Wednesday ZenDay: The New Year Project

Each year in my meditation class we do an interesting exercise. We meditate with the express purpose of figuring out our intention/theme for the year and each month. I think there’s a misconception about meditation that you’re supposed block out thoughts. And just focus on your breathing. That’s part of it. But it’s also a means to get you to a place where you can engage your super conscious mind, where you can tap new ideas, new solutions, or just reassuring thoughts that your subconscious mind tends to sabotage with negative thinking and mental clutter.

So in that deeply relaxing meditative state, we go to find our intentions – those new things to focus on that are meant to satisfy our desires for the year. They’re not necessarily your stereotypical New Year’s resolutions. A couple of years ago, I set an intention to laugh. It was a great month. Another friend decided she wanted to give a gift to someone every day in the month of August. (Why wait ‘til Christmas?)

I don’t have my whole year planned yet, but I do have my theme for the year. It came to me last night. Strength. Then everyone buys a colorful calendar, we track our progress each day on our path. One of the kinda of comical things I discovered about myself is that I seem to be a month or two late on acting on my intentions. Will it be that way this year? We’ll see. Does it matter? No. We’re not about “shoulds” in meditation class. It’s not a pressure thing. More like a guidepost.

How did 2013 go? Read on, if you want to know.

Last year, my intention was “My Well Being.” I was in a bad place. Dealing with some heavy family long-term stressors had taken a toll on my health. My doctor said, “No exercise.” What was a triathlete to do? I focused on what I could change. I improved my nutrition a lot. I meditated almost every night. I stopped using a couple of glasses of wine or beer as a reward for a hard day. Instead, I turned my cocktails into elaborate juices. I worked on letting go of some things like resentment and things that didn’t bring me peace. This summer, I pretty much stopped watching the news. This fall, I took a break from social media.

Very gradually, I felt better. But my well-being continued to be high-jacked by concern for my loved ones and the new responsibility of picking up the pieces of their lives. My dad has dementia. We moved him out here almost two years ago. But we’re still in the process of emptying our childhood home 3,000 miles away and prepping it for sale. My oldest sister, lives a few states south of there. She has paranoid schizophrenia and the complications that go with it. She lives alone and in her own delusional world, won’t speak on the phone and is completely unaware of her disease. She was hospitalized four times this year. I’m responsible for her finances, smoothing things over with her neighbors, collaborating with her court-appointed guardian, answering healthcare workers’ requests for information about her and submitting detailed reports to the court each year. In 2013, I made five trips to the East Coast.

As I sit here reflecting on the year, I feel much more relaxed and even a sense of pride. I feel like I’m finally out of the eye of the storm. My dad is safe and well cared for down the street. If I had my way, my sister would not live alone. But the mental healthcare laws don’t allow any further intervention than an outpatient commitment, which we finally obtained this summer. Fortunately, one of the hospitals arranged to have a social worker visit her three times a week. That was a huge victory. A lot of heavy-duty clerical tasks are taken care of too. My part-time job for them is a lot less time consuming and draining. Their intellect used to be one of their greatest assets. It’s been a shock. I’ve had to accept that they’re not getting better.

Though they are still here, I think watching their sudden cognitive decline actually involved a whole lot of grieving. And I sense I’m finally coming out of it – no matter what happens with them next. Getting to that place emotionally has, in turn, made a difference physically.

My doctor allowed me to work out a half hour a day after a couple of months of complete rest. Then, in August, I got the go-ahead to do more intensity. It was a year without racing, except for a little fundraiser meet for my old high-school’s x-country team. I’m doing much better. A hard workout doesn’t keep me up half the night or render me useless the next day. I’m back to doing everything – swimming, biking, running, and crossfit. I started doing yoga in the morning too. So when “strength” came to me as my theme for the year – well, it just felt right. I’m looking forward to finding all kinds of new strength in 2014. What about you? Whatever you do, I hope it’s a very Happy New Year!

Wednesday ZenDay: 100-Day Meditation Challenge Reboot

My 100-Day Meditation Challenge was going so well. It was getting easier and easier to get into that pleasant, indescribable (or maybe someday I will) state after a few minutes. I was determined to follow it through to the end.

A couple of weeks ago, I had an exceedingly busy day right before taking a Red Eye out to Boston. Sitting outside a baggage carousel with a cup of coffee at 5:30 a.m., feeling like it was 2:30 a.m., it dawned on me, “I forgot to meditate yesterday! There goes my streak,” I said to my sister. “Oh, you must’ve done it on the plane,” she suggested as if leaving me an out. “No, I didn’t.” Yeah, I may’ve experienced a slightly Zen-like state from the drink I had before boarding the plane, but that doesn’t count.

I got a couple more sessions of meditation in on my trip, but I hit the reset button on this 100-Day Meditation Challenge a week ago. So, 7 days are in the books, well technically, it’s the Wonderful Day app. Only 93 days to go.

Have you tried meditating yet? Here’s a guided meditation by Dr. Andrew Weil you can try. With all you do with your training to get your heart rate and breathing up, meditation will help give your body and mind an opportunity to slow down and recover.

Wednesday ZenDay: A Conversation with My Inner 7-Year Old

Recently, my Zen Coach gave us an interesting exercise and guided meditation. She asked us to close our eyes, “Think back to when you were 7-years old. What are you doing? When you have that snapshot, open your eyes.” I looked around the room and every single one of us looked very happy and content. I saw myself running on the grass of my parents’ front lawn and my dad on a aluminum lounge chair with white and green webbing.

What was the point of that? She picked that age because this was the magical time of our lives where we had no thoughts about responsibilities or feeling judged. It’s a particularly joyful age.

Then she took us on a guided meditation to talk to our 7-year old selves. My mind was partway open, but I must admit, I was pretty damn skeptical that I’d be able to talk to little ‘ol me. I think we all were.

Zen Coach took us down an imaginary river that represented our adulthood and adolescence until we arrived at our destination. Ah, wow, where was I? I landed at the nursery my mother used to take me to look for plants. It had a babbling brook where I used to escape with a wagon. I remembered pulling the wagon into the cactus greenhouse when it was 12-degrees in the dead of winter and how wonderfully balmy it felt to be there.

Then she asked us to talk to our 7-year old. I saw her. Little me in with cat-eye tortoise-shell, thick glasses, a red shirt, beige corduroys, and bright red Stride-Rite sneakers. I asked me/her, “What do you want? She responded, “I want to climb trees. I want to play with boys. I like my sneakers.” I grinned. No doubt about it. That was me alright. When I was a little girl, I was a little Tomboy in a big neighborhood of boys. Which meant endless tree climbing, tackle football games, hitting wiffle balls over the neighbor’s house, and mimicking Evil Knievel jumping off ramps on my purple Schwinn and popping wheelies when my mother wasn’t looking.

After she guided us back to reality, we feverishly wrote down in our journals what we saw. Zen Coach then asked us, “What do you think you need to do to bring that joy back into your life?” I grinned. It all made sense.”Crossfit,” I answered. This is why I love crossfit so much. I’m basically climbing, playing with boys, and well, I like my sneakers.

But I can’t do that kind of intensity right now with my endocrine system out of whack. So I think it means I need to spend more time on the trails too. A few days later, Todd took me on one of his Strava trail outings. I hiked it and watched him peg it with a trail run. My inner 7-year old was very satisfied.

Wednesday ZenDay: 100-Day Meditation Challenge

As I was reading this excellent post over at Wildmind Buddhist Meditation, I came across this 100-Day Meditation Challenge. Okay, it officially started at the beginning of the year, but my/our participation is welcome nonetheless at anytime. Today represents Day 3 for me.

I’ve been meditating for years, but struggle with doing it daily. I often feel like a human pinball, flitting from work and family responsibilities to social stuff and workouts. And before I know it, it’s time for bed! (Woops, there goes another day without meditation.) But I feel so much better when I fit it in.

Since my doc still has my workout activities limited to 30 minutes/day, this is the perfect challenge for me to wrap my head around right now. I won’t be going for the miles, but instead I’ll log on several more minutes of deep breathing, quiet solitude, and bits of unexpected wisdom that often emerge from my super conscious mind.

Here’s how to join the challenge. There’s no submit button, no medals or tee shirts, but some solid recovery I’m sure. If you want to join this journey, here’s another post on how to meditate regularly.

Wednesday ZenDay: Breathing Techniques

The December 2012 issue of Triathlete magazine had a Training Tip article that stated, “Constant exhalation is a necessary skill for an efficient freestyle stroke, but many athletes (especially newbies) have a tendency to hold their breath underwater.” Hmmm, I think I’m guilty of that too.

So when my crossfit gym Beach Fitness posted a breathing workshop, I thought it might offer some insight last Saturday. The breathing workshop was taught by Laura Adams, a certified Pilates and yoga instructor. The hour-long class really helped us think about breathing beyond just our normal cardio workouts. I must admit much of it reinforced what I’ve learned in my meditation classes. But I was up for a refresher and a new perspective.

Laura gave us a great overview first of the basics of Diaphragmatic Breathing. (This video is a short and a little dry, but bear with me because it demonstrates the mechanics of what’s going in your body well). She had us practice deep belly breathing by putting one hand on our stomach and another on our chest. So often we actually don’t breathe from our belly, especially when we’re anxious and that’s why we can end up with that tight feeling in our chest when stressed. Hint: if you have a big presentation, race, heated conversation, test, etc., focus breathing from your belly to relax.

Lateral Rib Cage Breathing emphasizes breathing into the costal muscles between the ribs as the lower belly is gently contracted. She had us lay on our mats so we could feel our ribs expand. Here’s another video that demonstrates how to do it.

Pranayama breathing is utilized to alleviate pain and unbalance in the body. I was first introduced to it in my meditation classes. But Laura suggested this technique to use during stretching to help loosen up tight muscles or joints. Here’s another video that show you how to do it.

While much of our breathing happens autonomically without any thought, we can improve our performance, sleep and recovery by applying these techniques.

Wednesday ZenDay: A Big Enough Dream

One of my favorite things about my bimonthly meditation group is that our “Zen Coach” often reads to us a wonderful passage from Ralph Marston. And our group usually responds with a satisfying sigh of agreement. I usually can’t wait to share them with Todd and his bro. So I thought I’d share them with you here from time to time too.

A big enough dream

How big is your dream? Make sure it it’s big enough to overwhelm all the challenges.

Are life’s pains and problems and annoyances getting to you too often? Though you can’t stop them from popping up, you can stop them from dragging you down.

When you’re passionate about where you want to go, you’ll more easily deal with all the things that happen where you are. When you focus on what’s on the other side of the challenges, you’ll find the strength to persist through those challenges.

There is a beautiful purpose within you. It is a purpose so compelling that it absolutely will not allow you to give up.

Open yourself to the truth of who you are, and you open yourself to that purpose. Allow that purpose to inspire you, connect with it, and tap into its undeniable power.

Express that purpose with a dream that is too big and too wonderful and too meaningful to abandon. With a big enough dream, anything is possible.

Ralph Marston