In any given day, there are 20 different things on the to-do list, and 30 other thoughts racing around on projects yet to come. In a culture that encourages multi-tasking and an ever-accelerating pace of life, there doesn’t seem to be time in the day to breathe.
However, many are starting to see the benefits in slowing down. Yoga and meditation have become mainstream practices to take a step back during the day and observe your body and your thoughts.
“Mindfulness meditation is the most primary and easiest way to transform experience. You get clearer mentally, and have an immediate positive impact,” says Heather Ritenour-Sampson, a yoga instructor and owner of her own yoga practice Durgamama.
Heather has learned the importance of meditation through her own experiences. “Meditation teaches us to be present with an experience. It’s the ability to bring awareness to one thing, to be in one place at a time,” she explains. Heather is studying to become a mindfulness meditation instructor. Mindfulness meditation requires focus on the physical sensations throughout the body as the practitioner sits with their thoughts.
Heather explained this process through an exercise. As we sat in a corporate conference room, she had me close my eyes and begin breathing. Focusing on my breath, she led me through my body by telling me to focus on specific areas. “Your ears. You might hear my voice. You might be listening to the shuffling of people outside the door.” She had me focus on sensory information my body was processing, the main focus of mindfulness meditation. “Your neck; maybe it’s sore.” Focus on the feelings and not my thoughts behind them.
As simple as these instructions were, meditation had suddenly become more complicated than I had thought. We moved to the chest, soon the thighs, then the ankles and feet. I sat on the hardened plastic chair attempting to completely let myself experience a mindful meditation, but that blister I got from my flats yesterday was throbbing, taking up my attention. I got angry because I specifically remember buying that pair of flats thinking I could avoid blisters by wearing tights. Suddenly, I realized the train of thought that had taken away my focus and I became even more frustrated. I opened my eyes.
Heather herself later admitted that this kind of meditation isn’t easy. “I’m not good at sitting still for long periods of time and not thinking.” Mindfulness meditation, however, doesn’t require the practitioner to suddenly be devoid of thought. What Heather and so many other meditation practitioners want others to focus on is the sensation itself. “Notice and allow.” Heather made sure to repeat these words as she talked about the importance of removing oneself from the multi-tasking brain. “It’s a myth that you have to sit still and not think about anything. It’s about not giving your thoughts so much power. They’re real but not true.”
I closed my eyes again and just repeated the words in my head, “Pain. Pain. Pain.” as my mind calmed and rested on the awareness of my ankles. “Just label your thoughts and allow them to be there,” Heather repeated. Admittedly, this thought process was a little uncomfortable. In a society consumed with the fast-paced, many would find the idea of focused thought and meditation unsettling, but there’s more to mindfulness meditation than that. “It’s not going to work if you tell yourself to calm down. You have to be okay with the discomfort, because we’re hardwired to look for problems and look for what’s not right,” explains Heather. I can remove the consuming nature of that multi-tasking brain and allow the feelings in my body to simply be noticed. Notice. Allow.
As I continued to practice this mindfulness meditation, Heather spoke of the benefits she finds in her meditation practice. She recounted a story about breaking a glass cabinet door in her kitchen, an act that would send anyone off the edge. “I repeated, ‘I’m good, I’m happy, I’m worthy,’ and I forgave myself.” By practicing the art of removing herself from her wild trains of thought, Heather was able to realize that the action does not define her. “At times I have more of a capacity for creativity and patience. I have a lot more capacity to forgive myself for my failures; for being human.” She has learned to forgive herself for the small things. How many would have carried the frustration and shame of breaking the cabinet door with us throughout the rest of the day?
“Meditation helps with conflict resolution, stress management. It has helped me live a joyful life.” Meditation, though a simple act that many overlook, might need to start becoming a staple in a world full of chaotic thoughts. All you need to do is notice and allow.