"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Feed your head

I've begun starting my day differently for the past couple of weeks. Instead of being forced from my bed by the dogs sometime between 6 and 6:30, stumbling crankily to the kitchen to let them out and feed them, then going back to sleep on the daybed in the office, I've changed things up.

Now I do about 40 minutes of meditation and yoga instead of going back to sleep in the daybed. It dawned on me that my little gray cells, as Poirot called them, are not just a little cluster of creative thoughts and ideas. My brain is a physical entity, an organ, like my lungs and my appendix. (Some days, especially like my appendix--it takes up space in my body and no one knows what it does.) It needs blood flow, just like everything else in my body. 

They say it takes 21 days of repetition to make something a habit, but after only 10 days, I discovered I really can't get through my day without it. I felt immediate results the first day, in my energy level, and my mental clarity.

When I announced this on social media, one of my friends said, "How do you make yourself concentrate? My mind tends not only to wander, but to sprint here and there." 

Here's the thing: At no point did I say I was good at meditating. I just said I did it. Only about 8-10 minutes a day, but I do my best. My mind is like a 4-year-old who is supposed to stay in line with Mom at the store, except there are interesting shiny things and candy over in the displays. She keeps wandering away, and I keep taking her hand and leading her back into line. I work every day at making her stay longer, but I don't know if I'll ever be 100% successful.

I've tried different approaches. First, I tried staring at a fixed point. I have a turquoise bin at eye level that is a perfect blank canvas, but my eyes catch glimpses of the books on the shelves next to it, and I feel ironic when I am trying to claim my inner peace and calm with "Forensics for Dummies" staring back at me.

Then I tried a mantra. I couldn't use a phrase. Phrases are words, which make me think of other words, which make me chatty. I started with the standard "Om" instead. My morning voice is lower than my regular tone, so the "Om" was rather husky. This reminded me of foghorns and ships coming into port and noir movies about ne'er-do-wells trying for their big break.

I gave up on the mantra.

What works best, so far, is to close my eyes, take three large breaths, then focus on the air coming into my nose, then out of my mouth, then in, then out, then repeat. My 4-year-old still wanders, looking at my schedule for the day, remembering something that happened yesterday, trying to remind me to look up the definition of some word, what kundalini yoga entails, sikhism, etc. I continue to take her by the hand and lead her back to my breath. 

After 8-10 minutes, I put on some yoga music I found on Amazon, and stretch everything out. I do whatever feels good in the moment, but there are a few poses I always hit:

1. Downward Dog--one way to get the blood flowing to your head is to be upside down.
2. Warrior--it's a nice stretch and I like the pose's name. Makes me feel invincible.
3. Sun salutations--greet the day, why not? Hello, morning! Again, another chance for my head to be upside down in a forward fold.
4. Tree pose--Balance is important to me, and it surprised me, when I began working with my personal trainer, how much of it I had lost. I don't want to fall, especially as I grow older.

Then I spend about 5 minutes on some little journal entries to give a shape and intention to my day, and voila! My brain has been nudged into consciousness. 

(No need for the pill to make me larger...BTW, what's that little blob laying on the bass?)

What are your rituals for beginning your day?

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