For the past few weeks I have been attending meditation classes. Prior to this, I had tried meditation many times before, but I was one of those people who claimed that it just wasn’t for me. My mind runs faster than a wild horse and I would have difficulty focusing on my breath because I thought that “deep breathing” meant inhale until your lungs explode, which would precisely result in an arm-flailing coughing fit… clearly not the quiet, peaceful state I was going for. And not to mention I’ve been a dancer since the age of 3 so my body finds uncomfortableness in the most non-consuming positions and creeks and cracks like a well-lived 90-year old. Needless today, I was convinced I wasn’t a candidate.
My mother is an avid meditator and growing up there was a policy in my household where we weren’t allowed to talk or knock on her yoga room door between the hours of 6am-7am (or an hour later if it was the weekend). I would tip-toe by the glass window and stare in admiration of her cross-legged, straight-backed shut-eyed solitude on her mustard yellow floor cushion, surrounded by little Buddha figurines and wooden beaded necklaces with tassels on the end. Mind you, this was the early 2000’s and not the Urban Outfitters on-trend-Zen version, so it wasn’t unusual for visitors to throw a side-eye. Regardless of the rarity of this practice in our neighborhood at the time, no one could deny that she floated around with a light-hearted air that was nearly impossible to aggravate (although, my devious teenage-self sometimes held the magic key… hello 1-month groundings).
So when I told my mother I wanted to learn how to meditate, she was incredibly delighted. “It takes practice honey” she would tell me after I waved my white flag time and time again. Finally, the lightbulb came on and she recommended this meditation class. Everything is easier with a little bit of guidance. Despite popular belief (or maybe just my Leo-side, girl-boss, prideful certainty), we can’t do EVERYTHING on our own. And just like that, voila! I was meditating. Okay, I’m not talking about the sitting on a rock in Machu Picchu for 16 hours with a shaved head and a Monk cloak. Realistically, it was about 10 minutes. But, like all beginners know, you have to start somewhere. And soon that 10 minutes turned into 15, then 20, 25 and so on. Lucky for me, I learned that there isn’t only one way to meditate. You can actually pick the practice that suits you! Let me explain…
Lotus - The position most people look at and say “yeah right, peace out” (No peace pun intended.) Even though my legs are like Gumby and I can get into this pretzel with my eyes closed, I understand it’s not a natural seating choice for everybody. I have good news for if you aren’t exactly a pretzel person. You can sit however you are comfortable, as long as your back is straight. Although I’m a fan-girl for slouching (ahh.. so comfortable), I learned that an up-right posture asserts alertness. I used to think that meditation was supposed to put you in a lollygagging trance, but it’s actually quite the opposite. You should feel revitalized once you are finished.
You can sit in a chair, on the floor, a pillow, or a mat. Feel free to bend your knees with your shins on the ground and your bottom between your heels, or stretch your legs out in front of you. Ideally, your knees should be below your hips to ensure proper blood circulation so you won’t get distracted by a dead-leg, but really, it doesn’t matter all that much.
The Breath: Your Life Force
Now..“the breath” (oh, the horror). Yes.. if you can focus on it, do so. In fact, you can gently tell yourself on your inhale “vitality” if you want to be more awake, or “relax” on your exhale if you want to unwind. Any variation of these words will work. But if you’re anything like me and equate smooth breath to a chest congestion, an alternative to “focusing on the breath” is to put your attention on your hands. If they are laying in your lap, or resting on your knees (I prefer palms up because it expresses that you are open to receive), notice the sensations you are feeling. Are your hands warm, cold, or just right? Do you feel tingling, pulsation, or nothing at all? (Gosh, it sounds like the three little bears, but you get the picture.) This should keep you in a meditative state until your time is up. If you notice your mind going somewhere into La-La-Land (and by that I mean what you’re eating for breakfast tomorrow, or the silver-striped hair tie you lost when you were 7), non-judgingly invite your brain back to re-focus on your phalanges. Feel free to begin your meditation with setting an alarm for 5 minutes, and then increase your practice as you improve.
My absolute favorite. A perfect find for my fidgety fellows. It’s literally as simple as it sounds. You walk, while you meditate. Pay attention to each part of your foot as it lays on the ground. You don’t have to walk Zombie slow, but I wouldn’t recommend the high-school P.E. pace when your professor whistled (profusely) while you worked. Notice the scents around you, the fresh air, the flowers. Notice the sounds, the leaves rustling, a passing car. And just like the seated position, if you get lost in thought, don’t worry.. that’s just your brain doing its job. Welcome it back to the moment.
I like to use this position after a long day or when my body is feeling tired. Follow the same guidelines as the seated position, but if you aren’t ready for bed yet, keeping your eyes open, or your lids low, can help to keep you awake. Most of the time when I use this posture, I will put on a guided meditation from an app on my phone or a YouTube video, and let it drift me into a deep and peaceful sleep. There are about a billion guided meditations you can find online and it’s a simple follow-the-steps way to keep your thoughts at bay. I find that your mind wanders the least when you have a voice to listen to. Body scans are great choices if you want to pay more attention to your physical sensations. Visual guides are nice way to lay your mind on mood-enhancing imagery.
So, it’s time to get your booty moving, or sitting... or laying, and start this beautiful journey. Meditating is so healing and supportive to your mind, body and spirit. Try out these suggestions and if you find that something different works for you, hey, go right ahead! I support it. The goal is the practice. Don’t expect to find ultimate enlightenment. (But if you do, can you blog back about it please? Because, I mean, come on!) Just stay consistent and be easy on yourself. It takes work but I promise you’ll reap what you om. ;)