Buddhist monks meditation statues

Beginner’s Meditation Class in Bangkok, Thailand

by Kaisa

Life is a dance. Mindfulness is witnessing that dance.”

-Dr. Amit Ray, meditation scholar

I knew I was interested in exploring Buddhist meditation after visiting my first temple (or “Wat”) in Thailand. As long as they are respectful, world travelers are welcome at these places of worship. The number of meditation classes and retreats available throughout Thailand pleasantly surprised me. That said, I didn’t want something catered to touristy Westerners. I traveled to Koh Phangan, not for the Full Moon Party, but for what I’d read was a highly respected meditation class.

… Did I mention that “class” was a 10-day silent retreat? I truly don’t know what I was thinking. I think I am an annoyingly all-or-nothing type of person, but I realized with growing panic I had bitten off way more than I could chew. I knew nothing about Thai Buddhism, and I thought I could hang with the pros, in silence for 10 days? Ugh. Talk about Western arrogance. After enjoying a few island sunsets (chatting my little American butt off), I returned to Bangkok and went back to basics. That’s where Wat Mahathat Yuwaratrangsarit comes in.

After chickening out of that 10-day silent meditation retreat, I decided to take some baby steps into the world of Vipassana meditation. This turned out to be an excellent decision, because it ultimately led to one of my favorite experiences in Bangkok. Meditation, particularly Vipassana, is truly beneficial for anyone—long as you have an open mind and respectful attitude! Personally, it was the best thing to happen to my mental health since Nutella.

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What was the meditation class like?

The two hour beginner’s meditation class at Bangkok’s Wat Mahathat Yuwaratrangsarit (no, they don’t teach you how to pronounce it) provides an excellent and authentic opportunity to learn about basic Buddhist meditation techniques. First of all, it is taught in English, and has small enough class sizes to allow for questions and personalized advice as you practice your meditation technique. It is held in Section 5 of the temple, in sort of an international education area that is very well-marked and easy to find when walking along Maharat Rd. Every day at either 7:00, 13:00, or 18:00 (you can check updated times here) you can show up and dip your toes into the ancient practice of Vipassana (“insight”) meditation practiced throughout Thailand.

Bangkok locals practice meditation at Wat Mahathat
Source: Wikipedia Commons
 
If you’re a meditation newbie intrigued by the idea of a longer silent retreat in Thailand or Southeast Asia, one of these free (though donations appreciated) classes might be a good starter course. I am infinitely grateful I participated in this intro class before attempting something more intensive. There were only four people in my class: me, a nice Polish tourist, and two beginner monks! Pretty cool classmates, I think. The small size made focusing a lot easier and gave us more time for one-on-one monk Q&A at the end of class.

What do you do in a meditation class?

Total meditation time, not including demonstrations and instruction led by the English speaking monk, is only about an hour. The first 45 minutes or so is simply an introduction to the benefits and principles of Vipassana, which from what I understand focuses on awareness and a lot of stillness. You sit and observe. If your leg falls asleep, you acknowledge that it hurts and move on. If your mosquito bite-riddled shin itches, you acknowledge that it itches and move on. Basically, if something sucks, try to detach your ego from the fact that it sucks until it doesn’t suck, it just exists. We are so spoiled, with our rejection of discomfort!
 
Monks chillin' and practicing meditation
Monks are some of the smiliest folks I met on this journey! (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

This, according to our ever-smiling monk teacher, is the key to pure happiness. Otherwise known as… nirvana! That’s the goal some people spend lifetimes, let alone two hours on a Wednesday afternoon, trying to achieve.

SEE ALSO: Awesome 10 Day Thailand Itinerary for Backpackers

We practiced walking meditation for a half hour, which was super interesting. I didn’t realize this was even A Thing, but it was so cool to practice mindfulness as we literally just walked around a room. Normally, I’d say we walked “aimlessly” around a room, but can you be aimless when you’re being truly mindful? I had this newfound appreciation for my body, somehow, and how my legs got me from point A to point B with just a nudge from my brain. There was no need to think of anything else, which was exactly the point.

After the walking meditation, we practiced sitting meditation for another half hour. This  came with more challenges than walking meditation, as it was easier for the mind to wander… but with our teacher’s guidance we had some idea of how to best handle and learn from those challenges. If anything, the half hour of each seemed too short and left me wanting more! It’s ridiculous how quickly both of the meditation sessions went by, actually.

 
At the end of class we had an opportunity to ask questions. For example, what’s the best sitting posture? How does one avoid mind numbing boredom? Our teacher was unfailingly kind and patient in his answers.
 
Ultimately, I came away with a stronger motivation to keep meditating and see where it’d take me. The walk home felt like a daydream, or like I’d just woken up from a particularly peaceful nap. How would I feel after 10 days of nonstop meditating in a silent retreat?! Just how detached from my ego would I be then? Maybe that’s a more realistic goal than I thought, and something I’ll definitely consider in the future.
 
Buddhist Meditation Class for Beginner's in Bangkok

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