Discovering the Magic Elixir of Meditation

Anyone that knows me, knows I did not come to yoga and meditation easily.  I am in most respects the poster child for the “Type A” personality; always going 100 miles an hour, consumed by a need to over-achieve and over deliver, and on to the next “bright idea” or opportunity before the current one is fully complete.  But in my mid twenties, after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I was introduced to the incredible power of yoga and meditation to help me manage not only the physical symptoms arising from this chronic condition but also develop the emotional and psychological resilience I needed to live a full and vibrant life in harmony with this condition.

Over the last 15 years there has a been a flurry of research on the benefits of having a daily meditation practice. As little as 5 minutes a day of meditation has been shown to help you:

  • Manage stress
  • Increase focus
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Enhance creativity
  • Improve your relationships
  • Create inner peace
  • Awaken your intuition
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Become less judgmental
  • Deepen your connection to Self and Spirit
  • Assist with healthy sleep patterns

It was not easy for me to develop my daily practice, but it gave me an empowered path to re-gaining my health and vitality and it continues to provide this for me – nearly 20 years later.  So, if you are standing at the doorway of wanting to develop a daily meditation practice, Shanti is here to help! Here are a few tips to help you begin your practice:

  • Keep your intent simple. If you are new to meditation start with simply sitting still and deep breathing for 1 or 2 minutes. Each day or week add another minute and see how your ability to sit in silence will grow effortlessly over time.
  • All meditation begins with deep breathing, so the first step to cultivating a practice is learning to connect with your breath, focus your attention on breathing through your belly, and then systematically relaxing your entire body. If you need help with this, join us at Shanti for our monthly Yoga Nidra evenings.
  • Accept your monkey mind. Don’t be surprised if while sitting, even for 2 minutes, your thoughts begin to race. This is completely normal and frankly expected. Rather than berating yourself and giving up on your meditation practice, simply accept this as part of the process and gently, as if interacting with a child or best friend, bring your mind to focus on the sensations of your breath, the sensations of your body, or on a word or phrase that you can mentally repeat. Even seasoned meditators have times when their mind races forward or backward while in meditation. The only difference is that those of us who have been meditating for a while understand that this is a normal part of the process and don’t see it as a source of discouragement but as a sign of clearing the path to a deeper connection with ourselves and our dharma.
  • Set aside a specific time of the day that you will use to develop your practice and keep this appointment with yourself rain or shine, in sickness or in health. There is a beautiful Zen quote that says if you don’t have 10 minutes to sit in meditation, sit for 30. And I’ve come to understand the truth in this! It is the times when you don’t have the time and you don’t want to sit in meditation that you need it most.
  • Create a sacred space, free from distractions, that will provide you with the undisturbed time you need to meditate. Even your car will do! Simply find a way to make it feel sacred by placing an inspiring picture on the dash or playing some calming music. And if you can’t find the space that works for you, try out Shanti’s Shakti Studio during our daily open meditation hours.
  • Try doing some light stretches before your practices to help still your body and tune-in to yourself. Neck rolls and shoulder rolls and a fully body stretch is a good place to start!
  • Find a comfortable position to sit or lie in. Sitting cross-legged on the floor is not accessible to most people – don’t force it if you are one of the millions that find it torturous! Instead, be kind to yourself and find a position that works for you making sure that your spine is straight but you have the support your body needs to be fully relaxed and at peace.
  • Treat your practice as an experiment and privilege, not a duty! Our lives are chalk-full of responsibility piled on top of responsibility. Let your meditation time be a gift from you to you.
  • And finally, if at first you don’t succeed try, try again! I am living proof that it’s possible to unearth the wonderful fruits of a daily meditation practice, even if it is buried very very deep! But if you need a little help along the way:
    • Join Christine Hatheway for her weekly guided meditation class at Shanti on Sundays from 11:05 – 11:35 starting February 5.
    • Or enroll in her upcoming Introduction to Meditation workshop on Sunday, February 19 from 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
    • Or check-out one of the many wonderful aps like this one at Sounds True  with a variety of free guided meditations for use whenever you need it and wherever you are.
    • Or visit us at Shanti during our FREE open meditation hours in our beautiful Shakti Studio (pictured above). Check our daily schedule for these drop-in hours.

Namaste, Sari

Using Mindfulness to Create the Habits You Desire

Right about now is the time when most of us (myself included) start to fall off the New Year’s Resolution wagon:( I’ve found mindfulness to be an awesome tool to help me climb back on for the long haul.

Mindfulness in its most simplistic essence is defined as a process and state of continually coming back to the present moment with non-judgmental awareness. The practice of mindfulness teaches us tools to bare witness to our thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions, and see them as a passing waves in the ocean of our lives; rather than ways of being that define us or are permanent.

So how can mindfulness help us create the habits we want and let go of the habits we don’t? The first thing is that mindfulness teaches us tools to tune-in to what is happening in the present moment with deeper attention; helping us catch ourselves when we fall into mindless behaviors (like going for that extra piece of chocolate, potato chip or glass of wine).

We learn to turn toward these behaviors with compassion and dive into the feelings and thoughts that may have triggered our mindless behaviors or old patterns. Rather than engaging in self-flogging for having fallen off the wagon, we learn to embrace these moments of imperfection as opportunities to learn more about ourselves. To dust ourselves off and hop back on the wagon with greater conviction to make the changes we desire, a deeper understanding of ourselves and patters, and most important, a lighter heart.

We also learn tools to help us reinforce the changes we want to make by paying greater attention to the baby steps along the way and progress we make towards our goals. We learn to use our breath and body sensations to tune-in to how great we feel when we are consistent with the exercise regime we have followed for a whole week – or even 10 minutes! This helps to build new neural pathways in our brain to connect the thought and action of doing these activities with positive feelings so that eventually the desire to engage in these new behaviors is transferred to the automatic part of our brains and the battle of finding the will, time, energy to get to the gym is partially won.

So to help you on your journey toward using mindfulness to create the habits you deeply desire, here are a few tips:

  1. Get clear with yourself about the real reason why you want to create the new habit or let go of the old one. Visualize yourself having been successful for a whole month. How does it feel in your body when you imagine this state of being? Do this everyday, first thing in the morning, for at least 30 days.
  1. When you fall off the wagon, rather than letting your inner critic take over, let your inner best friend take the lead. Remind yourself of the progress you have made, that you are in fact doing the best you can. Ask yourself why you may have been triggered into the old habit or away from the new habit. Remind yourself that this is the normal process of learning something new and remind yourself of why you want to make the change and how great it feels in your body when you do.
  1. Celebrate your successes along the way. Identify some specific ways you can reward yourself for milestones achieved and take the time to share these moments of success with the people you love. In the wise words of one of my mindfulness mentors, Thich Nhat Hanh “ Every time you recognize a moment of happiness, happiness comes.”

Namaste,

Sari LaBelle MA (HSI), CYT, n.d.

Curious about for learning more about mindfulness or shaping your future creatively, join Sari for two of her upcoming workshops: The Magic of Mindfulness and Flow into Your Heart’s Desires Vision Collage and Yoga Retreat.