Saturday, August 29, 2009

Learning to Meditate

I don't believe that there is only one way to meditate. And for most of my life, I have been satisfied to call my movement practice mediation, my dancing meditation or even walking a sort of meditation. Although I have done the sitting kind of meditation, but I used to find it very difficult to sit still. But one of the benefits of massage and other bodywork modalities is that I find that I can sit without pain now and therefore I can be more disciplined in being still. Of late I have become very interested in exploring different kinds of meditation practice. And while, I think that a contemplative movement practice is indispensable, I also see a tremendous value in quieting both the mind and the body.

I am reprinting the first part of a tutorial on meditation that I have found to be very helpful. I recently went to a meditation and talk at the Insight Meditation Community of Washington DC. If you visit the site, you might want to explore the recorded guided meditation and talks available for download. They are really fantastic.

The following comes from their website:

Learn to Meditate

Part I: How to establish a daily sitting practice

Before you sit
As with all things, start where you are. You have everything you need right now. First, decide to sit each day. Next, plan the time, place and duration for your sitting meditation.

Choose a time
Morning is often best because the mind is calmer than it is later in the day. However, the best time is the time that you can commit to on a regular basis. If one longer sit isn’t possible, try two shorter ones.

Choose a space
There is no perfect place. If possible, dedicate a space exclusively to your daily sitting. Choose a relatively quiet space where you can leave your cushion (or chair) so that it is always there to return to. You may want to create an altar with a candle, inspiring photos or statues. These are not necessary, but are beneficial if they help to motivate you.

Choose a duration
As long as is comfortable, plus 5 minutes. This is a general guide, not a rule. Even fifteen or twenty minutes will seem an eternity in the beginning, but that impression will change with time. If you sit each day, you will experience noticeable benefits (e.g., less reactivity, more calm) and be able to increase your sitting time.

Every time you sit: Set your intention: It is helpful to recall at the start of each sitting meditation why you are doing it. Remember that your purpose, to become more open and free, will benefit you and those around you.

Set your posture
Alertness is one of the two essential ingredients in every meditation. Sit on a chair, cushion, or kneeling bench as straight and tall as possible. In the beginning, sitting against a wall can help you learn what a straight back feels like. Around this straight-back position, let the rest of your skeleton and muscles hang freely. Let the hands rest comfortably on your knees or lap. Let the eyes close, bringing the attention inward.

Relax deeply
Openness is the second essential ingredient in every meditation. Once you feel your spine is erect, let everything else relax, hang loose, and soften. Breathing through the nose, loosen the face, neck, hands, and stomach area. You may want to begin at the scalp and move your attention slowly downward, methodically relaxing and softening each part of the body. Please don’t skip the step of relaxing/letting go! Consciously releasing body tension will help you open to whatever arises during your meditation.

Choose an object of meditation
Once you’ve established this alert and open posture, you are ready to decide where you’ll place your attention. Useful objects for beginners are:

• The breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.
• Other body changes during breathing, e.g., the rise and fall of the chest.
• Sounds as they arise from within the body or outside of it.
• Other body sensations as they arise.

Whatever object you select, stay with it for at least ten breaths. Even with this effort, your mind will insist on going to its usual places. Make note of this when it happens, and gently lead your attention back to the chosen object of meditation. Your intention and persistence are the key ingredients for cultivating awareness, not the number of times your mind wanders. As often as you need to, check yourself—“Alert and erect? Relaxed and open?” - and begin again.

L.J. Kelly, April 2001.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

If You Ask, You Must Be Willing To Listen

Have you ever had a big decision to make and were really, very torn? The options before you have both their pluses and minuses. You are sitting squarely on the fence with the clock ticking down and you have exhausted all the decision making strategies you know. Meanwhile, the pressure is increasing and you are growing more and more anxious.

I found myself in just this situation this week. Decision bound, I made my list of pros and cons. I talked to friends, family and objective third parties. And after gathering as much information as I could and thinking about all the angles, I still had no decision. I had two part-time job offers to chose between, a lovely problem to have, especially in this economy. And I couldn't chose. My brain just wasn't getting the job done. A big believer in the wisdom of the body, I decided that I needed to listen to what my body had to say. So, I visited each potential job site (after-hours of course), walked around the outside of each building, and tuned inward to see what images, emotions and wisdom washed over me.

The body knows what is best. I believe that. When my mind is going round and round about something, if I am able to stop and tune into the sensations I feel in the body, I often get my answer. But this time it didn't seem to be working. I got some feelings and sensations but nothing that said a clear YES or a clear NO.

That night a wise friend said to me, "Trust that when it is time to make the decision, it will become clear to you." "But I tried listening already," I protested, "I even drove to both places and sat and...." My friend repeated, "Just try to relax and go to sleep trusting that in the morning it will become clear to you."

So that night, instead of ruminating over my decision, I worked to relax instead. I got out my Shiatsu meridian maps and played with pressure points that are known to calm the mind. It worked like a charm. I felt myself grow calmer and calmer until I fell into a deep sleep.

I woke up with a quiet mind, a far cry from the panicked state I had been in for days. I didn't wake up with the answer, however, but I wasn't worried; I felt confident that by the end of this day, dead-line day, I would know what I was going to do.

And as it happened, before the morning ended, the answer did come to me, and quite effortlessly, as it turned out. It didn't come as a thought, but rather a feeling. It kind of washed over me, settled in and felt right.

Here is what I learned:

Sometimes you don't get the answers by thinking. Sometimes the body has the answers. But when you ask the body for an answer, you need to invite the body to speak rather than demanding it... have to be willing to wait. You have to be patient.

And that requires stilling your mind and trusting in the process.

This is perhaps just a continuation of my last post on being versus doing. All that doing, the information gathering and thinking, was important, but in the end, to make a decision, I had to just be. Visiting each job site was a good idea, but it was done in such haste that I wasn't really inviting my body to speak, but more demanding it. "OK body- what do you have to say here at this place? What about here at this other place? Huh? Tell me!" No wonder I didn't get an answer.

If you ask, you must be willing to listen.

You must be willing to wait.

And you must be willing to be quiet.

For the body can speak only when the mind is still.

Wishing you balance,


Sunday, August 9, 2009

To Simply Be

So much of my time is spent doing. Doing, doing, doing...getting things done. It is such a habit that I often don't realize it until I stop. And all too often, I stop because I get sick. It as if my body just refuses to do any more and orders me to rest.

Recently I was the lucky recipient of some Shiatsu bodywork. When the session was over, I felt calm, centered and content. My mind was clear and I felt very, very present. What a gift that session was. What a treat to be in a state of being rather than doing, I hadn't experienced that for a long while. I had forgotten how to just be.

Giving yourself the gift of being rather than doing is an important part of living a balanced life. It is important to know when to rest, when to stop thinking, when to stop doing. Your body asks for rest, first with a polite request but when that request isn't met, the body becomes more demanding. Finally your body orders you to rest with illness.

Two wise women with blogs, Bobbi of Stop Judging, Start Loving and Liz of The Fragrant Muse, wrote posts within a few days of one another, about this very idea of taking a break from doing in order to just be. Liz talks about honoring the The Muse of Lull, which Jill Badonsky talks about in her book Nine Modern Day Muses. In the creative process, Badonsky says, we must let go at times, surrender and trust in the process. She encourages people to "hit the pause button," to allow ideas to incubate and ripen.

Do nothing. Just be. And trust in the process. Doing nothing is sometimes the best thing that you can do.

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.” — Zen Proverb

Wishing you balance,


Tuesday, August 4, 2009


How do you deal with gravity?

Ideally, when we lie down and rest, we completely surrender to gravity, letting our muscles relax. And when we are upright, the curves of our spine and the deep muscles that attach to our spines keep us erect and balanced.

Gravity is our ally.

The problem comes when our postural habits create an alignment that doesn't work with the force of gravity, but instead fights it. The natural curves in our spine are beautifully designed with balance in mind. The whole system- the skeletal structure, the curves of the spine, the pull of the muscles that attach, keep us upright like a tent pole supported by the tension of guy wires.

But when we over exaggerate the curves, we throw off that natural balance. Muscles that were not meant to be postural are recruited to help hold us up. For instance, our head should be balanced nicely on top of our spines, but for many of us our head is held forward so we rely on our musculature to hold it up. The muscles at the back of the neck end up acting like straps to hold the weight of the head.

We are holding up the weight of our heads. No wonder we are in pain!

I offer you this- an opportunity to free yourself from holding up the weight of your head. Just a few words, an image to embody.

Take a moment to stand up, feet a comfortable distance apart. Feel the connection between the bottom of your feet and the earth. Feel gravity as support that grounds and connects you to the earth. Imagine your feet as roots of a tree. Feel that grounding travel up your legs, up your spine and out the top of your head. Feel your head floating upward like branches reaching for the sky.

Harmony with gravity enables that medium to become a supporting and energizing factor. As the fish is supported and lifted by the water, so we as human can be supported and lifted by gravity. -Ida Rolf

Wishing you balance,