3 Things My Meditation Practice Isn’t

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According to Jon Kabat-Zinn , “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”  When I meditate I’m working on staying with what is happening. When my mind wanders, I draw my attention back to the present. In theory this sounds like a piece of cake or a cake of peace (ouch). The reality is every ‘sit’ (meditation practice) is different. Some days I sit and feel an overwhelming sense of calm. I leave my sit feeling renewed. On others I’m left feeling frustrated and hyper-aware of my environment.

And that’s okay. Meditation isn’t supposed to be bliss. This journey of learning to be more present has been a more difficult and rewarding journey than my asana practice. However, without my asana practice, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It’s like Pema Chödrön says everything we do is on the path to enlightenment. I get lots of questions about my practice. How long do I do it? Is it hard? Do I feel better? Do I see God?

Here are three things my practice isn’t.

1. My practice isn’t easy.

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I am distracted easily by shiny objects. This is part of the reason why I do yoga. My mind can wander during meditation. But when it does I come back to the breath.

2. Fun

On some days my meditation practice leaves me with a sense of peace. On others, not so much. There have been times that in connecting with my breathing buried emotions arise. When this happens, I’ve learned to deal with what has come up.

3. Inconsistent

I sit on most days. I feel the diffenrece when I don’t sit for two days in a row. The homework for my meditation course requires a daily body scan of forty minutes. I didn’t do that this week. But I did wake up every morning and sit quietly for 20 minutes before I started my day. That’s progress. Mindfulness requires commitment. Commitment takes times.

There are no short cuts. It’s only recently that I’ve begin to appreciate this. When there aren’t ways to get ‘there’ faster, there’s no place to be in this moment. As a woman in her 40’s I’m in no hurry to run the clock down. Paying attention on purpose provides a new respect for the notion of time. Try this experiment. Stand firmly with your arms down by your sides for 3 minutes. Resist the urge to fidget or tug at your clothes. Keep your eyes open and gaze soft. Notice the fluctuations that happen in the mind. Notice the things you begin to say to yourself. After the three minutes set the time for three minutes and resume what you were doing. It’s funny how fast time flies when we aren’t present. And listen, I get it. We are busy. It’s not possible to be present every moment of every day. But imagine the rich texture life can have when we take moments to stop and be here now.

2015 is my year of living mindfully.

Namaste y’all.

Do you have a meditation practice? Have you just started one? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Rikers Yoga – Trust Is a Process Part II

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I wandered into the new class in one of the sentenced women’s dorm a little earlier than usual. Most of the students from last week were at work or at a program. However, with most of the dorm asleep- I said I’d hang out for a bit and see if anyone wanted to do some yoga. I put down three mats and sat on one hoping I’d look pathetic and someone would take pity on the foolish yoga teacher.
Bam. Five minutes later someone came out. Maybe it was pity. I don’t care. Proud I am not. It was someone from last week and she said that she loved class but her neck and back had been hurting badly. She did however request to do downward dog and tree pose.  It was louder than the previous week but I was sure that we could create a therapeutic space to soften her body. And then…
The return of Fake A*s Pilates aka Tasha (not her real name). Last week I had a few dissatisfied customers. She was one. I thought- here we go. If I could have raised one eyebrow I would have. But instead I smiled and was met with a softness that I’d not seen from her. Tasha used to be in another dorm and while she was never disruptive during my class I’ve seen her yucking it up. She asked if she could sit with a bolster under her back because it was hurting. As she was talking her eyes were moving in the direction of the TV. I Love Lucy was on.
When you teach in jail there’s a dynamic- being tough doesn’t work, but being a pushover will also get you nowhere. It’s a delicate balance. I looked at her and said I’d be happy to have her sit if her back hurt and she didn’t want to practice but the pillow wasn’t for watching TV. We were creating a community.
Could she agree to do that? Did that seem fair?
She paused a beat and said, “Yeah, definitely.” Tasha sat with the bolster and did arm variations throughout class. No wise cracks. Three more people came back from work duty and we’re excited to grab a mat.
About midway through class Tasha  said she wanted to lay back down in bed. She thanked me and left.
The room was loud but the energy was friendly. As I was leaving Tasha said goodbye again and she’d see me next week.
This place has taught me more about interpersonal relationships than anywhere else. I don’t know Tasha’s story and may never know it. But she let down her guard a bit. I can’t imagine what it must be like. Humor is probably a great coping mechanism.  Today was interesting. We’ll see what happens next week.
Namaste y’all.

Radical Immunity

This post is from a local wellness store in my neighborhood. I love the fact that there is a place of healing so close to my home. With this weather you can’t be too careful when it comes to getting sick!!! Stay warm. Namaste y’all.

Radical Wellness JC

Immunity ElixirFrom the beginning of time, there has always been a special reverence for gifted healers who knew how to use the earth’s resources to help others. This was a time before pharmaceutical companies and unpronounceable names and questionable side effects, a time when a healer could diagnose and cure simply by going out into the garden or forest to gather the necessary herbs to make a poultice or tea for the trusting patient. An herbal healer was said to have a sacred communion with a plant in order for the plant to reveal its secrets and we are very fortunate to have our own right at Radical Wellness with Mr. David Najjar.

We are also very pleased to announce his Immunity Elixirs! These potent little shots are available in single-serving size at only $3 and are packed with anti-oxidants and immunity-boosting herbs. I was able to try one on Friday…

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Adventures in Meditation 5am

cold street

At 5am there isn’t a lot of noise on my typically busy city street. But today as I sat in meditation it was my mind that was full and endlessly moving. At first, it was connecting with my breathing. Noticing how the air was moving in and out of my body.

Staying steady. Holding. Being. And then a distraction.

An announcement of the next stop from the bus outside.

I came back to my breathing. Noticing the expansion and contraction of my diaphragm. Another distraction. My dog’s breathing. And a thought. Is she asleep? A new sensation rose up. Heaviness and tingling in my eyelids. I think I am sleepy. Gently, I bring myself back to my breathing.

I notice the inhales and exhales, how the air moves inside my nose. My nose is dry I think. It must be the heat. And then another thought. Is it cold outside? Gently I bring myself back to my breathing. A sensation, this time in my belly. It feels soft and I feel a pang of shame. My stomach is not flat enough. Pretty enough. And a surprise. Instead of another thought there is another sensation. Tightness. In my chest. And a thought which is expected. I am not enough. I am not doing enough. I am not successful enough. 

More tightness. And then something changed.

I came back to my breathing and decided to stay with this emotion. I noticed the tightness and shame and stayed with it.

Breathing. Letting this be as they were. No changing. No shifting. No squashing down.

Things dissolve. Tightness lifts.

Just because I feel shame does not mean I will die from it. And if I sit with the feeling it will pass.

More thoughts and feelings came and went. And each time I came back to my breathing.

In 35 minutes the bells chimed indicating that my meditation was over. Normally, I feel a sense of completion. But today, I felt something new. A sense of renewal, that this was the start of something new.

Something present and mindful.

It was a challenging sit. However, I felt more like myself than ever before. Pena Chödrön says that mediation is a way to befriend who we already are.

I beginning to see the glimmer of something. 2015 is my year of living mindfully.

Namaste y’all

Rikers Yoga – Trust Is A Process

Photo NYT
Photo NYT

I went to Rikers today instead of my normal Tuesday. My regular class in the max area was thrilled. No one got the message that I would be coming today. I got a hug followed by a we missed you- we thought something happened. One confessed that she thought I’d forgotten about them. I assured her- no way. But I really appreciated her honesty and told her so. The building was quiet and we had a beautiful practice. It was so quiet I could hear students breathing. A gift in this environment.

Started a new class in a sentenced women’s dorm and had a large group excited to come to yoga. This excitement extended to the CO who turned off the TV and kept the dorm fairly quiet for our whole practice- another first. One moment to be filed under hilarious- one woman left class calling it fake ass Pilates. Can’t win em all! We had a great time. At the end of class one student said ‘Please come back. People say they will come back and don’t.” Before I could say anything someone said- nah she’s here all the time. Trust is process. It takes time. It takes patience. I hung around after and two students wanted an easy routine they could do in the mornings. After writing one we practiced it together. Not all will practice on the outside but some will. And by learning to breathe a little more deeply they are opening up opportunities to honor themselves.

It’s cold outside but there was a flicker of warmth inside. I’m grateful and honored that they let me in.

Namaste Y’all

Meatless Monday – Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with Rosemary Mashed Sweet Potatoes

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Yo. It’s cold out. Brick, some of us would say.

Freezing. Bitter. Glacial. Siberian.

On days this cold soup or stew is my go-to meal. But I’m trying to expand my horizons. Enlightenment and all that yada yada. So I did a little digging and found a recipe for Cauliflower Steaks. Perfect comfort food fix without getting unhealthy!

Thanks to dinnerwasdelicious.com for the yummy recipe.

Garlicky Cauliflower Steaks with Lemon and Parsley

inspired by our dear friend Rachel Humphrey

  • 1 head Cauliflower
  • 3 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 cup Parsley, finely chopped
  • I handful of fresh Sage chopped
  • 4 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
  • Juice and Zest of ½ Lemon
  • 1 tsp Paprika
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat your oven to 475 degrees. Line a large cookie sheet with tinfoil or a silicone liner to save yourself a few minutes of scrubbing.
  2. Remove the leaves from the Cauliflower and try to not damage too much of the stem. Thoroughly rinse, and then slice the Cauliflower into ½ inch slices. At the ends, you will have odd bits that are a little less pretty, and that’s okay. They get extra caramelized and taste great.
  3. In a large bowl combine Olive Oil, Parsley, Garlic, Lemon Juice and Zest, Paprika, and a small pinch of Salt. Carefully toss the Cauliflower in this mixture and arrange in one even layer on the cookie sheet. If you have extra of the marinade/mixture/stuff, slather it on top of everything once its on the tray.
  4. Roast in the oven (obviously) for about 15 minutes, or until things are golden brown and crispy on the edges.

These paired deliciously with mashed sweet potatoes seasoned with fresh rosemary and thyme. To make the seasoning extra come alive I gently sauteed the spices in a pan with 1/2 t olive oil to bring out the oil/fragrance, chopped them up and added to the sweet potatoes.

Roast some green beans with a drizzle of balsamic!

Enjoy!

Namaste y’all!!!

Rikers Island Yoga – Stop, Drop and Jump Back

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It’s only in the last ten to fifteen years that there have been serious studies about the effects of yoga and meditation, let alone how yoga and meditation may affect the prison population. But two doctors at Oxford did a preliminary study about yoga in prison and found some interesting results.

‘We found that the group that did the yoga course showed an improvement in positive mood, a decrease in stress and greater accuracy in a computer test of impulsivity and attention,’ said Dr Amy Bilderbeck and Dr Miguel Farias, who led the study at the Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry at Oxford University. ‘The suggestion is that yoga is helpful for these prisoners.’

– University of Oxford Department of Experimental Psychology

This week I bumped into two students who are no longer in my class due to reassignment. While I’m happiest hearing that students are going home, it’s good to see people smile and chat when the see the ‘yoga lady’. Wendy and Monica (not their real names) said that they were bummed that they didn’t have yoga. Wendy said, ‘I have to show you something though.’ She then gracefully moved through a Sun Salutation. For the non yoga set the movements in a sun salutation are below.

‘I’ve been practicing and even showing other girls stuff. I’m so proud of myself.”

So was I and told her so. It’s not the first time that I’ve heard that people keep practicing even when there isn’t class.  Another student told me uses the time she is locked down during shift change to do her mini-workout and yoga. She’s a fan of balancing poses and meditation. The meditations we do are something that she thinks about when she’s not in class.

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Dr Bilderbeck, who practises yoga herself, cautioned: ‘We’re not saying that organising a weekly yoga session in a prison is going to suddenly turn prisons into calm and serene places, stop all aggression and reduce reoffending rates. We’re not saying that yoga will replace standard treatment of mental health conditions in prison. But what we do see are indications that this relatively cheap, simple option might have multiple benefits for prisoners’ wellbeing and possibly aid in managing the burden of mental health problems in prisons.’

I think that teaching yoga in prisons and jails in important. There are two women who are now practicing being mindful on their own. They have a stronger sense of pride and self. I don’t know if this is going to help them when they leave. But I do know it can’t hurt.

This is yoga. For real.

Namaste y’all.

If you would like to learn more about Liberation Prison Yoga and the work we do click here.

Feel Balanced When Under Pressure- A Meditation (Audio) (SFW)

Under Pressure

Sometimes when there’s an important event like an interview, presentation, audition or test we may feel a sense of doom hanging over what should be a time to celebrate and concentrate. This brief guided meditation will give you some techniques to handle high-pressure situations with balance and ease. Listen to this meditation right before the big event and you will walk in feeling confident, clear and balanced.

 

Rikers Yoga – Less Sex, More Reflect

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When I’m teaching at jail I’m with lots of women who have varied sexual histories ranging from abuse, violence and miseducation. With all the joking that happens (because listen it’s jail and you have to laugh or you’ll cry) many students get into a playful mode when we practice asana (poses). And that’s fantastic because part of being able to let go happens when we are relaxed and laughter can assist in that process. I plan classes that focus on breathing and movement. Classes contain poses with lots of heart openers but I’m careful with how we move through the hips. More than once have we moved through a pose that has elicited a response like ‘This is something I need to try with ______’ or ‘I’ll be the hit at the club with this move.’

It’s all in good fun- but as I get to know these women and their stories I feel more comfortable being conversationally candid.

In a sexualized culture it’s easy to see how yoga poses can look like a good way to improve upon the ahem– beast with two backs. Even aspects of the yoga world have become sexualized far beyond the initial message of finding one’s center through the breath.  So a few weeks ago in class I decided that I would do something different. I addressed the comment. I asked their permission to ‘be real’ for a second.

‘Yoga and this class isn’t about a better way to frak (except I didn’t say ‘frak’).’

Mouths dropped. Eyes widened. Smiles crept on faces. What was this crazy yoga teacher going to say next? ‘When you take a moment to close your eyes and breathe. It’s a chance for you to remember that you are sacred. When you do yoga you get to tap inside an essence that gets hidden because of all the stuff that happens to us. But yoga is a way for you to see how special and you are.’

I got a high-five and ‘See, this is why frak with and your class.’ (Except she didn’t say frak)

Sometimes yoga is gritty and dirty, but that doesn’t mean it’s not holy and full of grace.

Namaste y’all.

 

If you are interested in learning more about Liberation Prison Yoga- click here