30-Day Meditation Challenge Complete!

“Cool Buddha” from my visit to the Relational Yoga Mandiram in Colorado

Two days ago I completed a 30-day meditation challenge. You can read my posts during the challenge here. The challenge was as follows:

I commit to, starting today and for the next 30 days, meditating twice a day for 20 minutes each. Once in the morning and once in the evening.

The challenge began simply enough, and became progressively more challenging as life seemed to get in the way of my attempts to sit still and focus. First allergies, then a cold, then several late nights and busy work meetings made sitting still a challenging task! Despite the challenges I persisted and eventually found my time sitting to be easier and more fulfilling. By the 10 days of my 30-day challenge my meditations took on a whole new shape. I was no longer having to force myself to sit. It became more enjoyable and I began to notice more profound benefits.

I’ll share my approach to meditation, the challenges I faced and the benefits received as a guide for those of you that want to take up a similar challenge yourself. Suffice it to say, that at the end of my 30-days, I took 1 day off and did not meditate at all (even though I wanted to!) simply to keep myself from getting in the trap of trying to “keep a streak alive.” However, this morning I did sit for 20 minutes again and will do so again this evening. This is no longer a challenge for me but a way of life. I’m going to keep this up.

My approach

  • Sat still in silent meditation for 20 minutes, every morning and evening
  • Often meditated after exercise or yoga practice (makes it easier to sit still and focus)
  • Chose the same place every time, mostly in a dark room (without tons of light shining on my) and away from noise
  • Set a timer for 20 minutes (I use my iPhone, it has a built-in count-down timer and the alarm is soothing!)
  • When cold, I draped a shawl over me (including my head) just leaving room around my mouth to breathe
  • Sat on the floor (light carpet or yoga mat), and avoided using excessive props and pillows (if you need props or pillar, or even a chair to start, no problem, if you can sit cross-legged on the floor, do that)
  • Rested my hands, palms faced down, on my knees
  • Kept my spine straight, but with its natural curves
  • Imagined an apple balancing on my head to keep from slouching (just initially)
  • Kept eyes closed no matter what
  • Breathed in and out through my nose (not loud or with “ujayii” breath as in yoga asana practice, but with a normal breath)
  • Focused on my breath to start (in fact, you could spend the entire 20 minutes just noticing your breath, I would often do this)
  • If you know a mantra or empowering phrase, you can  repeat that, often I would do this, but it is not necessary. You can also focus on an emotion or idea like peace, love, harmony, etc…
  • No matter how much my mind wandered, I brought it back to my single point of focus (breath, mantra or whatever you are using for that)
  • No matter how badly I wanted to see how much time I have left, I did not open my eyes! (it helps to keep any clocks out of sight so you aren’t tempted to look)
  • When finished, I ended in namaste (with hands in prayer at heart center) and that is it!

My challenges (all avoidable with practice and care!)

  • Felt sleepy while meditating if I didn’t get to bed early enough
  • Had trouble concentrating if I would eat right before meditation or ate heavy foods or overate (or ate late in the evening and then meditated before sleep)
  • Tempted to look at a clock or timer to see how much time was remaining. In many cases, I would open my eyes and look right before the time was up!
  • Legs sometimes felt ancy…..not pins and needles, but ancy like I wanted to get up and do something
  • Mind would wander incredibly, especially if I was late for work or had other important matters to do
  • Allergies made it very challenging at times, with constant sneezing and a runny nose, I persisted through this
  • Was extremely tired a few times, due to a cold and late work days, made meditation incredibly challenging
  • Listening to music or watching a movie (especially action movies) would make meditation more challenging

My benefits

  • Less attachment to other people’s actions towards me – especially words and things they say or do that would normally tick me off. Things would just have a far more neutral effect on me
  • Incredibly enhanced ability to concentrate on single tasks – especially creative tasks and challenging work that requires focus. I wouldn’t be joking to say that my productivity at work doubled in the past month on a per-hour basis. Not in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality of work.
  • Better connections with people. I noticed a better connection with people in yoga classes I teach, and also in several personal relationships and also in the workplace.
  • Easier control over what I eat – size of portions, type of food, etc. I’ve noticed that I’ve become far more away of what I eat and have noticed having to eat less or just moderate my food intake in a more natural way. I think this is due to less impulsive feelings which let me notice when I am really full and stop eating at the proper time, and also make smarter choices about what to eat.
  • Overall feeling of happiness and well-being. This is perhaps the single biggest benefit. I generally just feel happier. I feel like there is a purpose and direction for what I am doing and things don’t get to me like they used to.

That’s it, if you decide to take up a meditation challenge of your own, please let me know in the comments. It is very well worth it!!!

Ignorance Is Not Bliss – Meditation Challenge Day 28

My challenge is cruising along, I’m on day 28 of my 30 day meditation challenge. Sitting for 20 minutes is now no trouble at all. It doesn’t matter how bad my allergies are acting up, how tired or cold I am, how hungry I am or how late I might be for a meeting 🙂 , I can sit for 20 minutes no matter what. That’s big progress. I’m also beginning to realize that there is a saying that will probably be very familiar to you, that is absolutely not true. Here it is:

Ignorance is bliss

I say this because over the past few weeks my mind has seemingly grown more distracted and my time sitting in meditation is seemingly less fruitful now than when I first began this challenge. At first I was thinking that maybe I wasn’t meditating properly, but quickly realized what a dumb thought that was. There are some guidelines to help you get meditate, but there are really limitless methods and tools people use. The major point is to just sit still and bring your attention to the present moment. Exactly how you choose to do so is up to you really.

I’ve come to realize that it is not that my mind is becoming more and more distracting by having to sit still for 20 minutes twice a day. It is simply that I am now able to actually notice the distractions that have been there all along. I’ve been ignorant to the fact that for the majority of my waking life I am really not present with anyone or in any situation. I’m either thinking about the past, dwelling on some prior event, or dreaming hopefully about the future.

I am rarely present and this is what I’ve been having to deal with in my meditations. In sitting still, I can really see my mind race. I observe the games it plays, tempting me to peak at the clock, or get up and do something else, or daydream, or do anything but pay attention to the present moment. I’m becoming far more aware of this fact, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cause me angst. The good news is, now I am aware of the fact – which means I am no longer ignorant! Ignorance is not bliss, it is just a mask that keeps you from experiencing the world as it really is, not as you dream it to be.

Meditation – A 30 Day Challenge

Bellevue Buddha

Every now and then I do challenges to either learn something new or re-commit myself to something I already do – but not enough. They say that 30 days is just enough time to make a habit and from my experience it is long enough to get “over the hump” that usually comes with any kind of change in routine – and actually start to see the benefits.

I have been meditating on and off since late 2003, having learned a technique from John McAffee at the Relational Yoga Mandiram. You can read about one of my fasting and meditation retreats a few years ago. Since that time I maintained a regular twice-a-day meditation routine. 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. On occasion I would sit longer, but this was the typical day.

However, for the past couple years I’ve been slacking. Sometimes I will sit for just five minutes before getting distracted. Sometimes a week would go by without sitting at all! While I do practice yoga regularly (and during 90 minutes I do experience a heightened flow-meditative-state), there is still nothing like sitting still for a few minutes. It is perhaps the most challenging of all aspects of a well-rounded yoga practice.

So, I’m starting a new 30 day challenge. Here it is:

I commit to, starting today and for the next 30 days, meditating twice a day for 20 minutes each. Once in the morning and once in the evening.

I’ll blog about my experience as the days go on. I sat already for my two sessions today. They went by surprising quickly, and my mind was quite still. I’m guessing not all days will be this easy 🙂 . If you have never meditated before, here are a few tips:

Find a spot that is flat and firm, use this spot consistently for all of your sessions. Don’t meditate in a bed or on a cushy couch. If you get cold in the morning wrap yourself in a shawl.

  • Try to sit cross-legged, but if your legs and hips are two stiff, fold up a blanket and sit on it, allowing your ankles to rest of the floor with crossed legs. Use as many blankets as you need! If this doesn’t work for you, find a stiff backed chair to use.
  • Set an alarm clock for the allotted time. Start with 5 minutes and build up to 20 minutes. Do not open your eyes until the alarm goes off. Resist the urge to peek!
  • Find your spine in a position where it’s straight, with natural curvature. Avoid the tendency to slouch. This will just induce sleepiness! Imagine that you are balancing an apple on your head 🙂
  • Rest your palms on your knees face down. Alternatively, you can rest your palms one on top of another in your lap.
  • Breath in and out through your nose. It doesn’t have to be a loud and audible breathe like they teach in some yoga classes. Just breath normally. Allow your mouth to close and bring the tip of your tongue to the upper palate, and rest it there.
  • Continue to notice your breath, if you mind wanders, bring it back to your breath. No matter how many times your mind wanders, keep bringing your awareness back to your breath.
  • Try to remain motionless, no matter what! Even if your body tingles or tickles. This is the point, don’t get distracted. You can do pretty much anything for 20 minutes.

That’s it! There are other techniques that people use as part of a meditation practice, but this is the most simple approach. It is highly effective and infinitely challenging. Give it a shot!

Deactivate Facebook and Twitter to Improve Your Focus

Today I have deactivated my Facebook account, and will no longer be posting to my Twitter account. This is another 30-day challenge. I’m an avid social networker, but at the end of the day, I realize that much of the conversations that happen through these networks are not directly supporting my overall goals or well-being.

Participating in social networks is a fantastic thing, but you need to be incredibly disclipined and focused so that you do not begin to allow the network to swallow you whole. As your network builds, the more people will contact you, the bigger and busier your news “feed” will be and the higher the noise-to-signal ratio will become.

You run the risk of becoming a human spam filter just trying to parse through what is valueable vs nice-to-have vs absolute garbage. For me, with over 600 friends on facebook, the information tsunami was difficult to manage. I would check the site several times a day just to see if there was something of interest.

I would get people sending me notes and e-mails on Facebook totally out of the blue and often off-topic. I’d also have lots of “shallow” interactions with people and very few meaningful conversations. In the end, I am not that big on small talk. I would much rather have a few meaningful conversations with people than a hundred casual chats. People can easily contact me through my blog (or my e-mail, which is also posted on this blog).

Lastly, I also have found myself posting updates and photos just to see what other people think…that is to say, just to get a reaction. I don’t think this is healthy behavior or a good use of my time.

Therefore, for the next 30 days, I have deactivated my Facebook account and also will not be using Twitter at all. The only exception with Twitter is that when I post a blog, my site auto-updates to Twitter. I’ll let that continue, I just won’t check it! I am curious to see if I even miss not having this connection to my online network.

Raw Food Challenge – Day 20 Update

Wow, time really does fly by! It seems like just a few days ago I was contemplating this little experiment. It really has not been anywhere near as challenging as I thought it would be. My food cravings for cooked foods have diminished even more as I’ve gotten smarter about eating more total calories and also eating the right types of foods.

Over the past week, I’ve started to experiment with some new foods and recipes, and have started to cultivate a keen taste for my morning fruit smoothies and evening veggie soups (un – cooked of course)! I actually look forward to these!

Continue reading Raw Food Challenge – Day 20 Update

Raw Food Challenge – Day 11 Update

Today is Day 11 of my Raw Food 30 Day Challenge. I really didn’t expect it to be this easy. I feel absolutely fantastic and have absolutely no detox symptoms to speak of. In fact, this transition from my vegan diet to a 100% raw food diet is easier than my transition from lacto-ovo vegetarian to vegan.

I think difference is that I am both far more educated and also have connected into a support system of people that I have learned a ton from – from various raw food online forums like Give It To Me Raw and 30 Bananas A Day, and through a few friends (like Darrick) who have been walking down this path for a while. I’ve also been reading a ton of books and online resources (including Dr. Doug Graham’s 80-10-10 and David Wolfe’s Sunfood Diet).

Continue reading Raw Food Challenge – Day 11 Update

Raw Food 30-Day Challenge

Starting tomorrow morning I will be embarking on a 30-Day Raw Food Challenge. I’ve done the raw food thing before, most recently as part of a 3-day fruit feast and also for a few months last year as well.

The issue is, last year I wasn’t 100% raw, I did cooked food meals now and then – usually at dinner time. I also wasn’t nearly as educated in terms of what to eat, and such ended up not eating enough calories or nutrient dense superfoods (like goji berries, cacao, maca root, acai, etc.).

This time I am more educated, more motivated and have experience at my side from past successful and not-so-successful experiments with my diet.

I’ll also note a few of the reasons why I am doing this challenge. At the end of the day, I am a big believer that the motivations for doing something are the true driving force for any positive and lasting change.

So why am I doing this 30-day Raw Food Challenge?

  1. There are numerous studies and articles that point to raw or mostly raw food diets as a key factor in positively impacting overall human health and longevity.
  2. I personally know several raw foodists that are not only surviving, but thriving on a raw food diet.
  3. During my last raw food experiment, while I had some breakthrough and positive experiences – right now I am much more well-informed and better prepared to not fall into some of the traps/issues I ran into last time.
  4. Primarily raw and water-rich foods are important factors in helping the body naturally cleanse and detoxify.
  5. My diet right now features a high percentage of raw foods – about 30-50% on most days. Moving to 100% will be a big challenge but is doable – and will help me dislodge some unhealthy eating habits that I have developed lately (eating too late, eating fried foods, eating too large meals, etc.).
  6. During past experiences with fasting or eating raw foods, I experienced a profound heightened sense of mental performance and a deeper ability to meditate and connect to the present moment. I am interested to see how the 30-Day Raw Food Challenge impacts my meditation practice.
  7. I am curious to see how my yoga practice is impacted through a Raw Food diet. In past experiences, I’ve noticed increased flexibility and a higher strength-to-weight ratio when eating a raw or mostly raw diet.

For reference, my current body weight is 142.0lbs and body fat is 11% (as measured by a Tanita-brand body fat measurement scale). I’ll be tracking this throughout the challenge.

So there it is. The journey starts tomorrow. If you have walked down this path before and have any tips, please do share in the comments! If you are willing to take this journey with me (even for a few days, a week or the full month) – that would be cool as well!