Thank you, Elephant Journal, for the great column!
Yogi or not, you may have begun to suspect that the world we live in today is a holy chaos festival of stimulation and that maybe sitting in a meditative state for a bit of time each day isn’t such a bad idea.
After all, ‘studies do show’ it’s good for us.
Because it doesn’t result in toned muscles or the ability to contort oneself into fun, equinox-worthy positions, sitting still hangs out in the shadows of other activities in the yoga world. For those of us who’ve given it a regular shot and gotten hooked, however, the benefits are way more exciting than those aforementioned.
Still, for all its rewards, it can be really tough.
So, for every Jedi-in-training, joining me in the daily seated practice, I’d like to share the top five maneuvers the mind can whip out at any moment along the magical journey to the center of the self (and the most distant realms of the cosmos).
1. The ‘I’m being selfish roundhouse’
Your partner is sick. There’s so much work to do and you’ll let your team down. The kids want you to play with them. You should call your uncle. The list never ends. I promise you, it never, ever does. What you are doing when you sit is cordoning off a period of time to do nothing and practice detachment. The net result of sitting regularly is that you become a more alert, aware, reflective person when you are doing whatever it is that you have to do.
It’s the old ‘quality over quantity’ argument. Only this time, you are only asking yourself to sit down for a half hour—this is approximately the amount of time that it takes to watch a sitcom, do the dishes, write a few e-mails, play Farmhouse Roulette on Facebook (or whatever games are out there). Next time your mind produces that garbage argument, just tell it that you aren’t selfish, you are just cultivating a practice that makes your life higher quality and actually makes you more generous with your attention and with whatever you are doing at any moment.
2. The ‘recent drama lock’
Someone dumped you or you had to call off a relationship. A huge storm affected your or your friend’s home. Someone close to you died. Your mother is ill. These are serious things. They are not to be downplayed at all, and never, ever would I. However, while these events can cause us not to want to sit in contemplation, they are the very events that we need occasional respite from. 30 minutes a day, directing our thoughts toward the breath, its unconditional, constant presence, can be a saving grace in times of incredible tumult. Whatever it is we are facing, it will fade if it doesn’t get shed entirely by time’s magical procession.
When you are right in the heart of the matter, though, take a seat and work at moving the mind off the issue and back to the breath. Over and over. You just might find a sense of relief as you do this, as you get into a zone with just the breath. When trauma strikes, you can travel the world, and it will still be playing in your head. But if you sit, if you really get in there and fight for the self amidst all that’s happening around it, you at least have a chance at perspective and moments of relief that will expand as you sit regularly.
3. The ‘should be doing something else sweep’
Really? You should? Like what? Like laundry? Like picking up the kids? Like talking to your grandma on the phone? Like work? Yes, these things are things you should be doing, but do you have to do them every waking minute? Do you have 30 minutes to watch TV or Facebook or gossip or sit and stare out a window? If the answer is yes, you have time for this, and you might find that it was better spent.
4. The ‘straight-up blitz chop’
Your sitting there, your alignment is keenly balanced, and you feel that sensation, where finally all of the thoughts and sounds and feelings are growing remote. You’re in the zone. It’s getting really light behind your eyelids, thoughts are so miniscule and pointless that you feel invincible, balanced on a beam of emptiness, shielded by a wall of numbness. But somehow, somewhere, there’s a crack in it, and a little thought creeps in and dynamites a bigger hole, and a brigade of reasons come storming in as to why you can cut this sit short.
The chime must be broken; the laundry needs to be folded; it’s been long enough, you got there, you’ll be late for work, the cat has waited so long to be pet, what’s that funny sound?
Etc. Etc. Etc.
Suddenly, before you’ve come to your senses, you are standing in the next room, realizing that you missed the juice! You missed that last five minutes of the half hour, the last blissful moments that you worked all that way to achieve! Be vigilant in that thoughtless state of absorption that when thoughts do come in, you continue to label and gently pull back instead of being a wet noodle to their whims.
5. The ‘damn-good song grip’
You’re sitting and that song comes into your head, that one by Stevie Wonder or The Who or Grateful Dead or U2 or Bach or Monteverde—who the heck cares, you love it! And it’s got you and you can’t get out of its lock. Best thing to do is call on your sense of real-time hearing and find out what sounds are actually happening in the room around you. Is it a vacuum down the hall, a creeking in the wall, a fan, some distant voices, the cat’s tail brushing against the tiles? I know it doesn’t seem to be as good as the song but trust me, you have that one in your collection, but you’ll never have ‘now’ again! Direct your mind first to the sounds happening in real time and stay with those until you can release even them.
No, your legs will not fall off nor will your nose itch turn into a round of hives if you continue to sit through the entire thirty minutes without moving.
In the end, these maneuvers are crafty and only-natural activities for the monkey mind. We don’t need to scold it, but we do need to be vigilant and fluid around its behavior. We are in charge, like a parents, but more like ninjas–don’t spend time in a cycle of beating yourself up if the mind wins out. Learn its strategy and rise above it. Sit on the cushion every day with the best you’ve got–focus on the roots more than the fruits … and go for the juice, fellow grasshoppers!!!
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta
Emily Alp has been practicing various forms of Yoga for more than ten years and has settled on, and is now a certified teacher of, Ashtanga, Mysore-style. She keeps a science-editor day job that’s pretty hard-driving and is exploring how to incorporate a traditional practice and the transformations it brings into modern-day life. She’s also diagnosed with celiac so personalized nutrition has long been in the forefront of her thoughts. Born in the US, she lives and works in the Middle East and loves to help Yoga and health infuse society there. A bit of eccentricity, spirituality and other interests can be observed through her website: emilyalp.com.