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Posts Tagged ‘meditation’


 

yoga exercise abstract

     Meditation, in all its various colors, has hit the mainstream.   It used to be just the hippies and alternative people who flocked to a room somewhere back in the 60s and 70s to learn transcendental meditation. I was one of them. My friend was one of the “alternatives” and invited me to a session that he was attending. Sounded interesting. I was given a mantra and taught how to relax my mind and silently repeat that mantra over and over again. When my mind wandered, gently bring it back to that nonsensical word and continue to silently and effortless repeat it. We were taught to practice that for 20 minutes twice a day. I did, and have been for years. Now it’s 30 minutes once a day about 5 times a week. During my college years I lapsed and had intermittent on/off periods during my high driving career years. But for a number of years now it’s been a regular practice, not “TM” but rather insight meditation has taken its place. That practice has made a major impact on my patience level, sense of peace and contentedness, clarity of thought and abiding sense of internal joy. Medical research now proves the physical and mental benefits of an ongoing meditation and mindfulness practice. Dozens of articles have been written about it and books extolling its benefits include its step-by-step process. But few have the emotional impact and first person case study that prominent neurosurgeon Dr. James R. Doty’s has in his memoir Into The Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart. Wow is the superlative that comes to mind.

     Dr. Doty is now a professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University. But, as he tells it, it’s a fluke that he actually attended college at all, not to mention become a successful and prominent neurosurgeon. He doesn’t use the word fluke he calls it magic and weaves a compelling tale of being a young boy and meeting a woman in a magic shop who seduced him by promising the ultimate magic trick that would change his life. He was to spend his 12 weeks of summer vacation with her learning the trick. And if he practiced the trick, even at home, he could have anything he wants in life. That would be truly amazing since he came from a very poor family with a drunken father who couldn’t keep a job and bedridden, clinically depressed mother who had to continually pack up the family and move when they got evicted from apartment after apartment for not paying the rent.

     The trick, as Dr. Doty relays, was learning to meditate and then manifest his dreams. With regular practice and a deep, sincere desire for those goals to materialize along with visualization and the trust that they would – his life could change. Would change. This book tells that story of how his dreams came to pass. Along the way he shares the step-by-step process that this woman, Ruth, taught him. His abiding hope is that others will learn the way too.

It’s a profound read that is hard to put down.

 

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Who knew that bringing in the newspaper Monday morning would change my life. It was just an ordinary morning, arriving home from my daily dog walk and reaching into the newspaper receptacle as I do every morning. What looked like an innocent stack of leaves instantly turned into a sled on top of slick water once I stepped on them. They were still damp from periodic rains we’d experienced, much appreciated after our 7-month drought. Today, for some reason I lost my balance and toppled onto the street, twisting my ankle on the way down. Crack. There it was, loud and clear. And in that instant I fractured my fibula.

brokenankle1

As a child I broke my ankle after falling off of somebody’s shoulder on the playground and lived in a white cast for weeks, I think. The only thing I remember about that experience was the extreme immediate pain and then total inconvenience for, what seemed like, an eternity.

brokenankle2This time, a boot stuffed with soft fleece and fastened by super Velcro will live on my lower right leg for 6-weeks. Can’t put any weight on it or drive for the duration. What a difference life can bring when living on one leg.

Our first floor has been rearranged. My bathroom is now downstairs and handicap equipped. The guest room is now my sleeping quarters and pants that can fit over a big boot have become my clothes of choice. Rugs have been rolled up. One slip on shoe with a rubber traction sole is all I can wear. Getting in and out of bed as well as on and off sofas and chairs are new challenges to be mastered. This boot is heavy and lugging it around over a broken ankle is not for the misty eyed. It’s a lead weight so I’m learning to flex my foot, charge my thigh and engage my core before lifting that leg. Who knew?

After day one I was convinced those nasty crutches were not my solution to getting around. So ingenuity had to prevail in a number of ways.

Aha! The rolling chair in my office could serve as a make-shift wheel chair with my left leg as the engine and my arms as the navigators. Multi-tasking is a must. So when I go to the kitchen I envision everything I’ll need for a meal, dump it on my lap and wheel to the counter. When I strategically position myself, I can stand up and reach 80% of what will be necessary for that meal. Sometimes a couple of chair trips will finish the task. Believe it or not, it exerts a lot of energy to stand up, sit down and motor around on one leg – all day. I’m “feeling the burn” as they say, in my left thigh and glutes as though I’m working through leg rotations in the gym. But on just one leg.

As a yoga practitioner for many years I understand correct body alignment and the need for stretching to avoid injury so I’ve figured out how to stretch my hamstrings and do hip openers. On both legs! Extra precaution is taken on my right side to keep my lower leg stabilized. But, surprise, I can also do thigh lifts so I’m not too weak when I get that leg back. I want this sucker off as soon as possible – with my knees, thighs and back aligned and intact!

Bathing is now mastered, while also keeping that durn right boot dry. Laundry was my new challenge today. My husband helper brought all the dirty clothes fit to be washed to the laundry room. The rest I can do! Wheel, stand, wheel, stand – load, unload and fold, slowly. In fact everything now is much slower. It takes twice as long to accomplish tasks I took for granted on two legs. As I write I’m sitting on our back deck enjoying a 50-degree, beautiful sunny day. All by myself I’m proud to say. How? Ha! Loaded everything I needed onto my lap grabbed my crutches and wheeled to the patio doors where I stood, lifted one wheel at a time over the runners and sat down on the other side. Whee! I have my chair outside and my crutches inside the door – just in case I happen to need them. Victory!

I’m learning that slowing down is not a bad thing. Reading for longer periods at a time is good for my brain. More frequent meditation is healthy for my soul. Taking late afternoon naps to restore energy used up in my daily motoring is refreshing. I’ve read that slowing down inspires creativity. It does.

I also have utter empathy and compassion for all the long-term disabled people whose lives were also changed in an instant. I’m lucky, in 6-weeks I’ll have two functioning legs again. Those people won’t. I’ll resume hiking, walking my dog, practicing yoga, enjoying water aerobics and driving my car again. Most of those people won’t. I feel accomplished when mastering new methods for mundane tasks. Their challenges far surpass mine. And yet those people often master extreme challenges exerting much more effort than I have to.  I’m most fortunate.

Now, though, it’s time to maneuver back into the house, through the living-room, down the hall and into the laundry room to unload the washer and load the dryer. Wheel, navigate, stand. Wheel, stand. Wheel, stand. And this is day 4. But who’s counting?

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It’s a good thing I voted early, otherwise I’d be hobbling into the polling station with a very stiff and cranky lower back.  It’s much wiser and safer to be nursing it with some ibuprofen and a heating pad with hopes that it feels better tomorrow.

No barn duty today either although it’s my morning to help with the horses at the Rescue.  Tuesdays come quickly and they’re usually greeted with a healthy back and ambitious attitude to feed, turn out and clean stalls. That’s actually what may have aggravated my back last week during some pretty heavy lifting in some very dirty stalls.

My back has been in great shape for years, thanks to regular exercise and yoga.  But with the cooler weather here and maybe a case of nerves leading up to the election, my back has decided to take control out of my hands and leave it up to fate.

Our bodies have a way of letting us know when it’s time to let go.  To let go of controlling things over which we have no control.

Lesson of the day and I’m listening.  Finally.  It’s our jobs to discern which things we can control, and the wisdom to let go of the others.

What is control, anyway? 

Is it the need to fulfill our expectations? 

To have our lives unfold according to our plans? 

To be right?  

To continue our personal delusions?  

To assume we know best? 

Yes, I think so.

Being a Type A personality, (actually, I like to call myself a recovering Type A), I’ve always needed to control my destiny.  My career put me in constant touch with news and pop culture and my leadership roles allowed me to be the gatekeeper I needed to be.  I had influence over content, budgets, direction, staffs and the masses.

Perfect. 

As my bank account grew with my advancements, so did my sense of personal freedom.  Money has always meant freedom to me, rather than the acquisition of “stuff,” though I accrued that too.  And with that freedom came a sense of control over my destiny.  Oops, there’s that word control again.

If you think my childhood had anything to do with that, you’d be right.  But that’s another subject.  (Or, if you know anything about the Enneagram model, and my type number, you might also realize control issues are in line with that too.)

Anyway, I digress.  Back to control…

These days the issue of control is one that I’m working to live without.  I’ve consciously started to live my life without assuming leadership functions.  Passion may describe a defining personal attribute, but that doesn’t have to lead to controlling an outcome.  A Buddhist tenet is to do what you must and let go of the outcome.  To not be so attached to the activity and its motivation, but, rather to do what’s right and give the rest up to the wind.  What will be, will be.  I’ve done my part, now let it go.

That’s what I think my back has been telling me for a few days now.  I’ve voted, I’ve been an activist for principles that guide me.  Now, just relax and let it be what it will be.

Thank you, back.

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Woods hold a secret

and whisper heartfelt whimsy

while I walk her path.

Trees line her walkway

while fallen needles cushion

steps that leave no trace.

 As winds blow  her leaves

 light teases through canopy

 creating shadows.

 There’s something about

 the smell of greens in nature

that beckons spirit.

It’s fresh yet musty

a paradox in action

the very nature of life.

It’s the woods alone

that breathe life into my soul

it’s my heart, my need.

Breathe deep, sit silent

as the secret whistles through

the sounds are revealed.


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During meditation this morning I started to focus on what it feels like to meditate.  How the process starts, progresses up to that point where I’ve quieted down enough to lessen my loss of focus and just be there.  Then, where is there?

As I start the process of slowing down I notice my mind racing with a million images and thoughts that accompany them, as though I’m in the middle of a collage as it’s being constructed.  It takes effort to focus on the breath – starting with my nose and then migrating to the abdomen where I can feel breathing in and breathing out.  Immediately, an image catches my attention and steals focus until I’m aware of gently re-guiding awareness back to the breath.  Then to hearing.  Then to breath and hearing as those two senses start to dominate.

Notice the blood coursing through my hands and now my feet.  Listen to my heartbeat while I become comfortable residing inside the body and not out.

Outside starts to drift away while the world inside looms large, growing more peaceful with each breath.  I notice a slight smile on my face while my tongue hugs the roof of my mouth.  Distraction comes and goes, more going than coming.  Peace settles within and my body rests contentedly.

And then I’m there.  Here.  Aware of the quiet.  Aware of sounds.  Aware of breath.  Aware of spaciousness.  Inside.  Not at all outside.

And your meditation experience?

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A beautiful quote that captures the essence of Iyengar Yoga by its mastermind BKS Iyengar.  All yoga is rooted in the blend of mind, spirit and body.  But this particular style emphasizes correct physical alignment while contorting the body into prescribed poses.  It aims to use the concentration necessary for correct posture as a tool in teaching meditation.  In order to bend and stretch as required, each pose is deconstructed into its minutiae parts forcing concentration on all nuances of muscle and bone configuration.  And that trains the mind to focus.

Petra's Yoga Poses around the world

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been practicing Iyengar style yoga for 14 years and it’s made a significant difference in my flexibility and attitude toward life.  (Though this gorgeous pose is, sadly, not me.)  It has also enhanced my meditation practice by quieting the mind and tiring out the body, readying it for silent focus on the breath.  And, in all those years, I’ve had just one injury to a shoulder because I rotated my arm farther than my body was ready for.

Recently I’ve branched out to experience other teachers and styles of yoga, maybe because my attitude is one of experimentation these days.  I’ve enjoyed the change and the atmosphere in the different studios, but I’m grateful for my Iyengar training because without it, I wouldn’t know how to properly practice the pose.  And neither do the other students, evidently, as I scan the room and notice poor body alignment.  The teacher may demonstrate the pose correctly, but none explains the process to the students.

A yoga class.

Image via Wikipedia

Knees and thighs are not charged, leg rotations are not accurate, spines are not straight, ham strings aren’t being stretched – the list goes on.  And the teacher says nothing, does not walk the room and adjust the poses.  All students are being left to interpret the instruction on our own.  I’m waiting for injuries to occur all around me.  It surprises me how teachers can teach without teaching.  They demonstrate, they talk the pose through – but none has ever explained flexion of muscle, rotation of limbs, proper knee placement and more.

My suggestion for all yoga enthusiasts is to start with a few series of classes to learn the Iyengar method in order to know how the poses are supposed to be aligned before launching into any other style yoga.  Injured necks, backs, limbs and more are painful, in some cases, long term problems that can be prevented with the appropriate instruction.

What are your yoga experiences?  And how have they affected your life?

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