I took my first yoga class at a small and inexpensive 24 hour gym on west 14th Street in New York City almost 13 years ago. It was a noisy smelly place, and I decided to give their yoga class a shot because I had heard good things about yoga from my actor buddies, and it was free with my membership. The studio was a space in the gym separated by a paper thin wall that offered no sound barrier to the grunts and house music playing in the rest of the space. As I laid out one of the gym mats, I was skeptical that this was going to be any kind of spiritual experience, let alone something I would enjoy doing long term, but at the end of the class I realized that I hadn’t heard or been distracted by any of the noises etc. I was so present in my body - that was all I could remember about the class. I was impressed and decided to keep it up.
While I did continue to practice casually over the course of the next 13 years, I wouldn’t say I was a devoted yogi until about 4 years ago. If you’ve been reading this blog, then you’ll recall that this was around the time I met someone, fell in love and then had my heart broken - for the first time. Unsure of what to do, I finally decided to give a daily meditation practice a shot and when the clocks turned back that November, I just kept my body waking up an hour early and used that hour to do a simple yoga practice and then sit with my breath. One morning, I chose a a rather cliché phrase as my mantra: just breathe and everything will be fine. Later that day at work, I was thrown a curve ball by my boss that infuriated me, and as I sat down to do what she asked, I found myself feeling really tense and angry. Then I remembered my mantra for that day, I took a deep breath and my whole outlook changed. The stress fell away and I gained some compassion for my boss and a better outlook on the situation as a whole. It was in that moment that I knew, meditation works!
Many people who don’t have a regular meditation practice often believe that the way meditation “works” is that it changes you into someone who never gets stressed or angry. It may, in fact, seem that way from the outside, but in my experience, what meditation really does is it helps you cultivate mindfulness around those types of emotions, and a mental tool-set to help you cope when those feelings rise up so that they don’t linger and destroy your ability to be content and grateful. In other words, meditation helps you to more easily and quickly let go of that shit.
These days, I’m using Insight Timer to keep track of the time I spend meditating. Keeping track is not all that important, but as the hours add up it starts to feel motivating - like a savings account that keeps growing. Some days I can sit and breathe and feel clear and calm, other days I need someone talking in my ear to tell me to do all of that, and the timer has options for this - unguided and guided meditation. If you’re feeling stuck, in any way in life, I highly suggest carving out some time to sit still and connect with your breathing. It’s not going to turn your life around immediately, but the habit is guaranteed to work wonders.