Can’t meditate? Just relax
It happened sometime recently – maybe in the last six months, or a year – that everyone I know started meditating. Or at least they talked about the desire to meditate. Some used apps like Headspace; others just put on trippy music and zoned out. A few went to events put on by Medi Club, a kind of meditation-cum-social group.
“Mindfulness,” we’re calling it, this desire to take a chunk of each day and simply live in the present.
I need some of that calm and focus in my life. I have a tendency to either live in paranoia about the future or dwell on the foibles of the past. Besides, I have never met a fitness or health or beauty or wellness trend I didn’t want to participate in. My old set of Tae Bo VHS tapes are slowly decomposing in a garage in California.
Left on my own, meditation time turns into nap time, so I knew I needed some organisation and supervision. I had heard that meditation studios are the new yoga studios, and I was intrigued. Most of the classes are 45 minutes, which is about 44 minutes longer than I have ever successfully meditated.
I went to a studio on a freezing weeknight. Inside it is sleek, with blond woods and white walls, but with a certain cosiness – think free tea and a living-room-like area to read – sort of like a particularly well-appointed Airbnb.
My first official foray was an hourlong sound bath led by Sara Auster, a yoga and, according to her website, certified sound therapy practitioner. Sound baths are like listening to a concert while in savasana, the resting pose at the end of yoga. The idea is that the sound therapist plays resonant instruments like crystal and Himalayan singing bowls, tuning forks, gongs and bells that help you relax and clear your mind.
Immediately I struggled with my less-than-zen urges. I went to go find the bathroom, leaving a pair of socks on one of the blankets that had been arranged around the room like a slumber party. When I got back, a woman had taken my spot and moved my socks across the room. The fact that this annoyed me made me think I really needed meditation.
The sounds Auster played alternated between droning and tinkling; though not melodic like music, they were pleasant to listen to. My mind slipped from the present to the usual reel of issues: deadlines, arguments, grocery lists, but I always came back to the sounds. Someone elsewhere in the room faintly snored for a spell.
Afterward, I felt so sleepy I couldn’t even bring myself to take the subway home and hailed the first cab I found. I slept well that night.
A few weeks later, after receiving the kind of angry email that usually makes me take to my bed for the rest of the day, I headed back to the meditation studio for an afternoon class, this time with a teacher named Anne Kenan.
She instructed us to bring ourselves back to the room whenever our minds wandered. And we were off. I closed my eyes and found myself picturing one of Gerhard Richter’s candle paintings. When I started thinking of the emails looming in my inbox, I would redirect myself to the room, breathe and whisper to myself, “I’m back.”
After 20 minutes, Kenan said that when our minds wandered we should just lightly touch the thought and see “how our hearts felt.” A friend who popped into my mind felt slippery, like what I imagine a dolphin’s fin feels like. I wasn’t sure if this was what she had in mind.
At the 30-minute mark, we all shared our experiences. “I felt a kind of synesthesia,” I said.
A girl who introduced herself as Beetle (or maybe Beatle?), nodded. What I didn’t say: Sometimes I felt scared, sometimes I felt as if I was going to start crying, and the entire time I felt self-conscious about how often I was shifting my cross-legged position on the pillow.
The next day I was ready for something shorter, so I tried Mndfl’s at-home video series. There are meditations sorted by specific teacher, style (breath, energy) or length of time (starting at one minute).
I sat on my living-room carpet cross-legged in front of my laptop. My dog, who needs no coaching on how to live in the moment, sat next to me. I chose a five-minute class on emotions from Megan Mook, another meditation instructor, who was shown seated in front of a lush planted wall and has equally lush, enviable hair. She instructed me to get comfortable, and to breathe.
For five minutes, I finally managed to do nothing more than that.
New York Times
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