Happy New Year everyone! I spent my holiday vacation in my hometown of Longwood, FL where I spent some time with friends and family I rarely get to see and did some very fun things. Not to mention I had the pleasure of enjoying a respite from this cold New York winter! I certainly indulged in some delicious holiday treats, and quite a few festive glasses of wine, but ’tis the season! In years past, I would have spent a lot of time feeling guilty for the things I was eating and beating myself up for not having enough willpower to resist all the food and drink that surrounded me. However, since I began my personal health journey by enrolling in IIN in 2012, my view on this has changed drastically. I learned that through maintaining balance in my diet and lifestyle, and reminding myself to be mindful of my choices, I could happily enjoy the holidays without any feelings of guilt.
During my time at home, I practiced yoga daily to keep my body energized and my mind clear of negativity; I chose foods that I knew I would enjoy thoroughly and that are special to this time of year, savoring each and every bite; I maintained appropriate portion sizes and paid attention to my body’s response if I was beginning to overeat; I made it a point to avoid snacking randomly and only ate when it was a conscious choice; and, instead of keeping my head down and shoveling food in, I enjoyed the company I was with and spent the majority of my time at the table chatting and laughing with family and friends.
I’m not suggesting you apply all of these practices tomorrow, it took me quite a while to get to this point. And I certainly have times where mindfulness can temporarily go out the window! However, the more I come back to it and the more often I consciously apply it, the easier and more second-nature this becomes. One specific technique I have used that has helped me significantly is meditation. I completed my 200 hour-level yoga certification at ISHTA Yoga in December 2013 and that process was life-changing for me. I learned meditation techniques that helped me begin to draw my focus inward and listen to myself and what I truly need and want. It also allows me to begin re-connecting to the universal consciousness that we are all a part of, reminding me to value and appreciate life and do everything possible to use this time I have on Earth as completely and beautifully as I can.
Sounds good right? Don’t misunderstand, I don’t have it all together (surprise!). Meditation is hard, hard work. When I first began practicing, I HATED it. It was way too hard to sit still; I couldn’t “shut off” my mind; it brought up all my negative, self-destructive thoughts that I spent the majority of my time ignoring and pushing down. I became fearful of meditation because I didn’t want to experience the anxiety it caused me. Additionally, being a very Type A kind of person, I felt there was a right way and a wrong way to meditate and, clearly given my response to it, I was doing it all wrong. Why couldn’t I get to this state of pure bliss that everyone talked about? How is it so easy for them? What’s wrong with me?
Well, nothing is wrong with me. (Whew, that’s a relief!) But then, how can I achieve these “goals” I want to accomplish through meditation? First, I had to realize that these goals I had projected onto meditation were just that- projections that I had put in place that weren’t necessary and were hindering me from experiencing all the benefits meditation can offer. I initially projected this concept because in the practice of Tantric yoga, the ultimate “goal” of meditation is to reach Samadhi, or the highest state of pure consciousness we can attain as human beings. However, Samadhi is the final step of meditation, the steps that precede it are incredibly beneficial and should not be downgraded by any means. These steps include:
- Pratyahara: Sense withdrawl
- Dharana: Focused concentration
- Dhyana: Effortless concentration
Samadhi can never be reached without going through these essential steps in order, but each one is powerful in unto itself. This allowed me to feel less intimidated by meditation because I realized I didn’t have to get to the top step right away, I could take my time and hang out on one until I was completely satisfied and comfortable before moving onto the next. Currently, I am still in Pratyahara, and that’s perfectly ok! That leads me to the next method required for successful meditation: practice. That seems like such a simple and obvious idea, but for the overly anxious person (hi, nice to meet you), this is incredibly challenging work. Getting past the idea of “doing it right” and allowing myself to just surrender to the practice is something I will continue to struggle with for a long time; but the only way to find it is to practice. It’s not easy; yesterday I had a wonderful meditation and got up feeling rejuvenated and clear-headed; today I meditated for 5 minutes before I had a mini anxiety attack and had to do laps around my apartment to calm down. It’s frustrating but it’s real life. Our experience of each day is different than the one that preceded it, and we can’t control as many things as we would like to. All we can do is continue to try.
January is the time when we evaluate our life and make decisions about what we’d like to see changed or improved upon within the cope of what we can realistically (key word!) accomplish. I don’t often make resolutions, mainly because I have too many that I want to get through (revisit that key word…), but this year I’d like to make a resolution to meditate daily. I don’t want to overwhelm myself, because I know it will backfire, so I’d like to take it one month at a time. If I miss a day, I won’t beat myself up, but I will take notice of how I feel and what it causes if and when I purposely skip it. I have already, in the short time I have been practicing, noticed a difference in myself on the days I don’t do it: I don’t sleep as well, I’m more easily frustrated, I am more reactionary, and I am more introverted. I’m hoping that by remembering this I will be more likely to stay on track.
I will begin this endeavor tomorrow, Monday January 6th (the day before my 28th birthday!), and try to keep consistent updates on my progress. If anyone is interested in joining me on this journey, please do, the more the merrier! If you’d like to comment on my posts or send me updates on your progress, that would be even better! I’d love to keep this conversation ongoing and begin to bring the practice of mindfulness through meditation to as many people as possible. I encourage you to do some research on different meditation techniques, no one technique works for everyone and there are plenty out there to choose from. You may even find, after some time, that you can create your own technique specific to you and your needs. One great place to start is the Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, MD. The main point he tries to get across is “We can’t control a lot of things but we can affect, to a certain extent, how we respond to them.” This is an incredibly profound, albeit simple-sounding, concept. I know that personally I have spent an exorbitant amount of time trying to control everything around me, obviously to no avail, causing me undue amounts of stress. In reality, all I could do was control my reaction to these things around me, and that is enough. In The Relaxation Response, the physiology of the body is in the opposite of a stress response, allowing for true healing to occur. On a psychological level, it is about being, not doing. Although I encourage you to read the book, here is a list of steps he has developed to help elicit the relaxation response.
As we move into 2014, let’s all resolve to Be rather than Do. I look forward to hearing about your journeys as I share with you my own.