Posts Tagged ‘Religion and Spirituality’

I have a morning schedule that involves carpooling, dropping 2 people off at different locations and then getting dropped off in time to make a train that is always right on time.  It’s a bit stressful trying to make everything come together.  The only way to do it is to allow extra time, because things happen.

But meditating is also part of my morning routine.  It’s easy to let that one part of my routine go. There’s no one depending on me to appear on the cushion.  Here’s a confession: I plan 20 minutes in the morning to meditate and when I see that I’m not going to have 20 minutes, I’ve been skipping it.

I have an app on my phone called the Zen Timer and it helps me keep track of the time without watching the clock.  It also maintains my meditation history and allows me to enter notes into a journal after each sesion.  I love using it.  It’s been set for 20 minutes for a while now and I somehow felt locked into that.  But I realize now that it would be better to meditate every day for at least some time, than to miss my practice because I can’t meet some arbitrary amount of time.

What I have started to do is set the timer for 5 or 10 minutes–whatever I know I can do. It  helps to take at least some amount of time every single day to pay attention to  my breath.  I’ve noticed that even a few moments at the start of the day make a difference. During the day I am more likely to remember to pause for a few breaths when I started my day that way.   So, how long is it necessary to meditate?  Some time. Every day.

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I have always felt a little weird sitting on the floor with my eyes closed doing nothing.  When I am home alone and I sit down to meditate it’s not a problem but if I’m going to meditate every day, I’m not always alone.  Fortunately, over time, my husband has come to not only accept my practice but to support it.  Maybe he notices how much calmer I tend to be after sitting or maybe he notices that after consistently practicing, I have actually changed the way I respond to him.  Whatever the reason, it helps to have the support.  At the very least, it’s necessary to help others in the household understand that when you practice, you would appreciate not being interrupted.  At best, they would actually encourage you to keep it up.

I once had a meditation teacher that said, “Don’t make a big deal out of practicing. Don’t ask everyone to change their habits to accommodate you.”  I would agree with that, but there is something in between.  It is so hard to get to that pillow every day and to commit to setting aside time, that you need support from people around you to make it work.  Here are a few suggestions about how to go about doing that:

1. Help your family understand that this is a commitment you are making to yourself.  Just like losing weight, getting a new job, or getting a degree, it requires application and energy and that they can help by doing what any family does, which is support each other in achieving their goals, without judging them.

2. Let members of your household know when you would like to practice.  Try to pick a time that works for you but takes into consideration the needs of others.  If you let others know what time and where you will be sitting, it will be easier for people to know when not to interrupt.

3.  Address any concerns that people bring up about the fact that you are going to be meditating.  Although we are a society of doing and moving, there isn’t anything objectively strange about sitting quietly.  Some people also think that meditation is a religious activity that is associated only with Buddhism.  There are meditation traditions in in Jewish and Christian religions as well as many others so if your family is concerned that you will be living on a commune in India, reassure them.  Mindfulness meditation is now used by medical, legal and business people and other “mainstream” people to improve concentration, improve performance,  reduce stress, improve decision making and promote healing.

3. Show your appreciation when get support.

Have you come up against obstacles to your practice from others?  What have you experienced?

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MIAMI BEACH, FL - JUNE 11:   Julia Meshcheryak...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

One of the reasons that many people find yoga so relaxing is that it helps you to consciously slow down your breathing. Each time you move you breathe in or breathe out, noticing how the breath matches the movements.

There is a Buddhist belief that there are a predetermined number of breaths one gets in a life and yoga offers a healthier form of exercise, than say, jogging for this reason.

I find that the combination of opposing movements and conscious breathing makes me feel deliciously relaxed and the final shavasana (corpse pose) allows me to enjoy that feeling mindfully for several minutes at the end of each practice.

It’s surprisingly easy for me to get myself to go out of my way and pay money to take yoga classes and surprisingly difficult to sit quietly on a mat for no cost at all in my living room to meditate.

It’s not the same as meditation, but yoga does have some similar effects and I’ll take my peace whenever and however I can get it.

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Sometimes you just need to get away to recharge, relax and get inspired. Here are 3 wonderful places to go that are a few hour drive from the New York, Boston and Philadelphia areas. Note that Omega is not open in the winter.

Omega Institute

Located in upstate New York, this beautiful, camp-like setting offers a wide range of workshops for spiritual and personal growth and self improvement. Well-known names in Buddhism, intuition, meditation, yoga and other topics teach workshops lasting from a few days to a week. There are a variety of accommodations from tents to private rooms. During the winter, they move to Costa Rica and occasionally offer New York City events.


Kripalu is located in the Bershire Mountains within hundreds of acres of beautiful land. The main residential building was previously a monestary and has a sparse and institutional look. A new building with many private rooms was designed as an example of sustainable architecture, but also has an institutional feel. There is a wealth of courses for spiritual, personal and physical growth. Kripalu has a strong offering in physical activities like kayaking, yoga, biking, and hiking in addition to it’s wide variety of other other courses. It also has a strong program in nutritional counseling.

New Age Health Spa

Although the educational programs are not nearly as well developed as those as Omega or Kripalu, New Age is a different type of retreat. With a number of classes scheduled throughout the day from meditation to yoga to Nia dance, you can take in as little or as much activity as you like. The setting in the Catskills feels small, although it is surrounded by woods and opportunities for hiking. An exquisite building with a cathedral roof and giant windows where yoga and meditation are offered looks out on fields with deer and it is attached to a building with an indoor pool and hot tub with a large picture window and beautiful view. This is truly more of a retreat than a learning center. The word “spa” can be misleading as this is not a luxurious place but a simple spot with open or active time where a guest makes of it what she wants.

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Mindfulness meditation is a simple practice, easy to learn but not so easy to maintain. The instructions can be written in a couple of sentences. So why is it so difficult to do?

The mind isn’t wired to be still so you need to train it. Without consistent practice, the effect of meditating will be diminished or lost. It’s no different from any exercise. You wouldn’t expect to go to the gym every day for a year for half an hour, then stop for a month and feel the same way you did when you exercised daily. Your body doesn’t automatically generate the positive physical effects unless you are keeping it up.

I find it easier to go to the gym and do the physical work than to stop everything I’m doing, sit down and attend to my thoughts. Unless I realize that those days and periods of time when I have the discipline to do it are the ones where I’m most centered, most calm, most intuitive and most creative. That’s what motivates me to sit.

And yes, it is ironic to say that sitting quietly, doing nothing is productive, but there are few things I would rather produce than a connected, more alive state of being.

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Hatha Yoga Video - Revolving Lunge Pose
Image by myyogaonline via Flickr

In his blog today, Andrew Weil reflects on a study that indicated a connection between yoga and a lower BMI. Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that yoga helped practitioners maintain a lower weight than a control group. Rather than this being a matter of calories, the study determined that it was mindful eating that made the difference.

I started practicing yoga about 2 1/2 years ago and my personal experience is in keeping with those findings. Before I started taking yoga classes, I was a couch potato. I was over 20 pounds heavier than I am today. My goal in taking yoga was simply to start to feel better physically. But what happened after a few sessions was that I started to . . . well, the only way I can explain it is to say that I started to feel my body. As a result of this new awareness, I was finally able to hunker down and do what was necessary to lose weight. It was easier to avoid foods that were unhealthy because it didn’t feel right to eat them.

I think that mindfulness was certainly part of it, but it was more than mindfulness of what I ate. It was also mindfulness of my body. And that awareness made it possible to maintain a healthier weight.

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