Friday, November 20, 2015

Meditation works -- even if you are only half trying

After the "success" last time when I managed to stay awake the entire 45 minutes using ujjayi breathing, sadly subsequent practices I went back to falling asleep or paying too much attention to my mental ramblings half way through the guided bodyscan meditation. However, even though 95% of the time I could only focus on my body in the beginning and the end of guided meditation, I still feel very refreshed when I complete the practice.

In my regular life, I notice that I am more able to "be mindful", ie. focus on what's around me rather than being lost in my thoughts. I think the weekly practice of focusing on my breath or body really helps noticeably reduce my negative thinking train of thoughts.

I think yoga is also a way to practice meditation, or at least release the tension in the body. However the meditation course helps me to practice release tension even if I cannot do a yoga sequence. It is actually harder than yoga. By exerting the muscles, or holding a balance, or performing a stretch, it gives me a strong sensation to focus on. Bodyscan while inactive makes it really difficult for me to "feel my toes".... there are no sensations going on in the inactive body parts.

Now that I have learned some skills to cope with the racing mind, I need to get back to exercising after the course finishes so I can strengthen my body too.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ujjayi breath while meditating - bad idea?

Recently I have signed up for a mindfulness-based stress reduction course, offered by my university to its staff, for free! What a treat! It's a shame though that only 10 people signed up even though there are 15 spots, and all 10 of us are female. It also seems like most of us already have some experience with meditation and/or yoga, so nobody is brand new to the concept meditation.

We go through a lot of basic exercises, sitting meditation, lying meditation, basic stretches, standing meditation, etc. This is an evidence-based course, taught by a postdoctoral researcher who is doing clinical research on meditation, so you can say it's kind of "dry", not much discussions about buddhism or spirituality, no warm and comforting languages, just a lot of exercises and discussions.

To sign up for this course, the instructor told us that we must do a 45min homework every day. It's a guided body scan meditation - basically focus attention on each individual body part until we mentally go through the whole body. Geesh, who has time to do such a thing every day? Plus, every time I did this exercise, I would fall asleep part way though and miss parts of the instructions.

Tonight, while I was having one of my insomnias, I decided to do the body scan exercise to help me fall asleep. One of the first body parts we are supposed to focus on are my left toes. We are supposed to stay as still as possible throughout the whole meditation, but I wiggle like a worm whenever I'm not asleep (except maybe after an invigorating power/ashtanga yoga class).

Anyways, I can't feel my toes without wiggling them. What should I do? Well, I decided to send my breath to the toes. Lo and behold, I can feel some tingling there! Awesome, so I continued to breath victoriously (ujjayi?) into every body part the guided instructions told me to focus on. It worked great for each leg, up to the abdomen, then into my back, and then... it felt like a low-voltage electric fence surrounding my whole body lit up, similar to how I felt when I first started practicing yoga (where we are taught to do ujjayi breaths throughout the practice) and when I took a pranayama course. So, while getting very excited by this experience, it now became difficult to focus on single body parts again since the whole body  is tingling. It was difficult to calm down but my breaths and the electrifying sensation managed to calm down towards the end of the guided meditation.

By the way, whether I fall asleep or get electrified, so far this meditation always makes me feel calm and relaxed after I completed it, so I highly recommend it! I think this youtube video is likely super similar to the one I'm using. Give it a try!

So now this exercise just went from sleep inducing to super interesting. I can't wait to experiment with it again tomorrow, maybe with quieter breathing, to see if I can still feel my toes with non ujjayi breath. Also, I will try again with ujjayi to see if I can induce the same sensations again.