Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Quote of the Day: Compassion Meditation April 29, 2014

Filed under: meditation — R. H. Ward @ 3:17 pm
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Today I wanted to present a quote from the book I’ve been reading. I myself haven’t had any time to try to practice this meditation, but I wanted to make sure I had it saved here on the blog for future reference. It sounds like a beautiful practice. Maybe reading about it will help someone else out there.

“So… let us meditate on compassion today. Begin by visualizing a person who is acutely suffering, someone who is in pain or is in a very unfortunate situation. For the first three minutes of the meditation, reflect on that individual’s suffering in a more analytic way–think about their intense suffering and the unfortunate state of that person’s existence. After thinking about that person’s suffering for a few minutes, next, try to relate that to yourself, thinking, ‘that individual has the same capacity for experiencing pain, joy, happiness, and suffering that I do.’ Then, try to allow your natural response to arise–a natural feeling of compassion towards that person. Try to arrive at a conclusion: thinking how strongly you wish for that person to be free from that suffering. And resolve that you will help that person to be relieved from their suffering. Finally, place your mind single-pointedly on that kind of conclusion or resolution, and for the last few minutes of the meditation try to simply generate your mind in a compassionate or loving state.”

– His Holiness the Dalai Lama, quoted in The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, page 129


Links: How to Meditate Daily October 8, 2013

Filed under: meditation,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 12:39 pm
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A few weeks back, a friend of mine shared this link: How to Meditate Daily. My friend was excited to find instructions for meditation that didn’t make it sound overly complicated. This is what I keep trying to tell people about meditation – it’s not complicated! Also, if you think thoughts while you’re meditating, you are not doing it wrong! Thoughts happen. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just sit and breathe.

(Just a reminder: yoga class tonight! 7:30 pm, Wellness on Park, hope to see you there!)


Baby Meditation August 8, 2012

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 9:00 am
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At one month old, my baby is a lot more wakeful, and much more alert, now than she was before. She’s awesome, and I love watching her discover the world. The flip side, though, is that hanging out with her can get a little monotonous. Don’t get me wrong, being with her is amazing and every flail of her tiny arms is miraculous, but watching her flail for an hour straight when she doesn’t feel like sleeping? Even as I hold her and rock her and talk and sing to her, I keep finding my mind drifting. When will she nod off so I can wash those dishes? I just got the schedule for the monthly lecture series I went to all last year – will I be able to go to any this year with a baby at home? I half-wrote this post in my head at least three times before I was actually able to get to the keyboard. And the baby knows she doesn’t have my full attention. When I one-handedly check my phone, she fusses, even though I’m still holding her and rocking her. I catch myself getting distracted and it bothers me – this is likely to be the only period in my or her life when I have uninterrupted time to devote to nothing but her, and I don’t want to cheat either of us of that. Yes, laundry and dishes are important, and so are my other projects, and I can do those things while the baby sleeps, but when she’s not sleeping? Other stuff should fall by the wayside and she should get priority.

But that’s easy to say and harder to put into practice. I know every mom must get distracted from time to time – moms have a lot of things to juggle – and I’m not going to beat myself up about that, but I do genuinely want to enjoy this time with her. And it occurred to me: I can treat spending time with my baby as a meditation practice. I have the perfect object to center my attention in the present moment. I can’t sit in a traditional meditation position, since I have to follow the baby’s lead and shift positions or walk around as I hold her, but I can still focus my attention and try to avoid distractions.

Yesterday I tried it. The baby had slept all morning, and by the afternoon, it wasn’t doing either of us any good trying to get her to nap because she wanted to be awake. I decided that, rather than forcing her to sleep so I could follow my distractions and do something else, it might be better just to do what she wanted, so that’s what I did. I challenged myself to stay focused only on her for half an hour. I kept catching myself trying to do other things, wanting to check email, worrying about the future, even just reaching for my water glass or wanting a snack. It was incredibly difficult to sit and pay attention only to her. But it was also pretty awesome. She was calm for that entire 30 minutes, no crying or even fussing really. She looked at me and gurgled and flailed and kicked, and I looked back. By the end, I was counting down the minutes, but putting in the effort to be truly present with her was something we both enjoyed. I don’t know if Zen masters would recognize it as meditation, but it was excellent practice at focusing my attention in the present moment.


Meditation and Emotions November 28, 2011

We spent a lot of time last month talking about how yoga can help us deal with strong emotions. Meditation is another great tool we can use to work with and through strong emotions, and we can even use those emotions to strengthen and deepen a meditation practice. Positive emotions, such as love, compassion, forgiveness, and friendship, can naturally help to put us in a state of mind conducive to meditation. After all, these are the sorts of emotions we want to use our meditation practice to cultivate! On the other hand, there are negative emotions like fear, anger, sadness, jealousy, or shame that tend to weaken the mind and distract us from meditation. However, we cans till find ways to channel these emotions into something useful.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche advises us (in The Joy of Living, pp. 168-9) that with positive emotions, we can focus on both the object of the emotion and on the emotion itself: for example, if we’re experiencing love for a child, we can picture the child in our minds and concentrate on the feeling of love. The image of the child keeps us feeling love, while the feeling of love helps us to focus on the image – the emotion and its object serve to support each other in our meditation.

With negative emotions, though, its best to place our attention only on the emotion. If a coworker makes you angry, don’t picture your coworker: it’ll just make you more angry. Instead, rest your attention on the feeling of the anger. Try to detach it from its source; forget about your coworker’s stupid face and the extra work he dumped on you and just look at the anger. Don’t analyze the emotion, don’t try to hold onto it or block it or do anything with it – just observe the anger, by itself, separate from the person/event that caused you to feel that way. Observing the emotion on its own will probably serve to shrink it down, so that the anger won’t see as big or powerful as it did before (p. 169).

Looking at the anger, fear, sadness, or anxiety this way, we begin to see it for what it is: not an all-encompassing emotion, not an insurmountable obstacle, but just a series of images, sensations, and thoughts, and we can notice how other thoughts come along and interrupt the emotion easily. (For example, imagine a thought pattern like this: ANGRYANGRYANGRY hey let me email George ANGRYANGRY what’s for dinner tonight? ANGRYANGRYANGRY…) If we’re aware of those little interruptions, we can try to look for them, finding the spaces between the moments of anger and focusing on those instead of on the anger itself. In this way, we grant our emotions less power over us.

According to Rinpoche, there’s an old proverb that goes, “Peacocks eat poison, and the poison they eat is transformed into beautiful feathers” (170). Often we can’t help eating poison – unhappy evens, frustrations, and annoyances come into our lives every day and inspire strong emotions in us. But like the peacock, we can learn to use that poison to grow, and turn it into something lovely.


Meditation: Minding the Gap October 28, 2011

So I’m not making a lot of progress in reading Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s The Joy of Living, because every three pages he says something amazing and I want to go write a blog post about it. Today, what inspired me is the idea of minding the gap.

In London, there’s a gap between the subway platform and the train, such that when you get on the train you have to pay attention as you step over the gap. There’s also a gap between one thought and the next thought in our minds. Most of the time, we coast right along from one thought to the next to the next, not even noticing the gap in between, just the way that a frequent subway traveler steps right onto the train without looking at her feet. But the gap is still there, and being mindful of it can help us be safer on the subway and more present in our daily lives.

Rinpoche tells us that it can be a form of meditation just to notice the gap between our thoughts. He writes,

Watching thoughts is a bit like running to catch a bus. Just as you reach the bus stop, the bus is pulling away, so you have to wait for the next bus to come. In the same way, there’s often a gap between thoughts – maybe it lasts for just a split second, but still, there’s a gap. That gap is the experience of the complete openness of natural mind. (163)

When we meditate, we can just rest our minds in conscious awareness. Thoughts will come and go – there’s no way to stop them. We just pay attention to the thoughts and notice the gaps between them, and see what it feels like in that gap. The complete openness of natural mind! Sounds nice. Rinpoche goes on to say that, when you practice paying attention to that gap, you can start to extend it, to put a little more time between one thought and the next, spending a little longer resting in your natural mind. Like any other type of meditation, recognizing and resting in the openness of our natural mind will help us develop calm, peaceful attitudes that we can carry throughout the day.

Rinpoche uses another metaphor that I like a lot: that of watching TV or a movie. He writes, “On the TV or movie screen, lots of things may be going on, but you are not actually in the movie or on the TV screen, are you? There’s a little bit of space between yourself and whatever you’re watching” (165). In the same way that movies and TV shows (and commercials!) play on our TV screens, thoughts play across our minds. We can become very wrapped up in our thoughts, just as we’d get wrapped up in a good movie, forgetting that we’re not actually part of the action. Then we hear a noise, the phone rings, or we run out of popcorn, and suddenly we’re back in the living room in the present moment, not a part of the movie after all.

Our thoughts sweep us up and carry us away in the same way that movies do, but if we’re able to take a step back from the Thought TV and come back to the present moment, acknowledging the gap between our thoughts and us, we can avoid getting all worked up. After all, movies are really fun to watch, but they can be intense, scary, and upsetting too – and it’s the same with our thoughts. Sometimes part of the fun is getting caught up in all the emotion, but our goal in meditation is to keep our minds calm and peaceful. That doesn’t mean we have to stop having thoughts and emotions, or stop enjoying the thoughts and emotions we have. We’re going to have thoughts and emotions no matter what. But if we can mind the gap between one thought and the next, between our thoughts and ourselves, we can learn to live with a little more peace and calm. It’s one more technique we can use in our meditation practice and our yoga practice.


Listening Meditation October 19, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:37 pm
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In the book The Joy of Living, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche provides several different, simple meditation techniques. One of my favorites is his meditation on sound (pages 151-152).

Come to rest in a comfortable seated position as for any meditation. Let your mind rest for a few moments in a relaxed state, and then gradually allow yourself to become aware of the sounds happening near you. Depending on your location, these could be sounds like cars driving past, airplanes overhead, the hum of the refrigerator, birds chirping, or just the sound of your own heartbeat and breath. You may want to play a recording of natural sounds or some soothing music, and that’s fine too. Listen to the sounds happening around you. Don’t try to identify each sound or focus on a specific sound – just be aware of the sounds you hear without assigning meaning or value to them. Be in the present moment, cultivating “a simple, bare awareness” of each sound as it comes to you.

You may only be able to focus on the sounds around you for a few moments before your mind wanders, and that’s okay. When you catch your mind wandering, just bring it back to a calm and relaxed state again for a few moments, and then bring your awareness back to the sounds. Alternate between resting your attention on sounds and letting your mind just rest in a relaxed state.

One of the things that I find challenging about this meditation is listening to the sounds without assigning meaning to them. For example, meditating after a rainstorm, I heard the sump pump kick on in my basement. Immediately I recognized it as the sump pump and realized that water must be coming in the basement, and the fact that the pump kicked on meant that my basement would stay dry. All of that meaning occurred to me when I heard the sound. I’ll also often hear my husband moving around upstairs, and when I hear his noises, I can’t help but smile since I do kind of like him a lot. But working with this meditation, we’re trying to open our minds and listen without generating the emotional response. Building that skill fosters in a small way the sort of non-attachment that is the goal of yoga and meditation.

The monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh also writes about sound in his book Peace is Every Step. He notes that a bell is sometimes used in meditation practice, as a call to stop the mind from wandering. The sound of the bell brings you back to your true Self. Hanh suggests that any sound, even an unpleasant sound, can have the same effect if we let it. Hearing a siren, or a barking dog, or the sump pump kicking on, we can think to ourselves, “Listen! Listen! This beautiful sound brings me back to my true Self.” I love this idea. We can separate the fear, annoyance, or frustration we usually feel when we hear an unpleasant sound and instead feel peaceful. “Listen! Listen! This beautiful sound brings me back to my true Self.” I want to think that all day long.


Counting Meditation July 12, 2011

Filed under: meditation — R. H. Ward @ 1:50 pm

Here’s a meditation practice I’ve really been enjoying this month. Practicing counting meditation is simple and only takes a few minutes.

First, before beginning any meditation practice, sit down in a comfortable position with a straight back, adjust your clothing so nothing’s irritating you, and arrange to be left alone for a few minutes; consider doing some stretches or pranayama breathing exercises to calm the mind. To begin counting meditation, close your eyes and inhale deeply. On the exhale, say the number 50 to yourself. Exhale fully and deeply. Inhale again, and on the next exhale, think the number 49. Continue counting backwards on your exhales. As you relax into the practice, your breaths may become shallower, and that’s okay, just keep breathing slowly, continue to observe the breath, and count down. When you get to 20, you can begin counting both inhalations and exhalations (i.e., inhale, exhale 21; inhale, exhale 20; inhale 19, exhale 18, inhale 17…). When you get all the way down to 1, exhale and open your eyes.

I like this practice because it gives my mind something to focus on. I have trouble sitting in meditation and simply thinking the words “inhale” and “exhale” with each breath; I find that I get distracted very easily. Counting meditation is a little more interactive and gives the mind something to do. The other plus is that it’s a self-timing practice. Meditation takes only as long as it takes you to count down from 50. If you have trouble sitting still for a long time, doing counting meditation may help you to stop looking at your watch every 23 seconds; if you’re on a schedule trying to fit in meditation in the morning before work, this is a practice you can do without having to set a timer (as long as you can trust yourself not to fall asleep).

You’ll still get distracted during counting meditation just like in any other meditation practice, but as long as you can keep bringing it back to your awareness of the count, you can continue counting down. If you get so distracted that you lose your place in the count, then you should stop and start over from the beginning. (I’ve never had to start over, although I’ve become amazed at the number of thoughts I can have between exhales.) You can also swap the order around and count both inhalations and exhalations from the beginning, and change at 20 to counting only exhales. Or you could count only exhales the whole time, or count both inhalations and exhalations the whole time. Give the practice a try and see what works for you!


Books: Passage Meditation, by Eknath Easwaran July 5, 2011

Filed under: books,meditation,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 3:29 pm
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Eknath Easwaran’s book Passage Meditation: Bringing the Deep Wisdom of the Heart into Daily Life is a kind, thoughtful guide to meditation for beginners and more experienced practitioners alike. Mr. Easwaran takes the tone of a helpful friend and mentor; the book is an easy read that makes meditation seem doable.

Mr. Easwaran starts by discussing the many benefits of meditation, describing how he came to meditation in the first place as a busy young professor at a university in India. He then details his method for meditation: in essence, to find a passage from spiritual literature that appeals to you and touches you deeply, to memorize that passage, and then to repeat it, word by word, in your mind during your meditation practice. Remembering each word of the passage gives your mind something to focus on. In addition, Mr. Easwaran believes that we are what we think about, and if you spend time thinking about an inspiring passage, that passage will become part of your consciousness, enabling you to become a better person.

You could probably start practicing this simple passage meditation technique just based on my description above, but Mr. Easwaran’s book is so finely written and so pleasant to read that I recommend it strongly.  The rest of the book discusses the benefits of a personal mantra in daily life and of slowing down instead of racing through each day; Easwaran also talks about improving concentration and training the senses (pratyahara), and other just good ideas for spiritual practice, such as putting others first and finding companions to practice with.

Not since reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step have I been able to recommend a book of spiritual instruction so highly. I loved this book. It is appropriate for any spiritual seeker regardless of religious tradition, as Mr. Easwaran is conscientious about using inclusive language and making his meditation techniques accessible to all. Mr. Easwaran is well read in the religious scriptures of many traditions and recommends spiritual passages from writers as diverse as St. Teresa of Avila to the Buddha. I highly look forward to reading more of Mr. Easwaran’s work.


Meditation introduction June 30, 2011

Recently I talked with a friend who mentioned having some medical problems. I said I’d heard that yoga could help with the problem she was experiencing (because really, what else do I talk about these days), and she said, “I tried yoga once in college but I couldn’t get into it! That last pose – the instructor kept saying we had to make our minds TOTALLY BLANK. And I just can’t do that!” I wanted to hug my poor friend because she got cheated so badly! Here’s someone willing to give yoga a try, who could really be helped by it, who’s been turned off from yoga because of bad and inaccurate teaching. I wish I could give her old instructor a talking-to! Instead, all I could do was tell my friend I hoped she’d give it another try with a new teacher and that it might be different for her this time.

Contrary to what a lot of people may believe, meditation isn’t about making the mind a blank. The mind is never blank! Anyone who says that to practice meditation we need to make our minds completely blank is dead wrong. Our minds are like crazy drunk monkeys, careening around from one thing to another. Meditation, savasana, pratyahara, the pranayama breathing exercises I did last month – it’s all about calming down the monkey in our brains and training it to do what we want it to do. It’s still a monkey – it’s always going to be a little crazy! But you can teach the monkey to listen. Meditation isn’t about making the mind a blank, because that’s impossible; meditation is about working with what you have and learning to calm your monkey down.

The first step in meditation is to give your mind as little to worry about as possible. Sit in a comfortable position, arrange your clothing so nothing’s bothering you, take off your sweatshirt or put on some socks, blow your nose, drink some water, shut the door, tell your family not to come in for a few minutes. Eliminate the distractions before you get started, so that once you start, you can stay put. Before meditation, do some yoga poses: they keep the body limber and healthy, so that when we sit for meditation, we can be still for a while without the body distracting us. (I got a reminder of that this morning, when I skipped yoga and went right to meditation, and my back ached the whole time.) You could also take a walk, which allows you get some fresh air and some exercise, refreshing you before meditation. Try reading from a sacred book or inspirational text to get in the mood for spiritual practice. It’s also good to do some pranayama breathing exercises like alternate-nostril breathing: this slows down your breathing and gets the mind starting to focus on the breath.

When we sit down to practice meditation, our crazy monkey brains are going to be bored. They’re going to want to do anything other than meditate. If you sit down and try to just make your mind a blank, your mind will fight you! It’ll make lists of everything you need to do after this, it’ll wonder what happened to Kristin who sat next to you in third grade, it’ll replay every embarrassing moment with every past sweetheart, it’ll remind you to call your mother. But if you give the mind something to do, something to focus on, it won’t have a chance to do all those things, and this makes the whole process easier.

The simplest thing to do is just to focus on the breath. Make the breath quiet and calm; on each inhale, say to yourself “inhale”, and on each exhale, say “exhale”. You could also try working with your breath energy: inhale “peace” and feel peacefulness flooding through your body; exhale “love” and imagine your love and compassion going out to all beings in the world. Choose any concept or word that resonates with you. You’ll get distracted at some point, because that’s what happens, you can’t avoid it. Don’t get angry or upset, as that just gives your monkey brain more ammunition to work with. When you get distracted, just accept it calmly and start over, bringing it back to your practice, inhaling and exhaling.

There are a few other meditation practices that I’ll share with you over the course of this month. What’s key is to remember two things. First, meditation is hard work, requiring a lot of self-control and self-discipline. Second, anyone can meditate. Not just Buddhist monks in orange robes, not just really holy people, but everybody. The more crazy stuff you have going on in your life, the more you probably need to meditate! Be open to learning, be gentle with yourself, and pretty soon you’ll start to enjoy those quiet moments.