French Riviera International Village in Cannes, France
I’ve started paying more attention to being mindful. I’m not sure why or where this started, but I’m intrigued, and it doesn’t come naturally. I’m a highly motivated, type-A, anxious type of person. I like being busy, I know that sounds crazy to some people, but it is just what I feel inside. Watching my oldest on a daily basis makes me realize that she must feel the same way. This trait we share serves us very well, we usually set our mind to do something and achieve it. I’ve done almost everything I’ve ever set my mind to do, and I imagine my kid will be the same way. It is awesome, I know she will be successful in whatever she decides to do. The drawback to this trait, is that we both have a hard time slowing down, and smelling the roses, and relaxing, living in the moment. Sometimes this can cause anxiety, and trust me, it is not fun, at all. Your heart starts racing, which makes you feel sick, you feel a bit panicky, sometimes you can’t sleep. I want to make a change in my life, and also help my kid have the necessary tools to handle any situation she faces in her future. All we can do is give them the tools. So I decided to interview my good friend, Gwen Williamson. She is a brilliant lawyer in Washington D.C., and has been working on meditation and yoga for over 3 years now. She has completely turned her world around using these techniques, and I wanted to know how she did it, and hopefully teach myself a few tips and tricks along the way.
Question: Tell me about your specific version of meditation – how long do you meditate, how does it work?
Answer: I don’t do a lot of sitting with my legs crossed meditating like the hare krishnas! But there are several ways that I engage meditation on a regular basis:
- The first is through traditional vinyasa yoga. At the beginning and end of every yoga class there is a meditative time in which you close your eyes, center yourself in the present and in your body, with the ground beneath supporting you fully, breathe deeply (in through the nose out through the mouth, and set an intention for your practice. The breathing should be slow and deep, and longer on the exhale. Like 4 counts in and 8 counts out. This makes it so that the entire yoga practice is a kind of meditation, where your mind is clear and focused only on the immediate present and the link of your breath and thoughts to the movement of your body.
- There are other special types of yoga that are not the typical asanas (poses) and workout.
- Yoga nidra, for example, is a restorative yoga practice where you curl up in various comfy poses with blankets and bolsters and close your eyes while the instructor guides you to contemplative/meditative trance. It’s EXTREMELY relaxing.
- Bhakti yoga is another trance-like meditative state that is really cool – it is musical and a nice little meditative experience. It’s a call and response chanting kind of thing, and you can do it in a class with actual musicians or just have a cd on while you’re working on something else – you’ll be amazed how the rhythm builds and how the almost solemn but also invigorating notes calm you down and put you in a more present, less anxious state.
- Another cool yoga class is a chakra breathing workshop – basically for 45 minutes you stand up and bounce with your eyes closed while breathing in time with this music that gets increasingly faster until you are breathing very fast, then the music/breath cycles back down to slow and you build back up again in speed. It is amazing….as the speed builds you try to focus on the various chakras and what they are telling you, what they have given to you, what they might need you to do for them. It’s really very awesome and kind of life changing.
- Another meditation I use is called Teflon Mind, and it’s kind of indistinguishable from general mindfulness, but it takes effort, as all meditation does, so I’ll include it here. Think of your mind like a teflon coated pan. When you put meat or vegetables or whatever in a teflon coated pan, they slide around, slip and slide right off. Nothing sticks, that’s the whole point. When practicing Teflon Mind, try to think of your mind like the surface of a teflon coated pan. Ideas, thoughts, feelings (ANXIETY), they come into the pan just like the meat and vegetables. But the anxious ideas, thoughts, and feelings don’t have to stick anymore than the food does. Let them pass through. I try very heard to notice worrisome thoughts for just what they are: worrisome thoughts and nothing else. And to let them pass through my mind. Ok worrisome thought, I see you, I hear you, I acknowledge that you exist, now on and out with you, you have no power over me!
- Emergency fixes: This last method probably works the best for me, and this is to center yourself fully in the present by breathing deeply and then looking around and naming specifically 5 things you can see, 5 things you can hear, and 5 things you can physically feel. Then do 4 of each, 3 of each, 2 of each, and then 1 of each. After this I sometimes honestly cannot remember what it was I was so worried about.
Canyon Ranch in Tucson, AZ.
Question: Where did you learn how to meditate, or did you teach yourself? Where would you send newbies to learn?
Answer: I learned mostly from my yoga studio and from a therapist. Most yoga studios have some sort of basic meditation, guided meditation, or intro to meditation class. That’s what I would recommend, at least at first. It’s hard to do by yourself, especially if you’ve never had a guided meditation.
Question: What was the result of meditation for you? Do you feel better doing it, sleep better, become more mindful? How does this effect anxiety levels?
Answer: Meditation definitely helps with mindfulness, and yes I always feel better after doing it, whether for 30 seconds or 45 minutes. I think that the more regularly you do it, the more chance it has of reducing chronically high anxiety levels, but for me anyway I am always pretty chill for a good day or two after any intensive meditative practice such as yoga nidra or a chakra breathing workshop. What meditation and mindfulness together help you do, help me do anyway, is recognize and acknowledge what you are feeling/thinking and accept that and be kind to that part of yourself and then move on from it as opposed to kind of slugging along feeling like crap and not really knowing why.
Tree pose in Belgian crop circle
Question: Tell me the pros and cons of doing meditation.
Answer: I don’t think there really are any cons. People often feel like they aren’t doing it right, that they don’t get it or something. And that could be a bad thing because as far as I understand, it is a very difference experience for everyone and there is no one right or wrong way to do it. It takes a lot of practice just like anything else and no one should expect to be sitting there like Buddha right away, if ever.
Question: What do you personally do to stay healthy? I would love to hear about exercise here, too.
Answer: I mostly do yoga, although I have been wanting to try out zumba and this other workout that is set to Indian music, called doonya. I just can’t run anymore, so old! But I walk everywhere I go, which is what allows me to have a chocolate chip cookie here and there. 🙂 Mostly I eat healthily – you know, lots of fruit vegetables, not a whole lot of meat, no cheese really, plenty of protein from nuts and yogurt, lots of fiber and lots and lots of water.
Thank you, Gwen, for sharing your journey and wealth of knowledge about yoga with me and the readers here at Foodie Mama. I hope to try several of these this year. I’m still working on me!