“My mind is always active and working and thinking,” a frustrated (and slightly drunk) acquaintance confessed to me last night.
We were out celebrating a friend’s birthday, but our conversation drifted to the woes of managing an over-stimulated brain. She kept tapping her forehead and temples, as though she was telling her brain inside to hush up. The furrow in her brow made it obvious that this was a problem that even alcohol couldn’t sooth. “My therapist is trying to get me to live in the now,” she added.
Ah, the seemingly elusive “now.” We can all relate to this frustration, myself included. Our monkey brains are so preoccupied with the future or the past, that the present often becomes a muddled mess of neurotic planning and analyzing. Stopping to smell the roses — well, that gets put on a to-do list that includes paying bills, buying groceries, worrying about next week’s big work project, etc. etc. etc. I am guilty of it. And, dear reader, so are you.
What made this woman’s comment so timely, however, is that it came immediately after I attended a tantric meditation workshop. I swung by the neighborhood bar sparkling in the afterglow of finding stillness and calm after several hours of breath work — and this poor woman was lamenting about the mental stress and fatigue that these meditation techniques could help relieve.
About the workshop: It was taught by Mia Park, a student of tantra yoga master teacher Rod Stryker. I attended Rod’s weekend tantra yoga workshop a few weeks ago [see that blog post], and thought this would be a great continuation of my exploration of tantra. Plus, Mia is such an enthusiastic and down-to-earth teacher — always wearing a smile when I see her — so I figured that she’d make a 2.5-hour meditation class fun and accessible.
“In tantric meditation, we give the mind things to think about,” Mia said to kick things off. “We trick the mind at its own game.” Sneaky, sneaky!
The focal point for this “trick” … revolves around the breath.
My favorite take-aways from the class:
- “Your breath is a mirror of the mind’s fluctuations.”
- The key to stilling the mind is guiding the breath appropriately. As conscious beings, we have the ability to control both the mind and the breath — but, the breath is much easier to control. By controlling the breath, we can lasso those pesky mind fluctuations.
- We practiced several different techniques: pure breathing, breath awareness (noticing the temperature, rhythm, where it goes in the body), sama vritti (equal breath) and alternate nostril breathing.
- I practice all of these techniques, but really enjoy sama vritti with counting. Once I get to a steady, smooth breath, I drop the counting and lose myself in the breathing. Sama vritti is also something I like to teach, as it’s very accessible to beginners.
- All of the techniques are meant to bring us to “witness consciousness.” By watching the breath, being aware of it, we intuitively learn not to be so attached to “things.”
- We worked with mantras in our postures, breathing and meditation. In one round, we recited OHM while moving through postures, which I didn’t enjoy. My breath didn’t flow smoothly, and I was slightly self-conscious of sounding silly. But I did love working with the mantra SOHUM. However, my preference was to keep it mental: “SO” on the inhale and “HUM” on the exhale. I plan to apply this one more into my daily life, when I find myself stressing out in front of the computer at work. The mantra just melts seamlessly with the breath, and immediately calms me.
- It was pretty awesome to learn that Mia doesn’t emphasize postures (asana) in her personal practice, even though she once did. Her focus is on breath and meditation — with just enough asana to keep the body limber and spine long.
- Her workshop featured really basic asana: savasana, dynamic bridge, dynamic twists, Sun Salute A and bridge. That was it. Keeping the physical component simple helped to highlight the effectiveness of the breath work with which we were experimenting.