Mountain Chic

Reflections and observations on culture, food, style and travel

KarmaYogaMeditating (1)

I walked into my first yoga class in 1996.  I had just graduated from college, and I was curious about yoga practice.  I can’t say I sought out the discipline because I was interested in mindfulness –  I was too young to understand or appreciate that.  I was attracted to the physicality of yoga.  I’d been a gymnast for 13 years when I was growing up, and I missed the acrobatics of the sport.  I thought I’d be able to do similar stunts in yoga.  Plus, at 5’1″ and because of the aforementioned gymnastics, I build muscle incredibly easily and was always searching for ways to supposedly “lengthen” my muscles.

I kept this attitude – that yoga was entirely about the physical postures – until I enrolled in yoga teacher training in 2010.  Until that point, whenever I went to a yoga class and the instructor encouraged me to “relax and let it all go” during savasana or told me, as I was lying on my back, to pull my knees to my chest and “give myself a big hug”, I cringed inside.  I hated that part of yoga.  I didn’t want to get quiet and focus on my breath.  Just get me into crow, into handstand, into scorpion.  Give me double the core work, not just one set.  And as I did my best to compete on my mat, checking out the talents of the yogis around me and muscling to be better, I’d either feel shamefully smug or sadly inferior.

One afternoon in my training program, our meditation teacher, Santi Devi, coached us through a guided meditation I will never forget.  It’s going to sound incredibly woo-woo, but Santi instructed us to chant Om again and again in unison as a group – I think it was for 10 minutes or so, but it felt like 30 seconds.  It was the first time in my life that I completely forgot who or where I was.  I entered the state of no-thought so coveted by yogis for centuries.  The experience was even more exhilarating than the first time I nudged myself into scorpion pose.


{Not my scorpion! Image credit: LoveYogaBalance}

I haven’t entered that state too many times since, even though that one taste of total immersion in meditation has encouraged my meditation practice and commitment to quieting my mind on a regular basis.  Yogis teach that through yoga and meditation we are constantly striving for the state of samadhi: complete focus, stillness and mindfulness – total absorption and joy in your meditation, a perfect balance of thought and no-thought.  It’s very difficult to go there, and requires discipline and practice outside the realm of meditation, focusing on everything from diet to schedule to physical activity.

Recently, I downloaded an app called Mindfulness to help me stay focused when the chatter in my mind is just too loud.  One 7-minute meditation by Sharon Salzberg, titled “Letting go of Thought”, has had a particularly strong impact on me recently.  As is common in guided meditation, Salzberg instructs to notice the breath.  But my favorite, simple directive she gives is to notice whenever you have a thought, of any kind, simply think to yourself, “Not breath.”  Not breath.  Not breath.  Not breath.  As in, “This doesn’t concern me.  This is not breath.  Therefore, it is not the now.”  I’ve found myself when frustrated driving in my car, negotiating with my toddler, running throughout my day, stopping to notice what is breath and what is simply not breath.  Taking time to regroup by noticing breath/not breath brings me closer to that moment of total absorption and joy in the present.  Not quite samadhi, but happier, more peaceful, more grounded.

If you’re interested in meditation and would like a little guidance, I highly recommend the Mindfulness app. Meditations can be as short as 3 minutes long and through some of the in-app purchases ($0.99/each) you have access to some of the most well-known and respected meditation teachers in the world, like Salzberg.  A minutes-long meditation investment in the morning can provide hours of fruitful return in the form of increased happiness, patience and productivity.  Give it a shot!

5 thoughts on “On Meditation: Breath / Not Breath

  1. Colette says:

    I like the new direction!


  2. Craig says:

    I meditate daily for 15 or 20 minutes. It is the one habit that has truly changed my life more than any other. Great post


    1. lissa says:

      Thanks for the comment, Craig. I totally agree! Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jenn says:

    Love this post Lissa!


  4. Wendy L says:

    I’m having my students, guided by our fabulous counseling secretary and core power instructor, engage in meditation and simple yoga postures during class break. My AP Lit kids are totally hooked!

    Liked by 1 person

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