WLVT: Can't Turn off your Brain? Try Yoga
As a full-time, work-at-home freelancer, it's tough to set boundaries between my work life and my home life. In fact, it's so hard I often have trouble turning off my brain at night. Instead, I toss and turn for hours before finally falling asleep, and inevitably wake up still tired.
With so many meditation classes and restorative workshops on the schedule for Wanderlust, my mission for the weekend was clear: figure out how to quiet the mental chatter and fall asleep at night.
I started with Steven Leonard's Friday afternoon class at the Quiet Place, a mix of both seated and walking meditation. As he began, he said people often told him they were bad meditators because they couldn't quiet their minds. He assured us, however, that switching off our brains wasn't the point. "The practice is to become more sensitive to what's happening," he said. He told us to be aware of the things we were feeling and hearing and noticing as we rooted down into our comfortable seated positions, and as we transitioned into our slow motion walk around our tent. "If we're really aware," he said, "all of life can be a meditation. Let awareness itself be the point."
I tried my darndest. As I sat on a meditation cushion, I noticed the breeze brushing my shoulder blades and the air conditioners whirring in the background. When we switched to walking meditation, I became absorbed in the way the grass felt under my feet and in the deliberateness of my stride. I thought to myself, maybe walking meditation is the perfect meditation for me!
But with this thought came a barrage of others: OMG. Am I going too slow for the person behind me? I can see their shadow. Am I going too quickly for the person in front of me? I seem to be catching up to them. I wonder if 15 minutes is almost up. Is 15 minutes almost up? And by the way, Steven Leonard looks sorta like Hugh Dancy. Hot. But am I failing at meditation if I'm meditating upon how attractive the teacher is? Argh! My brain's running wild again! Fail!
I finally cut myself some slack because I managed to keep my meditative cool — instead of flailing and screaming and causing a scene, as is my usual behavior — when confronted by a bee.
Final assessment: Walking meditation may not have been the answer I was looking for.
The next day, I kept things pretty active. After a morning talk at the Speakeasy, I took Seane Corne's Detox Flow. Then, in the afternoon, I tried out hoop vinyasa. (Observation: Yoga is hard. Hoop dancing is hard. Both of them together are harder.) Finally, after a quick wardrobe change, I got somewhat drunk at Winederlust. Almost without even noticing, I spent my day so focused on these various practices that my mind remained pretty quiet. At the end of the day, I passed out, no problem.
Still, Sunday was dedicated, once again, to my ultimate mission: inner calm. I kicked things off with a hip-opening restorative class with Jason Lawner. Which ended up being pretty atypical, as far as restorative classes go. "Something that can help settle us more," said Lawner, "is being more active." He then had us work up a sweat with numerous humble warriors and thigh-burning goddess poses. It began to dawn on me that the active work I'd been doing the day before had been closer to what I was seeking than I realized.
After that, I hurried over to Suzanne Sterling's "Sing Yourself Awake" class. I know. It sounds counterintuitive. But I had been curious about Sterling's work for awhile, and just had to check it out before my 12 p.m. meditation. It was only meant to be a blip on the way to what I was truly seeking.
Sterling started us out with some voice exercises to warm up the vocal cords, followed by some gentle vinyasa to warm up the body. Then, when she had us firmly planted in child's pose, she had us stretch our arms forward... and roll up our mats.
What followed was much like what I imagine a gospel revival to be. Actually, I'd go so far as to say that what transpired defied proper explanation or description. All I know is that, after an hour and a half of dancing, clapping, full-throated singing, and joyful prayer — with Sterling at the center of it all, banging gaily on her drum — I felt broken down, opened up, and fully focused on the present moment. As I wiped long strands of sweat-soaked hair off my cheeks, I realized I had actually been crying.
Afterward, I made my way, in a daze, to Jeannine Dietz's sound healing meditation class. During our time there, she used crystal singing bowls and gongs to balance our chakras as we lay back on our mats, propped up on bolsters. Near the end, she played the bowls over our bodies, allowing us to feel their vibrations. The whole session had me feeling as if I was being slowly rocked to sleep.
Still, Dietz said something that made me think back to the focus and freedom I'd found during Sterling's class, the intensity with which I'd moved through Seane Corn's Detox Flow, the deliberation with which I'd attempted my walking meditation.
"The past is history," she said. "The future is a mystery. The present is a gift."
I remembered how Leonard had said that all of life can be a meditation. That we had only to be aware of what we were experiencing in the present moment.
Yoga nidra. Singing bowls. Mala beads. I didn't need any of it.
I had to find the quiet inside of me.
~ Steph Auteri is a freelance writer, editor, and vinyasa yoga instructor. You can learn more about her at her two sites — stephauteri.com andyoga.stephauteri.com, follow her on her OMmygod Tumblr, or stalk her on Twitter.