Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Meeting Meditation and Yearning for Yoga

Last week I attended my first Zazen meditation lesson.

I’ve been wanting to do it for a while now – and have been dreaming about visiting an ashram in India next year during the Holi One Festival of Colors (6 March 2015) where I’d dedicate a week or so to meditating and doing yoga after experiencing the festivities. I feel a strong urge to fall back into spirituality after losing touch with it a lot over the last year.  
The last year I have been so focused on relationships and love, on travel and things that of course a girl craves but my soul is yearning for some spiritual enlightenment. 

I'm not saying what I have been solely focused on hasn't gotten me anywhere - hell, I've finally managed to find an absolute gem of a man who treats me like gold. So in that way I don't regret it at all - in fact, quite on the contrary, I feel so much more blessed than before. 

Now that a certain void has been filled however (love), I need to continue down my path of self-love and growth.

One of my New Year Resolutions (yip, that time is fast approaching us once again,) is to dedicate myself to weekly yoga and meditation - and this really shouldn't be as hard as it has been considering that there is conveniently a yoga / meditation studio INSIDE the building I work in. 

After my introductory session to meditation last week, I was pretty eager to pursue it. 

This was my experience: 

Day 1 - Tuesday 11th November:

I walked into the old, wooden 1926 hall to find a man eerily resembling Buddha sitting cross legged in the middle of the floor, perched up on a blanket and some pillows.
The room smelt like a mixture of cedarwood and a lotus flower - smoke from a lit incense stick drifting peacefully around the room.

The man, Kevin, gave me this warm wide-spread grin as I entered the hall cautiously on my tiptoes. He introduced himself, let me place my things down in the corner of the room and asked me to remove my shoes.

We started out with a few 'get-to-know-each-other' questions:
"Where are you from?"
"How did you hear about us?"

Slowly he invited me to sit on the second blanket and pillow which was facing him.
Instinctively I crossed my legs in the way I'd seen so many others' do while meditating and quickly developed a comfortable posture in my back. He was very happy with the way I sat - pleased that I wasn't slouching.
He then instructed me to place my hands close to my belly, left hand cupped in the right with my thumbs gently touching.
Now that we were in position I noticed the small clock that lay in the middle of us. The soft ticking and the way he continuously glanced down at it made me slightly nervous.
He told me we would be doing a sitting meditation, focusing on the breath. To eliminate any egotistical thoughts entering, he told me to count each breath until I got to ten, then restart.

So I inhaled.... One.
Exhaled... Two. 
While doing this he said we should look down, not necessarily at the clock.. not necessarily at anything.
'Don't Stare,' he told me. 'Just gently gaze at nothing.'

Kevin told me that I should try and breathe out longer than the breath in, which some find pretty difficult to do but I nailed it quickly.
Once he noticed that I had the hang of it he told me we would do this for a while. I wasn't sure how long, 'for a while,' was but I was keen for anything.

The first few counts to ten were the hardest. I kept fighting and batting thoughts from my head like I was warding off the plague -  thoughts like: 'Is this it?' ; 'What now?' ; 'Am I doing this correctly???' ; 'Am I even blinking!?' - I couldn't tell.  
All in all though, I managed to keep my count flowing smoothly.

Minutes went by... just in this gentle stare, inhaling and exhaling...... until eventually, I cracked.
I just burst out laughing.
But I couldn't help it!!! I really couldn't. I wanted to be respectful but just gazing at nothing until everything went fuzzy and counting to ten, focusing on this breathing technique that was making my chest go tight and giving my back this seriously uncomfortable hot sensation was WEIRD.

It seemed like he understood.
He was SO mellow and calm though that I couldn't really be sure.

He asked me how I found it and if I had any questions - which of course, being me, I did.... pretty straight-forward one's too.
"Don't your feet get pins and needles from sitting in one position like this all the time!?" I asked hopelessly, releasing my hands and fiddling with my toes to get some blood flowing back in them again.
He gave a soft chuckle and said, "At first, yes!" Basically meaning, you get used to it as time goes on. I guess it's like yoga in that sense. Slowly you become more supple and flexible and can easily get into positions that were once impossible for you.
"So,  how does this actually benefit you?" I asked... feeling unintentionally rude as soon as the words had escaped me.
"Good question," he smiled, a smile filled with wisdom. He spiraled off into a story - not about anyone in particular... but a story about being at peace as a person, about kindness and gentleness and gratification. He spoke about a deeper understanding and calmness that develops as you meditate, that lasts after the meditation is over. He made it sound beautiful - like a natural drug I had to have.

'You shouldn't think of meditation as something you gain something from... but rather something you loose something from,' he told me. 

Mind fuck. 
'What!?' I asked, utterly confused. 
'Buddha was asked, 'what have you gained from meditation?' and he replied, 'nothing!' However, Buddha said, 'Let me tell you what I have lost: Anger, Anxiety, Depression, Insecurity, Fear of Old Age and Death.' 
That's when I understood. 

"Do this seated breathing exercise for ten minutes every day until next week Tuesday, then attend our group meditation. I want you to email me if you have any problems. I look forward to seeing how you found it," Kevin said to me before I shook his hand and left.

I left feeling good - calm, but not changed.
That's the wrong way to look at it though, isn't it?

Day 2 Wednesday 12th November:

The next evening after work, I showered and changed into cozy, oversized clothing before throwing a few pillows on the floor and sitting cross-legged.
Kevin had told me to put the stop-watch on my phone on to know when ten minutes was up which seemed very un-spiritual but there wasn't really another option.
So I pressed start and started on a deep inhale.

Again, I was able to keep a good hold on my counting while focusing on my breathing. It's a good technique I will admit.
The 10 minutes went by smoothly, without a hitch and if I'm honest I found it easier to do it alone because I didn't feel a worry creeping up on me of looking silly and wondering what I was doing and why. (There's those egotistical thoughts slipping in again....)
After the ten minutes were up I felt immensely more relaxed and padded downstairs to the kitchen where I poured a glass of chilled white wine, cooked some cottage pie and babysat my gorgeous nephew for a few hours.
I wasn't worried about feeling 'changed,' or 'different.' I was just stoked to feel a layer of calmness hug around me like a soft blanket. It felt good.

Day 3 Thursday 13th November:
I really wanted to get up bright and early and do today's meditation in the morning. My evening was destined to be busy with an hours drive through to my man after work, followed by dinner with his dad and his dads girlfriend before we meandered on to the cinema to watch Gone Girl (movie review coming soon!)

Buuut I still had 50 pages to finish of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (book review coming even sooner!) so I woke up at 05h30, made a cup of coffee and huddled under my blankets to devour the rest of the book before the visit to the cinema in the evening.

Day 4 Friday 14th November:

Waking up with Sam placing a cup of honey sweetened tea in my hand this morning was wonderful. We snuggled in bed and spoke about what dreams we'd had the night before.
He left the house before me to get to karate so I wanted to spend some time meditating before work.... buuut.... I got caught up writing Sam a little love note for our 2 month anniversary.

So.... so far meditations been a bit of a flop.

It's not that I don't want to do it, but I'm struggling to find the time. This is why it is a New Years RESOLUTION and GOAL

At least I'm trying.... kind of.

Day 5 Saturday 15th November:

Fail... today was miserable weather. Sam and I trudged to the bottle store where we splurged on three bottles of red wine before heading home with four rented movies and a playstation game involving lego StarWars characters, built a blanketed den upstairs and had a very lazy day keeping warm indoors.

After demolishing about two bottles of wine we decided it would be a fabulous idea to go down to the beach (in the pouring rain!) and sit on the rocks to watch the waves which were about eight foot! I'd never seen waves that big up close before. It was AMAZING. 

We returned to the house drenched and refreshed, laughing and ready to open the next bottle of red. 

Day 6 Sunday 16th November:

Sam and I celebrated our two month anniversary by exploring Mossel Bay today. We had a delicious Graça soaked, sea-food lunch at a little wooden shack above the ocean called The Sea Gypsy.

We trekked the limestone caves of The Cradle of Humankind, which is a world heritage site where the oldest human remains were once found. It is said that it was here where life began. 

The views of the seven foot, meaty waves forming perfect barrels in the stormy ocean were beautiful. 
The crisp, citrus flavored chilled Graça was divine.
Our chocolate coated road-trip filled with stops along the highway to pick wild edible mushrooms that had popped out after the rain was so much fun. 

Sam's been teaching me how to live off the land. It is absolutely fascinating to learn about what is available to us if we just look. We're actually planning on writing a book together about mushroom picking and identification in South Africa. A little project we'll begin in the new year.

Needless to say... no meditation was done today. 

I got home mid-day where I uncorked another bottle of wine or two and enjoyed a few hours watching Cougar Town, devouring a tub of dark chocolate and berry Magnum ice cream with my sister-in-law and popping pop corn in an oil soaked pot. 

Heavenly Sunday, indeed.

Day 7 Monday 17th November:

After sleeping for about ten hours with my cat curled into my tummy and my dog acting as a hot water bottle at my feet - I finally had some time to meditate once I had risen from the dead this morning. 

I found that meditating this morning, still in my pj's, was so much easier. In fact, I think I enjoyed meditating more in the morning than I did in the evenings. I didn't feel as silly as I previously had but I did notice that my mind was BUSY. It's a pretty strange technique, to just gaze at nothing and count to ten as you inhale and exhale deeply, focusing on breathing. 
I can keep up with the counting as well and still be thinking of a million other random things that come into my head.

I decided to email Kevin and ask him for advice on my waging battle with my own thoughts. 
He told me that some days will be like this while others will be easier. He said that if you notice this happening then you simply re-direct your thoughts to the sensation of your breathing. 

Day 8 Tuesday 18th November:

Today I had been invited to attend the group meditation session with Kevin and his other students. 

I met with Kevin for about a half hour before the rest of the class arrived so that we could catch up and see how things had been going. After a brief chat, I helped him set up the class by placing blankets and pillows around the room. He told me that the set-up of meditation is very important and must be done in a certain way... he kept on refolding the blankets I put down because I wasn't doing it correctly. It made him and his son laugh. It made me blush. 


One by one, people dressed in loose-fitting, colorful cotton clothing piled in and introduced themselves. An old woman that must have been in her mid 70's who sounded like she was from somewhere in Europe, a man not far behind her age-wise dressed in hippie attire to perfection, a girl that looked like she must be in her early thirties with a tight bob of blonde hair, my old wiry-haired English teacher from college wearing a black t-shirt with a big purple 'Om' symbol on the front, Kevin's wife, Kevin's son and another curly haired woman who looked as though she'd come in her pajama's. 

A candle was lit in the middle of the room and a small discussion took place after we all took our seat on our pillows above the blankets. 
The candle had been lit as one of the other students from the group couldn't make it because her family members were in critical condition in hospital. It was a lovely touch and very thoughtful. 

Kevin then banged a wooden stick he calls a Keisaku, which began our meditation. I got a heads up that we'd be doing this seated meditation for 25 minutes. Now that there were plenty people around me, I couldn't help but be distracted. I wanted to look around and see how they were all doing it. Some were staring at nothing, as I was instructed to do. Others had their eyes closed. I tried this but it made me feel so sleepy that I decided to keep my eyes focused on the flame dancing around the wick of the candle in the center of the room. 
By 20 minutes in, I was twisting and squirming my feet around as quietly as possible, trying to bring some life back into them. I didn't know how everyone else couldn't be laughing at me. 
I also kept on glancing up at the old woman in her 70's, wondering if she was still awake. This meditation made me sleepy as hell - but she looked so blissed out in her own world.

The Keisaku was beaten against Kevin's hand and we were told the stretch our legs before standing in a line. Lacing your fingers through each other we were told to walk and meditate, going around the room about a pace behind the person in front of you. 
This I did NOT understand. I didn't get the point of it and I felt like a dufus. 
We did this for ten minutes and then I nearly collided with the woman in her pj's when we suddenly stopped at our blanket and pillow. 
We all sat back down and started another 25 minutes of seated meditation. By now, after that strange walking exercise I was starting to have my doubts. 
I could do this at home - yes I liked the surroundings and it was nice to see other people taking it seriously but I just didn't understand the walking thing. It bugged me a lot. 
The sitting meditation I could get used to. It made me relax and come to a tranquil state of mind that I enjoyed. 
The next 25 minutes of seated meditation was actually a lot easier. My feet weren't cramping up and getting pins and needles as quickly and I was already so relaxed and in the vibe. 

When the Keisaku was finally beaten again we stretched out our legs and were giving chanting books. 

We did two chants, one being the English Heart Sutra Mantra which made me want to die of laughter. This is what it was:

When Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara practised the deep Prajnaparamita, he saw that the five skandhas were empty; thus he overcame all ills and suffering. 

"O Sariputra! Form does not differ from the void, and the void does not differ from the form. Form is the void, and the void is form. The same is true for feelings, conceptions, impulses and consciousness. 

O Sariputra, the characteristics of the void is not created, not annihilated, not impure, not pure, not increasing, not decreasing. 

Therefore, in the void there are no forms and no feelings, conceptions, impulses and no consciousness: there is no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind; there is no form, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea; no eye elements, until we come to no elements of consciousness; no ignorance and also no ending of ignorance, until we come to no old age and death; and no ending of old age and death. 

Also, there is no truth of suffering, of the cause of suffering, of the cessation of suffering or of the path. There is no wisdom, and there is no attainment whatsoever. Because there is nothing to be attained, a Bodhisattva relying on Prajnaparamita has no obstruction in his heart. Because there is no obstruction he has no fear, and he passes far beyond all confused imagination and reaches Ultimate Nirvana. 

All Buddhas in the past, present and future have attained Supreme Enlightenment by relying on the Prajnaparamita. Therefore we know that the Prajnaparamita is the great magic Mantra, the great Mantra of illumination, it is the supreme Mantra, the unequaled Mantra which can truly wipe out all suffering without fail." 

Therefore, he uttered the Prajnaparamita mantra, by saying: 

"Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasemgate Bodhi-svaha!"

We just repeated the words so slowly and strangely... it was a combination of the ultimate weirdness as well as beautiful. I could definitely get into it if I let myself. But as a beginner, you are skeptical and feel weird. I'd say, just go with it and embrace it. 

We did a second chant after the English Heart Sutra which was all in Sanskirt or something I think. It was much more beautiful and flowy but I had no idea what I was singing about which bugged me. 

I liked the chanting all in all once I'd gotten semi-used to it but I'd definitely want to know what I was chanting about and getting myself into before just singing random Sanskirt mantra's out loud.  

We finished with a group discussion about meditation. Soldiers are starting to use meditation in the wars and we had a discussion about what we thought about it. Meditation is also being used in prisons and has proven to be beneficial to bringing the inmates to a more calm state of mind. They think before they act - making their 'violence is survival,' rule slowly deteriorate. 

It was interesting and all - but I was really excited to get back home, have a dinner with Sam and my folks and enjoy a bottle of Shiraz. 


I'm not going to give up on meditation just yet. I've only done it 4 times so I want to give it a fair chance. 
I'm going to continue with my seated meditation for 10-25 minutes as often as I can and return to the hall with Kevin and the characters that join the group meditation on Tuesday evenings but I'm also going to look into meditation books. I want to research it more, go to more classes with different teachers that teach different techniques until I find the one that really suits me. 
It is something that I want to take seriously... and so, I will. 

As for yoga... well.. 

As I am not quite yet an avid yoga-goer, I can still choose which style of yoga sounds most appealing to me. You need to research the different styles of yoga there are quite extensively in order for you to find out which one is suitable for you. 
After doing just that, I'd have to say that Anusara Yoga really stands out as well as Bikram and Hot Yoga. I like the idea of doing yoga in a heated room to help me sweat and detoxify. 
I'm not sure if I'd have the balls to do Hot Yoga or Bikram while traveling through India though, that may just be suicide. 

Iyengar, although sounding slightly more boring, would probably be great for me too as I'd worry about my posture all the time. So having someone guiding me so closely at first would be preferable. 

Lastly, Vinyasa Yoga sounds divine. Free. Musical.No routine. That is most likely where I'll be working myself towards but in order to first understand the posture and poses I'd like to get comfortable with the other styles first.

I did a quiz which I found HERE to determine what type of yoga I should be doing and I got mostly B's which said:

If you chose mostly Bs, you are...
A Free Spirit
You love spontaneity and expressing yourself creatively, and hate to be told what to do or tied down to a set routine. Try Vinyasa (also known as power yoga or flow yoga) for its creatively choreographed classes that are generally accompanied by a rockin’ soundtrack. Or, work on your resistance to anything ordered with Ashtanga or Bikram classes, which always follow the same set sequence of poses.

I found this to be pretty accurate to be honest, which kicked my skepticism on silly online quizzes out the nest.

I'm doing a big post differentiating between the different forms of meditation and yoga as well as sharing some of the things I've learnt about travel in India so keep a look out for that - it will be on my blog later this week.

Until then, 

With love in Dharma
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  1. i never know you were that interested in yoga , that pins and needles feeling is normal
    keep doing the breathing excises , it really works , also try putting water from one nostrel and taking out from other, it sounds weird but is really good gor health
    Come to india , holi is crazy here :)

  2. look so fun!

  3. Id love to attend a lesson as well, must be an amazing experience. Also Id like to find out more about yoga and which one suits me. Hi Jade, nice to meet you!:)

  4. Great post, Jade! I'd love to learn meditation, I know about all its benefits, but it's so hard to me to concentrate and stay still for that long. Have a happy week ahead, sweetie<3


    "Saúde & Beleza - Health & Beauty"

  5. This is such a detailed and engaging account of a novice delving into meditation and I found it so compelling!

    Owl Girl | A London lifestyle blog

  6. I can SO relate, Jade, to the craving for yoga and meditation that you mention. I try to practice yoga weekly. Sometimes, it's only a couple of times a month, though, that I am able to get to class. I believe any little bit makes a positive impact! Lovely pics! Happy 2nd month anniversary, Sweetie! xo T

  7. Wow, I think those things would have bugged me too, but at least you tried it.

    I've actually done the hot yoga before and absolutely love it. The first time I did it I was grossed out, because the floor was wooden and everyone was sweating on it, then as I was leaving I'm walking on everyone's sweat, pretty gross. Once I got over this idea I could really enjoy it, the added benefits were that my skin felt amazing and that I was sleeping so much better at night.


  8. Next year, I will be enrolling in yoga due to my scoliosis. This is a helpful post for me. :)
    And you did have fun in India, didn't you? Nice!

  9. I'm a lover of Vinyasa and have been doing it on and off for a couple years. It's what i started with and I thought it was easy to pick up. Recently i have been thinking of trying out the other types to switch it up, but I have trouble getting to my weekly class, so maybe one day when life slows down i can make more time to try another practice. Btw - I am an A/B from that quiz

  10. I took a yoga class in college that I really loved. We did some meditating in there too, and I always left that class feeling very relaxed and calm. I should start doing yoga again, but I have trouble making time for it too. Good luck with your resolutions! :)

  11. Sounds like a wonderful and positive experience with mediation. It can be difficult to shut your mind off and all the external stimuli.
    So glad you finally finished Gone Girl! Woop woop!! :)

  12. I do the most basic of yoga lol but it is SO relaxing :)

  13. I've always wanted to do yoga. My mom did it. Just don't know if I'm that limber anymore!

  14. Hatha and Vinyasa are my two faves. Yin yoga is fab as well! This is a fab post! I'm just catching up on my reading after last week's travel. Thank you for your sweet comments on Sunday's post, Sweetie! xo T.


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