5 Minute Mediation

Lately, I’ve become really passionate about getting people to meditate. As a yoga teacher, I often have students who just want a workout, and while I know it’s so important to take good care of our bodies, the real purpose in my yoga practice is to create peace, and meditation is an extraordinary tool for doing just that.

This short meditation can be especially beneficial right after a yoga practice or any kind of workout because exercise helps to calm the mind, which allows us to meditate, but you can practice it absolutely any time.

If you’re comfortable with this technique, you can extend the meditation for as long as you like.

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Actual Marriage Advice from an Actual Married Lady

As a happily married lady with a slightly less than typical approach to relationships, I’ve decided that the world needs my relationship advice. Women my age grew up with the idea that we can support ourselves and we don’t need a man to take care of us, and yet weddings are more commercialized and hyped up than ever thanks to reality TV and good old fashioned marketing.

So, for anyone looking for confirmation that they’re with the right person or who feels lost in the relationship ocean, here are my 7 Signs You’re With the Right Person.

  1. He gets your brand of crazy. Everyone is a little bit nuts, even you. Don’t fool yourself. The more you resist this truth, the more delusional you inevitably are. A good partner understands and accepts this about you but is also willing to call you on your bullshit when you’re being crazy.
  2. You don’t have everything in common. Having things in common is easy and comfortable, but it’s more fun when you have some significant differences. My husband and I have very different taste in books, movies and music, and our areas of expertise are practically opposites. We constantly introduce each other to new things, and it makes our life together more fun.
  3. You have the important stuff in common. You agree on whether or not your theoretical children should be baptized and how to deal with two families for the holidays. You probably agree on evolution and global warming. Trust me: if you and your partner disagree on whether evolution is a legitimate thing, you’re going to have some really mind-numbing arguments in your future.
  4. You really want him/her to be happy and vice versa. You find yourself sincerely concerned for your partner’s wellbeing. You may not be into the 50s housewife thing (I’m not!) but something about seeing this person happy just makes the world feel right to you. AND you get the same in return. A life partner who loves to see you smile is sure to bring out the best in you.
  5. You fight well. All couples fight, even happy ones, and if you think your relationship is an exception, take a good hard look at what feelings you’re stuffing. A sign of a healthy relationship is that you can disagree, and yes, you can even get royally pissed at each other. This is OK because you are both (a) human beings with emotions and (b) adults who are capable of both controlling themselves in moments of anger and apologizing when needed. And I mean sincerely apologizing. I’m not talking about doing something mean, buying chocolates, then doing it again. That’s different, and it’s called abuse. But fighting occasionally is a part of life, and if you handle it lovingly, you can actually learn from it.
  6. You inspire each other. Maybe some people just want a partner who will maintain the status quo with them, but I find the status quo absolutely depressing. One of the greatest assets in my marriage is the epic sense of possibility I have when I’m with my husband, both in terms of what we can do together and the ways we can sport each other to be our best.
  7. You giggle together. Maybe you lay in bed making fart jokes together or gossiping or just being absurd. It doesn’t matter what you laugh about as long as you bring each other joy.

When I got engaged, I had an absolute meltdown over the fear that by getting married, I might be giving up some essential part of myself, and the only way to regain my grip on sanity was to remember that my then fiance was the same person I’d always loved and that the only thing that was changing between us was a piece of paper. Ok, and some familial expectations, but we can talk later about how I feel about other people’s expectations.

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How to Wake Up Happy

What happens in those minutes between when your alarm goes off the first time and when you actually get out of bed?

Most people just snuggle down for a few more minutes of much needed rest, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I bet you thought I was gonna tell you to get your lazy butt out of bed and hit the ground running, right? Yeah, well that doesn’t sound like very much fun, so I don’t do it, and I don’t recommend it. Here’s what I do every morning to make the day just a little more awesome.

Alarm goes off. I fumble around a minute to find the phone. I look through blurry morning eyes to figure out which way I need to push the slider on the screen so the damn thing will shut up. Then there’s silence, and I lay my head back down.

Mao is grateful that I'm about to feed him.

Then I lay there and try to come up with 10 things to be grateful for before I drift off to sleep again. The list usually goes something like this:

  1. I’m so grateful to be here in this warm cozy bed with my husband.
  2. I’m so lucky to have this house in a good neighborhood where I feel safe and happy.
  3. I’m so glad I have enough to eat every day.
  4. I’m so excited about the opportunities I have coming up.
  5. I’m looking forward to seeing my friends today.
  6. I’m proud of the work I’ve been doing.
  7. I’m thankful for the cat sleeping on my feet right now.
  8. zzzzzzzz

It doesn’t really matter if I come up with 10 things or not, nor does it matter what things are on my list. I usually fall asleep for a few minutes before the alarm goes off again.

I'm grateful for the sun coming in my window.

Practicing gratitude magically creates space in your life for more good things to happen and more things to be grateful for. The feeling of gratitude is actually one of the most pleasurable emotions we have. It’s a sense of fulfillment, contentment, abundance and joy. When you have something to be grateful for, then you also have something to share, which means you have the ability to help make others happy, too.

In short: Gratitude is powerful!

A lot of teachers will tell you that you have to get up and meditate every morning, and I absolutely encourage that, but if you’re not feeling totally zen when you wake up, that’s OK. Just be where you are. Be happy lying there in your warm and comfortable bed, and more good things will come your way as you open up to them.

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How to Meditate and Change Everything

Part of my yoga teacher training was that we have to do a 40 day meditation. That is, every day for 40 days, you must sit down for 30 minutes and meditate. If you miss a day, you start over. Some people found this to be the hardest part of the program, but I also found it to be the most transformative part.

Meditation is the simplest way to begin changing your life for the better. It’s a gentle practice; it’s calming and centering; and the benefits are subtle yet profound.

Here’s How I Did It

Back in September 2010, I started meditating every day. I wasn’t sitting for a long time, mind you, I didn’t even use a timer or anything. I just sat down for a few minutes each morning and called it meditation. I’d heard and read a lot about meditation up to that point, and I’d tried it once or twice in yoga classes, but this was the first time I really aimed to develop my own practice.

I found that if I closed my eyes, I would easily drift off into all kinds of nonsensical thought, but if I opened my eyes and gazed gently at a candle flame or my Saraswati figure (pictured above), it was easier to focus. I started trying to memorize every detail of the statue, and for a while that was my meditation: Stare at the statue for as long as you can, then call it a day.

Gradually, I was able to sit for longer. One morning, I set a timer for 15 minutes, and I sat for 15 minutes every day for a while. Then I went to 20 minutes. Finally, I’ve worked my way up to sitting for 30 minutes every day, and by then, meditation had already begun to shape my life.

It’s hard to describe exactly how meditation has changed me. Like I said, it’s subtle. But I find myself calmer now, more in touch with my own thoughts and feelings, more able to pause when I’m on the verge of a panic attack, more able to make peace with difficult situations. When I went to my grandfather’s funeral, I felt OK about crying and being with my relatives. I felt like I could support other people by being present for them and listening to them. At work every day, I’m able to listen to people, prioritize tasks, stay focused (most of the time), and deal calmly with the many challenges I encounter from day to day.

If you’d met me before, you would know I haven’t always been the most calm, easy going or confident person, but meditation has helped me to be present in my daily experiences in a powerful way. I really hope you’ll try it. You absolutely cannot lose a thing by trying it, and there are all kinds of wonderful benefits to gain if you stick with it. Start with just a moment each day, and you’ll find yourself naturally increasing the length of your meditations just like I did. Chances are it won’t make you perfect, but you’ll find that it feels good and helps you become centered and peaceful.

Here’s my simple guide to meditation:
  1. Find a comfortable place to sit. A chair, the floor, or on cushions is fine as long as you can sit up straight without any strain. (If you’re sick or injured and can’t sit up, lying down is fine.)
  2. Choose a focal point that pleases you. It can be anything. A flower, a picture, a statue, or a candle flame are common choices.
  3. Use your focal point to keep your attention in check. Gaze softly (not straining your eyes!) at your focal point for just as long as you can keep your mind quiet. At first, this will only be a few minutes, so have patience.
  4. Keep doing this every day until you can sit for longer periods.

It’s really that simple. Of course, there are tons of different approaches to meditation, and different techniques work better for different people. There are moving meditations, mantras, breathing techniques and many other approaches.

You can learn about meditation from a book, in a seminar, or by going to yoga classes. I know the Unitarian Universalist church near me has a meditation group that meets weekly. Or there may be a Buddhist temple near you that teaches meditation to the public. All of these are perfectly good options, as long as you understand that the only real way to learn meditation is to sit down and do it!

This post has been repurposed and updated from my now closed blog, Not an Activist.

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a little gratitude meditation

Ok, guys. It’s Friday, and I’m feeling  incredible. It’s sunny outside, and I’m back into my meditation routine. It’s only been four days since I got back on track with setting my timer every morning, and already, I’m remembering what an incredibly positive difference meditation makes in my daily life.

If I talk about meditation constantly, it’s only because it really does change everything, or rather it changes how I experience everything. There will always be craziness in the world, but meditation and yoga have given me the only way I know how to effectively cope with it. It’s more effective than medication; more effective than drugs; more effective than any therapist, doctor, or bitching session.

I really and truly believe that everyone should learn to meditate, but sometimes just sitting down to start is HARD. Your mind races around. Your back or your knees might hurt. You get bored. You make a grocery list or get up to check the mail. After years of being told to meditate by every yoga teacher or spiritual leader I met, I still didn’t want to do it. It took me a LONG time.

If, like me, you can’t bring yourself to sit down and meditate, do this first:

List 10 things you’re thankful for. Do it every day for 40 days. Or just do it for a week. Whatever you can do. 

When you get into more advanced practices, there start to be more expectations about doing meditations or exercises for a certain number of days or minutes. There are plenty of great reasons for that, but when you’re just starting out, just do whatever you can, and the benefit will come.

Practicing gratitude isn’t some kind of hippy, new-age nonsense. It’s good for everyone. Just pause to remember all the good and miraculous things in your life (like the fact that you exist, which is pretty rad when you think about it), and write them down if you can spare the time to do so. You’ll likely notice that as you start to think in terms of gratitude, you have more things to be thankful for.

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