When I started doing yoga, I wasn't looking for something to quiet my mind or help me find stillness in the city that never sleeps.
I Just Wanted To Hit People
I'd been playing roller derby for over two years, and due to my desire to have some free time again, I decided to retire. I knew that I couldn't go from skating four or five nights a week to doing nothing, though, so I starting looking into yoga classes. In my search for a studio, something caught my eye: Yoga Fight Club. Yoga meets kickboxing? Hell yeah! I knew that would be the place for me.
A Yogi Was Born
Yoga Fight Club came and went, but I was hooked. It took me years to realize, but the reason that I loved roller derby - and kickboxing - wasn't about hitting people at all. It's because when I was in those activities, I couldn't think about anything else. If my mind wandered off, even for a second, I could get hurt. I needed to empty my mind of everything else and have a point of focus. Roller derby and thwacking kickpads were an amazing way to do that.
That's meditation in action. It's not exactly ahimsa, but it's certainly yoga, if you consider the first of Patanjali's Sutras: yoga is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind.
But I don't want to sit in silence and not think about anything!
When we think about meditation, we tent to think about someone sitting in robes for hours on end, in a temple or on top of a high hill, emptying their mind of everything. At least, that was what I pictured before I started learning about meditation. And while that is one variety, there are countless others; it's not a one-size-fits-all practice.
I started learning about different types of meditation during my yoga teacher training, from staring intently at a candle's flickering flame, to focusing on the breath in various ways, to concentrating on sounds, to walking with awareness. As I sampled different styles each week, I began to learn what worked for me and what didn't. I began to develop a daily meditation practice, using the techniques that worked for me - not just futilely attempting to clear my mind of every single thought.
Rediscovering My Meditation Practice
After leaving New York, I quickly lost my discipline. I was on the road with a different schedule each day, and I stopped taking time to sit still. I would tell myself I didn't have five minutes a day somehow, even though I had plenty of time for other things. It wasn't until some upheavals in my life recently that I decided to find my way back. However, I realized that the type of meditation I practiced before - anapanasati, or feeling the breath at the point where it enters and exits through the nostrils - wasn't working anymore. And then, through the course of looking for something to teach as part of my restorative yoga class, I discovered metta meditation.
Metta - or loving-kindness - meditation is a style that focuses on sending good intentions out into the world. As I began a daily gratitudes practice a few months ago, this seemed to fit in beautifully. As I looked for the small joys in my own life, I could also direct it toward others. To do this, I send the same hope - "May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you live with ease." - to someone I love, to myself, to someone whom I view with indifference, and to someone whom I don't like. I picture each person clearly, and then concentrate on those sentiments. I conclude by visualizing my metta growing inside me as a giant cartoon red heart, and then expanding slowly until it envelops the globe.
It sounds so cheesy that I hesitate to say it, but my heart feels like the Grinch's growing every time I do this.
I don't know whether I'll ever be someone who can sit in silence for hours on end, but I do know that taking five or ten minutes a day is making a big difference.