(my adaptation of how to find zen)
I like yoga. I like it for how it helps me, mentally and physically. I had just starting taking classes around age 40, when my life started collapsing around me: one family member in drug rehab, one very sick with a really crappy prognosis, and one under FBI investigation. I needed a lifeline, and my family could not be that for me.
Some people go to church when they’re in crisis; I went to yoga. This was my mental and spiritual savior. When I was on my yoga mat in the corner of a dark room for an hour-long class, I didn’t have to talk to anyone or listen to anyone or fix their problems. I felt like I could really finally breathe; those full deep inhales and exhales, where I could actually feel my heart rate slowing. I’m not a religious person but I was praying to the Universe and my guiding angels to take away my pain and fix my people and keep us from falling apart. In that quiet dark hour I felt I could somehow open the channel between me and those higher powers and they could maybe hear me better.
I wanted to become a yoga teacher so that I could help other people heal the same way I was healing. I knew that with training I could figure out how to teach the poses (I had a solid foundation of anatomy and movement), but the language and the philosophy were going to be my mountain to climb.
Words like ‘cultivate’, ‘lean in’ and ‘hold space’ were being thrown around regularly in the classes I was taking. I didn’t get it. Even after being a yoga student for a couple of years these terms still made zero sense to me. I didn’t want to ask in case the teacher thought I was un-evolved or stupid. I used the closing meditation time (Savasana) to plan what I was going to eat when I got out of class, rather than reaching some ethereal state of enlightenment.
I’ve listened to tons of meditation app’s and guided meditations and I’ve read books. I’ve spent a weekend with Deepak Chopra learning his style of meditation. At the end of that weekend I spoke privately to one of the seminar leaders and asked her how come I still wasn’t ‘getting there’. It was frustrating and annoying. She told me to just keep practicing it, and eventually it would all start to unfold (BTW, she was right).
I still just don’t connect to most meditation teachers or the language they use (as brilliant as they are). If you can relate, I would like to share with you what my approach to meditation is.
Meditation is not just for people who are yogic or spiritual - it’s for every single human being, period. It’s not for people of any particular faith or spiritual views. It is for everyone born into this human condition.
First things first: What are the measurable benefits of meditating? Scientific research shows that with regular meditation our bodies heal in these ways:
Lower blood pressure & hypertension
Lowered cholesterol levels
Reduced production of the crappy stress hormones adrenaline & cortisol (the one that wakes you up around 3 AM, if anyone can relate to that one?!)
Increased production of DHEA hormone, the one that helps anti-aging & brain function
More efficient oxygen use
Improved immune function
Decreased anxiety, depression and insomnia
Second, what meditating means: it’s getting rid of distractions. No scrolling, no watching TV even for just 5 minutes. Turning off the external input and stimulation so YOU become the input you can hear. Opening the channel to consciously pay attention to your mind stuff instead of being subconsciously directed by it all day long.
You know how your best ideas come to you in the shower? Or when you’re driving alone or walking your dog? THAT’S MEDITATING - it’s moving out distractions and opening your headspace. Opening the doorway for the flow, that’s all! Like driving on an empty road so you can clear your mind and really let the focus be on just what’s happening for you in that moment.
I recently did a paint-by-numbers canvas painting for a friend’s birthday gift. It started as a joke from me to her because she’s a very talented painter and I can’t even create a decent stick-person with a paintbrush or pencil. The one or three hours I spent painting every day for a couple of weeks turned into very meditative time for me. It made me slow down, move my focus to something repetitive and methodical, and my brain went crazy with clarity and ideas about other things during those hours. You may have seen the adult coloring books that are out there now; proven stress-reduction exercises, aka Meditating. Just for fun I’m going to show you my paint-by-numbers project here:
True confession time: I think most teachers would lose their zen-minds for me saying this buuuuuut… I often meditate with my phone next to me, in airplane mode and voice recording feature on. I get so much freaking clarity in these moments that I don’t want to lose what shows up, so I’ll mumble it aloud to capture in an audio recording. I get creative, I get clear - as my spiritual & business coach says, it’s like ‘getting downloads’ from the Universe. And I get A TON of them during meditation, but because I almost go into an altered state during those few minutes, if I don’t record it I usually don’t remember it almost when I'm finished. That may not be considered ‘meditation etiquette’, but who the fuck is making the rules anyway? This is MY meditation, my mental process, not anyone else’s! I use my phone as a way to verbally journal though, not as a distraction during this time.
Where and how long to meditate: what works for you? Do you want a comfortable chair? Inside or outdoors? A floor pillow or to lay flat on a blanket or hammock? Do you want a small table or altar with pictures or a candle you can direct your visual focus to while you settle? It’s up to you. Remember this is YOUR meditation, nobody else’s, and you can explore any and all ideas to find what is most calming for you. A fun statistic is that since COVID, 73% of people admit to sitting in their car just to get some alone time from the people they live with - you can totally sit in your car and meditate! When I was doing my heaviest soul searching I would drive to a local beach every morning and sit in the empty lifeguard house, for as long as it took for me to get my head straight and my emotions leveled down. Howard Stern says that when he was a judge on America’s Got Talent he would lock his dressing room door, lay on the sofa and do 20 minutes of meditation before taping every show, and he would not compromise on that time for himself no matter who was banging on the door.
How long you stay in meditation is up to you. Some days the 5 minutes I set my timer for is enough; other days my brain lights up with all the answers I’m listening for in the first 3 minutes and I end meditation time and get moving, and there are times the quiet and stillness feels so yummy I stay for 15 minutes instead of 5, just letting deep relaxation melt into my whole body. Again, it’s up to you. There is no such thing a a bad meditation, and no two are ever the same.
If you’re looking for a way to get unstuck with the stuff that’s creating congestion in your mind or your emotional well-being, I’m here to help. I am here to be your guide, to tell you that the rules are THERE ARE NO RULES and that there is no background or prerequisite to meditating.
A desire to feel better from the inside out and a willingness to make 5-10 minutes a day to begin is all you need. If you want to start with a guided meditation I have some short ones on my YouTube channel (Body & Bliss by Karen) and more will be regularly added.
On Wednesday, November 11/2020 at 5 PM (PST) I am hosting a one hour Zoom ‘De-Stress & Reset’ event that will include some easy seated stretches to untangle the tension from your neck and shoulders, some calming breath work, and wrapping it all up with a guided visualization meditation. If you're nervous about having anyone else see your meditation experience this is a perfect way to dive in, where you can choose to turn off the video camera and just listen and follow along, completely free without anyone else in the room. Reserve your spot now under Events on the homepage.
Professional Photos by PATRICIA PEÑA PHOTOGRAPHY