Article after article, podcast after podcast, it’s clear that meditation is no longer associated with hippie folk, martial artists, yogis and gurus. Many of the world’s most influential minds and performers practice daily, and credit parts of their success to meditation. It fights aging, increases attention span, improves metabolism, helps us become more mindful, among so many other things.
My first real life, non-televised encounter with meditation was when my dad quit smoking. He listened to cassette tapes (!) while reclining on the couch and would usually fall asleep, but inevitably emerged thirty minutes later with brighter eyes and a clear head. (For the record, it worked. He kicked his smoking habit for good.) His experience, karate classes and yoga practice drew me toward meditation at a young age, and my curiosity has only grown.
But I haven’t upheld a seated practice for a number of
reasons excuses. First, I’m prone to fall asleep if I meditate too early, too late or haven’t gotten enough sleep. Second, guided meditation options were not nearly as modernized as they are today. It was just a few months ago that I rediscovered those cassette tapes my dad used, and while it’s hard to image presently, he’d have to produce the cassette player, the tape and headphones any time he wanted to practice. Now we have an entire toolbox at our fingertips, on our phones even, with a number of apps, YouTube videos, Spotify playlists, and guided in-person meditation groups.
I’m familiar with the clarity and focus a workout can bring — so when I started up my meditation practice a few weeks ago, I thought it would feel familiar. I wasn’t afraid to go there. Well… well, well. Now that I’ve tried it a few times I confess, I am a bit more hesitant than I was before. Moving through asanas or pedaling through resistance do have meditative qualities. Repetition, focus, improvement and refocusing are parallel approaches to fine tuning the mind and body. But sitting and focusing solely on the mind, thoughts and breath is so different than moving through it, at least for me.
So I decided to create a challenge. Every day for 30 days I will meditate in the morning for at least 10 minutes. I got a head start by visiting The Path last month, a group that meets at gorgeous venues in Manhattan for hour long guided meditations. We did a few opening breathing exercises and accompanying movements to cleanse the lungs and internal organs, which felt great. I often forget how powerful the breath can be for shifting mood and the entire course of the day.
Then we came to stillness. I wanted to share the thoughts and patterns that manifested in my brain quite immediately after the breathing exercises stopped. Elena Brower, the beautiful voice who lead our meditation, asked us to focus on the space between our nostrils, the gateway for air in and out. We consciously chose what to inhale and exhale.
– Not even 10 inhale / exhale cycles in… I wonder about the time. And how the leader, Elena, keeps track of it with her eyes closed.
– I mentally compose a few texts to Lydia (my photographer).
– Back to the nostrils.
– Does everyone else really have their eyes closed? Does Elena too?
– Yes, yes they do. Now you’re weird because you’re looking at a room of people meditating. But it was quite beautiful — I don’t regret this.
– Although, I’m actually really tired. Sleepy haze washes over me.
– Back to the nostrils.
– Focus on diaphragm too, maybe?
– Back to the nostrils. I’m wondering if they are perhaps too close to my brain to separate from my thoughts.
– I really, really have to pee. This thought and sensation continues to surface until we are done.
– Back to the nostrils.
– Starts organizing schedule in head (it was Monday after all).
– How will I get back to work, should I train or cab it? It’s probably getting late. Hmmmm…
– Knee is hurting. I open my eyes and shift to sit on my thighs and calves.
– Pretty sure I’ve broken all of the rules. Shit. Get it together!
– Concerted effort to reconnect back to the nostrils.
– Sitting still well, finally. However I have urges to move through a vinyasa flow. I would take a long chatarunga over stillness any day, I think.
– Back to the nostrils!!!
You can imagine the rest. These thoughts were real and very intrusive! There was a part of me that was grateful when I finally gave myself permission to surrender. It was at peace. It was a deep calm that I was able to unearth from day to day stressors and it felt incredible and intimate to access it and connect to it. For now, that’s what it seems meditation is: accessing the calm, unlimited well of peace that lives within us. It just takes practice, quiet and stillness to get there. It’s almost like a physical workout: the change happens when you’re working the hardest, and real progress comes with discipline.
Meditation was difficult, especially for the first hour class. But I hope my commitment to the Meditation Challenge starting today will allow me to emerge with some tips, tricks, best practices and new techniques to share. I plan on trying the best apps, guided meditations on Spotify, online video, in-person and who knows, maybe I will try a few solo. You can expect a full report in a summary post at the end of March or beginning of April, and might post some updates on Instagram every now and again.
Do any of you have a meditation practice, or are you looking to start one? I’d love to hear about your experience.