Meditations on meditating

Corpse pose - so relaxing! Photo: lululemon athletica

Let me start by saying I have a newfound respect for people who regularly meditate. It’s hard! With a day packed with work, appointments and other responsibilities, shutting your mind down for a set period of time and just, well, sitting with your thoughts, is the ultimate challenge. Case in point, here’s how my first four days went:

Day #1: I kicked off my 30-day meditation challenge on February 1, which happened to a yoga class day.  We ended the class in Savasana, or corpse pose. It’s my favorite, because it involves laying on your mat, completely relaxed and focused on your breathing. It’s essentially a form of meditation and a time for your body to rest after a vigorous muscle workout. My class was at the end of a busy workday, so it was easy for me to slip into a form of meditation. Did my mind wander? Absolutely. But I was also so tired that my brain wasn’t nearly as active as usual. So I actually felt relaxed and refocused after class. Meditation success!

Day #2: It was a chaotic workday, full of last-minute client “emergencies.” Despite every intention to meditate before going to sleep, I was dozing about a minute into my meditation. Hey, I tried!

Day #3: I completely forgot to meditate and went right to bed. It may have been the two very full glasses of wine I enjoyed in the evening. Note to self: consider shifting meditation time to morning.

Day #4: My day started with an early-morning yoga class. Our teacher kicked off the class with something new – a five-minute meditation! Being in a calming atmosphere – and in weekend mode – helped. I was able to relax and let my thoughts drift as my teacher’s soothing voice guided us. She shared an invaluable tip for antsy meditators like myself: when you have a thought – and you will have thoughts – acknowledge them, then let them drift away. Being a visual person, I decided to think of my thoughts as leaves, gently blowing away or floating down a brook. After the five minutes was up, I found myself wishing I had more time – a definite first. I just may get this meditation thing down!

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My 30-day meditation challenge

2012 has been a true whirlwind so far – in a good way. Work has been challenging, yet fulfilling; I’ve been pounding the fake treadmill pavement and zenning out at yoga twice a week; and my husband and I have been able to get some much-needed R&R together, now that the holidays have passed.

But more is coming up. I’m about to register for a memoir writing class (it’s always been a dream of mine to write my story – I’m not sure what that story is, but I’m determined to find out!) and begin volunteering again for a local animal rescue group. So I’ve decided to begin meditating. I just read an article on Shape.com about celebs who’ve battled addictions, and almost every one credits yoga or meditation, in part, for their recovery. Rewind a couple months ago to an article I read in Elle about self-control. Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., a psychologist at Stamford University is quoted as saying:

“Each time you have to bring your mind back to your breath or mantra, it remodels your brain­—strengthening your will, quieting your cravings, and improving stress ­management, impulse control, and self-awareness. Over time, [meditators’] brains become finely tuned willpower machines with more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, as well as regions of the brain that support self-awareness. As little as five minutes of meditation a day can alter your brain, she says, if you do it consistently.”

More willpower, self-control, motivation and creativity? Sign me up!

I’ve tried meditating in the past to no avail. Here’s what tends to happen:

Okay, now I will clear my mind and focus on one word: breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

I wonder if I’m breathing correctly.

Uh, I’m so critical of myself. I need to discuss this more with the psychologist.

Oh no, did I remember to reschedule my appointment with her?

Her new voicemail system is so confusing.

Becky, breathe.  Focus.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

This is nice. I can feel myself relaxing. And this bed is so soft.

It’s so quiet in here. I should have put on some music.

Like Enya. Love her.

She makes me think of flowy, long dresses. Hmm. What am I going to wear out dancing this weekend? A dress? Skinny pants?

Becky, BREATHE.

It’s been about four minutes. Close enough. I have to go call my psychologist.

You get the point. A grade-A meditator I am not. But in the spirit of my mantra this year – “Be not afraid” – I’m willing to try it again. So I’m embarking on a 30-day meditation challenge in which I’ll devote five minutes per day to some serious mind-focusing and breathing.

I’ll check in periodically and let you know how it’s going. In the meantime, please send any meditation tips or stories on how it’s changed your life. I’d love some more inspiration!