Life TherapyTM
Psychotherapy & Coaching + Mindfulness & Meditation

"Don't Just Do Something: Sit there." Why practice yoga and meditation anyway? One woman's story.

A common topic in the world of well-being is the exploration of the connection between the mind and the body. When we isolate our mind, body, and heart from each other, it is like a carriage driver trying to direct three horses who are all going in different directions from each other. For much of my adolescent life, I felt exactly that way- that my ambitions, dreams, reality, head, and heart were all speaking different languages and aiming for different things, causing much tension and unhappiness. Since then, I have done some integrative practices that have really helped me to unite these areas of what constitutes our being and our experience, and gotten them into alignment in a way that has made the ride a lot more easy, and a lot smoother. Having this awareness doesn’t mean that life becomes perfect, but it does allow a person to become grounded and centered in such a way that you can respond (not just react) to things that arise, with composure and grace.
I started yoga when I was about 15. My mother had a “yoga zone” tape (yes, tape) that she was practicing, and one day I chose to join her. I hated it! I couldn’t follow the motions as fast as they were doing on the screen, and I certainly couldn’t coordinate the breathing in and out with all those postures. I was frustrated with the whole practice, which kind of defeated the purpose! In the years that followed, with my busy high school life and the idea of college looming, I faced so many internal and external pressures to succeed. My mind was a giant whirlwind, and, seeking some reprieve from all the commotion, I decided to try meditating. It was the same story–my mind would not be quiet for the life of me! and I threw my metaphorical hands up in disdain and anguish. I would sit stiffly on the cushion as diligently as I tried out all those pretzely shapes–to no avail. I couldn’t get my thoughts to cease, and more importantly, I wasn’t attaining the peace and tranquility these methods seemed to promise.
As someone with a bit of a philosophical streak, it did not escape me that “trying” to meditate was useless and futile, and that the more you make a big fuss striving for peace and quiet, the noisier everything becomes, like a flock of chickens about to be fed. Then, around age 19, after trying out several different meditation centers and techniques, I got the following advice which has spoken to me ever since. It was to imagine my mind as a giant empty sky, and to allow all the thoughts to come and go like clouds. Any and all thoughts, without judgement and without identifying with any of them. The instructions encouraged me not to ascribe “good thought” “bad thought” to each one, but just to notice them as they came, to welcome them, and to let them pass. The Buddhists have a metaphor about living your life as a room with “two doors always open” meaning that you let happiness in, but don’t cling to it, and that you similarly acknowledge and honor sadness and let it in, but don’t dwell or try to rush it out the door. It really helped me to learn to “go with the flow,” and I began sitting comfortably in a serene acceptance.
Likewise, my yoga practice also improved when I just “let things be.” I had more patience with the tapes and dvds, and I began being able to follow along with the movements in a way that was comfortable to me. Soon I began thinking the tape was actually going through the exercises pretty slowly! I began to love meditation and yoga because they both connected me to a different experience of myself – one in which I was no longer frantic and rushed and exhausted by possibilities, spread too thin and talking too fast and rushing around, but rather one in which I could be present in every moment and be more true to a more mature “me.” I really started embodying the Buddhist joke “don’t just do something, sit there.” I sat every morning and every night religiously. My journey even led me to eventually earn my certification as a yoga instructor, and I have been deepening my practices and my sharing of those practices ever since. Nowadays, for me, yoga and mediation are no longer necessary practices for me to be a “better person.” Rather, they are key tools for me to use and draw upon to realize and appreciate exactly who and how I am, right now, already. And to love that self for the good, the bad, the ugly… and the beautiful.
Today, I encourage you to spend some time pondering the idea of a connection between your mind and your body. Is this something you recognize and respect in your daily life? Think about the ways you can incorporate more peaceful experiences, like through yoga or meditation, into your day to day life, and make a goal to spend a few minutes in quiet today. Lastly, if you live in New York City, come visit me at “The House of Jai”, a fantastic new studio on the Upper East Side (tell ’em I sent you, and your first class is on me! :). “Jai” is a joyful exclamatory statement that literally means “Victory!” May your day be joyful and victorious as you open to your own inner serenity and grace in each and every moment of your day. “Jai!”

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