When I signed up for Yoga Journal's 21-Day Yoga Challenge, I joked with my husband about how long it would take me to end up in traction — or, as a friend calls it, "assisted yoga."
I've been doing yoga — a personalized hybrid of Sivananda and vinyasa — on and off since graduate school, when I took a weekend class at the local YMCA with my mom. Through the years, I've taken sporadic classes in Svaroopa and Vinyasa Flow, among others. Some years I've done more than others. I've been doing it more consistently since 2007, a year after my thoracic outlet problems started; giving up yoga for nearly a year worsened the condition rather than made it better. (I wasn't formally diagnosed until a few years later.)
So these days, I do a long practice — long meaning anywhere from 75 to 83 minutes, these days mostly in the latter range, and that's asana alone — twice a week. Since the Yoga Challenge began, I've done some long practices, but mostly added a half-hour of asana (postural practice) daily to my gym workouts. It's been a learning experience: working with my body rather than forcing it. But that's not the part of the challenge I want to ramble about. This is a Druid blog, after all.
The other important YC component: meditate 15 minutes a day.
What is meditation? It comes from a Latin root meaning "thinking over" and often refers to a practice of contemplation and reflection, especially of a religious nature.
The definition reminds me of what John Michael Greer terms "discursive meditation" in The Art and Practice of Geomancy Traditional Western meditation involves not the banishing of thought, but focusing thought like a laser on a particular concept: in Greer, the geomantic figures, although you can do the same with any symbol system or a name or aspect of a god. This was the form of meditation used in the Christian world, although it's largely fallen out of favor.
The type most commonly used is Eastern meditation, which involves withdrawal from both the senses and thought, achieving a greater oneness through the absence of objects. This is the type you commonly see in yoga, in which people focus on their breath, a mantra or a candle-flame; the focus provides a retreat from thought. In this way, I find yoga asana itself a meditation; I count my breath throughout the practice to know how long to hold a pose, which leaves little room for thinking. (Thoughts do try to squeeze in there anyway.) Weirdly enough, I find counting to calm the mind — one to ten, over and over and over.
Overall, meditation is a shift in thought process from the secular to the sacred — the "set apart." It's the setting apart that makes something sacred, according to definition; there are no distractions, no other obligations in that moment, no multitasking, no ruminating.
Asana, running, weight-lifting, ecstatic dancing, washing dishes: all these can be meditation, if done in the right spirit. Trance-journeying, contemplating a prayer or concept, counting your breath. Religious rituals and prayers. If you're setting that time apart, using it for something other than distraction, ruminating or mechanical action, then it's meditation.
So, if chanting "om" doesn't do it for you, don't give up on meditation as a concept. I'd heartily recommend "Meditation: The Complete Guide" from Patricia Monaghan and Eleanor G. Diereck, which introduces the reader to a wide range of meditative practices from multiple traditions. Check it out.