styles of meditation and offers more than 20 scripts on mindfulness, mantra, loving kindness, nine-round breathing, walking meditation, prosperity meditation, calming meditation and other types of meditation. You are provided with meditation audios to use when teaching, a plan on conducting your own six-week meditation course and resources on how to create your own meditation audios and videos, as well as exercises and activities to use in your own meditation classes. You also have phone and email access for support and are given encouraging, thoughtful and validating written feedback on each assignment. There is a Facebook group you can use to connect with others too.
The training course covers a wide range of topics, including mindfulness, stress, meditation’s role in stress, using values as a way of being mindful, the benefits of meditating regularly, different styles of meditation (such as mindfulness, transcendental, loving kindness, walking, japa and binaural sounds), how to teach meditation to children and teenagers, meditation as a form of healing and achieving goals, relaxation techniques and meditation for business, as well as conducting courses and teaching classes.
Meditating regularly prior to undertaking this course is recommended, given it is completed by distance and the study units complement an already established meditation practice. The training is very practical, with the exercises in each unit allowing you to explore the concepts within yourself — a form of svadhyaya (self-study) — before you learn how to impart that wisdom onto others. You’re called to do the work before you can teach others how to do the work, which cements the authenticity and integrity of the meditation practice and its sacred teachings.
“The mind is the king of the body, but the breath is the king of the mind,” said Ryan, one of yoga teachers, recently in class. As I’ve been working more closely with the breath during this meditation course, I can’t help but agree with him. Working with the mind for the body and the breath for the mind are two healthy breeding grounds for a consistent meditation practice that can first be embodied within the self and then shared with others in one-on-one and group classes.
Hart Life Coaching’s Meditation Teacher Training course is accredited by the International Mindfulness and Meditation Alliance (IMMA) and the Institute of Complementary Therapists (IICT). The writer was a guest of Hart Life Coaching. For more information, visit hartlifecoaching.com.au.