If anyone has ever gone to a meditation group you will likely do a guided meditation and afterwards hear the other people in the group share how much they enjoyed the meditation or explain how they saw images of unicorns and rainbows. It is my opinion that there is always once person in this group who is quietly nodding along, but really found each minute of the meditation excruciating. This person is convinced she isn’t doing it right, isn’t cut out for meditation, and is trying to figure out what the other people in the group were smoking that made them visualize unicorns and rainbows.
Yup you guessed it this person is me and I have decided it is my duty to not to lie about these experiences and instead I need to disrupt the “meditation myth” and acknowledge that sometimes meditation is beyond painful.
At first in yoga teacher training I enjoyed the meditations. I think this is possibly because it was period of time in between hours of yoga in which I did not have to exert myself. Recently they have started to get more intense for me and I have a special kind of anxiety associated with them. We did one this weekend in which we had to hold our legs and arms up in different positions (which seems easy the first ten seconds but is actually exhausting) and do intensive breathing techniques. When asked what we thought of this afterwards I equated it with torture.
The one saving grace for me in the meditations has been getting to sing (or chant is the technical term). Since I have always loved signing I feel like this is my second chance to get into singing again. I realize to an outsider a group of people chanting in Sanskrit must sound totally bizarre, but when I know I have another two minutes of holding my legs in the air I sing these songs with gusto. I think this song is especially fun and this dude seems pretty cool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHsSPFJTUEE&feature=youtu.be (song starts about 1 min and 47 secs into the video).
This past weekend was our hardest meditation exercise yet. We were told we were going to sit cross-legged across from our partner with our knees almost touching. We were supposed to stare into each other’s eye and each have our hands in a specific position and held up at our sides with our pointer fingers touching our partner’s.
Our teacher told us she was not going to tell us how long the meditation was going to be which immediately to me did not seem like a good sign.
The whole thing reminded me of this scene with Steve Martin from the underrated movie Baby Mamma.
Luckily, I felt especially comfortable with the partner I was paired with and we had both expressed that we were having difficulty with meditation. In the beginning it was definitely a little awkward staring into each other’s eyes, but after a few minutes that awkwardness disappeared and you kind of almost forgot you were looking at someone. We were chanting to a song so that gave us something to distract ourselves.
After a little while my back started aching and my feet fell asleep. Every time I moved a little to get more comfortable it forced my partner to move a little. I could tell she was starting to get uncomfortable too. I continued to chant and would in certain moments really throw myself into the chanting and try to send my partner signals through my eyes that expressed the, “we can do this” sentiment.
The track we were chanting to had a few points where it seemed to be winding down so I felt a moment of relief thinking it was ending, but then it would start back up again and anxiety would wash over me. I started to loose it and felt like I was going to be sitting there chanting and staring at my partner for the rest of my life.
All of the sudden my partner burst out laughing. As someone who gets “the giggles” frequently, of course I was going to start laughing. We broke our hand lock and were giggling to ourselves uncontrollably while the rest of the groups continued chanting. Tears streaming down our cheeks we tried several times to pull ourselves together, but every time we would make eye contact again the giggles would hit. Finally, I decided we had to avoid eye contact in order to stop laughing so I stared at the ground and resumed chanting, trying to pull myself together. After a minute, we locked eyes again and got back into chanting and I was feeling slightly better after the laughing outburst.
While I was writing this it brought back a memory to me of going to a meditation class with my Grandma. I have absolutely no idea why we would have done this or where it was, but I just remember going to a meditation group and sitting in the back and all of the sudden my Grandma and I were giggling uncontrollably and I think we had to leave because we could not pull ourselves together. Perhaps this giggling during meditation is hereditary. It seems like I made this up as I don’t think my Grandma or anyone else in my family would know about this, but I have this distinct memory of this experience.
We finished the meditation and found out we had been doing it for 31 minutes (I could have watched an entire episode of Sex and the City and have time to spare)! When we apologized for laughing uncontrollably, surprisingly the teacher did not scold us for not taking this seriously, but instead deemed it an authentic reaction. In fact, she said she was worried I was going to walk out during the meditation and was planning on having to talk me back into it. I am not sure if she thought this by watching my face during this meditation or if it was because I said I thought the meditation the previous day was torture.
I can’t remember a more difficult 31 minutes of my life, but it seemed to really bond the group to have gone through something like this together. I am so proud I did it, but I can’t imagine ever having to do that again.
The next day we had “The Boston Buddha” give us a meditation workshop. He presented a less awkward more relatable form of meditation and after the eye contact exercise I figured I could handle anything. He took us through an easy-guided meditation and asked if anyone was restless the entire time. I proudly raised my hand and his response was, “good.” He counts this as a good experience during a meditation (the other “good” experiences include falling asleep, being overly aware of yourself repeating the mantra, and seeing an image – those damn unicorn and rainbow people).
Despite his lofty name the “Boston Buddha” made meditation relatable even cracking jokes about how people can be judgey in the yoga/meditation/wellness world even though we are not supposed to be. He admitted that he struggled with meditation a lot and would have meditations when he would ask himself why he was doing it and just struggle through the whole thing. What I found encouraging was his conclusion that even if you struggle through the whole meditation it is still worth doing because it forces you to really feel these feelings and to at least take time out to be with yourself. He framed meditation as work or “mental push-ups” for the rest of your day that will start to benefit you (and therefore make it easier to commit to doing it) the more frequently you meditate. He also cited an interesting study out of Harvard studies about how meditation can change your brain in just eight weeks.
After this weekend of training I learned that it might be worth it to commit to this whole meditation thing, eye contact is not that awkward, and most importantly sometimes you just need a good giggle fit to survive a painful situation.