Meditation gives me anxiety.
Every time I read yet another news story about the benefits of meditation, I give the practice another try. It always starts the same — clear my calendar for 10 minutes, put on some relaxing music and close my eyes to get my zen on.
It always ends the same, too — three calming breaths, followed by a innocuous, but unwelcome thought — Did I reply to that e-mail from my boss? How much time before this is over? What’s for dinner?
Despite my best efforts to block out my internal to-do list and return to a calm state, my thoughts snowball down the mountain until I’ve worked myself into the conviction that I’ve wasting time by meditating when I could be getting stuff done.
That’s why, when my friend Ashly invited me to join her for a meditation class last week, I was hesitant. I couldn’t make it through one minute of meditation, let alone an hour-long session. The class she invited me to, however, wasn’t the silent, imagine-yourself-at-a-babbling-brook type of class I had come to associate with meditation. Instead, it was Naam Yoga, a kind of active meditation.
Naam, which means “word,” is a yoga practice combining chants, movement and breath for physical and spiritual health. Instead of a silent practice of holding certain postures (as many people do yoga), a Naam instructor leads the class through several different sets of active meditation.
For example, the class I attended began with instructions on deep breathing (“fill the stomach, not the chest”) followed by an internal reflection on one thing we were grateful for that day. This 10-second introduction was followed by a practice of deep breaths where we exhaled with the word Har, which means “infinity.”
We then stood up and did squats while pushing both fists away from us; instead of a word to chant, we focused on quick breaths with every punch. Mentally, we imagined “pushing” our worries or sources of negativity away.
We also chanted Wahey Guru (light to darkness) while alternating tapping the sides of our hands together — palms up for welcoming the light, then palms down for pushing away darkness.
At this point, I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes and thinking, “Great, Susan’s gone full granola hippie on me.” I don’t blame you. The whole experience, from the long, flowy clothing of the instructor to the gongs placed around the room, was every cliche of meditation practice.
But you know what? It worked.
When alone in a room with my own thoughts, I can’t be trusted to focus on meditation for a minute, much less an hour. In a group setting, with specific tasks to accomplish — breathe like this, move like that — the hour went by quickly. I found it easy to be present in the moment with Naam; instead of following my snowball of a to-do list down the mountain, I could be still and reflect on one thing I was grateful for or relish in the imagery of “pushing” away the things that were weighing heavily on my mind. Chanting ee-oh with my fellow classmates put me into almost a trance-like state. Yes, I know that further confirms your granola-hippie suspicions, but I gotta say this: it was pretty groovy.
Meditation comes in many forms, I’ve learned, and I’m glad I found one that works for me.
Have you tried Naam yoga? I’m curious to hear what works for you when it comes to meditation! —Susan