Monday, September 5, 2011

On meditation, Yoga and the forward stroke

The past few weeks I have been exceptionally busy. Rolling back into work after seven weeks of adventuring has been challenging. Adding to that I have spent most of my time away from work, working on the video from the trip. I have to travel for family this weekend, and the next two weekends I will be teaching far from home.

Despite this a couple of things have occurred that I have really enjoyed. A friend mentioned to me that Depak Chopra was offering a free 21 day meditation challenge, and would I be interested in doing it. It would be her first foray into meditation. I meditate far too infrequently, but when I do it clears my head, makes me noticeably more calm, and despite the fact that I find it very difficult, I truly enjoy it.

I took part in the Chopra meditation challenge for all of one day. They are guided meditations that were created so I could not download them, which presented a challenge. (I use a couple of apps on my iPhone to help me meditate, one is a guided meditation app, and the other creates nature sounds which is nice when meditating in a noisy or busy place, like my gym where I frequently meditate). I found myself 8 minutes into the first 13 minute meditation and I was still listening to instructions, and goals of the meditation challenge. It was a little too 'self help' for me.

But while I abandoned Chopra, I didn't abandon the challenge. I began meditating daily in support of my friend, and though I did miss a day, she has not and I am very proud of her.

I find, for me, a much better form of meditation is paddling. Particularly when focusing on the forward stroke. It gives me a clear focus, and takes my mind out of the daily race it is in. I was reminded of this recently as I was teaching two students at the same time. One, paddling a sit on top kayak - a very nice sit on top, the WS tarpon 140 - and one paddling a loaner touring kayak while she waits for delivery of her hand made wood strip kayak. He, on the tarpon is a very active in yoga, and has previously been very active in martial arts. I have seen in previous students that martial artists pick up kayaking very quickly, and he did as well. The young woman in the touring kayak had the struggles that most do their first time when they have to unlearn what their body thinks kayaking is. Martial Artists, and I think to a degree yoga practitioners have a better connection to their body. And this makes forcing your body to do something that at first seems unnatural significantly easier. Also, as I have mentioned previously, the rotation of kayaking is very similar to the rotation throwing a punch.

I made the comment to both of them that it was important that when you stray from pushing and rotation, and slide back into slouching and pulling with your arms, which you will do, that it is important not to chastise yourself. Just acknowledge that it has happened, and come back to where you need to be.

This is equally true for meditation. if for example you are focused on your breathing your mind will invariably stray to something like, what should I cook for dinner, or why did he say that to me? It is important to accept that you have strayed from where you want to be, and bring your self back. Without criticizing, or judging. Just accept and move on. It isn't normal - or really, what we are used to - for our minds to be calmed to the point of no thought, particularly in our multi-tasking world. I am envious of a monk who can focus on one thing - sweeping the floor of the temple - for an entire day. That is his only concern. His only focus. Focus and meditation can be in anything we choose.

My wife, who has close to 30 years of martial arts experience has this summer in my absence taken yoga as her new daily ritual. She is doing yoga in our gym, or at a local yoga studio, and when she can't make either of those occur, I will come home from work and find her doing poses in the living room. She does nothing 'just a little bit'. So naturally I have been doing some yoga as well. We stopped on the way home from Alaska and did Yoga in Vancouver and Boulder, Colorado. I enjoy yoga, but it doesn't sing to me the way some other things do.

But it was in a yoga class that an instructor said something I find myself saying to students over, and over again. Which is not to chastise yourself when you can't do something. Or when your mind strays, or when it takes you a little longer to do something than your neighbor, partner, friend or co-worker does. We are all different, and all have different skills. I know that I am very good at forgiving those around me for their missteps. I work daily to be at ease with the world around me and to offer compassion to those in need of it. But I am not so good at offering that same compassion to myself.

My favorite quote of the Dalai Lama, when asked to describe his religion he said 'my religion is very simple, my religion is kindness'. Offer kindness to the people around you, but direct some of it back to yourself. Particularly when your forward stroke strays from where it should be.

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