STOP! Before you read this blog, go to this website.
And Do Nothing For Two Minutes.
Were you able to do it?
I found it very hard, and often have problems relaxing and quieting my brain.
For example, I just got home from yoga, and I feel great.
My good friend Kaitlin recommended Astoria’s Yoga Agora to me a long, long time ago, and I finally started going this week. First to a beginner’s class on Saturday, and tonight to a regular class.
And I loved it.
Let me be clear – I am not good.
I have little flexibility, and all sorts of fun folds of fat (breasts, thighs, stomach) that seem to get in the way of seemingly simple moves. And after Saturday, I was certainly in a lot of pain.
But I still loved it.
The people (instructors and fellow students) are nice, the studio is beautiful, and I feel like I am really learning something. Not just about yoga… but a sense of how my body works and what I can do to make it work better.
I am resolved to go at least two times a week from here on out, and am excited about the prospect.
However, my biggest road block came near the end of the class, when the class engaged in the Corpse pose (lying on your back with your eyes closed) and accompanying meditation. For the first few seconds, I was incredibly relieved to no longer be moving or contorting my body. For the next few, I enjoyed the calm. And then… well I couldn’t get my brain to shut up.
I started thinking about: … the next yoga class I could get to… who wants to go to see the Oscar-nominated shorts this weekend … the warmth of the room… then I would focus on breathing for 1-2-3…wow, its hard to concentrate… I wonder how long it will take to be able to get my hip flexer in shape…ok, let’s focus…apparently the brain can concentrate on 7 things at once, why can’t I focus on my breathing…1-2-3… when I get home I’m going to write a blog about how I couldn’t focus…. And so on…
I know this is not unusual at all.
In fact, it made me think of that the incredibly popular memoir Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
It took me a long time to get around to reading Eat, and really only did it because Robert picked it for our book club this past August. (Robert writes about his take on reading it here)
I had huge reservations about this book. Mostly because I really, really, really didn’t want to be seen reading Eat on the subway. Why?
I’m not entirely sure – first, I knew it was about spirituality in a touchy-feely way that I have a hard time with. And second, and probably more so, I think the book was just way too popular by the time I read it. I didn’t want to be seen as one of *those* women – the one’s who believe in the deep wisdom behind Oprah’s bookclub or somebody who only reads books that are becoming movies. (This is not to bash those who follow those trends, but that is how I felt.)
Indeed, I felt super awkward buying it. I walked into the the independent book shop near my work, and it wasn’t on the shelves, so I had to ask for it. And I got the look I was expecting from the hipster clerk behind the counter, so to counteract this, I bought two other books (one by the hysterical A.J. Jacobs and Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor – both excellent).
After that harrowing adventure to purchase, I finally began to read Eat:
I’m on the 1-train riding downtown from Morningside Heights. As it is 9:30am, the train is pretty crowded, and I am jostled left and right, but somehow keep my eyes glued on the text as I stumble around the car.
Gilbert found a way to compel me, yet be irritating at the same time.
Often I would ask myself, who is this woman? And why am I wasting my time reading what she has to say?
“One woman’s search for everything” – Everything, really? do you get to say that? isn’t that crazy?
But when I get off at 66th, I’m still engrossed (and still irritated).
I resume reading at the bus stop (now with an iced coffee and granola parfait), and am suddenly ok with the book.
This line: “Because God never slams a door in your face without opening a box of Girl Scout cookies…” (p22)
At no point did I become a Gilbert devotee, but I decided that if this woman can have this much sarcastic humor, then I will be ok with her. And I was for the majority of the book. (A few times I may have thrown it across the room, but I tried to practice restraint).
To get back to the original point, Gilbert resonated with me most when she discussed her troubles with meditation. I just tried to find the exact quote and failed but when Gilbert is in India, struggling with meditation, she exclaims:
“I’m not asking for an unexamined life, but how about an unexamined sandwich.”
That is what I want – for my brain and my worries to shut up long enough to enjoy a meal, or to meditate, or just focus on the present.
How do I get there?
I’m not sure, but I do know that one of my goals for this year will be to work very hard on meditation. And if anyone has any tips, please let me know!