A Day In Silence

“Mom, there is no way you can stay quiet for an entire day!” – my 13-year-old daughter 

I like to talk. And day-to-day my life is full of words. Not only do I love chit-chatting, but I also use my voice to make a living as a narrator and voice over actress.

So when I found out that one component of my Mindfulness Meditation course was to participate in a silent retreat, I had mixed feelings. How would I handle a full day without saying one single word from 9am to 5pm? I mean without me- who would pepper my children’s day with gems of wisdom? Who would tell my husband what jobs need to be done around the house? Who would shriek at the dogs to stop barking?

I approached the retreat with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. As much as I relished the idea of not being responsible for anyone but myself for the day (a true luxury for a mom of 3), I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle it and would blurt out something inappropriate. I had a vision of myself surrounded by serene people seated in lotus position with their eyes closed and me screaming out “I can’t freakin’ do this!” and bolting crazily from the room.

But despite my fears, on a beautiful sunny day in November, I joined 18 fellow meditators at a studio along the shores of Lake Ontario. We were equipped with yoga mats, pillows, blankets, water bottles and lunch bags to fortify us through the experience.

To my surprise, the day flew by and the hours unfolded in strange and wonderful ways. Our teachers had led many previous retreats and confidently steered us through the hours with ease. We transitioned through gentle yoga moves and guided and silent meditations with the soft “ding” of a bell. We sat in chairs and on the floor, reclined on our mats and wandered through the gardens surrounding the studio.

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Now don’t get me wrong- there were definitely some uncomfortable moments. My leg fell asleep during a cross-legged meditation and I kicked the man across from me when I stretched it out. A lady seated next to me ripped a fart part way through a “loving kindness” meditation and it took all of my strength not to burst into hysterical laughter. And a passerby asked me for directions as I sat on a bench eating my lunch and I had to gesture like a crazy person to try to help him out (despite my prowess at charades, the poor guy ended up shaking his head and storming off angrily. Sorry buddy!)

At the end of the day, our instructors had us break the silence and invited us to share our reflections. And as you can imagine, everyone had a different take on the experience. Some had really struggled and others said it was the best day they’d had in ages.

For me, the day shone a spotlight on how rarely I take the time to really pay attention to my thoughts, my body and my surroundings. What an opportunity to immerse myself in things that normally zoom past in a flurry of activity.

I noticed the feeling of my butt on the hardwood floor, and breath moving through my lungs. We were encouraged to pay attention to our steps as we wandered around outside and to savour each bite of food as we ate our lunch. I stopped to gaze at flowers in the garden and spider webs hung in rafters of an old art gallery on the property. I paid attention to my arms and legs as we stretched and contracted our muscles. And I watched as thoughts came and went – some old tapes that I’ve been noodling around in my brain for years and other new ideas that popped up unexpectedly.

I drove away from the retreat feeling renewed. I secretly wondered if my family would look at me differently when I returned home – if I’d radiate an ethereal glow from dwelling on a higher plane of existence for the day.

I burst through the front door and the dogs started barking, my youngest was fighting with his sister and the sink was piled with dirty dishes. “Mom-what are we going to do for dinner?” my oldest asked. Nope, apparently not hovering on a higher plane. But I took solace in the fact that I did it – eight hours and not one single word was uttered from my lips (in your face 13-year-old daughter!) Namaste. : )

 

 

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3 Powerful Life Lessons from Yoga Class

I  am over halfway through my 30-day yoga challenge and I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Oh sure, some days I am so sore that I feel like I need a hoist to haul my butt out of bed and I’ve had my fair share of missteps along the way (crow pose gone wrong = landing solidly on my head) but for the most part it’s been an enlightening journey.

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This past week, one of the lovely yoga teachers at my studio stayed after class to chat with me for a bit and she imparted 3 wise lessons that I think can be applied not only to yoga but to life as well. I was so impacted by her words that I shared them with my husband and children and I thought I’d share them with you too:

1. I Am Flexible– I’ve taken a few classes from this particular teacher and she had heard me say “I’m not a naturally flexible person” a couple of times. She told me that she is a big believer in the power of the mind and the laws of attraction and if I put the message out to the universe that I’m not flexible – I will continue to struggle with my flexibility. Instead, she gently encouraged me to reframe my image of myself as someone who is leaning into my natural flexibility and growing and becoming more limber and pliable every day.

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This really got me thinking about how often I maintain an image of myself that is holding me back from my potential. Do you do it too? We tell ourselves – “I’m fat, I’m bad with money, I’m stressed, I’m out of shape, I’m unworthy, I’m not smart enough” and then those things become true for us. Even our children are already deciding things about themselves based on their perceptions and things they have been told by parents, family members and friends. The amazing thing is that by noticing and then reframing these thoughts (because they are only thoughts after all), we can create a different and more positive reality.

2. Visualize the Move Before You Make it– have you ever tried to do a reverse jump into an aerial yoga silk using just your arms? Not easy! Or attempted an arm bind while in pyramid pose? My hands don’t even touch! But my teacher suggested that I visualize myself making these moves successfully in my mind before I do them and this mind-body connection will speed up my success with the more challenging postures.

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I love this because visualization is such a powerful tool. My oldest son adores soccer and he will often take the time to see himself scoring goals in an upcoming game before he hits the field. I like closing my eyes and visualizing future successes (like landing a huge voice-over gig), making vision boards with pictures of my goals (my kids love making these too) and even using downloaded guided visualizations from iTunes (try this one).

3. Learn From instead of Comparing To– I frequently find myself studying my fellow yogis during class and I am blown away by their strength and flexibility. Immediately I start telling myself “I suck at this move, I’m so inflexible, I wish I could do it more like them, etc, etc.” My teacher reassured me that everyone falls victim to these comparisons but suggested that I catch myself when these thoughts bubble up and to instead take the opportunity to appreciate that person and to learn and improve my own practice by making slight adjustments to my postures as I work towards their level of skill.

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I also often make these comparisons in my everyday life. “She’s a better cook than me, they are so much more organized, she is so much fitter than me” and these thoughts can be crippling. Instead of comparing, I am going to take the time to appreciate that person for their talents and then think about what I could learn from them that I could possibly incorporate into my own life.

One of the most important things I’ve gleaned from my yoga practice is to be more gentle with myself. I am far from the uber-elastic yogi that I aspire to be and that’s ok. I am now working towards my goal by leaning into my highly impressive natural flexibility, visualizing my eventual head stand and learning from my fellow students. Thank you to  all of my teachers and especially to Jennie!