Ignacio Ruiz teaches our new Meditation class every Saturday 1:45pm-2.30pm at PYC. He talks to us about his journey from student to teacher and offers some helpful tips for beginners.
What first brought you to Yoga?
In 2005 I had been practicing on and off for years when I came across yoga teacher Martin McDougall. I was immediately hooked by his very physical style but, as time passed, I came to realize that the physical side of yoga is only part of something much bigger, deeper and more powerful.
Why did you start meditating?
A good friend explained the basics steps. That first night, at bedtime, I sat on a couple of yoga blocks and meditated for three minutes. I repeated the sequence the next day… and the next. After only a few days I could feel my mind changing, generating a subtle and profound sense of focus and calm. I was fascinated and wanted to explore further.
Why should we practice meditation?
As well as teaching, I work as a freelance consultant. A few months after I started meditating I was given an assignment with the Canadian government. Their explanatory letter told me about the work I was to do and assured me that the letter would grant me entry into Canada. When I showed the letter to the border official he screamed that I couldn’t get into Canada “just like that”!
If this had happened a few months before, I would have become very anxious and possibly confrontational. To my surprise, I said to myself “if this man feels he needs to bark at me… let him be, nothing I can do. Worst case scenario is I fly back to London, sort out a visa and I will be back here in a couple of weeks”. I was telling this to myself with a tranquility and calmness that surprised me.
I was soon let in and on my way to Toronto marvelling at the powerful shift in my thinking. Meditation had completely changed the way I reacted to a stressful situation. It wasn’t that I was telling myself how to act and think, this balance was coming from within me. Outstanding.
What does it feel like to meditate?
There are two aspects to consider; how we feel in a meditation practice and how it affects our everyday life.
In a meditation session, you develop a deep sense of peace. The world expands inside you and a new part of you, your inner being, develops. Like anything else in life, some days this is easy, other days less so. But the trick is to go through the process every day.
The effects on daily life are even better. Almost without noticing, you develop an internal sense of balance, which has a massive impact on all aspects of your life. You can manage challenging situations, like the man barking at me at the border, your health improves, and you develop your capacity to help, and accept help from others in your personal and professional life. As you deepen your meditation practice, the centre that you develop becomes present all the time, giving you the sensation of an expanded mind. You start to understand everything around you and you develop a deep sense of inner freedom. It raises your quality of life to another level.
Why did you decide to become a meditation teacher?
Discovering meditation is one of the best things that has happened to me. I decided to teach because I want to share my experience and help others. I like to think of it as my little contribution to a better world, as far as my ability permits.
Over time I hope to build a community to share our meditation experience and develop conversations and exercises to bring an element of fun to meditation. These things are important for a sustained practice.
Why do you think that meditation is important in the world we live in today?
That’s a massive question. Our digital, hyper-stimulating lifestyle influences all of us by depriving us of time to process our experiences. We may not fully realize this, because the change appears to be slow, but the impact is huge.
Meditation has been part of the human experience for several thousand years, but it may be now that it is most needed. It is central to improving our quality of life; it makes us aware of who we are, where we are and what we want from our lives, at a time when the speed of everyday life pushes us to act like a hamster in a wheel – constantly marching onwards without knowing why. The rewiring of our brain that meditation brings gives us the clarity and perspective we need to feel settled within ourselves.
How do I begin meditating?
The most difficult part of a meditation practice is starting it! We all find ways to jeopardize our own happiness, ‘reasons’ to postpone things even though we know they are good for us. It’s just part of human nature.
Really, as Iyengar explained in his texts, you can learn all you need to know in five minutes. The basics are surprisingly simple and there are many good resources out there: classes, books, websites and apps. But meditation is a skill that requires commitment and practice, just like any other. It’s all about practice – you never stop learning. You need to practice every day, but not for long: the good news is that five minutes a day is enough to achieve wonders…… and who can’t spare five minutes a day to become a happier individual?
How do you know if you are actually meditating or just sitting quietly?
Ha ha! That’s a good one. Meditation requires a focused and concentrated effort, but you emerge from it with more energy than you started with. ‘Sitting quietly’ doesn’t achieve that.
Yoga philosophy tells us that in meditation you generate and channel prana (life energy). Other esoteric approaches say that meditation helps align or energise your chakras, or receive energy from the universe. The western scientific belief is that when we meditate we are ‘rewiring’ the electrical paths of our nervous system and optimising our biochemistry.
I know you have a scientific background, is it at odds with the yogic tradition of meditation?
I find it fascinating that meditation has been around for 4-5,000 years, and science is only now discovering what yogis and meditators have known for a very long time. Last year I attended the International Symposium for Contemplative Research, a gathering of around 400 amazing scientists, teachers and social workers. All of them use or study some form of meditation.
We now know about the neuroplasticity of the brain, that the electrical pathways that exist in our brains change in response to stimuli. We can train them in the same way we would work a muscle at the gym. In meditation, we stimulate those regions of the brain that make us calmer, more focused, happier.
Research also shows that meditation alters our cells at a molecular layer. This translates into, among other benefits, lower cortisol levels, better inflammatory responses, lower blood pressure, an enhanced immune system. This research is in its infancy: who knows what we will have learnt in a hundred years from now?
What are the most read/loved books on your bookshelf?
I recommend two meditation books: Wherever you go, there you are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer of bringing meditative practices to the west. His book is beautiful. Also, The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a meditation master who explains very complex ideas in amazingly simple and beautiful ways. Both books are full of soul and joy.
What is the most important part of meditation that you would like to convey through your teaching?
How good it is for everyone, how it can help us all have happy fulfilling lives, and how easy and simple it can be.
Iggy completed his 200-hour yoga teacher training with Stewart Gilchrist in 2015.