108 Days of Meditation – Breathe Baby

breathe-2

 

I meditate. But it’s been a long road to get here. The road ahead is longer- but I’m focused on the now.

Buddha on the mountaintop, I’m not. A bit tense high-strung might describe me- my mind clicks at a million miles a minute. In fact, as I am typing this I am thinking of a grocery list, my class tonight, my own practice and the laundry that I need to fold.

Suffice it to say- I was the poster child for someone who needed to get still. I wasn’t completely averse or unaware of this thought- I do find stillness both before and after my yoga practice. Yet, I hadn’t fully embraced a meditation practice. Oh sure, there have been some half-hearted attempts. But even though I’m a yoga teacher and someone who works on becoming more self-aware, the idea of meditating made me a bit… skittish.

Why?

Fear, mostly. Afraid of my thoughts? Maybe. Afraid that I’d be forced to let go and breathe- a little bit of the doctor getting a taste of her own medicine? Perhaps….

Maybe there was a little lazy mixed in for good measure. I’m being harder on myself than I should be- but I’d broken too many promises to my spirit by not committing to a practice of stillness.

Enter accountability.

Last year I practiced 108 days in a row of yoga (as you have probably guessed I’m sort of an all or nothing kind of woman- this is a gift and a curse and another post entirely) – it was a great way to reconnect with my practice and myself.

And it worked.

I was going to do it again this year- but in the back of my mind I knew that meditating was the bigger issue.

So I procrastinated- I told myself I needed the perfect meditation space. I told myself I should start on a Monday, when the sun was out, on the fifth of the month..blah blah you get the idea.

After reading a post on MindBodyGreen about before and after photos of people who meditated I said out loud:

“I’m going to commit 108 days of mediation and see what happens.” (I love experiments particularly when I’m the guinea pig)

And so it was. I don’t know how you operate, but when I say things out loud- even when my dog Dakota is the only witness, they become true and therefore must be realized. Now that I had said it- it was time to get started. Here are the ten things that helped me:

 

  1. Leap. There is no great time to get started meditating. I would always be busy. I just had to start.
  2. Keep a journal of your feelings either in a diary or on your phone. Jotting down feelings is a powerful motivator for both change and acceptance.
  3. Start small. I started out for with 10 minutes and went from there. If ten minutes seems like eternity, then try five.
  4. Use an app or a timer. It’s hard to let go if you are constantly sneaking your eyes open to take a peek at the clock. By using the stopwatch function on your phone you can focus on the act of observing your breathing rather than a watching how many minutes are still left. I found success with two apps. One is Stop, Breathe & Think- this app allows you to ‘check in’ with your feelings before you begin and offers suggestions for a meditation that suits your mood. Another app is Insight Timer. One of the cool features of this app is that it shows you how many people are meditating when you are.
  5. Find a comfortable seat. Sit upright. I sit on the floor on a block. But using a pillow or a chair may work for some.
  6. Find a comfortable gaze. This may mean the eyes are open or closed. I like to close my eyes. If I chose to do a second meditation at night- I’ll keep my eyes open and use a candle.
  7. Use a simple mantra. My monkey mind can get the best of me. Swinging from thought to thought while I’m trying to be still. Instead of trying to reach up and grab the thoughts I allow them to go on but I focus on a simple thought that turns the volume on those thoights down. Sometimes it’s a simple phrase like ‘I am.’ I inhale on the word I and exhale on am. Inhale and exhale. I…Am…Eventually I come to the place I am quiet- even if only for a moment. If a phrase doesn’t work counting can help- inhale on one and exhale on two.
  8. Be kind (to yourself). It’s not easy to be still- especially in the go go go world. There will be days when it’s torture to sit. Heck, many days are like that- but if every step I take is on the path to enlightenment- I can’t go wrong by trying.
  9. Be consistent. During the first few days- I made time each day to be still. This didn’t work for me. So now- I get up early each morning and begin my day with stillness.
  10. Try again. And again.

It’s been two weeks and I feel…aware. Aware to the idea that living in the moment is powerful. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that meditating is not about emptying my mind but coming to understand it.

 

So- go ahead and sit.

Namaste y’all.

 

 

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Adventures in Yoga- Slowing Flow Down Turns Things Up

Photo credit Alsion Aucher
Photo credit Alsion Achauer

“Тhe gentle overcomes the rigid.
The slow overcomes the fast.
The weak overcomes the strong.”

“Everyone knows that the yielding overcomes the stiff,
and the soft overcomes the hard.
Yet no one applies this knowledge.”
― LaoziLao Tsu: Tao Te Ching

To paraphrase Kevin Lamb advanced classes aren’t just about complicated poses, they’re about slowing down the actions that create postures.

What I love about Kevin’s class and Anusara yoga is the meticulous nature of the practice. Crossing T’s and all that. Every Saturday at noon I can count on a discovery. Often it’s a ripple that turns into an ocean of understanding about my body. Last week I realized that when I lifted up my pelvic floor my shoulders felt better aligned. I also realized that I could hear the word anus and vagina repeatedly and not giggle like a seven year-old boy. Though don’t ask me to say Uranus or I will collapse in laughter. 

Back to our program. Class. Saturday.

Something big was in store. I could feel it.

My prana hummed from the soles of my feet and slowly wound up my body as we stood in Tadasana. Asked to open my eyes wider my heart lifted. Next,  a feeling rose up- fear? Hope? It floated up and out and  briefly, I was completely free of judgment.

I was the observer. Watching. Waiting.

My thoughts wandered to my daily meditation practice.

I’ve spent the last three weeks attempting to be still for for at least 20 minutes. Some mornings I am elated. The stillness hovers around me and at once I am nothing and everything. On others it is thorns and bad thoughts- and profanity in my veins making my blood thick with doubt. Who the fuck meditates I grumble in my head wondering when I can get up. But, whatever comes up is what it is. So, I go with it.

And that, I suppose is the point.

Joy, anger, sadness or boredom is what it is in the moment. No matter what, I am firm and rooted in my commitment to it. I am committed to growth just like in mountain pose, my teacher telling me to breathe in deeply. I fill my lungs. I take in more air and with an exhale I am released. I am relaxed and ever more present.

Slow down. Slow down. Slow down.

Kevin said Tadasana pose at the top of class would be the hardest thing we would do that day. I stood exposed for what seemed like an hour but may have been 5 minutes.

Slow down. Slow down. Slow down.

Increasing the amount of time it takes to enter a pose intentistfies the posture tenfold. The time we took to transition from downward dog to three-legged plank was like climbing a vertical incline with a rucksack. It’s not just the pose- but the subtle cues that stack muscle engagement with movement. As I slowly drew my knee to the outside of my elbow while maintaining a full blown conversation with the back of my pelvis did I realize that I was in the deep end without floaties.

And it was okay. For the second time (in the same class no less) I realized that I was observing myself and my practice without judgement. Maybe it was the recommended reading. Self Observation by Red Hawk has opened up my heart and mind to myself  mounds of bullshit that  that gets in the way of my growth as person and yogi.

Cool, I thought. This class is going to rock.

And then the bottom fell out.

This is my own fault. The minute I assigned judgement to to my feelings is the moment that I set an expectation. And whatdya know- most expectations that you set for others can’t be met.

Class increased in intensity.. We held plank and transitioned to lifting a leg while raising the opposite hand. Time wobbled and stood still as I searched for balance. Did he say four breaths? Five? One?

There were points during class when I said to myself, ‘It can’t get harder.’ And of course it would. Poses were held longer and longer. Kevin talked about challenging our notion of staying in a pose for what we call the prescribed amount of time and moving past that. What happens to the mind? What thoughts arise? Is it possible to feel yourself changing if you move quietly enough?

The answer isn’t clear to me. Without question though, I felt the emotions rise up the longer I held a pose. I must admit while holding a three minute lunge I had less than peaceful feelings about Kevin. I was reminded of taking a challenging hike during my silent retreat. There were points that I was sure that I couldn’t make it but after a moment rational thinking comes back.

The transition down was a long bumpy landing rather than quick and dirty descent. And by that I mean things worked their way down just as hard as they worked their way up. Arm balances popped up close to the end of class. Patterns and habits can be friends and foes. When we set ideas of what a class looks like both as teachers and students we miss the chance to play and explore. This was exactly Kevin’s plan.

In savasana my body felt the effects of the battle. And it was a battle. For a moment I wondered if I had pushed too hard and had crossed the line of tapas into violence against the self. I don’t think so. The intensity of the class was more of a molting.

I’m changed by the experience. Class was 3 days ago and I’m still thinking about it. That’s a good thing.

Yoga. Yoga. Yoga.

Namaste y’all.