I recently wrote an article for a client on “meditation 101”. It was fun to write, given my study of the topic and my practice for the past 2.5+ years. It was posted at the client website, sadly without a byline. But it is all good practice and part of my writing portfolio, so to speak.
I wanted to reflect on a principle that I think is a misconception about meditation, at least in my experience. People often assume that you must do something to “transcend” the body, when in reality the goal for me is to get grounded in the body. I seek to come back to my body not to transcend or escape it in any way.
Most of my days are spent “in my head” and outside my body. I recently realized that my body contains a tremendous amount of wisdom and intuition that my over-active brain conveniently “skips” much of the time. When I come back to my home, the body itself, I access what my soul is trying to tell me. It is through understanding the subtle emotional language of the body that our truths can be revealed to us.
A lot of the men and the male teachers of meditation that have instructed me have encouraged us to “transcend” the body, and go to some ethereal destination. Perhaps this works for them, and I will not disparage their efforts.
We are built with this mammalian architecture that is incredibly subtle and wise. We ignore it at our peril. Women have been “escaping” and transcending their bodies for millennia due to patriarchy, cultural norms and many other reasons. It is time we stopped taking that advice, and stepped into full ownership and joy in our bodies. That’s where the magic happens.
My body has been sending me a lot of messages lately about allowing for rest and play in addition to work. It is quite interesting. I sometimes find when I am planning or stressing about something, there is this uncomfortable pit in my stomach.
When I notice that slight pain, and I come back to the present and just breathe, typically it releases. I know that people talk a lot about making detailed plans for their future endeavors. And normally I subscribe to at least having a loose plan, and a vision for the future.
Something in me is telling me not to make super concrete plans just yet, and to play a little looser for now. I typically start with a “shape of the week” plan and then time block in 2-3 hour increments.
I start with a healthy dose of time for writing, reading and thinking from 6-9 a.m. That is when my mind is clearest, after I have meditated and had my coffee. Then from 9-12 I either go to a yoga class, a dance class, or sometimes a coffee meeting with a colleague.
Noon to 2 p.m. is blocked off for my lunch break and any small errands I may have to do, or sometimes just a little nap break or a podcast. Then 2-5 I work on things that do not require as much focus, sending email correspondence or doing smaller projects. I do not work in the evening, unless I am very inspired to write something in particular.
I find that keeping a very regular routine helps me sleep better and also I can produce “on demand” when the time is scheduled for me to do so. Right now I am taking it one week (and sometimes one day) at a time.
When I get very excited about an idea, I follow that path. When I feel a sense of dread, I avoid that path. Right now, that seems to be where I need to be, just letting life unfold, not getting too caught up in doing all the right things.
I recognize the privilege of allowing this time. I also remind myself that I planned for it. I trust that using this “body meter” intuition to follow what is right for me will lead me where I am called.
How is your life unfolding? Do you ever doubt the process of finding your path? What helps you nurture that trust in yourself?
Today I want to focus on a practice that has been immensely helpful to me, especially in the midst of the chaos that surrounds us these days.
This is the process of centering in my body, feeling my whole self grounded on the earth physically. I experience this practice of centering through yoga and meditation. I start by closing my eyes and focusing for a minute or two on the breath. I just observe and notice the breath for a bit, the length of the inhales and exhales. I begin to feel it as it travels into the abdomen and chest and as it flows out of the nostrils.
My mind calms down a bit, and then I focus on my feet to begin. I notice what my feet are connected to: the floor, my legs, possibly clothing or a blanket. I move up to the calves, noticing everything they are in contact with, and then move up to the knees, thighs.
I notice the torso, the center of the body, work my way through my chest, down each of my arms, my hands. I move upward through the shoulders and neck and finally through the center of the head, the space behind the eyes and the crown of the head.
The process can take as little as 6-7 minutes, or I can prolong it a bit and focus for longer in each area. While sitting in yin yoga I am able to do this while in a long hold for a pose, noticing some slight discomfort if there is some fascia that is tight. I am able to “zoom in” on a sensation and then possibly “zoom out” to the whole body. I might do this zoom in and zoom out a couple of times during a hold.
All the while I take note of what is happening in my mind. It’s not as though the mind stays quiet during this process. People sometimes think meditation is about clearing the mind. Really it can be about noticing what is going on there. Thoughts arise, and with them, feelings vibrate through the body. There is no shame or judgment toward these thoughts, just a mild curiosity.
By repeatedly coming back to the body, feeling where we are, centering our awareness on what is within, we gain stability and wisdom. It can be a miraculous sort of discovery, this centering practice. I find that, now that I have practiced in silence and stillness, I can also find my center when the environment is a bit more chaotic.
I have learned to find my center in airports, during stressful meetings, and in conversations when I notice that I am holding my breath rather than breathing fully. I bring my awareness into my center and might notice I am holding tightness in my shoulders or in my gut. I breathe more deeply a couple of times, and try to relax those tight areas, becoming conscious of what thoughts are running through my head.
By centering my body, I access wisdom that typically used to be “walled off” from my mind. I bring my heart in line with my brain, and with my gut. I access intuitive abilities that once were more elusive to me. I make decisions from a place of greater ease. I know to ask certain questions in conversations.
People sometimes look at me with surprise, wondering how I have “guessed” their intentions, even though they may be different from the words they use. Truly it feels like a super-power, when used with love and compassion. When I stay aligned with my center, everything flows better. I am able to pay close attention to what my body needs, and adjust accordingly.
While I am no expert, I encourage you to try this out, whether through a guided meditation on Insight Timer, or in a hatha or yin yoga class. If you have experience with this, I would love to hear more about it as well.
Yesterday I got the news that the Senior Program Manager job I interviewed for was offered to another person. I was initially disappointed, since I saw it as an escape from the present role, which I will leave by August, regardless of what is next.
But then my body started feeling light, buoyant and happy at the thought of NOT taking on a super heavy commitment to learn a new job over the summer. I started realizing I can fully enjoy my vacation in June knowing that I will not be trying to prepare for a new job or transitioning out of the previous role. Tension leaving the shoulders and stomach…
Ah, pay attention to your body when it gives you these signals, my friends. It will tell you what you need to know.
I write this from the Caribou Coffee near my home. Fittingly, my drip coffee maker decided to stop working, and is no longer pulling the water up. I am not sure if it is the hard water coating the mechanism or what. Ugh. Maybe I’ll get a french press for a while and just us my water heater to make the coffee.
In any case, the only solution was to find another source. Going without coffee is not a viable option for me. I’ve done dietary detox “cleanses” before, in which I have given up gluten, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and animal products for a period of 14 days or 21 days. Both times I struggled most with giving up the caffeine, and also dairy.
As someone who both thrives and struggles with a.d.d., I have taken a stimulant medication to help with focus for about 14 years. There are biochemical reasons behind why this has been helpful for me, and why I tend to get addicted to caffeine very quickly. A lot of people with a.d.d. struggle with nicotine addition for this reason as well – it helps with focus.
While this may seem counter-intuitive, if you think of it as stimulating the “brake center” or the executive functioning center of the brain, it makes more sense. People think that stimulants should make you hyperactive, but the opposite is true. They tend to calm down an attention-challenged person. The exception for me is that when my synapses feel “burned” from too many days on too little sleep, typical for me after more than 3-4 days of a work trip.
When the body and brain need rest, they need rest. There is no substitute. In the two years I have really worked to make sure I get better sleep, take care of myself physically and focus on dietary factors which help me sleep better. I weaned myself off full-strength coffee on a day-to-day basis at home. I typically make myself a half caf blend in the morning and I savor it slowly with full fat cream, Putting a shake of cardamon and cinnamon in the coffee maker is delicious also.
Now that I am home again after 7 nights away, I know I will have to detox from the higher amount coffee I consumed in Argentina and Brazil. Coffee is a larger part of the culture, and it is absolutely delicious there, though the Argentinians frequently leave out milk or cream, so I find it’s too acidic for my system to overindulge too much on coffee.
It doesn’t change the fact that I am, in effect, “double dosing” when I travel, since the half caf option doesn’t really exist on the road. I limited myself to 3 a day (which is usually 3 half-cafs at home). People looked at my strangely in the past when I’ve asked for decaf espresso or cappuccino in a restaurant. My Argentina colleague has an espresso after dinner at 10 p.m. at night and I tell him I’d be up all night if I did that. He reassures me: it doesn’t even affect him.
I disagree, it probably does. Though the brain and body have a way of down-regulating hormones and neuro-chemicals when we have become accustomed to too much. When we allow ourselves to scale back on a stimulant substance like caffeine, we start to realize how much we had been depending on it, and our body adjusts back to a more normal baseline.
I like to allow myself a couple of days to gradually scale back the caffeine, while getting juicy, wonderful 9-10 hour nights of sleep. I log my sleep daily (clinical researcher here). When I looked at a stretch of 4 days in which my average sleep was 5.75 hours, I realized that I will need to allow myself at least an equal period of time to restore the balance. If I do not, I will suffer. Pure and simple.
I also notice my weight has been up a bit this month, and that’s typically an indicator that my body is stressed. But I know that when I give my body what it needs: rest, good, healthy food, lots more salads (god, I hate what they feed us on airplanes, that’s a post for another day), time to relax, yoga practice 3+ days a week, solitude, good time with my hubby and my kitties, my body returns to normal.
So while a detox can be challenging, filling my life with all the good things that keep me vital and happy also feels really, really good.
Some of us spent way too many of our adolescent years, and perhaps 20’s and beyond hating our bodies. It is not hard to understand why this occurred:
Check out every media publication in the world (practically) that shows women should be thin, beautiful, coiffed, manicured. AND: all of this should occur with the least amount of perceptible effort possible.
Body shaming is an epic tradition, especially for western cultures. It is a sad and pathetic tradition and we need to end it now. Why?
For one: it does not serve anyone (except advertisers and people trying to sell you something). Taking care of our bodies properly requires that we love ourselves, and have compassion for ourselves. They are doing the best they can to keep us alive, including storing fat for the lean times. Our ancestors did not always have food to eat on a daily basis, which is why humans (and many other creatures) are adept at storing extra calories in the form of fat.
When you think about it, we have the evolution process to thank for the fact that, if we were short of food, we would be able to survive a remarkably long time just tapping our fat stores. But do we ever give thanks for this handy little phenomenon? Not likely. In the modern world, food is around us. Evolution has not caught up with that reality.
For years as a runner, I used extra mileage to sometimes “punish” myself for bad behavior, i.e. eating chocolate or having some kind of treat forbidden by my diet. I love running but this approach really was not healthy for me, and led to chronic injuries. I was always running from something, and usually it was from feeling any painful feelings, just sitting with the sensations in my body and observing them.
It was not until I started practicing meditation and yoga more regularly and learning to sit with those feelings of discomfort sometimes. Rather than “escaping myself” I learned to come back to myself and to feel compassion and forgiveness for myself. Our bodies do the best they can for us, and meanwhile, they only want us to take care of them.
We can drink plenty of water and get plenty of fresh air. We can eat plenty of healthy vegetables, along with healthy fats and proteins to keep our brains and bodies in balance. We can avoid sugar and flour, highly processed powdered substances that create unnatural insulin releases into the body. We can get plenty of sleep. We can work out to improve endurance and strength, but know resting is equally important to build healthy tissue.
When we love our bodies, we treat them with care and respect. When we take the time to be grateful for what they do for us every day, we tend to pay closer attention, and to ask them what they need, instead of mindlessly shoving down what the advertisers are peddling.
If you hate your body and think this will help you lose weight, I implore you to reconsider. Loving your precious body, the instrument you were granted to live in while on this earth is the way you can best serve it.
Treating your body with kindness and respect is the best way to get more energy, vitality and health. Give it a try. It might surprise you by rewarding you with a more natural weight without the struggle.