Think you can’t meditate? Think again.

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This is what I try to envision when I meditate — a screen of static.

“I’m terrible at meditation.”

“I can’t meditate.”

“I don’t do meditation right.”

“My mind wanders too much when I try to meditate.”

Those were all things I’ve said at different points in my life. I knew people who meditated, I knew people got a lot out of meditation, I have had meditation “assignments.” But finally, finally, in taking my own journey and my own path to meditation, I’m settling into a practice.

For me, it’s like anything — it takes practice. I practice the piano to get better. If I write every day, writing is going to get easier and flow better. If I run most days a week, I’m going to be a better runner.

I’ve been meditating most mornings. I started short, just 2-3 minutes. But after a while, that became easier — those minutes went by quickly instead of plodding along like they did when I started. This morning for the first time I meditated for 5 minutes.

Yes, my mind wanders. My mind wanders on my mat, too. But instead of giving up, I bring myself back to the moment. Some days I have to do this countless times. Other days, I’m more present. Whatever is going on that day is “right.”

Another cool thing is happening: I’m viewing my Ashtanga practice as meditation rather than physical. I had always viewed it as physical — it’s a challenging and demanding practice, which takes a lot of physicality. I used to measure my progress by my strength and ability to get into poses. But lately, I am experiencing how the physical is a path to the meditation, not an end unto itself. This is bringing a new level of meaning and excitement to my practice.

What are your experiences with meditation?

Love your practice and show up

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Photo Credit: c3lsius_bb Flickr via Compfight cc

From Kino MacGregor’s The Power of Ashtanga Yoga:

“Many people assume that because they cannot easily bend their bodies into the pretzel-like positions of the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series that this method is not for them. The sole qualification for the practice of Ashtanga Yoga is to love your practice and to ‘show up’ on your mat as much as possible. It does not matter what level of asana you perform, because the inner work of yoga is fueled by the authentic search for inner peace.”

Since June 8, I’ve showed up to my mat much more than I ever have in the past 16 years since I was first introduced to Ashtanga. I show up on my mat most mornings. Do I spent a ton of time on the mat? No. Most mornings at least 20 minutes. Only about one morning a week am I showing up for 30-45 minutes. But this is a vast improvement over other years when I didn’t even have a home practice and was doing Ashtanga only when I showed up to a led class 3-4 times a month.

Moving forward, I’d like to increase the time of my home practice to at least 30 minutes most mornings and to get back into doing the full series at least once a week.

My major challenge right now is motivation. I’ve hit the low point of the semester — long days at the office with lots of meetings and advisee appointments. This means that prep work and grading is happening in the evening when I get home and the weekends. It’s been hard to get up in the mornings knowing I have such a full day ahead. But that is exactly the time to bump up my practice.

I have the excuse of teaching yoga two mornings a week, which forces me out of bed. When class is over, I spend 20-30 minutes on the primary series finishing poses plus some cardio work. If I didn’t have to get up to teach, I think I’d probably opt for staying in bed as long as possible. I hope once I get past this busy time at work, I will feel more motivated.

How do you stay motivated for working out or for your yoga practice?

Done! Thank God!

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It was a beautiful day for a marathon!

I had A LOT of time to think while I was running the Mankato Marathon on October 21, lol! I finished in over five hours. It wasn’t my slowest marathon; it wasn’t my fastest. But it was MY marathon.

The longer I do this running thing (almost 30 years at this point), the more I see the parallels between running and other areas of my life. The following similarities jump out at me as I reflect upon the marathon.

The wind won’t always be at your back…

October 21 was a chilly day — around 30 degrees at the start. I’ve done a Mankato Marathon run each of the nine years except for one, and this was the coldest start I could remember. It wasn’t so much the cold, but that wind. It was blowing out of the south at about 15-20 mph. In the marathon course, runners go south on a two-mile stretch of Monks Avenue twice. The run starts on Monks, and while I could feel the cold wind, there were still plenty of other runners around because it’s also the start of the half-marathon course. I could do a bit of drafting at least. But the second stretch is at miles 14-16. These miles are typically my worst of any marathon, just from a mental perspective. You’re halfway done, but you still have a long ways to go. Those miles almost beat me. My 3-minute run, 1-minute walk plan went out the window. I thought I would have to sit on the side of the road and really think about if I wanted to go on. But other than the wind, I was feeling OK, and it would be silly to give up. So I pushed through.

It’s your race…

I say this all the time. I won’t stop saying it. I’m not going to win a marathon so I’m not competing against anyone, only myself. If I decide that I did the best I could that day, then I’m satisfied. And I’m really satisfied with my run that day. My goal was to finish, and finish comfortably, and I did that. But in the days after the run, the first question I got many times was “What was your time?” There are more measures of success than that. Better questions would be “How did you feel?” or “How did it go for you?” or “Did you set out to accomplish what you wanted to?”

Push through and reap the rewards…

The best part for me of running a marathon is the feeling the next day and in the days after. Yes, I’m usually sore, so that’s not the feeling I’m talking about! It’s the feeling of lying in bed the next morning, ready to get up, and thinking “I did it.” There were times last week at work when things weren’t going well or I was frustrated but I could think back to the marathon and reclaim that feeling of accomplishment. All that work all summer, all those long runs in the heat and humidity, in the rain, running when I didn’t feel like it, squeezing in a run among fifty other things to do that day, all came together to get me through five-plus hours on October 21. It was worth it.

What’s worth it in your life? What do you put so much work into in order to reap rewards?

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Is that a grimace or a smile? LOL! This is around Mile 22. My friend Rick lives near the trail and he took the picture. He also took a picture of me in 2010 when I first ran this course! It’s now a little tradition! 

Stop minimizing your accomplishments (and yourself)

 

 

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How often do you minimize your accomplishments?

If you’re a woman, I’d guess the answer is pretty often.

I went through a women’s leadership training a couple of years ago and now my ears are open to how often women put themselves down or minimize themselves.

I’ve seen it crop up over and over the past few weeks in regards to running events.

In Minnesota, we just finished a couple of big running events: The Twin Cities Marathon and the Mankato Marathon. I know several people who took part in both.

As with most marathons, besides the full 26.2 mile run, there are other distances to choose from as well — 10 miles (Twin Cities Marathon) or 13.1, 6.2, or 3.1 (Mankato Marathon).

I have heard several women, when asked what distance they are doing, respond with, “Oh, I’m only doing the 10K” or “I’m only doing the 10-miler” or “I’m only doing the half.” As if doing a distance less than the full is something to minimize.

No matter the distance — 3.1 miles, 6.2 miles, 10 miles, 13.1 miles, 26.2 miles — you are out there running. Own it and be proud of it.

I posted this on Facebook a couple of days ago and it received 19 comments. I think it hit a nerve. Many women said something like “thanks for the reminder.” Many women also said they were guilty of saying something similar.

Your biggest competitor is yourself. Don’t look to others to gauge your self-worth. What you choose to do with your body, and how you move it, is your choice.

Run away? Or confront?

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My favorite place of tranquility: Artists’ Point, Grand Marais, Minnesota. Photo by author.

At the end of the Ashtanga prep class I’ve been teaching at SunMoon Yoga Studios, I like to read a short passage while students are in savasana. I usually read from Kino MacGregor’s The Power of Ashtanga Yoga.

Last Thursday I read this:

“The asanas work first on a practice level to burn through the toxins in the physical, emotional, and energetic bodies The poses also work to change the basic hardwiring of the mind. Normally, when we confront difficult situations, we want to run away. If we encounter a scary memory, we often want to bury it. The pattern, while totally natural, is not effective at creating a truly happy, healthy life. Yoga trains the mind to stay in places of difficulty instead of running away and developing protective measures. In yoga, there is no room for defense mechanisms. In fact, the yoga poses are designed to strip away every protective layer you may have developed to reveal the inner purity at the heart of your being.”

Ashtanga, like most physical endeavors, is a challenging practice. I have never been on a run or a bike ride or done an Ashtanga practice and said, “Wow, that was easy today!” Part of the reward upon completing physical exertion is the satisfaction in knowing that you pushed yourself in a difficult situation.

What do we find challenging on an emotional or mental level? There’s a tendency to push it away and not want to go there, just like there’s a tendency to stay on the couch or stay in bed rather than move your body.

Because Ashtanga yoga is done in silence, with the focus on the audible breath, it creates a meditative state as you challenge your body in the asanas. Running and cycling for me also have a mind-clearing quality, but not as much as Ashtanga does.

We often turn toward more destructive habits when we don’t want to confront difficult thoughts and emotions. I have been guilty of this, but I find that since I’ve been practicing Ashtanga regularly I’m not running away from myself and I’m treating myself better. It’s a slow process — I’ve only been practicing regularly for about four months — but I am hopeful for continued growth and strength. For me, and for all of you, be patient and kind to yourselves and trust the process, whatever that may be.

Yoga’s inner story and outer story

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Photo Credit: davidstewartgets Flickr via Compfight cc 

It can be easy to see what’s on the surface. But what’s beneath? That’s often the key to unlocking understanding.

My theme for my memoir/yoga workshop this weekend is inner story and outer story.

Inner story and outer story is usually the first thing I talk about when I give memoir workshops. A memoir that just stays at the surface — this happened, then this happened, here’s what I looked like, here’s what our house looked like, etc. — doesn’t have any substance. Writers have to dive deep within themselves to discover what all those things meant. How did it change the writer? What transformation took place because of those events?

Writing the inner story is difficult because it takes time and contemplation. We may know we have an outer story, but perhaps we haven’t spent a lot of time articulating on the page what it meant or how it changed our lives. At least that was my case when I wrote my memoir. I knew I had a unique story in that my dad was a gravedigger, but until I started to write I didn’t realize exactly how that upbringing impacted my life. The thinking-to-writing ratio while I was working on the memoir was definitely skewed toward the thinking!

This is why I’m so excited to do this yoga/memoir workshop. Yoga lends itself to looking inward and contemplation. There’s the physical practice of yoga, what we see. If we practice regularly we may see changes to our body — more defined muscles, increased strength, new flexibility. If we let our practice sit there on the outside, like a memoir, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it can be so much more.

It’s when your mind and body are strong when the real transformation occurs. As Kino MacGregor writes in The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: “Strength in yoga is an integration of the sum of the body, mind, and soul in a way that gives access to something much larger than any individual part.”

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Kino MacGregor, Ashtanga practitioner and founder of OMStars yoga TV network. Photo from @kinoyoga on Instagram.

For memoir, the strength is in the combination of outer story and inner story. To borrow Kino’s words, that is going to give access to something much larger than the individual parts.