ON LEARNING HOW TO SIT STILL

May 17, 2015 at 9:08 pm

10411271_sTwo months ago, I was sitting on a plane heading from Baltimore to Florida to visit my in-laws. The evening before, my husband and I had just attended our first of eight classes of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program taught by Gina Sager, MD, RYT. As part of the class, we were encouraged to do daily ‘homework’ which consisted of listening to a 45 minute guided meditation CD. Forty-five minutes?! was my first thought. How on earth am I going to find 45 minutes each day to meditate and simply “be”? Despite my reservations, I was committed to exploring the possibility of finding this sacred time to nourish myself.

This brings us back to the plane. It had been a full day of seeing patients and then quickly transitioning to packing and going to the airport. The only uninterrupted stretch of 45 minutes we would have would be on the plane ride itself. My husband and I nestled into the last row of the plane near the window, and once we were safely in the air, I plugged in the headphone splitter and queued up the file for the guided Body Scan experience.

I admit that I had some assumptions and expectations even before listening to that first meditation CD. Having dabbled in guided imagery, yoga and various forms of meditation over the years, I expected to enter into MBSR training with the ease and comfort of an advanced student. HA! Meditation class is not set up like Advanced Placement Algebra, I quickly learned. Every attempt at sitting still with one’s self is a humbling and awe-filled experience.

So there I was wedged into the back of an airplane, headphones in place and ready to relax. The Body Scan CD begins with a focus and awareness of the left toes. OK, no problem, I can appreciate my left toes and focus on them for a few breaths. See? Easy and comfortable just like I predicted. Oh, but wait – now you want me to switch my awareness to the top of my left foot? Why don’t we switch to the right toes because I really think the flow would work better if we alternated left to right. Ugh – alright, I’ll follow along, but I really would have designed the sequence differently.36950729_s

And so my thoughts continued to wrestle back and forth as Gina’s gentle voice guided my attention up the left leg. It is taking a really long time to work our way up this left leg. How is there going to be time to give proper attention to all of the other parts of my body and eventually reach the head? My mind tried to skip ahead and predict what would happen next while alternating with a review the day and thoughts of what would occur on our trip. And eventually when we did finish the full sequence, my husband and I slipped off our headphones, looked at each other and agreed, That was hard.

I often hear this same sentiment reflected back to me from patients when I suggest adding 5-10 minutes of mindfulness to their day. It’s hard to sit still. What am I supposed to be ‘doing’ exactly? I feel really uncomfortable when I have nothing to do. And I reply that what I am asking of them is not easy, yet it is an essential aspect to healing that is likely more transformational than any supplement or remedy I could recommend. Mindfulness creates space for bodily sensations to be explored, emotions to safely surface and the breath to be appreciated and acknowledged.

The gifts of a regular meditation practice in my own life have been subtle yet palpable. Taking time out of my day to truly pause allows me to remember the micro-moments of space that exist between each thought or reaction I may have. In that almost imperceptible space, I have the capacity to choose where and how I focus my attention. How empowering! If my mind wanders towards planning the future or worrying about the past, as soon as I realize where my thoughts are, I can bring them back to the present moment. And with this shifting of thoughts and redirecting of my attention has come more ease in listening to my heart and accepting what I find there.

I now expect to never be “good” at meditation because there is likely no such thing. I do, however, welcome the continued benefits of a regular practice which – according to research – can positively shift brain chemistry to prevent and address a multitude of health conditions. As a ‘medicine,’ mindfulness is free, does not have to be refrigerated and has no adverse side effects! For an easy introduction to meditation, visit www.calm.com. Happy sitting!

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