Thursday, June 9, 2011

Meditation Class

Caution: this is a longer-than-average post, but with lots of inspirational quotes for added entertainment!

Situations in my life, both exciting and not-so exciting, have been creating a greater-than-normal amount of stress for me lately. Historically speaking, I dont handle stress well. I've had to learn ways to help myself maintain balance because I tend to be sensitive (emotionally and physically) to anything that might pull me off my center. It has been a challenge lately, but I'm constantly learning new styles of self-calming and soul-strengthening.

 Meditation is not entirely new to me. I'm a daily subscriber to DailyOm and I've done a meditative audio program called Holosync on and off for the past year. I like the program, but I've always felt like I wanted something more. It was a great introduction, I just never felt like I was learning the basic meditation skills that would serve me throughout my day, as opposed to only when I was doing the audio program. When I found out a local yoga studio was offering a 4-week Meditation Class, I didn't think twice. Yes. Please.

Week 1: I had a short window of opportunity to make dinner before class started. Looking back, this was not the ideal time to start experimenting with new ingredients..... and my little escapade with buckwheat resulted with dinner in the garbage and me throwing a temper tantrum frustratingly trying to find something to eat before class. Yes, there may have been some swearing involved. Being hungry does not suite me well.... it runs in my family and is an ongoing joke between my husband and my brother-in-law. Moral of the story- skipping meals isn't good for me or anyone around me, and definitely NOT how I wanted to start my first meditation class. So while I'm verging on having a "moment" (read: meltdown)... the culmination of weeks of unresolved stress... it was hard to miss the irony. It was that kind of angry/frustrated/annoyed/emotional loss of control (where I either wanted to sit down and cry, or seriously take down a punching-bag {please tell me I'm not the only one}) that made me want to pursue meditation in the first place. The kind of arghhh-feeling where I just wanted to sit and brood... and yet calming, self-love provoking meditation class awaited. Deep breath.... off I went. (I should probably mention that my husbad saved-the-day with a perfectly light and satisfying salad that I ate just before walking out the door... plus, I came home to a clean house, Martin Sexton playing on Pandora, nog champa burning, and a glass of wine. Love that man).

"The technique of meditation that we use is the "Ham Sah" practice, which is very simple and extremely profound. It is a method to recognize the pure state of consciousness that already exists inside of you. You are not looking for something you do not already have."                                                                                      -Baba Shambhavadanda

The first day we learned the "Ham Sah" style of breathing. Ham Sah is Sanskrit for "I am that." Its also a style of breathing that uses the full pranayama breath which takes us deeper into relaxation and healing. Most people engage in shallow breathing all day (did you just try to pay attention to your breath?), and never use their abdomens or diaphragms. The pranayama "ham sah" style helps circulate your energy throughout your body. The more off-center I become in my life, the more I limit myself to shallow breathing. Pranayama breathing, consciously, on a regular basis can calm your entire nervous system.

"Man goes to great trouble to acquire knowledge of the material world. He learns all branches of mundane science. He explores the earth and even travels to the moon. But he never tried to find out what exists within himself. Because he is unaware of the enormous power hidden within him, he looks for support from the outer world. Because he does not know the boundless happiness that lies inside his heart, he looks for satisfaction in mundane activities and pleasures. Because he does not experience the inner love, he looks for love from others. The truth is that the Inner Self of every human being is supremely great and supremely lovable. Everything is contained in the self"                                                                                          -Swami Muktananda

Week 2: This class started out much lighter. I arrived at class, completely ready to open my heart, my mind, and my soul... I set an intention on cultivating my emotional foundation and gave myself permission to just be... free of thought, worry, or expectation. This week's class focused on the use of mantras in meditation. Mantra (Sanskrit translation: mind protector) repetition is considered a powerful form of meditation. We all use mantras to some extent in our lives, and their power can be either positive or negative. If we're constantly repeating self-defeating phrases (I'm too fat, I'm too shy, I don't know how to x,y,z) that can create energy just as strong and powerful as the positive mantras. So mind your thoughts... thoughts are energy, the ones you focus on are the ones that grow stronger.

"Inside of you is a state of being that is totally pure and clear and at peace. While your attention is caught in the movie of the work, that state exists in you. The heart meditation will help you experience this state. It is from that state of clarity that all creativity flows"                                                                                  -Baba Shambhavananda

We learned that the center of your energy (God, Universal Intelligence, Collective Consciousness, The Creator, etc) is located in the center of your chest. The more you begin to anchor your awareness in your heart center, the more you will begin to experience a state of peace and clarity that you can carry with you in all situations or circumstances. To practice Heart Meditation, we used the mantra Oh Namah Shivaya. 

Om Naham Shivaya: "I bow to the Divinity within myself"

Chanted in Sanskrit, these ancient, sacred syllables can harmonize us on every level of our being. They are meant to create a peaceful tone within us, and can be used in everyday life. I've chanted in the shower, in my car on the way to work, etc. Oh Namah Shivaya is thought of as a living force; its power emanates directly from the Inner Self. 

"When you use the mantra during meditation, you should focus on the mantra itself and try to perceive the place where it arises, try to see where it is vibrating, and listen to it. Repeat the mantra as if it were your own name, making no distinction between syllables of the mantra, the object of the mantra, and your own Self. In this way your mind will automatically turn inside and become focused on the Self."                                                                                 -Swami Muktananda
To practice chanting the mantra, we used a mala. A mala (Sanskrit translation: garland) is a string of beads used to count Sanskrit prayers (mantras) to 108, which is an divine number, according to Sanskrit. A mala is similar to a rosary, but with double the beads, and the idea is to withdraw your senses from the external world and focus your mind internally. I REALLY enjoyed this practice. During the week between my second and third class, I took my lunch down to the beach on one of the most beautiful summer days we've had so far. Like I said, things have been incredibly challenging for me lately. I spent part of my lunch break sitting on the beach chanting On Namah Shivaya. It was awesome!


Week 3: Remember that "moment" I had right before my first class? Yes, well I'm embarrassed to have to admit that I did not learn my lesson. Turns out, not every aspect of my life is in my control... and that's just going to have to be okay. It was not okay, however, leading up to my third class. I'm in a much happier (saner) place now, so looking back it seems a little melodramatic of me (Me? Melodramatic? Never....) to have had another "moment" but that's the way it went. The days leading up to week 3 were difficult.... little sleep, lots of stress, lots of teeth grinding, and lots of stress-induced eating habits (pizza). I was not in a good place and knew that meditation class was EXACTLY what I needed.... even if I was brought to pissed-off-tears minutes before class (like I said, I'm embarrassed to have to admit this, but.... I'm a work in progress, remember?) When I got to class, I could barely talk to my classmates because I hadn't yet got my crying-reflex under control... so happy they have a big container of purified water right in the front entrance. That helped. Once I took my seat and got myself situated, I could feel some of that stress start to dissipate even before the class officially started.

"Give up to grace.
The ocean takes care of each wave
Till it gets to shore
You need more help than you know."
This week we learned about Tension (um.... did somebody know I was coming?). Our teacher taught us that tension is energy under pressure (yes, this I know), and that it limits the level of life force that can flow through us. When we release tension regularly, we have more positive energy to be present in our daily life because we are not consumed with the energetic depletion of tension. We used visualization, breath, and focused attention to break-up, dissolve, and flush tension out of our systems. Our energetic body is just as real and important as the physical body and we must take nuture it, just the way we must take care of our physical bodies. 

"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience."      
-Teilhard de Chardin (French Jesuit and philosopher)
The tension-release exercise involved visualization of negative energy leaving our bodies. We held our hands down by our sides, fingers resting on the floor, palms down. "I sincerely wish to release all negative, psychic tension." As we felt the wish expand and break up tension in our beings, we exhaled, letting the negative tensions flow down our arms, out our hands, and into the floor. I immediately had a feeling of lightness.... not necessarily calmness, but the weight that I had been carrying around with me had dissipated. During the following week, I practiced the exercise, silently throughout my day. If I remembered, I did it in the shower as I was getting ready for work. Meditating is such an inspiring way to set intention, focus, and lightness to the day.

"Being spiritually free doesn't have much to do with the outer manifestation. It has to do with the consciousness that you bring to each moment. It has to do with your ability to live above the tension, the drama, the desire and all that stuff that is a part of everyday life."                                                                         -Baba Shambhavananda 


Week 4: Work is winding down for me and this is my last week before a 3 month break. As a result, much of the stress that I've been feeling in the last several weeks is slowly dissolving. My day started out full of sunshine. I was home from work early with plenty of time to make dinner and clean up before class started. I have found that when I'm relaxed in my life, meditation comes easier for me. We did a review of all the lessons we had learned in the previous weeks, and were also taught a new lesson called Surrender. In Surrender Meditation, we learn to be more aware of our inner condition. If you become angry because of something that someone said or did, Surrender Meditation helps you recognize that the anger youre experiencing was already inside of you, that person did not put it there. We learn to let our consciousness engulf that anger and become larger than it, allowing us to feel more clarity and serenity.

"It is important to understand that most of the karma that you go through doesn't have to manifest if you can surrender. Surrender doesn't mean giving up and not doing anything or not caring. Surrender is the ability to take the forces and energy of the mind, body, and emotions, and all the dramas that are a part of your life, and let them go so that you can be detached enough to experience the inner energy."                                                                      -Baba Shambhavananda
We also learned about the Wish to Grow, the wish to be free from emotional and menal distractions, to know yourself on a deeper level. To be a seeker. Meditation has the power to let us grow as individuals, to choose a new way of being in the world, but it takes dedication. You have to practice.

"Oneness is Truth. All teachers of the great non-dual traditions say the same thing that there is only one reality, one Awareness in the universe, and that we have never been seperate from that. They have also pointed out that all our problems, from fear to craving to feeling abandoned, from selfishness to aggression to loneliness to carelessness toward each other and the earth, come from the feeling of being seperate. So even an instant spent remembering oneness strikes at the root of our human dilemma."                                    -Swami Durgananda
As I look back on my Meditation Class experience, its obvious that I took this class during the most stressful time for me in the past several months. The timing makes me smile; did the class come at the perfect time to help with my stress, or did the stress come at the perfect time to challenge my meditation practice? Either way, I know that this is something I plan on incorporating into my every day life. This summer I plan to focus on Cultivating Consciousness on a deeper level, practicing meditation and yoga more frequently and connecting more with my Inner Self. Its going to be a good summer. Nameste!

Thanks to Mukta Yoga for offering this class!

"You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf!"

Do you meditate, or have you ever tried it? I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

How do you want to BE in the world?


  1. Pat and I refer to my hunger issue as 'hanger' or being 'hangry' (as in, I'm so hungry I'm angry!). Acknowledging the crazy in a funny way diffuses the situation somewhat until I can get food in my belly :)

  2. Oh Lindsey.. the hangries... I've had a bad case or two of my own lately! ;)

  3. I've never "officially" meditated but sometimes when I'm under a lot of stress I just close my eyes and sit in a quiet place clearing my mind. I don't know if this counts. Check out my blog, Beautiful Busy Bee.

  4. Maria, so glad you stopped by CC! Yes, for sure that counts! Anything to calm your mind and make your soul happy counts!

  5. Ooh great post I want to start meditating so badly but my mind always wanders.

  6. Kate, that still happens to me all the time. I dont think its a bad thing. I try to sit for 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening, and then go from there. When I notice my thoughts wandering, I try to refocus on my breathing... some days its easier than others!