Weekly Assignment: Meditate


Meditation is both easy and hard. It’s easy because all you have to do is sit there. No training or talent is required to get started. It’s hard because your mind will be bouncing off the walls, and you might really feel like you’re going to lose it. Sound fun? Ok, now sit.

Find a comfortable place, sit up straight without any strain in the body. Spend your first few minutes just settling in to how it feels to sit there. Tune in to the breath, relax the belly, relax the jaw. Smooth the point between your eyebrows. Take this moment to be fully present in your own body and your own experience.

Sit for as long as you can. When you’re ready to move again, take a moment to acknowledge your effort and maybe even set an intention for yourself for the day. Take your hands to your heart in prayer pose or Anjali mudra, and give a little bow to yourself and to the universe in gratitude for this very moment. Then let it go, and go on with your day.

Now, do this every day for a week. It doesn’t have to be for any particular amount of time, but you might find that you enjoy sitting for slightly longer each time you try. You don’t have to do it at a certain time every day, but you might find it easiest or the most beneficial if you do it every morning before starting your day or every evening when you finish your work.

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Meditate Like a Boss, Part 2: Being in Your Skin

Yoga vid Dödsklippan

The real reason we do yoga poses is to prepare the body for meditation. Yep. In fact, in the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the only pose or asana mentioned is the simple seated posture we use for meditation. In a classical yoga practice, the primary reason for doing poses is to help the body be strong enough and flexible enough to meditate comfortably. Of course, that translates to better overall health as well, which is one reason yoga has become so immensely popular in recent years. The good news is you don’t have to do a long, complicated or showy practice to prepare for meditation. Here’s a simple practice that you can modify based on what your body needs and how much time you have. Each pose has a unique effect on the body, so it’s best to pick one pose from each category to get a well-rounded practice.

Step 1: Side Stretch
Side stretches are energizing to the body and good for the digestion. A simple side stretch can be done while sitting, standing, kneeling or lying down. To start, try reclining half-moon. Lie on your back on the floor, and stretch the arms out overhead, touching the floor behind you. It’s OK if the elbows to bend in order for the arms to relax in this position. With the legs straight, walk the heels over to one side as far as they’ll go, and then inch the arms, head, and shoulders in the same direction, forming a “C” or half moon with the body. This will create a stretch through the elongated side of the body. Take a few deep breaths, and allow the body to sink into this stretch without using force. Come back to center before repeating the stretch on the opposite side.

Step 2: Twist
Twists are cleansing and calming to the body. Like side stretches, they’re also good for the digestion as they gently squeeze and massage the internal organs. Here’s a quick and easy twist anyone can do.

Sit in a comfortable position on the floor or in a chair. Stabilize the hips so they will not move when you twist. Place the right hand directly behind the spine on the chair or floor, and place the left hand on the right knee. Inhaling, imagine you could actually grow taller, extending the head toward the sky and tucking the chin slightly to create length through the back of the neck. As you exhale, gently squeeze the belly button toward the spine to begin twisting. The heart and ribs turn to face the right while the hips stay grounded. Turn the chin over the back shoulder. When you’re ready to come out, inhale once more to sit up tall, and on the exhale, gently unwind the pose. Then do the same twist in the opposite direction.

Step 3: Back Bend
Back bending is considered very energizing – no wonder it’s the first stretch most of us want to do when we wake up! When you spread your arms wide and raise the chest with a big yawn, that’s a gentle back bend. To do a seated back bend, simply rest your hands on your knees while sitting up nice and tall (just like you will for meditation). Inhaling, lift the heart and press the chest forward while rolling the shoulders back and down. Slightly lift the chin to create a sense of length and openness in the front of the throat. As you exhale, hug the belly button in toward the back, tuck the tailbone, and create length through the back of the body, reversing the curve. Do several rounds of this movement combined with slow, deep breathing. The same thing can be done on the hands and knees and is usually called “Cat/Cow” in yoga classes.

Step 4: Forward Bend
Forward bends are calming and are great for times when introspection is needed. There are tons of great forward bends to pick from, such as child’s pose, standing forward bend, wide-leg forward bend, and downward dog. If you’re seated in a chair, place both feet firmly on the floor, and simply drape the upper body over the thighs, allowing the head to hang. If your chest doesn’t reach your thighs, a blanket or pillow across the lap can make this more comfortable. Alternatively, sit on the floor in a comfortable cross-legged position (also known as sukasana or easy pose), and place the hands on the floor in front of you. Walk the hands out in front of you, bending forward until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of the hips. Whichever foot is in front, that side of the hips will feel the stretch first. After a few breaths, change the cross of your feet and do the stretch again to make sure you address both sides.

Once you’ve completed this brief practice, try sitting for a short meditation. Notice if there is any difference in the body, the breath, the energy level, or the state of mind. If you are very distracted, a longer practice can be helpful in calming the mind. Several rounds of Sun Salutation, for example, can be a great preparation for a longer meditation.

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why i wrote and self-published my book

Cover art by my incredible sister, Katie Richert Daniel.

So, the book is out. Dirty Water Coffee and Other Myths, now available for your enjoyment. I can finally take a deep breath, go on vacation, and prepare myself to work on my next project. But first, I want to talk a little bit about why I wrote the book and what it’s like to have finally done it.

I wrote this book over 4 years ago, and finally gathered up enough gumption to publish it. Self-publish it, that is. I did not send it around to agents, write a book proposal, filter it through editors, gain the approval of publishers, and so forth. I just published it myself because it’s mine, I did the work, and I want it to be out in the world. That’s my right as a writer.

I had a lot of reservations about self-publishing as opposed to “real” publishing, but in the end, I decided I don’t even want the approval of the people who think I need their approval. So there.

The book is a spiritual memoir told through creative essays. It’s about growing up female in America and figuring out what you really believe about the  world as opposed to all the stories, religions, beliefs and biases that you’re given as a child. It’s about exploring all the options and deciding who you want to be. It’s about those moments when you come face-to-face with your former self and love her for the first time. My hope is that the book is warm, loving, enlightening, and a little bit funny. Or a lot funny if you like stories of first kisses and worst kisses, bad teenaged decision making, and some of the more awkward aspects of neo-paganism. I have often had people laugh out loud at things I wrote, which I didn’t realize were funny at all till I said them out loud and found myself snorting uncontrollably. In fact, I’m thinking of a particular essay that I like a lot, so maybe I’ll record a reading of it for you. Keep an eye out for that in the near future.

Let me tell you about the process of releasing this book.

After working on it for so long, I would read some sections and think, “Oh fuck this self-absorbed narrator. I sound so childish. So arrogant. So … much like a version of myself that I really really don’t want to be.”

But I felt a need to publish it anyway because I think this story matters — the part where a woman grows up and goes through some shit and develops into her own human being and stuff. The universal part.

It matters because that story isn’t being told well enough, often enough, or loudly enough. Because most literary classics are about that very process from a male perspective, and what I wanted was to write a feminist book of spiritual maturation. And I think that’s what I did. So, from that perspective, I’m proud of the book.

I have definitely changed as a writer and as a person since writing this book. The essays are not perfect, the titles could have a little more spark to them, the narrator (who is a distilled version of myself) is not always likable. But that’s humanity for ya. I have been afraid of being labeled as anything that might seem too self-absorbed … too navel-gazing-ish. And I think that’s not really a legitimate label. Actually I think that’s some misogynistic bullshit that I internalized somewhere along the line. And if I’ve internalized it, then other women and men probably have, too, which is another reason I needed to write this book and give it to the world.

The thing is, I believe deep down that women’s stories are really important, and not just because we’re women but because we’re human, too, and if you are human and you love humanity, then all human stories must have some value. And I love this book because it’s mine. Writing it has been an adventure, a challenge, and an intense learning process, and I’m ready to see where it leads next.

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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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Great Debates in 140 Characters or Fewer

On Friday, Gala Darling linked to a New York Times article about new medical experiments with hallucinogenic drugs. I am intrigued yet somewhat concerned. I felt compelled to comment on the post sharing my concerns. And then I had to comment again to elaborate.

Here is the conversation that ensued on Twitter:

First, I love that Gala responded. Please see her post, the comments and her response in particular for context.

So, I tried to put my finger on what it is about drugs as a spiritual/psychological tool that I find challenging to accept. That topic, it turns out, is way too big to cover in a single Tweet. I guess, Twitter can’t cover everything. However, it was not a Fail Whale moment because it caused a couple of my favorite Internet Ladies to pipe up with their input.

I highly recommend that you read Rabbit White’s article on drugs and self discovery. In addition to having somethign worthwhile to say, she is extremely eloquent. I think you’ll appreciate both her opinion and her grace in stating it.

So, in the end, we didn’t really come to a firm conclusion about whether hallucinogens should or shouldn’t be used in therapy or spirituality.

Personally, I believe the use of hallucinogens would need to be very fine-tuned and very carefully guided in order to be a valid medical treatment. In terms of spirituality, though, I believe it is always better to seek your enlightenment without the use of chemicals. Why? Well, basically because if you’re not a doctor or acting with a doctor’s guidance, there’s a very strong chance that you could screw it up.

Aside from that, all the spiritual realizations people experience through drug use are completely attainable through non-chemical means. That includes the example of Dr. Martin in the New York Times story: his sense of oneness with the world, and the peacefulness that comes with it.

That said, Dr. Martin was experiencing an awful period of depression and disease, and treatment with a hallucinogen helped him feel better. If this form of treatment could be developed and honed to help people in extreme situations, especially terminally ill patients who must be living with great anxiety, I think that would be a good thing.

What do you think?

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