active breathing, meditation, mental wellness, mindfullness, practice, stillness, wellness

5 Tips to start a Meditation Practice

“Underneath the chaos of everyday living, peace is patiently awaiting our discovery… go within.”

~Jaeda DeWalt

Meditation is something most of us want in our lives; We know it’s good for our physical and mental health, that it decreases stress, boosts the immune system and does all sorts of other good things, but starting a practice can be intimidating. How do we start, and more importantly how do we keep it going?

If your anything like me you’ve struggled with the process of meditation. I am an activity junkie I am always on the move whether it’s hiking, biking or traveling somewhere in the adventure van. I like to be on the go. I would say I’m even hard wired for it. Sit down and do nothing…yikes! Sounding kind of familiar? Maybe this will sound familiar too… Smoking pot and sitting next to a tree with a blissfully stoned expression on your face equals meditation. For years this is what my meditation practice looked like but this is not meditation. What?!?! How the hell are you suppose to chill enough to actually make this meditation thing work? Now I’m not throwing out the usefulness of plants as medicine but anything you have to use to get you to a certain state of mind is an artificial experience and a dependency, which is the complete antithesis of the purpose of meditation. I think the use of plant medicines can open a door for certain experiences and practices but in my experience dependency is never the right path. Stepping in to a mediation practice isn’t suppose to be easy that’s why it’s a practice but there are some tricks that have helped this basket case, me, to actually finding and maintaining a mediation practice without the use of substances. Here are my Top 5 tips.

1. Get Active! The first thing I learned in my struggle to a meditation practice was that I absolutely could not just sit down and do nothing! I have a ton of physical energy that makes me fidget and I can’t find a way to get comfortable and it’s just a disaster. Maybe this sounds a little familiar? Well through many failed tries at sitting still and focusing on a candle or keep my mind blank I realized that the times I had the most luck staying still and meditating where after I had a lot of physical activity. So Tip numero uno is get active, it can be 3 sets of 30 jumping jacks, a 20 min HIIT routine, a walk around the block anything that helps you move nervous energy out your body. Bonus here, movement also releases endorphins in the body creating a more relaxed mental state. Win! I like to go on a run or do my yoga practice and then settle into my meditation practice if I’ve decided to do it later in the day.

2. Mix it up. There can be quite a bit of rigidity around a Meditation practice and I say let that shit go, unless of course that totally works for you. It absolutely does not work for me. I’m the kind of person that constantly likes to switch up the scenery in life so for me doing my meditation practice at the same time everyday in the same exact way is a meditation death sentence. Truth hurts but I’m working with what I got. So tip number 2. Mix. It. Up. This means Monday morning I’m going to meditate with a candle at 5:30 am, Tuesday I’m going to practice active breathing while I’m making dinner, Wednesday I’m going to do a walking meditation in the afternoon, Thursday I’ll settle into relaxation meditation with some Deep Listening (see post on cultivating stillness) before bed, Friday I’ll meditate post run by listening to a guided meditation, Saturday It’ll be a gratitude practice first thing in the morning and Sunday I’ll drop into my prayer practice. Jumble add/delete as you like. There is NO set way that you Have to set up your meditation practice and meditation can take many different forms. The purpose of meditation is to start to create a time where you can settle, decompress and digest your life instead of being caught in the storm of it all. And if it turns into a spiritual practice at some point freaking rad! But it doesn’t have to.

3. Breathe in, Breathe out. One of the things that took me by surprise was how much my mental state was affected by my breathing. The first time I really noticed this was in my 20’s while I was snowboarding. It was a beautiful morning with a fresh 12 inches of champagne powder glistening in the sunlight and I was eager to hit this fun tree run, I was feeling anxious and excited and a little nervous. I took 3 deep breathes and I felt this wave of calm come over me I slipped through the trees riding the tide of my breathe floating on an endless sea of perfect snow. Yeah that day was an Epic ride for sure and there have been many more since. But the real magic that day was the realization of the affect that active breathing had on my bodies performance and my mind.

My muscles felt fueled, responded well and my mind was calm, it seemed to slow things down giving me more time to react. I was pretty hooked and started incorporating active breathing in all of my activities. Active breathing is pretty simple you just start to pay attention to your breath and then start to control it a little bit. You can play with making your exhale longer than your inhale, or making your inhale and your exhale really smooth, you can also try taking a nice deep smooth breath in and holding it for a second and then letting it go nice and slow. Active breathing is a big part of getting into a meditation practice. Tip number 3 start playing with active breathing everywhere in your life and in your meditation practice.

4. Set the Mood. It would be pretty difficult to meditate in the middle of a bus-station with brakes squealing and tons of people milling around. So check out your space, is it the equivalent of a crazy bus-station with children and animals running around everywhere and a tornado of stuff scattered all over? Our internal space can be powerfully affected by our external environment. Don’t believe me? Next time you feel low or depressed or crazy or frustrated organize something or vacuum and just see how you feel afterwards. ‘The world might be falling apart but my kitchen cupboards are clean and organized…phew I can do anything!’ Yeah, might sound stupid but it works. So Set the Mood for your meditation, make it a delicious space you can’t wait to settle into even if it’s set in the corner of your closet, make it yours. Light some incense or a yummy smelling candle, brew some chai or whatever infusion sounds good at the moment, maybe put on some relaxing music and give yourself permission to settle, decompress and digest in a space that is calm and peaceful.

5. Stop trying and just notice. In our culture we’re wired to work hard at shit and get it right. The harder you work the more likely you are to get it right faster than your competition and competition is everywhere even when it’s not… Competition is a beautiful thing and our culture creates go getters! But there is an imbalance here, we have zero skills in surrender, space setting and letting go. We don’t know how to stop trying and just notice. With this last tip give yourself lots of room to fumble through the process. When it comes to meditation I hear a lot of people say that they just can’t get their mind to shut up and turn off and I would say ‘that is absolutely not the point of meditation’. The point of meditation is to stop trying to turn off your mind and instead become an observer. Start to notice where your mind is going and notice without becoming attached to the story or narrative that your mind is spinning. Eventually a separation begins to occur and you realize that you are something very separate for your story spinning mind. A space can start to settle between the Observer (you) and the noise of your mind, this is the magic spot in a meditation practice and it is the beginning of a deep fulfilling relationship with Self.

It’s taken me a long time to find my meditation practice. And most of that time was spent sifting through the BS that surrounds the idea of what a meditation is. Ultimately a meditation practice looks different for each person and your intuition on what that looks like for you is your best guide. The underlying truth is the same for us all, once you’ve found your practice it will completely enrich your life. For myself it has become the tool that I go to to create ease and balance in my inner and outer world.

I hope that if you’ve made it this far in the reading that you’ve laughed a little and maybe had some of the mystery surrounding meditation removed. It does not matter who you are, where you come from, or what your spiritual/non spiritual back ground is, meditation is an amazing tool and relationship to self that can enrich everyone’s life. Hopefully these tips make trying it on for size and keeping it there a little bit easier.

Wishing you Wellness & Laughter,

Beca

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.”

~Anaïs Nin

active breathing, asana, mindfullness, practice, stillness, wellness, yoga

3 Ways to Get Comfortable with Stillness

“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” rumi

Silence is one of those things you love or you hate. Kind of like doing nothing, you’re either good at it or it drives you crazy. Now I’m not talking about being lazy and dumb, I’m talking about the art of stillness… Personally I suck at it.

The first time I sat still in silence and did nothing I was 29 years old and did it on the recommendation of my therapist. She said just try it for like 60 seconds and see what happens…no big deal right?…right.

Yea I didn’t last 60 seconds before I was a puddle of tears and snot. Between when I started the timer and turned into a soggy tear streaked mess felt like forever, all of it shocked me for sure! I wasn’t sad or mad or crazy or any thing else…at least I didn’t think so. I was “simply” having a physical release. And WTF is that anyway?? It felt super scary but it also felt really good. I was hooked! Three months later I was enrolled at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy and started their Associates program that fall.

That was the beginning of my journey. I was trying to learn as much as I could about alternative healing, wellness, alignment, breathe, all of it. Every time I learned something new the mountain of what I didn’t know or didn’t understand grew. I still feel like I’m scrambling up that peak less mountain. But I do have more tools in my tool belt that aid me on this adventure. Bonus!

These tools include the practice of Asana which are poses practiced is a precise way to release energetic blockages in the body via Nadis (energetic channels). Pranayama which is the yogic practice of controlling the breathe. And the practice of Deep Listening, this practice is a highly active state that creates a focused awareness to receive communication that your own body is giving you.

I am definitely not an expert just a fellow explorer. And these tools take constant practice, if you don’t use it you lose it as they say. But literally anyone can pick up these tools and start making them work for you. And they cost zero dollars! So what the hell is Asana anyway? It is pronounce ASS-a-nuh or at least that’s how I say it and yeah where does your ASS go? That’s right it goes in your seat! Asana is one of the eight limbs of Yoga all of the limbs are important but this one was particularly important for a very Physical being like myself. Asana literally means seat. So each yoga or asana pose like child’s pose (one of my favorites), let’s just say, is an opportunity to find your seat or your comfort. It is a quality of ‘settling in’ the pose. The opportunity to exercise this ‘settling in’ quality goes up as the pose becomes more strenuous or complex.

So just as an example when I first started doing yoga I did child’s pose and I thought ‘I got this! This is easy.’ Then I transitioned to a forward fold and I thought ‘oh my gawwd how can that lady over there touch her toes?! I’ll never be able to do that! I can see them but…eek never never never be able to touch…grunt..toes…out of breath sigh.’ Yes I have a very alive inner dialogue. Eventually about a year later I was able to touch my toes and I had a mini extremely silent victory party in the middle of Yoga class when this happened. No one noticed. The Asana is part of clearing the energetic channels in the body. The other part is experiencing the quality of ‘settling in’ or comfort while in the pose and that is where the practice of pranayama comes in.

Again, I am definitely not an expert and pranayama can take a lot of practice and there’s all kinds of pranayama and technique and it’s all complicated and stuff. But there is a beginning point that I think holds infinite richness! Pranayama literally means prana- ‘life force’ or ‘energy source’ and Yama- ‘control’ or ‘restraint’ which is typically translated as ‘breath control’. The normal rate of respiration for an adult at rest is 12-20 breathes per minute. This is the mindless act of inhalation and exhalation we do a trillion times a day. So if I were to sit in a seat and focus my attention on my inhale and my exhale and then slowly tried to lengthen my inhale and my exhale by maybe one second I would be beginning an active breathing or pranayama practice. The practice of active breathing is scientifically proven to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and restore system, making ‘settling in’ or finding comfort way easier. Now I combine this active breathing with child’s pose see if I can find that quality of ‘settling in’ or comfort and just notice what happens. When I’m done there I move on to a different asana or pose like let’s say forward fold and repeat technique, see what happens. The see what happens part is the beginning of that whole Deep Listening practice.

Deep Listening sounds hard and it is…kind of. So I want you to take 30 seconds, go ahead and set the timer on your phone, and I want you to try really really hard to think about nothing, absolutely nothing. Ok GO!……Fun? Did you do it? Was your mind a still and serene lake? Not freaking likely right? The mind is like a toddler or like a puppy it has an attention span of literally 5 seconds maybe less and pees all over everything, builds towers to get to the cookie jar and sticks pb&j sammys in the VCR. The best way to get your ADD inner toddler to behave is to give them a job or a task. So I’m going to do the same things I did when I started my pranayama exercise. I’m going to sit in a seat, I’ll begin some active breathing, then I’m going to ask my inner toddler if it notices any weird, heavy, light or scratchy feeling starting with my toes and systematically go through each part of the body until I reach the top of my head.

This exercise can be a little tedious but it gets the mind focused on a deeper sense of listening to the body. After that I do the same thing in child’s pose. Anytime the mind starts to wander and you find yourself ‘checking out’ don’t get frustrated it’s a toddler in there or puppy if it easier to be nice to a cute cuddly puppy and just bring your toddler/puppy back to the task at hand. Sitting in the pose/asana, actively controlling the breathe/pranayama and Deep Listening/noticing if your body feels heavy, sticky, light(insert any adjective here) or whatever. Through all of this see if you can find that quality of comfort or settling in.

The real magic from all this comes when you’re in traffic and some jerk cuts you off and you would typically speed forward to cut him off and hit the brakes with a malicious sneer on your face BUT instead you settle in your body, you actively breath, you notice the sensation of heaviness and tightness this creates in your body and you let it go. This may or may not be a true story. When you start seeing these 3 tiny little practices make significant changes in the way you react to life it’s pretty freakin bad ass.

At the beginning I wrote that I suck at the art of stillness and believe me I do. But I am a lot less terrible at it than I was before these 3 little gems landed in my life and in my awareness. And right now with CoVid-19 and a full house arrest set in place I’m grateful that even though I’m not good at it I have tools to navigate the silence, the stillness and the errant toddler.

Wishing you Wellness and Laughter,

Beca

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.”

~Anaïs Nin