Archives for October 2019

Put Some Motion in your Meditation!

There are a lot of books written about what is meditation and how to do it.  To be honest, it’s often more enjoyable to read about meditation than it is to actually attempt it!  Most of us are nowhere near ready for what we might consider meditation: sitting perfectly still on a cushion with an erect spine, effortlessly surfing waves of bliss.  Frankly, it’s a lot more rigorous than you might think.  First off, our bodies are no where physically ready to sit comfortably (usually on the floor) for an extended period–you’d be surprised how long 10 minutes can take when seated on the floor without support–our hips have long since adapted to chairs and for many, there’s no going back! Besides, is sitting really what we should be doing in our leisure time?  Is anyone out there wracking their brain thinking, “How can I sit more?”  (People who work on your feet all day, you are perhaps the only ones who may answer “yes”).

As if the body alone weren’t enough of an obstacle, we have to consider the over-tasked modern mind.  If you don’t already have ADD or ADHD, you’re probably catching it like the flu from your devices. All of these inventions that were supposed to save us time and energy simply multiplied all the things we’re supposed to get done at once!

The answer for 99% of the people I meet who want to reap the benefits of meditation ranging from boosting mood and immunity to cognitive function are best served by a yogic “meditation in motion” practice.  The yogis were the first to make the mind-body connection and flip it upside-down: instead of mind over matter (the body), they learned that you could use the body (and breath techniques) to calm the mind.  This was (and still is for many), a revolutionary idea!

Finding the right combination of breathing and slow moving postures taught in a serene environment can lead you to those meditative bliss waves. And, by serene I mean quiet. Meditation requires confronting silence, stepping back and watching your thoughts.  This can’t be done while listening to music or looking in a mirror (hence the “no music, no mirrors”).  While music can be relaxing, it can’t help but generate memories and emotions–both considered “errors” of meditation (ask people who compose music for hospitals how tricky it can be).  Mirrors put you in the comparative part of your brain where the ego lives, another “error.”  Even if you’re not checking out your neighbor, you might be comparing today’s image with a previous one;  besides that, you aren’t focused internally. I once asked for hardship pay after trying to teach a group of teenagers yoga in a mirrored studio–and I got it!

Keep in mind, yoga postures were developed to prepare the body and mind for meditation, as a prelude to the higher states.  Swami Kripalu realized that most people didn’t actually have 10 hours to sit in silence daily like he did, so he promoted a style of yoga that makes the “container” of the body stronger while reaping the rewards of meditation.  The practice then finishes with a full length Savasana (corpse pose).  Big-box fitness yoga tends to reduce it to a couple of minutes of “relaxation,” to get you out the door so the next class can move in,  missing the point entirely. It’s like sending you away w/ a peppermint instead of an artfully crafted tiramisu.  A proper savansana is the piece de resistance toward which the class has been building. You, the student, have a small window of opportunity to transition from “meditation in motion” to just meditation, now that the mind, body and breath have been carefully prepared.  To forego that opportunity is a loss and shows a lack of respect or understanding for the underpinnings of classical yoga.

You must be free from doubts, fear, delusion, egoism, anger, passion and Raga-Dvesha

Is Your Spouse the Biggest Threat to Your Health?

I have been working with “active seniors” so long, that I am literally starting to become one.  The AARP knows where I live.  Decades of helping people discover self-care, often in the nick of time (around retirement) has given me an insight I’d like to share. It may sound a little harsh…

Look around the room of my “Fit and Feisty 50+” crowd and you WILL be impressed! There are students ranging in age from mid 40’s to 90+.  There’s not necessarily a correlation of age to ability either in the areas of strength, flexibility, focus and balance.  Some of our oldest students are the fiercest and fiesty…est.  What they all seem to have in common is that they’re committed to longevity and doing the aging thing “right.”  They’re socially plugged in, active, purpose-driven, taking care of family, serving on boards, continuing to work, pursuing passions like art, writing, travel, and faith.  I love to remind them that even on their worst day, they’re in the “upper percentiles” compared to their peer group!

So how and when does it go wrong for them?  Well yes, it might be a health crisis like a fall or a diagnosis, but what I see more often than not is that the illness of a spouse is most likely to throw them off-track.  The next thing you know, they’re missing their own self-care to take care of a spouse: running to doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, picking up all the slack in doing errands, taking care of grandkids.  And, more often than not, while they have gotten into the habit of wellness/fitness/self-care, their spouse has not.  Maybe the spouse was the sole breadwinner or perhaps it’s just that opposites attract. Whatever the reason doesn’t matter at the end of the day.  The spouse needs them and that’s what they signed up for–it’s in the contract.

So what’s a healthy senior to do? My advice is look around and learn.  Get those spouses off the sofa and get them engaged in wellness. If said spouse likes to try new things and has a sense of humor, riding shotgun to your yoga class may, in fact, be an easy answer.  However, more often that not, I find that men especially are squeamish about joining a mostly female class surrounded by women who are likely in better shape than they are. Remember, yoga is about the balance of strength, flexibility, breath and focus.  While men often show up with greater strength they can find the yoga combination vexing.

So here’s what I recommend: a little couples private yoga to get them going and build confidence. Whether they are coming off a long career of corporate work at screens and travel or construction and repetitive motion, chances are it has taken a toll on their bodies and their minds. Yoga teaches us the mind can’t truly relax when the body is full of “resting tension” that never goes away–even during sleep.

The idea is not to do couples private yoga forever, but just to get going.  A duet class is convenient in that, even if one person can’t make it, the other likely can resulting in both students getting to zero-in on their individual issues and concerns separately from time to time.  Eventually, the spouse may start to inquire about group classes and here’s the interesting part: it may not necessarily be your group class–he/she may want to venture out and have their own “space.”  No problem!  The sense of community will be good either way; and, you will share a common interest as a couple that will lead to some interesting discussions and even some inside jokes!

I hope this paints a better picture of how “aging” can be. In the West, we assume that old age brings reduced mobility–not so in many of the Eastern cultures.  And remember, in helping your spouse, you’re helping yourself while becoming a healthier couple on many levels.