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I Won’t Meditate

meditate

I won’t meditate. How can a yoga teacher trained over 20 years ago, long before yoga was the ubiquitous activity it is today say something as blasphemous as this?

Yes, that’s me. The yoga teacher and anti-meditator. Makes no sense, does it? Why not mediate? Especially when the benefits of meditation have been scientifically proven through research, and when my medical doctor in fact recommends it.

When I say, “I won’t meditate,” what I’m actually saying is that I won’t confine myself to the rigid ideas that so many of us, including myself, have when it comes to meditation. What do you think of when you hear the word “meditate”? I know what pops into my head –sitting alone in a room in total stillness, on an ugly cushion with my back so straight my spine aches just imagining it, trying to be calm, when a zillion thoughts are swirling through my middle aged, neurotic, Jewish mind.

That’s why I’ve given up on the word “meditation.” While many would argue that I do actually meditate, I had to let go of the m-word along with all of my preconceived notions about it, so that I could truly engage in a mindful practice and open myself to the healing benefits of contemplative self-observation.

What do I call this practice? Listening. What does it entail for me?  Here’s a brief description.

  1. Location –Inside or outside; both are fine.
  2. Position –Sometimes I like to lie down, other times sit, or stand.
  3. Motion –Gentle stillness, rolling around the floor, or quiet walking outside all work equally well.
  4. Sound –Silence is peaceful and most often a welcome preference, though singing or chanting mantra are beautiful alternatives that I enjoy on rare occasions.
  5. Awareness –In this process that I prefer to call “listening,” rather than “meditation,” I am simply stay present with myself and whatever is.

Many of you may be wondering, what does she actually do?! Well, my non-mediation of choice is gentle stretching. I like to lie down on the ground (I’ve usually been on my feet most of the day cooking, cleaning, and taking pictures for this website) and I want to recharge my adrenals (lying down helps with this).

During this practice I watch my thoughts float through my head like clouds in the sky. Sometimes this actually happens. At other times, my thoughts are less like clouds and more like children shouting for attention. It can get really loud in my head. Thankfully, hanging out with this cacophony for a few of minutes calms down the veritable storm of ideas, feelings and sensations that run through me. When I slow down and listen, I can hear what’s going on inside. Listening to myself, and being heard allows my mind to come into neutral, and that is when I begin to sink into my body and feel the bliss of true relaxation.

There’s a look into my daily relaxation practice! What do you do each day to nurture your body, mind and spirit?


posted on April 1, 2014, 60 comments

  1. Jim @ tbd

    HI:

    Thank you for sharing… So many of us , are we all Jewish, who are internalizing too much and too introspective; are not well served by a meditation practice that lends itself to more introspection . I think you are doing a positive service to many who need to tone down the rigidness of their meditation practices……

    Thanks,

    Jim

  2. Elyse

    Interesting. We must all be Jewish! Even when I took yoga classes weekly and practiced at home on a regular basis I couldnt bring myself to Meditate. Or journal either. Give me nature and a calming walk in the woods either on foot or from the back of a horse. Meditation at its best.

  3. tabihtasglutenfreedishes @ tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

    What a great post, I agree meditation is not a thing but a way and what it means to one is different to another and the key is to engage in whatever being mindful aware and connected means to you. And by connecting we can all observe, relax heal and benefit.

  4. Sara

    I also do not meditate but rather spend time in prayer, listening to and speaking with the one true God of the universe.

  5. christine

    Thank you for sharing your own personal path Elana! Inspired and inspiring! I find that anything that has been laid down by someone else does not always allow for finding your center and relaxation necessarily. For me, I like to watch the clouds drift by while I get lost in them and eventually in myself. Daydreaming and listening is what I prefer to call my own form of meditation and I find it calms and centers me. A realignment of sorts. Whether I’m sitting in a comfortable chair, walking or lying on the bed, I search for the clouds or even leaves on the trees or the surf at the beach and find myself and my serenity. It allows me to be fully present in the moment with nothing else but my own sense of self. I find I always come away from it refreshed and renewed. I loved reading your insights into your own journey! Thanks!

  6. Lynnette

    I like the part when the named thoughts no longer hold me in a vice and I have choices instead to do and be instead of be a stuck thought manufacturer. Listening is a nice option. I like that from my theater days, to relate to others. So is skate skiing with the trees and snowflakes, my fingers savoring the daily fresh veggies in morning light, the sound of the rattling window inside my car door that I’ll miss so don’t fix, tasting the curried scallions and asparagus from first slight crunch onion pungence, asparagus juice and fiber, and curious taste buds chasing curry moments and following flavors and happy saliva down the hatch.

  7. Brenda

    Try sahajameditation.org for free instructions and free meetings in most large
    cities.

  8. Susan K.

    Well, I am also middle-age, have celiac and MS (Primary Progressive), but I’m not Jewish. And I agree 100%.

    I’ve never taken yoga classes (yet), but I also practice my “non-meditation,” albeit in different ways and places: in the shower (10-min. limit), on the bus/train (my almost-daily 1-hour commute), or just sitting down with my sweet, old cat on my lap. (She will demand that I do so, if I haven’t spent enough time with her recently!)

    Almost every year, we spend a week at the beach, doing almost nothing. I so look forward to that week, especially when things have been hectic. My husband and I sit in the sun, read and enjoy wine with dinner — sometimes we drink the whole bottle! [GASP!] We stay at a timeshare with a kitchen, so I do cook whilst on vacation, but nothing fancy and no worries about being glutened.

    We’ll be there in less than two weeks, and I have “vacation-head” already. A colleague of mine coined that term, when describing the problem of trying to concentrate at work when you have a vacation coming very soon.

    So I shall raise a glass of wine for all who don’t get enough of those “non-meditation” times, and urge you to find a way to make more of them. Ask for help, with the kids or your work or whatever. (Or say NO the next time you’re asked to volunteer your time, if you don’t have time to contribute. Do you contribute as much money as you’d like to your favorite charities, even if you don’t have it?)

    You NEED time for solitude, both physically and mentally!

  9. Ashli

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I do a lot of the same things! I would never call what I do meditating, but others would. I call it prayer, and it can be done anywhere at anytime. I only open my heart and mind to the one, same God you believe in and his Word, and invite Him to work in my heart and mind. To use meditation terms, it is very “grounding” and it “quiets my thoughts” because I am listening for His. I don’t want to just go “blank”–I want to be filled and improved when I’m done. I’ve found (and have helped others experience for themselves) this is best achieved when God is the focus because He is perfect.

  10. Debbie

    med·i·tate [med-i-teyt]

    verb (used without object), med·i·tat·ed, med·i·tat·ing.

    1. to engage in thought or contemplation; reflect.

    2. to engage in transcendental meditation, devout religious contemplation, or quiescent spiritual introspection

    I seems that you all meditate! It seems that the negativity is towards one type of meditation rather that the general meaning. Meditation is what most of those (if not all) are describing. What you and the others seem “anti” is a specific form of meditation – perhaps TM. Here is a question: is it better to find a new name or adjust one’s thoughts as to the true meaning of a very descriptive word?

  11. Thanks, Elana! I love your blog, and I really appreciate your views on this topic. I’m aiming for ANY regular daily meditative-type practice, so I appreciate knowing what yours is.

  12. marian

    I love to lay out on my patio swing and listen to the birds sing and the water flowing in my pond. I also read out there because it is so peaceful. I can hardly wait for the dry weather!

  13. Meditation um, I have been practicing for many years and find the sitting and rigidity of my early instruction very confining. So, like you have loosened up and do it my way which means it is more organic and enjoyable. I also have a Tai Chi practice which takes up 4 mornings a week and has done an enormous amount of good for my physical strength and sense of well being. Because I have many allergies and Celiac I need to slow my inner mental pace to lower the stress on my body so between my form of meditation and Tai Chi I feel my progress has been substantial.

    I am past any ones idea of comfortable middle age but yet I am both physically and mentally very active and still a producing and exhibiting artist. I want to keep as many of life’s doors open as possible.

  14. audrey michelle @ foodandfoto.com

    hi elana –

    i was introduced to your site by a mutual colleague – i’m so glad he told me about your blog, as you have similar values as me and mine.

    i had a similar revelation this week – i decided to write my own ‘rule book’ regarding my spiritual practices toward more peace and joy. and like you, i prefer not to have a set of specifics to follow regarding meditation {or anything, really}… i just find that we get too attached to “words” and their meanings… i believe the intelligence behind our bodies will guide us where we need to go, and our intuition will give us a “feeling” to tap into – and that is enough. and for me, the more consistent i am with creating that space to “stay in touch”, the more clear and “in tune” i actually feel…

    thank you for sharing this, and for letting me share my thoughts.
    and i agree with elyse – get me out in nature, and it’s like i’m in a trance. ;)

  15. Irene

    Thank you for this personal sharing of yourself. Watching, listening and embracing one’s thoughts makes more sense to me than emptying one’s mind. I have experienced what happens to you in my own ways, thank you for confirming my own practices.

  16. Susan

    Thank You Elana, for challenging us all to think about this. Hmm – I think of meditation as a state of being, not a specified practice with any rules, and it doesn’t matter if you are Jewish, Hindu, or any other religion. I feel like I have succeeded in getting to that state when I can plop there at any time in any situation, even if just for a few minutes. I then feel ‘in tune’. Not sure if this makes sense to anyone but me :)

  17. Catherine

    Thank you for sharing this about yourself. I have really enjoyed and have been grateful for, all your efforts in that paleo way, and this is a little different…. and I appreciate what you wrote. As for myself…… I’m still figuring that out. I am simply allowing myself to notice my breath throughout the day.. sometimes stopping to do so, other times, doing so while I’m doing whatever it is I am doing. Observing my breath is a rather constant meditation. It seems to be working for me, I got it from Panache Desai. He has helped me nearly as much as you have!!!!!! He was just in Denver. Did you see him????

  18. Annetta Black

    I’m not Jewish. But I surely do enjoy your website and recipes and your relaxation wisdom. I too have Celiac and other digestive issues, so any time I am able to truly listen and relax, I take the opportunity to do so. I don’t use the word meditation for the same reasons you spoke of. Thank you Elana for being you in your recipes and in your writing.
    Very warmly and sincerely,
    Annetta Black

  19. Leslie

    I took yoga for awhile. It became clear that I spent so much time trying to breathe right, and keep my body relaxed, and get the positions correct, that it was never relaxing!
    What works for me is similar to others who have commented.
    Reading and thinking about God’s word and his calming and peaceful influence, which as He says, “passes all understanding.”
    That has been better than anything else I’ve tried.

  20. Lisa Daniel

    I can actually really enjoy a led meditation but when left to my own devices, I meditate while exercising most of all. Lying down with soothing music is nice too =) Even when meditating in a group, I allow my body to be in its most comfortable position.

  21. Meditation is simply relaxing the mind.

  22. DamselflyDiary

    I try to meditate but usually argue my way into it and then beat myself up for not doing it “right.” And, I almost always meditate lying down. Not one for falling asleep easily, I find this position so much more comfortable for my back and much easier to relax into.

    For now, I am adopting a more open approach. Staring out the window – meditating. Lying in bed petting the cat – meditating. Deep breathing before or during stretching/yoga – meditating.

    I heard someone speak this past weekend who openly expressed what I have thought for a very long time, we make all of this (referring to spirituality/health & healing/self help) far too complicated. And when we do that, it all becomes too discouraging.

    It does more harm than good to beat ourselves up while trying to do what’s good for us!

  23. js

    Yoga moves have so many benefits, regardless of the mind set.

  24. Pat

    Thank you Elana for a renewed definition of meditation. If someone asks “Do you meditate?” I can honestly say “Yes”.

  25. Karen

    Thanks. I once did a ten day ‘sit’ and learned a lot about being still and the power of focusing on breath. That said, I do best when I just get quiet and focus on ‘being’. I LOVE doing this at the beach when I can get there, but anywhere with water I find particularly peaceful. The back deck is another favorite spot. It’s portable and can be done anywhere, including the truck between appointments or engagements or errands. I once had someone chastise me while I sat on a park bench because my legs were not in a lotus position. ;^) Oh well, whatever works. It’s nice to learn I’m not the only person who doesn’t ‘follow the rules’.

  26. Toni

    I find that anything that takes me away from consciousness of myself and my worries- is like a meditation.
    When I am ‘out there’ I do not know I am until later – when I come back to my body and personal awareness. Being involved in something really creative like painting, sewing, gardening, sometimes Yoga, or watching a movie can do it for me.
    I really became aware after watching ‘The Life of Pi’ recently, that I had not been in my self conscious body at all – it seemed quite miraculous!

  27. Mary Ellen

    I have been meditating now for nine years following the teachings of the NEw Kadampa Tradition of Budhism. What encourages me to continue to meditate is knowing that meditation is a practice (like practicing the piano, somedays better than others) and I know it is “correct”, whatever it looks like on the outside, is when my mind changes from a negative state to a positive state and I have a contented, happy day.

  28. Kristine

    I love your blog…it has helped me so much! Just being out in nature helps center me….sitting against a tree reading, walking the dog through the woods…all peaceful centering acts :)

  29. Jacqie

    My (Jewish) husband and I were just talking about this last night. At 72 and 61 , he and I have done a lot. We are liberal, humanist, traveled all over the world, been to india, Esalen, etc, etc – and we love and honor all of our experiences, including yet another recent attempt to get into yoga. No need to go over the list. But he looked at me last night and said “You know, I really can’t stand yoga.” Why? It’s rigid, timed, and it hurts. And it’s boring. And then there are the equally rigid expectations of “meditation.” None of this is new to us – we’ve had a lifetime of doing this. We both agreed that we would rather do our own thing; stretch and feel our own bodies in our own way and in a way that feels good. Stretch out like a cat and roll around. Walk and work outdoors, breathing in fresh air and feeling the sun on our faces. Be quiet and watch the clouds. Be present inside ourselves, observe, continue to learn. Laugh! Love. Value our work. Your comments could not have come at a better time. Thank you for sharing them.

  30. Jacqie

    One more thing to share. I have recently become aware of listening to my own voice. Outside of all the other relationships, obligations and responsibilities in my life (most of them joyful) there is a voice that speaks to me; my own voice. And too often I allow that voice to be swallowed up by everything else. I just spent a great deal of time on a very isolated island (lucky me!) and during all that quiet time I started to hear myself again. I suppose I experienced an extended meditative state, effortlessly. It should be effortless.

  31. terese

    Jewish, whether by emotional or spiritual heritage – yes! I read the Bible then talk, and listen, to God about what I’ve read. While “working” in my organic garden, weather permitting – lots of stretching and quiet, there!

  32. I do a lot of mindful meditations in the bath every single night. (a good place to contemplate anyway), but I do love yoga. And as a massage therapist I am always telling my clients to stretch more (I do 30 min stretching routine every day that works every major muscle group in my body)

  33. Resurgent

    Long time reader, first time commenting.

    Meditation in a Non Doing… it is a way of life.

    The Upanishads (Ancient Indian texts) have put meditation after devotion. If there is devotion in your heart, then you cannot imagine how easy it is to lead your mind into meditation. If there is trust, then devotion follows it like a shadow. If there is trust and devotion, then meditation will follow like a fragrance. Meditation becomes difficult because we know neither trust nor devotion and we have to make efforts at meditation directly. But to try for meditation directly creates difficulty, because then you have to put great efforts into meditation and still the results will not be that much because the two basic ingredients are not there.

    A person who is filled with love for the whole existence will have no problems moving into meditation. They will simply remember meditation and they will be in meditation because there is no conflict, no tension in them. Tension enters when you think that the world is an enemy. Tension comes when you feel existence is your opponent, where there is a fight going on, where life is a battlefield, a war. With no tension, the trusting and devoted moves into meditation – just like that.

    This is why some ‘devotees’ have even gone so far as to say, “What meditation, what spiritual practice?” There is a reason for this. ‘Devotees’ say, “What meditation, what practice?” because devotion is enough. And they are speaking rightly. They are right: not because meditation is meaningless, but because meditation happens to them spontaneously.
    A dancer who is devoted to their dance, dances and she enters meditation; she has never learned any techniques of meditation. A wood cutter is chopping a tree in the woods, completely devoted to his work, just slips into meditation. He has no notion of meditation: “What Meditation?”

    The ‘devotee’ does not know that he is in meditation because to him meditation is a by-product; it follows him. It is there as a spontaneous outcome of his trust and devotion.

    And the very last thing is yoga. When one has mastered meditation, yoga will follow on its own. But everyone does just the opposite: people start with yoga and then they practice meditation. Then they think they can in some way bring devotion in by manipulating things this way and that, and they expect to somehow find trust in the end. But when a person’s mind slips into meditation, then his body will move into yoga.
    Yoga is a happening in the body and meditation is a happening in the mind.

  34. I’ve always been too nervous to empty my whole mind so the meditation idea has never appealed to me as relaxing. I like to do yoga and I also like to take time alone in my room just to pray and read. That calms me. Also being out in nature is marvellous to calm the mind. Taking a walk is great for that. Don’t think I’d ever like to meditate and nice to hear other people feel the same way.

  35. DEANNA

    Thanks for this article! I have felt so guilty not “sitting” and “meditating” but realize my daily walks with my dog in the rock cliffs behind my house are my meditation. I find such peace feeling the breeze and morning sun. I feel so in tune with the Universe. It works for me. The goal is quieting the “chatter” in whatever way that works for each of us.

  36. anne ross

    I am not Jewish and I am introspective. Meditation is too inward for me, I need outward and to be looking at others rather than myself. Too much introspection is dangerous. Instead, I pray, to the ONE who is, who creates all and watches over all. I ask for what I need and then offer up all my loves and loved ones.

  37. Patti

    I’m Celtic… so I’ve broken the lovely pattern here. :-) I agree completely that too much is made of meditating the correct way. I often sit and breathe in affirmations and then relax into the sweetness of peace that comes from gentle breathing and listening to silence. When we can give ourselves permission to just “be” and just “breathe” amazing transformations can happen. Thank you for this encouraging post. Namaste’

  38. Judith Fine-Sarchielli @ glutenfreecuisine.weebly.com

    how interesting and synchronistic. I do exactly what you do and call it “Mindfulness”. I like “Listenening” too. Good for us!

  39. Asima Mohammed

    I loved reading this post. We really are too hard on ourselves be it about career, parenthood or even spiritually. I too feel confined by the rigidity of some yoga practices and this post is a definite breath of fresh air. I’m looking forward to more posts like this.

  40. Janet Schmid

    Thank you, Elena. How can we separate what we practice from what we believe? Yoga is part and parcel of an ancient belief, alive and well. For me, there is nothing to compare with meditating on Psalm 23 among the many other “songs” (also of an ancient and eternal belief) that express hope over despair. “Choose this day who you will serve.” And do with your whole being.

  41. nourished roots @ nourishedrootspdx.com

    For me mediation happens in the quiet moments I can squeeze out of my busy, kid- filled day. I am happy to take even a few tiny moments of quiet with my eyes closed to recharge my batteries and gather energy to power through the rest of the day.

  42. Delanie Murphy

    Like you, I don’t meditate – in the traditional way anyway. Although I spent a good many years trying to search out a quiet place and time in an busy active life, and trying to calm the never-ending chatter of my voracious mind, I regularly found it more frustrating than relaxing. I finally discovered my own form of meditation. I play my fiddle. Sometimes I play a beloved tune like An Eireann Ni Nessfainn or Ashokan Farewell. Sometimes I just play a scale very slowly. Nothing shushes that noisy mind quicker, or is more relaxing. Its not Jewish :) but it works for me!

    Slainte, Delanie

  43. mary

    I understand completely. I always had the same ideas on meditation. Recently my husband and I were involved in some very stressful situations, and he convinced me to take a Transcendental Meditation class, and I am hooked. I have gone from refusing to meditate to refusing to quit meditating. You might want to check it out!

  44. ShazInNV

    I’ve always said my husband meditates. He puts on music, sits in his comfy chair, and closes his eyes to truly listen and concentrate on the music. Now and then he “conducts” but mostly it’s just him and his music.

  45. David

    ….’a zillion thoughts are swirling through my middle aged, neurotic, Jewish mind’ as a fellow middle aged Jew, I could not have said it better. Thanks for sharing your insight!

  46. Tess @ Tips on Healthy Living @ tiposonhealthyliving.com

    I feel the same way about mediation in the traditional sense. Though I typically listen to music to relax, I’m going to have to give your way a try!

  47. V

    Try sahaja yoga meditation known to heal many health issues.

  48. Paula Klonfas

    Elana, your lovely post reminds me of a favorite quote reflective of my own walking-mediation experiences. I hope you all enjoy it:

    You do not need to leave your room.
    Remain sitting at your table and listen.
    Do not even listen, simply wait,
    be quiet still and solitary.
    The world will freely offer itself
    to you to be unmasked,
    it has no choice.
    It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

    Franz Kafka
    (1883-1924)

  49. I meditate for 15 minutes, Monday through Friday, with nature sounds or a guided meditation. Then, also, if I have time, I do a little EFT/tapping. The breakthroughs that I have from tapping are incredible, visceral, almost like little emotional explosions. I highly recommend if you’re working through past trauma, current stress, weight gain, whatever it may be!

  50. Kimberly Robinson

    I’m an Episcopalian, so my few regular minutes to daily recharge comes from the Book of Common Prayer, but there are two other forms of meditation that are just as valuable to me – reading poetry, and walking in the woods. A couple of miles of trail with birdsong echoing in the canopy of trees and the fresh good smells of outdoors quiets my mind better than anything.

  51. Edward Zabel

    These are Awsome.

  52. Cristina

    I am Catholic so I do Christian meditation, which involves reading Scripture, meditating on the Word of God and sitting in silence listening and being present. Many times, I hear Jesus speak to me interiorly, He counsels and consoles. He is my best friend. I love my daily time with the Lord. I am so at peace when I have this quiet time.

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