Tag Archives: Yoga

A New Thing I’m Doing

I’ve been a regular yoga practitioner for about six years now and I’ve grown increasingly curious about mindfulness and meditation. I’ve done some reading and attempted one guided meditation (after letting the website just sit in GoogleKeep for weeks) that I did enjoy. But I have found it difficult to appreciate the quiet that (I think) is supposed to come with mindfulness and meditation. A year ago, I actively avoided silence because lack of noise was never actually silent –  it was whisperings of thoughts I didn’t want to have but couldn’t stop having. I turned to podcasts and NPR as a way of listening to something other than what was going on in my own head.

I’m in a much healthier place now and I’m trying to break habits that I purposely developed to avoid reality. After a recent experience where I fell into stillness, I made the decision to deliberately seek out more quiet and blank space than I was used to. Last week, cooked a few meals without a podcast in the background for the first time in at least two years since I’ve done that. I’m not hiding from quiet any more and that feels empowering.

Right now, day-to-day living is easy. I’m comfortable with myself and I’m happy. So, basic needs met. Time to try something new.

Enter mindfulness. We have a faculty/staff fitness program at school, which is how I’ve taken weekly yoga classes in the past. I’m doing that again, but this year one of my colleagues is also offering a mindfulness class. I didn’t immediately sign up, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, either.

The first class met this afternoon.

He told us about his experiences living at meditation centers for years at a time, some of which I already knew. He introduced us to Osho Kundalini meditation, an active meditation divided into four 15-minute parts. We shook, danced, sat, and lied still. The music changed to introduce each stage. Bells indicated the end of the fourth stage. I enjoyed the music, the movement, and the freedom that came with closing my eyes and doing whatever my body decided it wanted to do. Time didn’t pass quickly, but other than lying in savasana at the end, I didn’t pause to wonder how much time had passed.

But I couldn’t shut my mind off.

I couldn’t stop thinking. I was doing okay until I thought that I might blog about the experience, and then I began writing this post in my head. That’s not infrequent, but this post contains almost nothing of what my “meditating” self thought it would. I made a couple to-do lists. I reviewed plans for a party we’re having tomorrow. I thought about how I was feeling and how long it had been since I’d formally taken a dance class and what I was going to have for dinner. I thought about not berating myself for being so busy when I was supposed to be so internally still.

I tried, I really did. I tried counting the beats of the music while I danced. I tried keeping a pinch in my shoulders during the seated meditation to keep my back straight. I tried counting breaths. But my mind was curious and loud and it stayed that way.

And then the bells rang and it was over.

When I got home my roommate asked me how it went. I didn’t know how to respond because I had enjoyed the meditation hour but hadn’t had the type of moment I expected to or had hoped for. But at the same time, I really didn’t know what I’d expected or hoped for. I’m not sorry I spent an hour in meditation class after school, but I can’t say that I meditated. I certainly wasn’t mindful. So how was it? I can’t quite say. It was new, that’s for sure.

The only thing I do know is that I’m curious and want to learn. I’m open to new things and I know new things take practice. So far, I’ve learned that meditation doesn’t only mean listening to someone speak soothingly while you sit and focus on what they say. Learn something new every day is a rule that I live by.

Since I’ve already learned one new thing, that’s enough reason to go back for more.

IMG_0358
An alley in my neighborhood during a walk in the rain

Quiet

Tonight, I did two things that are unusual for me:

  1. I got my nails done.
  2. I sat still and stared off into space and let my mind turn off.

In fact, I sat still and stared off into space and let my mind turn off while getting my nails done. When she finished, the manicurist invited me to stay for a few minutes. I didn’t realize how calm I felt until I took her up on that.

I realized that I didn’t remember the last time I had simply sat and stared off into space. I  do let my mind turn off pretty regularly, which is something I love about running and yoga. But just sitting? Just staring? Never.

True, I was having my nails done, so it wasn’t nothing. But I think that’s what gave me the freedom to do it, to just sit and stare without seeing. While my hands were literally in someone else’s and once polite conversation and small talk waned, there wasn’t much I could do except sit and look off into space.

Reflecting on it now, I don’t know what I was thinking about or if I was thinking at all. My mind found its way to a quiet place where I didn’t have to think about anything and where nothing was weighing on me. Strangely, I didn’t feel guilty for not doing something else or something additional with that time. I didn’t feel pressure to make mental notes or plans or go over anything in particular.

It’s strange to me that this is a notable moment, which is why I’m sharing it. I often feel like I need to keep my mind occupied with reading, listening to podcasts and the radio, or talking with others in effort to always learn something new, always be useful, always try to be better than I am. It was nice to step away from that (without using running or yoga as the excuse) and let my mind go wherever it wanted to go.

As I write this, I’m laughing at my own fascination with the enjoyment of quiet and stillness. I think it’s really the stillness element that made the whole experience unusual. People who know me well know that I can’t sit and I definitely can’t sit and do nothing. They know that I hate sitting and doing nothing. That’s why sitting always comes with reading or other people or food or writing, all of which I love and which occupy the majority of my time. I can’t even sit and listen to a podcast; I need to be up and moving for those because sitting while listening seems far too self-indulgent. (Let the record show that I am aware that this is illogical.)

But maybe a few minutes of stillness is good for me. Maybe that’s what I’ve been missing when I tell myself that someday soon, I’ll try to develop a meditation practice. I’ve been wanting to do that because it’s supposed to be good for you. And I’ve been putting it off because I don’t know if that interested, except that it’s supposed to be good for you. Somehow, it’s different when I think about trying a meditation practice because stillness is hard for me but felt good today.

And even if finding quiet and stillness continues to be a rare happening in my life, I’m glad that I found some today.

A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy dare live. – Bertrand Russell

Travel Guide: Ubud, Bali

To recover from our grade 10 trip to Cambodia and to celebrate Chinese New Year, I headed to the city of Ubud on the Indonesian island of Bali. The stereotypical Bali experience is one of beaches and parties, but Ubud is actually located inland without a beach. This helpful map comes from Lonely Planet:

map_of_bali

I honestly didn’t do much while I was in Ubud and it was fantastic. My very wonderful Airbnb hosts directed me to the Yoga Barn where I bought a three-class pass and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Not only was the studio beautiful, but they also had a delicious juice bar! I took the photos below standing on the deck of Yoga Barn’s complex:

P1060798

P1060799

When I wasn’t in the studio, I walked around town, visited a few must-see sights (the market and palace), ate top notch vegetarian food (Ubud is perfect for those on a health kick with all the yoga and organic restaurants), drank local wine, and wandered in and out of shops.

P1060796
I loved this.
P1060797
Balinese people love beautiful objects. This was set on the sidewalk in front of a jewelry store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P1060793
Example of the offerings I saw everywhere. There was one in front of my door each morning when I woke up.

Most families live in compounds, each of which contains the family temple. Balinese Hinduism is quite different from the more familiar Indian Hinduism, and I was glad to learn about it from my hosts. All around Bali people were erecting bamboo poles like the one below to prepare for the Galungan celebration, marking the return of gods and ancestors. I saw multiple families sitting outside and around their homes stapling together the bamboo flower decorations that wrap these poles, as well as putting together other offerings like the ones seen above.

P1060901

As I wandered, I took pictures. While many of the photos below are the exteriors of temples, others are family compounds. Many of these, like the one where I stayed, are used in part for guest houses. The hospitality and tourism sector is the primary industry in Bali right now, thanks in part to the artists who came to Bali in the 1980s in search of an “untouched” place for inspiration. Rice farming, which still happens in Bali though not in trendy Ubud, was basically the only industry before the tourists arrived.

The architecture was probably the most interesting aspect of Ubud for me. I loved the stonework and the solidity and stateliness it gave to the city. Ubud felt solid, strong, and anchored in tradition. The more I talked to my hosts, the more I learned how family and religion are the center of Balinese life. In a very old world way, most people know each other, are related in some manner, and have been in their homes for generations. As a result, people are happy and comfortable and crime is relatively low. Add that to the yoga and it is no wonder being in Ubud left me feeling calm and centered.

Ubud Market, on the other hand, is the opposite of calm and centered. It is as cluttered and chaotic as any market I’ve seen, which made it a wonderful spot to take pictures:

Yes, it started to pour shortly after I took these photos. I ran into a nearby cafe for cover.

 

And that was my time in Ubud. Yoga, food, shopping (I actually made purchases for once!), and wandering. I took it very easy this trip (for once) and thoroughly enjoyed myself. How can you not in a place that has flower patterned sidewalks?

P1060904