Thursday, August 29, 2013

Beginner-Beginner's Guide to Meditation

When it comes to meditation, I am nowhere near a source of authority. In fact, if there was a category that comes before beginner, you would find me residing squarely in it. However, since my whole life turned upside down at the beginning of the year, I was introduced to the idea of meditation, and moreover, I was introduced to the idea of meditation as a realistic and attainable thing to add to my life.

I'll be honest. It's hard. Your mind wanders. You have about eight million other things to worry about. You feel silly. You get interrupted. You have no clue what you're doing then you start wondering if you're doing it right. When I first meditated, I had no idea what to do. All I had were a few tips from people I knew and instructions to "make your mind blank" and to "be in the now."

Yeah, okay. Real helpful.

So here's my beginner-beginner's take on meditation: Start with the breathing. Breathe in, imagine your belly filling up with all that air, count to four, pause and hold for a hot second, then breathe out. Let the air expel out of your belly while counting to four or eight. Count 1. Repeat, and count up to twenty total breaths. By this time, your breathing should be more or less automatic. Your mind will wander and you'll start making a mental to-do list. Great! Your mind is calm enough that you can focus on organizing your day. Now, finish that thought and go back to your breathing.

Sometimes you'll see images, sometimes you'll have, like I wrote above, a mental to-do list. Sometimes you might meet someone- a person, or animal, or yourself. Do what feels right. Hold a conversation. Sometimes it's just darkness, so stare into it. Think about the positive in your life, liberate the negativity. Imagine each thought, negative or neutral, as a leaf falling out of a tree and landing in a stream just to float away from you. Release that thought.

Sometimes, particularly when driving on pilot, I get sucked into a trend of negative thoughts. I'll start acting out a scene in my head where terrible things happen, or I'll become acutely focused on a particularly dissenting theory. The next thing I know, I arrive to my destination steaming or depressed. Whomever I'm meeting doesn't deserve that. So I start a breathing meditation. While driving, I start to verbally note everything I see in my head. There's the lovely green grass. There's a beautiful pasture. There's a bright red mailbox. Sometimes, I'll invite my loved ones into my head like a friend or significant other, and we'll smile and breathe together. When you see someone you love smiling at you, you can't help but smile back, right? It works just as well even when you're just thinking about it.

If I consciously remove myself from the negativity during my drive, I arrive refreshed and renewed, and most of all happy which is a great deal better than arriving angry because of a scenario I basically made up in my head.

Another thing I find myself doing a lot recently, is a visualization I do during savasana, the Corpse pose, at the end of nearly every yoga session. I'm usually so loose, warm, and relaxed by this time that it's easy to free my mind. Deep belly breathing is automatic and I can clearly see my body in my mind's eye. When I breathe in, I imagine fresh and pure air free of negativity entering through every pore of my body. When I breathe out, I see the negativity and sadness in the form of grey smoke, pouring out of my body. With each breath, I watch the clear clean air fill up my body, forcing the smoke out until soon enough, there is no more grey smoke anymore. Now, my body is full of positivity and the negativity is expelled, allowing me to start my day over with a new attitude.

It really makes all the difference in the world. Before I started trying, visualization and clearing my mind wasn't worth my time. I wasn't open to it and moreover, I didn't think I'd be any good at it. My visualization skills sucked. I couldn't hold onto an image without having it disappear into the ether of my mind. Now, with practice, I can hold on to the image and work it to my advantage. My patience has increased and my willingness alongside it. There are days where I just can't get into it. I don't push myself. I move on and know there'll be another opportunity where I will succeed.

What are your tips and advice for meditation? Was it hard to begin? What did you do to persevere and find your way?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Beach Bums

I could quite literally turn into a beach bum if I was allowed but fortunately? there are a few people in my life who who *ahem* expects me to actually do something with my life. What a concept! But no, I'm glad that I'm being held accountable. If I actually ran away with my imagination, I'll likely end up flat broke with a faulty retro camper for which I've been completely ripped off and no friends. Thanks guys, for ensuring that I am not in above situation.

I can, however, pretend to be a functioning beach bum for one single weekend for my birthday. And that's exactly what I did. It did not unfortunately deter me from wishing I could be in above described situation because as woeful as it sounds, it has a certain romance to it. At the very least, it'd make a best-selling memoir.

A group of my dearest friends and myself scrambled for a spot at first-come-first-served beach campsite, Sara's Campground, in Erie, PA. Granted that it's a lake and not the crashing oceanside everyone usually envisions, it does not make it any less beautiful. And imagine, I finally saw the sun set over the waterfront of my childhood. Just the thought that I can experience something new with something I've known for my entire life gives me hope. Hope that life will constantly be changing when you're not looking.

Myself overlooking the strong men setting up camp - Sara's Campground on Lake Erie

Doing an extraordinarily good job of being a beach bum

The moon making its final goodbye over the calm tide in the dawn

I just want to say thank you to the universe for giving me an unforgettable experience and a beautiful way to celebrate my birthday with almost all my good friends. I've missed a few of you, sadly. However, there'll be many more birthdays and many more beachside bumming!

On a final note, can we just admire this fire pit we adorned with flat stones and finished off with a fancy little patio. I mean really, genius! That is, until we realized all the stones were keeping the air the fire needed to sustain itself, but it was nothing a few Jenga-style rock removal fixed!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

When You Just Suck at Running

So I've started running. Well, "running" is more like it. It's not real running like that 40+ lady with a few extra pounds you see on the trail just huffing and puffing by without stopping and before you know it, you see her coming back towards you still huffing and puffing and you wonder why, why in hell you can't last more than five minutes and she just outlasted you by an hour. Nothing like getting owned by the unexpected.

Anyway, I'm on the Couch to 5K program. Yes me, the fairly young, fairly fit girl who's about to take on eight solid weeks of yoga, yoga, yoga in an effort to become a certified instructor. I'm only on week, what, five? (I had to take a good long break during camp. No way in hell was I sacrificing my precious little sleep to stumble/run pathetically in front of not one, but two triathlon competitors.) And seriously, I am so freaking proud to finally reach the point where I can run a full five minute, albeit I am grateful for the walking intervals, not gonna lie. One day, one day, I'll run for a half hour straight and be a happy little clam. If clams had feet... and can wear running shoes.

In any case, if you're wondering why I'm telling you all this, it's to make you feel better. No really. Now you have no excuse not to get up and do whatever it was you've been thinking you should do. It could be running, hiking, biking, yoga (cough, cough,) rock climbing, swimming, whatever it is. I look like I'd be a fabulous runner, able to blast on by that 40+ lady, but no, she's the one leaving me behind in the dust. 

I don't have fancy running clothes. I basically throw on an old teal tank top from high school, a cheap bra, and whatever shorts I can move around in. My shoes are not fancy running shoes. They're ballet slipper style sneakers with velcro laces and barefoot sole technology. Not even Vibrams, just some knock-offs I found at Marshalls. (Seen on my feet in the picture below with my lovely boys on top of a mountain in Connecticut.) And I start slow. Couch to 5K have been such a huge help. In the beginning, even 90 seconds of running had me winded. Now I'm up to five minutes, and I'm still winded, but it takes longer now! The app for the iPhone is free. Just stick your earphones in, slap on some sunglasses so no one can identify your huffing puffing ass right away, and get going. 

One thing I do strongly recommend is stretching before and after. If you're like me, basically clueless about the general stretches, just think yoga! Yay! (You totally saw that coming.) is an awesome site that provides free yoga videos of all kinds. I particularly love Fiji McAlpine's pre-and post-run yoga. I kind of slack on the pre-run one but definitely go for the post-run session every time. 

Can we discuss what an awesome name Fiji McAlpine is. I need a yoga name now.

Anyway, happy running or climbing or whatever it is you've been tempted to do. Both videos are below and guess what, your excuses? All gone. Poof! What's your "feel better" trick if you're feeling less than confident about yourself when you exercise? Share in the comments below. I know I definitely need more tricks up my sleeve for moments like this!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Yoga Tales of Discomfit

Embarrassing yoga stories. We all have them. My sweaty palms have betrayed me a few too many times. Come out, damned sweat, out! A reader and fellow yogi had her own tale of discomfit to offer up. Let's just say, turn off the television set, we have a wardrobe malfunction!

Ms. Kathryn of Kate's Spot:

Let me preface this by saying that I passionately love yoga. It is my most favorite form of exercise. Since I had my daughter, I have mostly been practicing on my own at home, but in the spring and summer of 2010 I was regularly attending evening classes at Lifesource in Fairlawn. A particular male instructor (Roger, or Robert I think?) offered a class that I just loved. Intense, challenging, and after a few weeks I really, really mastered it.

Now, I am not sure if you are familiar with Lifesource, but at the time it was a very popular studio. However, it was the size of your average suburban living room. And they never seemed to close the classes. We would literally be piled on top of each other to the point that it was probably almost dangerous. I made a point of getting there early for class so I could put myself kind of in the middle. Close enough so that I could still see, but not so close that I was right in front. The reason I did not want to be right in front was a particular guy in the class. When I first started going, he was there with his girlfriend, but at the time I stopped he was coming alone. Now, I am all about yoga classes being accepting and freeing and all that, but this guy took it a step too far. He would strip down to simply his short-shorts and was quite possibly the hairest man I have ever laid eyes on. And he would grunt and groan and sweat... It was unreal.

One Tuesday night I was running a little late. Too late to get my usual spot. So I was stuck in a corner. The mirror dead in front of me, the wall to my right, and on my left was sweaty, hairy, groany guy. The class was packed as usual, and we were just way, way too close. Now again, that is kind of a given in yoga and just kind of goes with the territory.

Then, I had to do Triangle pose. And I. Saw. Everything. That kind of pushed the limits for me! I was so freaked out that I never went back to that class. Like I said, yoga teaches you to be accepting and sweat and being a little close for comfort comes with the territory. But I was NOT prepared to get the full monty right in the middle of class!

Needless to say, Ms. Kathryn never went back to that particular studio again. The moral of the story? Make sure all your bouncy bits are securely strapped in, your seat is upright, your tray down, and enjoy your class!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Apology to My Body

I need to make an apology.

I'm sorry I overstretched you, my muscles. Now, you are on fire and my lower back is paying for the trouble as well.

I'm sorry I overfeed you, my stomach, now you're bloated and upset and barely fit under the waistband of my pants.

I'm sorry I underfeed you, my stomach, because then you're empty and growling and that leads to the overfeeding. (See: above comment.)

I'm sorry I overthink you, my brain, now all neurons are firing out the wrong holes and my thoughts lead me down scary and strange paths.

I'm sorry for neglecting you, my education, but I'm ready to be taught now.

I'm sorry I hate you, my body, because you get me up in the morning, you move me from point A to point B, you don't look half bad in my clothes (and out of them, sometimes,) and most of all, because you're the home for my heart and soul.

I'm sorry I grow frustrated with you, my heart, you love and love and love until you stretch too thin and break. Mending you is difficult but necessary.

I'm sorry I doubt you, my soul, because you make life worth living and help me find people worth loving and create purpose for my time on Earth.

I'm sorry for being a bad friend, my friends, but I make an awesome hermit. (Don't worry, I'll be back in fine form with wine and chocolate soon.)

I'm sorry for being so insane, my boyfriend, I'm still figuring out the happy middle ground as I'm sure you are too. I'll bear with you if you'll bear with me?

I'm sorry for being a bad daughter, my parents, for there is still so much to learn and so much to accept and I lack the wisdom to help me do so.

I'm sorry for being a bad sister, my sister, because I'm lost in my own world and I've decided it's a place I need to escape.

I'm sorry for being a bad aunt, my nephew, your tiny little toddler youth scares the crap out of me and half the time, I haven't a clue what to do with you. But I love how you always seem so damn happy to see me.

I'm sorry for not contributing to society yet, World, but I'm working on it.

As the title states, this began as an apology to my body for overworking it in sheer desperation and fear of my upcoming yoga teacher training classes. As I typed out my apologies, I realized I had so much more to apologize for. As I explored all the wrongs I've done, I felt a freeing feeling in letting it all out.

This is my apology to my body, myself, my loved ones, and the world. I'm sorry. I'm already starting to do better.