Meditation + Consistency = Power AND Peace!
Over 13 years ago I found myself in a place of constant turmoil. I was in an unhealthy relationship that was causing me so much anxiety and stress I was physically ill. I was also in the midst of my career taking off and building a new home and taking this all on by myself with no support system nearby. It was during this time I found yoga. It changed my life. I remember laying in one of my first Savasana poses (the ending relaxation pose) and the teacher recapping the theme of the class.
It hit so close to home that tears began flowing down my face. I was shaking with distress laying there amongst my fellow yogis. I knew I needed to completely change my life. Yoga has turned me inward sometimes in such subtle ways I don’t even realize it. I have learned how to be introspective and yoga has also given me the tools to make changes, slowly becoming the best person I can be. Like everything else this is a process and you are always finding more ways to be “closer to the light”.
The yoga teachers I have been blessed with over the years have been influential in so many ways. They have given me courage and grace I didn’t even know I had. This last year I have been practicing on a weekly basis with Paulette Bodeman. A feisty Italian from Chicago. I have known Paulette for years but this new connection has re-energized my practice and also has me searching for new answers that she may just lead me to.
I sat down with Paulette this week to talk about meditation. I have had a practice on and off over years but as Paulette tells me, consistency is key to lasting joy and peace.
What are the fundamental reasons one should meditate?
Meditation builds a strong foundation for one to deal with stress and other life challenges. Like a savings account, you save money for a rainy day. With meditation, you meditate when your life is easy and use the energy reserves when you need them.
There are also many health benefits. Pioneers in this field like Dr. Dean Ornish and Jon Kabot-Zin have used meditation techniques to support heart and cancer patients through the course of treatment. It has helped them approach their healing journey in a mindful way. Scientifc research now proves that consistent meditation helps to balance the nervous and endocrine systems, reduce the risk of heart attack, and successfully helps veterans struggling with PTSD.
Is there a special place to meditate?
Designating a spot is helpful. It doesn’t have to be a room but maybe a corner. This helps create a healthy habit. Plus, from an energetic point of view it raises the vibration around that space. It then becomes a hub that draws you in. I encourage my students to create a space that’s inviting. Build a space with either beautiful meditation cushion, a comfortable chair, light a candle, display a photo of a loved one. Make it simple, but meaningful to you.
Is there a time of the day you recommend to meditate for the best results?
Ancient Sages used to meditate upon sunrise and sunset which was the span of a normal day for them in a primitive life style. Now neuroscience is confirming what the sages knew all along, that brainwaves are slower in the morning before you “plug-in” which allows you to access the entry point into meditation with ease. The same before you go to bed. It should be your natural waking and sleeping time.
Is there a certain amount of time you recommend for meditating?
If you are just beginning a practice be sensible and kind to yourself. Don’t try to spend 30 minutes or an hour. Manage your expectations. Start with 5 minutes and maybe even use a timer to challenge yourself to longer durations. Ideally you want to be consistent by spending some time 3-5 times a week. The duration will grow over time to what you suits you.The goal is to build your foundation.
If you are not in your designated place and you become anxious what can you do? Pausing and counting your breaths anywhere, anytime can dissipate anxious energy. This too is meditation at its bare minimum. If you build the foundation mentioned above, the breath reaction and response to these moments can be realized quicker.
What is the correct posture and why is it important?
Sit comfortably with an erect spine and keep the natural curves of the back and neck so the breath can flow freely. If you are in chair, plant your feet flat on the floor in order to feel grounded. Laying down may accomplish this but it is hard to stay awake. If you have trouble sitting, using props such as bolster at the base of your spine to the top of your shoulders is a nice assist. You can even rest your head on the bolster. Do not meditate in your bed. Your body’s natural response is to fall asleep.
Why is breathing important to meditation?
Breathing is the bridge to your inner and outer worlds. It is also an indicator to how you are feeling. If you pay attention to your breath you can get a pulse on your nervous system. Breath awareness is vital to meditation. The use of pranayama, or specific breath techniques is also important. I start most meditations with a breathing exercise because it acts like a Swifter inside the body and mind, removing the dust and cob webs. Also, the breath is telling the brain it’s time to settle.
What is a mantra and should it always be part of a meditation?
It’s not necessary to use Mantra, but it can be very helpful to settle oneself. Mantra is sound. OM is a popular mantra. Basically, Mantras are seed sounds, words, sentences that give the brain a job to do. Mantra comes from manas which means the “mind,” and also the “heart.” Tra means to traverse. So, on another level Mantra is a bridge that helps the meditator traverse from the head to heart and back again. It’s a very powerful tool. On yet a deeper level, you the meditator, become the Mantra and the Mantra becomes you.
What about affirmations?
Affirmations are also used in meditation, you can create an affirmation to support what you’re needing and to help resolve issues, such as, “I am worthy” “I am abundant” “I am love.” Affirmations provide a positive statement the is repeated so when your mind starts to wander you have yet another tool to help guide your thoughts. Repeating an affirmation over and over leads you to what you are looking for.
Paulette has put together a few awesome guided meditations that use affirmations. Check this one out.
Where does meditation lead you and your mind?
The gap between sound and breath is called Madhya. I consider the Madyha the place where god, or the light lives. This gap is where the bliss of meditation lies. When you slip into the gap you have slipped beyond contemplation, beyond focused awareness, beyond thought.You have slipped into the space of the heart, where divine consciousness resides. You may arise out of that state and say “where was I?” You know you weren’t sleeping, but you’re not quite sure where you traveled to. Yet, a sense of peace, joy and calm remains.
A classic approach to meditation is to attempt to turn the mind off of all thoughts. The Tantric approach however, is that thoughts are Supreme Consciousness, everything you are thinking is part of the Divine. You then become the observer, monitor and gatekeeper of your thoughts. This allows a natural flow, so the Madhya opens itself up to you without force, but with Love.
How long will it take for your meditation foundation to form?
First you must have the desire to commit to the practice. Next, think of your meditation as relationship. Like all relationships they pulse, ebb and flow, and evolve over time. Plus, you tend to it in order for it to grow and deepen.
Know that there are stages in meditation. The first two include concentration and contemplation.
It’s fun to think of your mind like a puppy that is in need of training – puppies are mischievious, and they also want to please you. The good news is that they are happier when you train them well. Building a foundation is training for you mind. One way in building a practice is listening to guided meditations like the ones found here on my website. Students tell me they are very helpful.
You may also reflect on a verse of meaningful poetry, focus on a candle flame, or a picture of a loved one. They are all equally valuable and you find what is working for you. The final stage, so to speak, is that easeful slide into the “gap.” But, understand that it’s not always attainable, and really not the goal of meditation. Think of varying techniques as basic practices and a way to build your inner container, your inner core of light.
One primary aim of meditation is mindfulness. When you become aware of the thoughts that arise, not in judgment, but rather to determine what is valuable, you then develop a deeper sense of self. It’s helpful to recognize whether what your telling yourself is truth, or not. What is so cool about this awareness is we all have the ability to re-direct thoughts. If we find ourselves ruminating over a negative idea, and like a loop it keeps replaying, meditation teaches that we have the ability to change the thought to one that is more uplifting.
Bhavana is a meditation practice that incorporates all of the above, and also includes journaling. You either write a question down, sit, then jot down what came up during your meditation practice. Or you find a scripture that you want to unpack and you journal the verse down. Sometimes insight and clarity arise days later that was seeds during your meditation.
You can use journaling as feedback for yourself – even random thoughts are revealing. Journaling also helps guide you inward.
What brought you to yoga?
I was an older mom with a young son who was amazingly precious and precocious. I needed something for myself so I started yoga at a gym. I was never physical and very shy. Yoga helped me feel more grounded and built my confidence. I was raised Catholic and as a result was a natural seeker. I always wanted to serve the Light. I began expanding my practice by taking meditation classes and studying with different teachers. Like I mentioned earlier my practice changed and evolved over time. I had a lot of anxiety raising my child and wanted to be a good mom. I knew I wasn’t always responding in the highest. With the physical practice and meditation I felt like I was becoming a better person. Better probably isn’t the best or most accurate word, but I started to feel less reactive, more insightful, calmer, and I was even able to experience more joy and fun in my life!
How did you get to this place where you are now?
What really flipped the switch for me, and ignited a deeper desire to be my most authentic self, was when my son went through a depression after the loss of his best friend in a car accident. In fact this month is the 7th anniversary of his death. This grave loss profoundly impacted all of our lives and seemed to set off a series of tragedies in our lives. Shit totally hit the fan. I had to re-examine how I felt about the world I was living in, and look more closely at my core beliefs. I asked myself some difficult questions like, “Do I really believe in the intrinsic goodness of humanity?” “Do I trust those around me to support me and lend me a helping hand?” “Do I believe that the Light will shine again?” When I said yes to these questions, I dove into my yoga practice with a renewed sense of self-preservation and fortitude. Truly yoga, and I mean the whole of yoga, including all we have discussed here today, literally saved my life.
You recently started the The Worth System. Tell me more about this?
This system began to flourish when women started to notice something was different about me and how I carried myself. They started reaching out to me not only because they were curious about my successful evolution, but they wondered if I could help them rediscover happiness and joy. They too wanted to evolve, grow and transform. I began interviewing women that went through similar situations and found what was common between us. I found that when conflict and contrast enters our lives, our worth suffers. All of our fears come up. The WORTH System arose out of the ashes to help guide women to re-discover their Intrinsic Worth.
How do women tap into their Intrinsic Worth? WORTH is an acronym for five practical experiential steps that I synthesized from yoga principals to reconnect women back to themselves and their life. It brings purpose back into the fold and encourages women to live authentically. Generally speaking women need to trust and believe in themselves, especially at sginificant periods in life.
What I’ve learned with working with women, from many ages and stages of life, is that we all have a reoccurring theme that at one time or another can bring us to our knees. Then at these marker places in life these themes often resurface and once again we may feel unworthy, unloved, unseen, or whatever the flavor is. Yet, we can work through it by making subtle and not so subtle shifts. One of my teachers, Douglas Brooks a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Rochester use to say, “Change is not a problem to be solved.” There is something freeing in that statement. Change is actually a fact of life. It’s going to happen and we can either learn how to participate with it, or dig in our heels and bemoan what is. Meditation is key to this process, and to my system, as it helps you work through your “stuff” by allowing time for self-reflection, and understanding the modifications you can make along the way. So change can be an empowering thread that you weave into the fabric of a bolder, richer, more meaningful life.
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