I feel like I have become pretty self-aware over the years. After taking up yoga almost 9 years ago I have really come to know myself. I can feel things within my body like I never could before and I can tell how outside factors affect me as well. This sense of awareness is what led me to create this website and what drives me in my teaching. I want to do what I can to help others become self-aware, to know what their bodies are doing and feeling, without just trudging through life disconnected, or worse, feeling terrible and not knowing why.
After all of these years of getting to know myself on the inside, it seems that its time to start getting to know the me that everyone else sees. I think we tend to live our lives so wrapped up in our heads and in our own thoughts that we cannot see past them. Throughout my entire life people have told me I have nice eyes, beautiful eyes, stunning, pretty, gorgeous eyes; if it’s a positive adjective, I have likely heard it about my eyes. They want to know if these are my “real eyes” or if I am wearing contacts. Despite the fact that sometimes I’d like to give a sarcastic reply, like “No, these are not my real eyes, they are both glass”, I always take a compliment with gratitude and a smile because lets face, it when a stranger gives you a compliment it can really lift your spirits. If you were having a bad day, perhaps the day just got a little brighter.
But when I would look in the mirror to try to see what these strangers on the street could see in my eyes all I saw were a pair of eyeballs looking back at me; I really didn’t get it. Then one day, a few weeks ago, I went into the bathroom to wash my hands and I happened to glance up at myself in the mirror and my self said “Holy crap, your eyes are gorgeous!” There they were – long dark eye lashes, greenish yellow irises ringed in blue-black, awesome. How had I gone 33 years without noticing? I guess it’s true what they say about not being able to tell people things and how they need to see it themselves.
Then just this morning, I saw myself in a photo and I noticed that with my face completely relaxed the left side of my top lip is bigger or higher then the right, which makes me look perpetually pissed off or disgusted at something. This would explain why if I am not smiling people ask me “What’s wrong?”, “Are you okay?” People often think that I am mad or cranky when I am perfectly fine, which sometimes makes me mad and cranky, which makes them think that they were right all along. But now I can tell the world, no, I’m fine, my lips are just asymmetrical. I know it may sound ridiculous to so easily embrace my crooked face, but I am happy to have noticed this. It’s just another part of how people see me and helps me be aware of how I may look to other people!
With all of these realizations slapping me in the face (almost literally), I started to wonder what sparked this change, allowing me to see myself the way others see me and not just the way I think I look. What I concluded is that it has to be meditation. Sitting to meditate on a regular basis is allowing me to really see myself. Every so often I have a realization, it just comes to me and I think, “Oh wow, look at that. How have I never seen that before?” or “How did I not know that before?” The answer to that is likely that I was just not ready to see or know. I am ready now, excited even, to see what I will learn or discover about myself next!
On March 30th, 2012, I began the Subtle Yoga(™) Teacher Training and Personal Transformation Program.
Among other things, one of the requirements of the program is twice daily meditation. Over the course of the first two months we (my fellow program participants and I) are required to meditate for at least ten minutes twice a day. After which time we have agreed to increase the meditation time to 15+ minutes twice daily.
After that first weekend I was nervous, but ready. Or so I thought. I knew that it would be tough making the time to meditate, but I figured this gives me a reason, an excuse, to get away from it all twice a day for at least ten minutes at a time. If life beckoned, I could say, “Hang on life, I HAVE to meditate – it’s for my class”! Yeah…not so much. The truth is, it was not even life keeping me away from it, at least half of the time, it was just me deciding I’d rather sit on the couch and watch Netflix at the end of the day then go meditate.
In the three weeks between our first weekend and this second one that just passed, I meditated only a few times. Mostly on Tuesday and Thursday mornings because I just started teaching a new class that has me up at 4am. It’s perfect. On those days I wake at 4, do my meditation, shower and prepare for work and head out the door. Since I am the only one awake in the house at that hour I am even able to observe one of the components of the Subtle Yoga (™) Program that we practice on our weekends together – Mona Brata, a practice of silence and inward reflection. From the time I wake at 4 until I get into work at 5:35am I don’t have to speak, it’s really quite nice!
We just had our second weekend together and I am feeling a renewed confidence in my ability to do my meditation twice each day. Last night I attempted to go to bed without doing the mediation and when I found myself unable to sleep and needing to because I had to get up at 4am, I dragged my butt out of the bed and did a little meditation.
This morning, 4am came way too soon and I was exhausted, so I switched up my routine a little by showering and getting dressed before sitting for my meditation, because I was sure I would fall asleep if I didn’t.
After I was dressed I set my timer for 12 minutes, found my comfortable, cross-legged position for meditation and began to bring my awareness to my breath. That’s cake, it’s how I start every yoga class. Feel my sit bones in the floor, become aware of my breath, got it.
The next step was to begin to count my breath, if my mind wanders or my thoughts take over I am to “gently corral” my thoughts and come back to counting. After counting for 2-3 mins, I will begin to use my mantra. The mantra is a phrase that has meaning for me that I repeat to myself with my breath to focus my attention during my meditation. That’s what the process looks like on paper, this is what it looks like in my head when the “monkey brain” kicks in:
[Inhaling] One…two…three…four…[sniff] what is that smell? [sniff, sniff] I’m not counting. [Exhaling] one…two…three..
That’s just a fraction of what goes through my head in 10 minutes, but tomorrow’s another day so I will keep trying. No wait, tonight, yes, I AM meditating tonight – really!
So, if you’re interested, stop in and see how I’m doing, I’ll keep you posted. And feel free to share your meditation stories, experiences, and tips with me, I’d like the company.
So how did everyone do with last month’s yoga pose challenge? We joined Yoga Journal’s 21-day Challenge and I can definitely say that I learned a new pose or six! It also included adding vegetarian meals and meditating daily, which leads us to the focus of our challenge this month – meditation.
This being the month associated with love, we’re going to introduce you to metta bhavana, or loving-kindness meditation, perfect for Valentine’s Day. Meditation is a way to extend your thoughts and focus a little more deeply. We are going to extend this day-by-day until you can do the entire meditation.
In order to truly benefit from meditation, your body must be as relaxed as possible. Either sit or lie in a comfortable position and focus on your breath for about 30 seconds. Starting with your feet, tense the muscles for five seconds and then release, counting to ten. Continue upward – calves, thighs, glutes, stomach, chest, hands, arms, and finally face.
Now that you’re feeling less tense, it’s time to begin the first day of meditation focusing on self-love. Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down and begin to focus on your breath, specifically from your chest, or your “heart center.” Breath slowly, through the nose. Start by thinking kind and loving thoughts about yourself. Let go of all of the negativity and judgement you have towards yourself and focus on the feeling of loving yourself. When you feel the warmth and love throughout your body, recite these words, either in your head or aloud:
May I be well
May I be healthy
May I be strong
May I be happy
May I be at peace
May I feel loved
Come back to your breath. Breathe in slowly through the nose, breathe out through the mouth. Feel the love you’ve given to yourself radiating out to the world. Shift your focus away from your breath and feel yourself back in the present moment. When you are ready, open your eyes.
The second day of the meditation will begin exactly like the first, with the love of yourself. Once you’ve come back to focus on your breath, think of someone you admire or respect, like a teacher or someone who’s had a positive effect on you. Envision sharing the warmth and love you feel with that person. Then, repeat the mantra again, picturing that person.
May you be well
May you be healthy
May you be strong
May you be happy
May you be at peace
May you feel loved
Come back to the breath again to complete the meditation.
For the third and subsequent days, you’ll continue this pattern, adding one new focus each day:
Day Three: Someone you easily love – a dear friend, family member, even a pet
Day Four: An acquaintance – someone you don’t know very well personally, someone relatively neutral
Day Five: A person or a group you have difficulty with, who makes you upset or angry – this may be a more difficult one to feel the love for, but this is a good way to “turn the other cheek” and give yourself a positive mindset
Day Six: All living things – radiate the loving feeling to everyone and everything
This meditation is not about “getting through it.” Truly envision the love you are trying to send out into the world. If you are having difficulty, go back a day or even to the beginning. Make the feeling of warmth and love the focus of your meditative time.