Yoga Rockford: Learning meditation

By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio

Yoga students often ask me about meditation — whether I teach it or where they can learn it. My answer is always the same: find a Vipassana Meditation Center and find the time to take a course. Learning this technique of meditation could be one of the best things you could ever do for yourself.

My own slightly reluctant meditation journey had a disappointing beginning. Beautiful visualizations at the end of class with my first yoga teacher were nice, but failed to focus my mind at all. A once-a-week course in a form of Thai meditation was too sporadic to take hold. And, although an introduction to Zen helped to quiet my mind a little, it was only for short periods of time. So, when a friend in my yoga class finally introduced me to Vipassana Meditation, as taught by S.N. Goenka, I was skeptical. But, when I took my first course in 2005, it immediately changed the way I looked at meditation, at myself, and at my relationship with my own mind.

Seven years and six courses later, and having heard many other student accounts of failed meditation experiments, I am convinced that Vipassana as taught by S.N. Goenka truly gives the practice needed to change your mind and change your life for the better.

I believe my story is a pretty typical one. All of us look for the fastest, shortest, easiest and most palatable healing techniques that might just “fit in” to the life we already lead, forgetting that real change requires real change. As with yoga, “meditation” has been popularized and commercialized in ways contrary to its actual definition, steering us in “quick-fix” directions that may ultimately be more distracting than helpful.

Dhyana (meditation) is the seventh limb in the practice of yoga, the one right before full enlightenment. So, there is good reason to wonder about techniques of “meditation” that are learned in a weekend or less, supposedly bringing you to a mental state that has taken Indian sages (including the Buddha himself) a lifetime to achieve. Although the effects of these weekend retreats or 20-minute fixes aren’t harmful, they may just give us brief escape at the surface layer of the mind, and we find ourselves disturbed once again as we return to our daily routines.

For more permanent results, we must dig beyond the surface of the mind into the deep roots of our mental habits to change our emotional and physical reactions for good. And, as with every other limb of yoga, this takes time, discipline and a lot of practice.

This is why Vipassana Meditation, as taught by S.N. Goenka, works. The 10-day residential courses are taught in a methodical and step-by-step manner at retreat centers around the world, one of which is right here in nearby Pecatonica. During a 10-day course, you are given the chance to immerse yourself in the process of learning the technique of Vipassana Meditation. All distractions of the mind are taken away (no phones, no books, no communication); and you are fully taken care of by other volunteer meditators, allowing you to fully focus on the task at hand.

The first three days are devoted to just training the mind to focus its attention (the technique of anapana). On Day 4, you learn Vipassana. By Day 6, you know the whole technique. The last days are for practice. With time, the mind is able to learn and develop new patterns that are useful once the course is over.

As I look forward to sitting my seventh course, I am reminded of the benefits Vipassana Meditation has brought to my life. Although not always perfect, my practice of the technique gives me the opportunity to reflect on my mental habits and reactions and gives me the time and space to change. I am less anxious, manage emotions better, and have a much clearer view of the world within and around me.

We are lucky to have a center so close, and courses run in Pecatonica all year round.

May all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings be liberated!

For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit or call (815) 968-9642.

From the Feb. 29-March 6, 2012, issue

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