One of the things I’ve been realizing over the past year, especially since I’ve been at RIT and also doing yoga (not at the same time), is that it is very common for people to think that in order to relax or unwind (or meditate) they need to dissociate from themselves and the world. I’m not sure we have developed this understanding on purpose, but it is evident that we have when we say things like:
“When I get home from work, I just need to veg out in front of the tv to zone out and decompress.”
“I can’t meditate—it’s impossible for me to clear my mind of thoughts. As soon as I try, more thoughts just come into my head.”
The misunderstanding we’re operating on in the realm of relaxation and decompressing is that we have to some how disconnect from our minds—–empty out the trash, at least temporarily, so we can physiologically relax.
I’ve learned in the last year that this is just not true. One of the things I love about yoga at Blue Lotus is that many of the principles we use are also applicable to life (all of them, maybe?). Vishali Varga, who is the owner of the yoga studio, has been studying yoga and philosophy for decades and I have learned tons of useful things from her in the last 6 months since I began going to her studio (And actually, she and I are doing a 3-part workshop beginning in February that targets Motivation, Yoga, and Food—stay tuned!). One of the things Vish really emphasizes is to change our focus from dissociating from ourselves and our minds, and instead working on strengthening and focusing on the associations. At first, it may sound abstract, but it’s not really complicated.
I’ll explain it in the context of the two examples I gave above. First, you have to understand that zoning out actually does not help your body and mind relax! So TV watching is really compounding your problems and stress, rather than helping you release them. An alternative to watching TV and/or zoning out would be to go to a place you love (inside your home, out in nature, your favorite coffee shop, etc), and then be ultra observant of your surroundings. As you do that, take deep breaths and really feel the air moving in and out of your body. You can even go so far as to say nice things to yourself in your head, or go over your gratitude list….but if that’s a little wacky-sounding to start out with, just breathe! 🙂
Also realize that meditation does not have to be the practice of clearing your mind (is that even possible?). If you’ve tried meditating and didn’t feel like you had success, try the following process (Vish did this one day in a workshop and it was really interesting). Sit in a comfortable place. Close your eyes and concentrate on one body part or organ in your body. A lot of people choose the heart because it’s an easy one. Focus on what the heart is (most likely) doing right now. As you breathe deeply, expand your focus to something else that is bigger than and is surrounding your heart (i.e. your skin). Take a few breaths while you focus on that. Next, re-focus on your heart. Then expand out to another layer—maybe this time it’s to the room you’re sitting in (with eyes still closed). Breathe deeply while you focus on the room for several seconds (up to a minute or…however long you feel like it). Next, refocus on your heart, and then go to something bigger than the room (the house?). Keep doing this—go back and forth from your heart to the next bigger layer outside of you (yard, neighborhood, town, state….all the way out to the solar system if you want to). You don’t have to do it for a long time—5-10 minutes would be a great start.
What do you think? Are you in a habit of dissociating during your daily life? How could you turn that around and become more aware and connected to your mind and body?