Check out my most recent Belly Dance New England article “Creative Warm-Ups for Belly Dance”
Check out my most recent Belly Dance New England article “Creative Warm-Ups for Belly Dance”
So the first 2 weeks of meditating twice a day has been like taking cover under a warm blanket when your body needs to sigh out the cold, that heaviness in the bones. I know, I’m supposed to detach from ego cravings here, but it really has been a treat to carve time and do this for myself. And you know, studies have found that positive physical changes in the brain can occur with a sustained practice. By focusing and relaxing, we actually have the power to create new pathways and cells for ourselves. This explains why memory, stress, emotional intelligence, and learning can be strengthened after 60 days (magic number for forming a habit!) And, for those with PTSD, this really strengthens the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing one to shy away from being in fight-or-flight in the sympathetic nervous system.
Someone may want to tell cats that!
Anyway, if you’re still skeptical with meditating, that’s ok. I have come and gone with what works for me. I’ve loved meditating on my own, but in class, I’ve been on the edge of my seat because I jump at everything. So it wasn’t that I didn’t want to meditate, I just needed to find where and how was right for me. Like being a writer at a mobile work station, I need to find out how I can be a mobile meditator.
I really look forward to getting up 15-20 minutes early, and doing some slight stretches on the yoga mat to prepare my spine for sitting still. This is what yoga is intended for: Yoga has been known to warm the body up for hours and days of meditation. The gentle flow of mine begins before 6 a.m. This is when I explore spinal twists, pelvic tilts with Cat/Cow pose, and open my back with either Child or Embryo pose. I try to remember, though not always, to do legs up the wall. This is great to reverse blood circulation, especially if you’re sitting all day. This is also helpful for varicose veins and blood clots in the legs if either run in the family or you have a history of it. Check with a doctor if you think it’s something you want to try.
I’ll stretch the calves after seated forward fold prior to meditating. After my 8-10 minutes of meditating, I’ll march in place to re-ground myself and visit standing forward fold. This brings in some yang yoga. For those of you who are not familiar with the yin and yang styles of yoga, Yang is the more active practice of yoga where Yin Yoga is more sedentary. So, in the morning, I am sure to move my spine, shoulders, and legs. I wake up as much of myself as I can before heading out the door. I sit all day so to have any movement is greatly appreciated.
When sitting on my bolster just seconds before dropping into my meditation I’ve been getting more and more used to neck stretching and exercising the muscles in my eyes. Huh? Exercising the eyes? Yup! I do this by imagining an analog clock and following each number around with my eyes- clockwise two times and counterclockwise two times. While I set my timer on the phone for 10 minutes, I will admit that sometimes I do open my eyes or begin to come out of it just a minute or two before my timer dings its melody.
The first morning of my new habit, my focus was not on my belly breath at all, but instead on my shoulders that were rising up and down. Later that day, after belly dancing, I dropped into my evening meditation and I was much more focused on my belly breath. Since then, I’ve been remembering my core breath more and more. For the first few seconds each time, I will stay there and then usually melt into the mantra So Ham. The Hindu translation is “I am He/I am that.” I don’t have any real connection with this mantra so in the future I plan to explore more phrases, possible mudras ( hand gestures), and even yoga shapes to meditate with.
Sometimes visual thoughts pop up and catch my attention like a cat noticing subtle movement from a hidden place. I re-focus my breath from the beginning of an inhale. I don’t necessarily need to match my inhale to “So” and exhale to “Ham” but I find myself doing that because I simply like it. Dialogs will randomly show up, too. Whether it’s a dialog that has been had or will be had. Again, I re-focus on my breath and find the So…then the Ham….
No, I am not “perfectly still” and will admit this truth, too. I try to sit with tightness in my shoulders but occasionally I will twist the slightest bit to see if anything cracks. My eyelids and jaw tighten almost immediately upon sitting so I’ve made it a habit of checking in with those features. If I notice anything else that’s held in tension I just start a breath over. There’s no score chart. It’s just me and my breath. When I give up trying to perfect any tension or breath pattern, I just exhale a bit harder and sink into relaxing. I give up, sort of speak, but by giving up on “trying” here, I give up and give in. And guess what? I welcome the health benefits into my body and brain!
I admire people who have a schedule to blog daily, or, every few days. I’ll notice when fellow writers have been bitten by the Creative Bug as I scroll through my email, catching the headline for their newest blog. Sometimes I’ll spot a few emails from one blogger with quite the number of bites- Holy cripes, good for you! The energy has found you and pushed through your finger tips, or rather, YOU have found the energy and have taken it for a ride through your cells only to release the bursts externally!
I’d love to blog daily but the truth is I enjoy being up and moving around. Dancing, walking, and yoga stimulate project ideas, whether they are blogging projects or freelance article projects. For me, taking care of my spine, joints, and breath is the equivalent to freewriting. I warm up and go with whatever flow I find. I follow my intuition. And whatever concoctions find me I try to hold on to with every wire in my mind; I’ll keep post-its and journals nearby to release the creative bursts. I make them immortal quick! Just…don’t do this while driving. Shoulder shimmies, maybe, but no writing or talk-text.
Sometimes when I think I’ve been bitten by the Creative Bug, sometimes it’s just an annoying mosquito bite. But even that helps to know for the future what to look out for.
The ideal creative life for me would include coming home to blog at the same time every day to spread my creative thoughts that swirl around just like cinnamon swirls itself into the eggs for French toast.
But…French toast is heavy….
Sitting down to write…is heavy.
I don’t make French toast often. And I don’t sit down to write often.
Instead, I have a creative routine. Going from a sedentary day job to a sedentary writing job at home adds to any shoulder knots, tension headaches, and charley horses I may have had from the day. So, to be sure to take care and still be a writer at work, I’ll promise myself to move around. Sometimes that means I’m a writer tracing an invisible line with my toes in the dance studio, or I’m a writer exploring connections between Crescent Lunge and working with one’s roots; Whatever the activity, I make sure I’m a writer at a mobile work station. This is how writing fits my body, and really, how it fits my lifestyle.
How does it fit yours? What is the writing life for you?
This week you channeled yourself right down to my feet and re-taught me a valuable lesson. As I guided my way around three flat hula-hoops on the balls of my feet, you reminded me to check in with not only my current physical balance, but also my mental and energetic balance. As I hip kicked the air, I felt my energy subside the slightest bit. Why can’t I skootch along faster? I thought. But with only a few days of a meditation routine under my coin belt, I was able to let go of that A.N.T. or Automatic Negative Thought as soon as it arrived. Just let it pass. My energy is where it is, I told myself. I have a day without a migraine, without being dehydrated, I love the song I am moving to (In fact, I have it on repeat!), this is all that counts in the moment. This is the wisdom I can give to myself, well, the wisdom that Dance can contribute to my slow moving body.
So I skootch along. And along…and al…
And here comes another thought to distract me. Wait, why does my slow moving body need to be a bad thing? One part of beauty within Belly dance IS moving slowly and gracefully. This is still part of the practice even if it’s not cardio. The slow movement is actually more challenging and works the muscles more. So, I’m not losing out on anything by moving forward slowly. A few images of people I know pop up as I round the middle hula-hoop. I wish they could see that they don’t actually lose out by moving more slowly in their day-to-day lives. These are the people who have told me that yoga is too slow for them. Have you ever noticed how anxiety can be contagious? A co-worker pulls open the door to the office with a heavy sigh- about what you don’t know- but your heart rate jumps a bit for a few moments.
I work my way from dancing around hula hoops to visiting my three slim mirrors where I take my time exploring hip kicks and pelvic tilts.
My movement and energy, when quickening my pace with the tempo, is not bad! For whatever reason, I’m programmed to believe that to get an appropriately healthy cardio workout that doctors suggest, I need to move as fast as I can…and get my intuitive dance steps perfectly right.
Hmm…There’s so much wrong with that…Well, taking the judgment out ( which is a healthy practice in and of itself)… I challenge this thought after my workout. What’s going on here?
I need to shift this perspective. So, I ask Google “What is cardio exercise?” It is any exercise that raises your heart rate. Okay, that’s all the comfort I need; I don’t need to escalate my heart beat from, say a 1 to a 10 and flat line across my hula hoops. Now, I also do not need to be assuming that my steps need to be perfect. Especially if they’re based on intuition! Where is perfection in using intuitive senses? Where is perfection in dance “Practice”? This calls for a Dear Meditation…Please take “Perfection” away next time the image or word moves along my mental reel. I’ll be on the lookout for getting rid of it, too, but I’m just saying….
So thank you, Dance. And Meditation. Within this first week, you both certainly have allowed me to re-balance my mind and energy. I have to say, not to let it get to your egos, that the best kind of teacher is one who teaches inside and outside the classroom ( or studio!)
Note: If you know of anyone who spreads anxiety, this letter is for him/her/them. And if you suffer from that strain that makes its round, then this is also for you. Because guess what? Slowing down is also contagious! And speeding up to the point of keeling over just because we hear it’s the thing to do, whether at work or at the gym, is non-informative suicide. So let it be known here: you’ve been informed!
Deepok Chopra states that it takes 60 days for a habit to form. Did your lust for wanting to run every day just vanish from reading that? Is that not one of the most daunting things you’ve ever come across? You’re not alone. I heard that on one of his televised programs and mentally groaned.
Soon enough I’ll be starting my meditation challenge. In case you missed my first post, I attempted a 28 day challenge a handful of years ago and after about a week gave up. This time it is a bit different. This challenge is not 28 days, it is to meditate every day, to form a habit of being relaxed and conscious of my body for a few moments. I also want to be able to meditate twice a day, morning and night. Last time’s challenge was only once a day. Yea, it’s very daunting. I’m crazy. I know. BUT… the thing that has changed is that I am very much more educated about the benefits of it through my therapeutic yoga teacher training and continuous self-study.
As I read and learn more and more, I become highly inspired to just get to meditating already. I’m pretty sure this is the key- to become motivated about the habit in advance. And the secret is to stay motivated.
I really want to share this initial inspiration with you, my curious reader, because if it motivates me and creates a fire of excitement in my core, then there’s a chance it can offer you the same feeling in your core. I hope you’ll choose to dive in with me (perhaps at your own time) and see and feel for yourself what breathing and a conscious effort of focusing can offer you. I believe it carries self-gentleness and compassion over in different relationships and throughout a life. Yes, I’ve read that in books over and over, but, in the small hidden pockets of time that I’ve had with meditating I’ve found that to be true. Now I want, and more importantly, need more of that. Do you?
Here are some notes from a few books that make me impatient to begin my journey, my new and healthy habit:
-Meditating is consciousness based medicine, it’s not a religion. If you want to incorporate it into your religious ritual, by all means! It is, in and of itself, a creative endeavor!
-It’s a creative endeavor because there is no right or perfect or best way to meditate. There are endless meditating and breathing techniques out there and more than one will resonate with you. Meditating is letting your conscious mind go beyond the “I” of yourself, it goes into the witness part of your soul, and you just be. Be with that part of you witnessing your stillness, (or attempt of stillness), witnessing your breath, witnessing thoughts that come and release in your mind. That’s all the witness is. In a nutshell it’s higher than the habituated way of thinking.
-The heart rate variability can be heightened with meditation. “EH?” What is HRV?
Okay, so when breathing in, whether through your nose or mouth, you’ll find that your heart rate is faster here than on your exhale. This change of heart beat reflects in our autonomic nervous system. When the heart rate variability is high, it means that the system adjusting the heart rate on your inhale and exhale is responding flexibly to your breathing changes. It’s doing its job well and in a strong effort. When the variability is low, that means something is impaired or the system is becoming more rigid. So you want to increase the HRV, increase it to keep your cardiovascular system flexible and to keep resiliency in your stress response system. Basically, we want breathing tools and healing tools at our disposal in order to control the HRV. Think of it as doing different yoga poses (or “shapes” if you teach trauma yoga) with our breath. We get creative with what breathing shape we choose and as we do, we contribute to our internal flexibility as opposed to our outer flexibility. If our breathing rate stays steady throughout a long duration of time- as in over many years- and we don’t check in and play with our breathing tools, diseases may set in. I include a list of breath techniques at the bottom of this post that I tend to gravitate towards, so feel free to choose one or two and explore with those on a daily basis if meditation is not your thing. Make yoga of the breath your habit for 60 days! And as I record more blogs, you’ll also have a reference as to what breath I’m describing.
-Meditation stimulates the vagus nerve (the “wandering” nerve). What’s the vagus nerve?
It’s the longest nerve in our body that sends pain and stress signals to and from our mind. It also regulates heart, lung, and digestive functions. When you activate this nerve, you cannot be in fight-or-flight mode at the same time!
Tiny tid bit: Yawning, laughing, singing, and eating stimulate the vagus nerve. If you notice, these activities are within the neck, where the nerve extends. With any of these activities, you change your breathing pattern and that playing around helps to increase flexibility! If you sit at a desk all day and cannot show off your vocal pipes without being called into the office, be sure to get up for 5 minutes each hour to walk around and activate your vagus nerve that way!
-Chopra thinks that the practice of yoga is the best way to go when moving from sympathetic overdrive (fight-or-flight) to heightening the parasympathetic system. So my plan is to meditate after practicing yoga of the body. I say yoga “of the body” here because today I’m explaining how to be flexible inside ourselves, in our internal systems, and using different breaths as different poses is an easier, hopefully more accessible metaphor for understanding how to exercise that flexibility. Otherwise, yoga itself is one with breath and body and movement. But more on that another day.
-Pain signals are in our body so we can be aware of them. It’s a form of communication.
– Experienced meditators feel pain more quickly but suffer less than beginning meditators.
Why? Because the anticipation of experienced mediators lessens. Anticipation is just as bad as the pain itself. Their baseline is lower. This resonated a lot with me because I jump and sometimes pain follows in my head so just to lessen that anticipation, I’ll take it! I highly recommend this tidbit to anyone with PTSD and anxiety. You’re not alone.
I’ll be posting more tidbits along the way to keep our motivation going! Look out for tidbits on gray matter and what happens with it as we meditate!
Coherent Breath: Sit either upright or become comfortable on your back with knees supported. Inhale for 5 seconds, exhale for 5. It’s suggested that if you are 5 feet or under, 4 seconds will suffice and if you are over 6 feet, 7-8 seconds will do. (Taller people tend to have greater lung capacity)
Double Breath: Inhale through the nose quick then longer, tense the body, then exhale out through mouth quick then longer.
Pursed Lip Breathing: This rebalances the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body. While sitting, inhale for three seconds through the nose and exhale through the mouth for 6 seconds. The exhalation is twice as long as the inhalation. Bringing the breath up to 4:8 is okay if you feel comfortable doing so.
Here are the awesome resources I used to bring you some of the highlights of meditating (and breathing!)
Thank you for allowing my toes to press evenly into the ground as my heels lift. Quite the seesaw. I dance to the left on my tippy toes on an imaginary line. This is leveling, the first thing that I fell in love with in belly dance and one of the first things I inadvertently discovered the night of my first lesson. I felt more comfortable and excited playing with the heights in this dance, not so much dancing flat on my feet across the studio floor. The other women were content with their heel, arch, and toes on the cold surface but I was a bit bored.
At one point, I caught the eye of my petite and sweet instructor, Zazil. Her eyes lit up upon watching me. “That’s very advanced!” she yelled across the space. I guess I forgot to be self-conscious in this space and just moved along as I had never moved before, literally (I know, that word is used nearly everywhere, but in this case it appropriately fits!). All those years as a child where my mother would tell me to practice doing tippy toes to strengthen my legs and feet were now actually coming in handy—and instead of loathing the pressure on the ball of each foot, I absolutely loved it!
I had always been scared and uncomfortable doing any physical activity because of my cerebral palsy on my right side, but that night, I found a new love and we were so in sync, it was undeniable.
And I am grateful that that love is still here with me and for me. It takes care of me, even though I feel as though I abandon it at times; feeling stuck in a rut with a migraine or just mentally defeated after a long day or week, I chose stillness in lieu of movement. But showing my gratitude in fragments may just bring me back to moving more frequently.
So thank you, my Dear Dance. Thank you for being present when I am not. You’re in my thoughts. And we know how powerful the mind is. So maybe soon I will visit you.
“Move and write and find the breath for your body…”
“I trust the quiet. I trust the dark. I trust my breath to keep me safe in this space […] I’ve never had so much fun just by breathing.”
I smirk and take a breath as I read over these words from the first day of my 28 Day Meditation Challenge. I recall moving into the first night of this project with an open and safe mind. My thoughts occasionally played like a movie reel, though I continued to sit. In her memoir, Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes wisdom as giving the only possible answer in the moment, and in each moment of my movie reel, I knew to simply be.
And I loved being.
I only continued with the meditation challenge for eight nights. Some evenings I would hold chakra stones in my hands (chakras being energy points in the body-more on that as I blog. Promise!), some evenings I would practice mudras (hand gestures) and just sometimes, I would find myself bellydancing into a yoga sequence instead of being “perfectly” still. Meditation, yoga, dance, are each a practice of being and not a “perfection” of being. This is half the battle of our ego (more on ego later). Stay humble in practices. Practices in physical exercise, mental exercise, and human interaction exercise.
Though I was very much my own adult while on this meditating journey, I was told by someone close to me not to share my personal connections/experiences. Almost immediately I could feel a shadow of fear over me, as though I was doing something wrong. I knew that one person- one person with a different viewpoint was not entitled to un-do my experience, but I couldn’t shake it.
And anyway, how is mediating not personal? Instead of hiding, I gently pushed my curiosity out toward my critic and fellow readers two nights later:
Appropriately enough with my throat chakra (energy) closed off, critics muted my voice even more. “Don’t put your thoughts out there. Only write a paragraph about your meditation and nothing personal.” But, wait a minute… If one is completely honest in the practice it can be emotional, intellectually confusing, and intense as things surface. To write “I sat. Inhaled. Exhaled. Felt better” doesn’t say anything about one human’s experience with connecting to a higher power, with what their belief of yoga is.
There are many yoga trainings that include a three day meditation retreat where the trainees focus on the eyes of a partner and meditate on the question “Who/What am I?” Among the groups, many tears are shed as many unresolved issues and unacknowledged tensions either rise or perhaps completely release with that simple question. The idea of meditating is to, indeed, detach from different levels of distractions but as long as one concentrates on the breath- their recycled energy-how can one’s own journey of meditating not be personal? Doesn’t it take courage and strength to commit to such an honest act of being? And doesn’t reawakening after one moment of vulnerability dissolve weakness, not hold a soul in it?
Watch me write.
“Watch me write!” Boy was I ever gung-ho! Fast forward four years later, I should only be so wise today- my body has been scurrying around all morning, my breath only moving when I sigh in frustration. My belly is tightly held in place while my chest hasn’t risen or fallen. Only small annoyances are pinching, and if the small things are all that I feel, I am in serious need of meditating and moving on a regular basis.
Not only is it time to re-visit that challenge but also create a lifestyle that includes the right to be creative and expressive.
Since being muted years back, I have had several transitions occur: some beautiful, some independent, some heartbreaking, but through all of these changes, I know I could’ve taken care of my breath and mind better.
It’s time. Time to be gentle and also loud.
Come with me as I record my happenings on physical and mental movement through dance, yoga, and meditation!
Meditate on this:
What are your thoughts on meditation being personal? Do you agree or disagree? Why?