"On Meditation" (Brown Girl Self Care 5-Day Self-Care Challenge)
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BROWN GIRL SELF CARE
5-DAY SELF-CARE CHALLENGE
It all begins with the breath.
If my yoga practice were a child, it would have graduated from high school this year.
I found yoga in early 2001 at the tail end of my freshman year of college, when I took a class at the campus gym. As the minutes ticked by, I grew increasingly overwhelmed watching the practitioners attack arm balances and grunt through inversions as I struggled to simply stop sliding across my borrowed mat, my shoulders screaming, during my first attempts at Downward Facing Dog. I hadn’t exactly enjoyed the class, but I left the room certain that I’d found something that would change my life forever.
Once I began practicing yoga (first on my own thanks to The Yoga Deck by Olivia Miller, and eventually at a local studio), I also began to recognize the patterns that governed my thoughts and behavior. It became clear that I had gotten very good at treating the present as a means to an end; it was always the destination, not the journey, that held by attention. Suddenly it dawned on me that if I continued keeping my eyes fixed on the horizon, I would run the risk of one day waking up to the realization that I had not been present for the actual process of living my life. I intuited that the postures that comprise yoga classes were merely a gateway, and that instead the stillness of meditation would become the path that would lead me to a life lived in the present. Through the cultivation of conscious breathing, I learned how to rest in the moment and began to marvel at the beauty found therein.
Cultivating a home practice.
If meditating in a studio isn’t high on your list of priorities, there are plenty of ways to begin at home. While all you really need is yourself, here are a few ideas to help you cultivate a practice that you’ll want to come back to.
Where to sit: Cultivating sacred space
Find a place in your home that you can dedicate to meditation. While it could certainly be a space that is solely used for this purpose, it can also be a space that you clear out (physically and spiritually) before you sit. If you share your home with others, silence is never a guarantee, but aim for a quiet area that offers you a degree of privacy, closing a door if possible, and putting your phone on “do not disturb.” (For new mothers out there: feel free to hold your sleeping infant in you arms or nurse as you sit. They, too, will benefit from your practice!) Perhaps there is a corner of your bedroom that becomes transformed in the morning or evening light, or maybe there is a nook in your living room that you’ve been wanting to turn into an all-out altar. The choice is yours!
When to sit: Prioritizing your practice
If you’re a morning person, you might have an image in your mind of sitting serenely as dawn light pours over your closed eyelids. If you’re a night owl, maybe you envision yourself bathed in moonlight, skin gleaming and stardust on your lashes. If so, go for it, Sis! But meditation doesn’t have to be so esoteric. Sometimes a midday sit is the perfect pick-me-up to get you through the day. In other words, the right time to practice is whenever comes naturally to you. Some days you may only have five minutes to sit, and other days you may have fifteen. When it comes to developing the habit of consistent daily practice, the most important thing is to sit - n0 matter how long you have.
How to sit.
You may have seen a zafu, the little cushion meditators sit on to practice, and while there are great guides to help you decide which physical props or tools might be right for you, you don’t really need anything special to meditate. You will want to be comfortable, especially as your seated practice develops and your sittings grow longer, but know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with sitting in a chair. Basically implying that you won’t want to slouch, my favorite meditation teacher, Gil Fronsdal, says that you should take a dignified posture. Feel free to lean against a wall or chair, and if you do choose to practice on the floor, you may be more comfortable sitting on a cushion such that your hips are higher than your knees. (I’m personally hooked on the buckwheat and lavender-filled cushions from Samaya, always bringing one with me on the road.)
What to do.
Here’s where the good stuff happens!
There are so many meditation techniques to choose from, but perhaps the most common is to use your breath as a point of focus. You can draw attention to the way that you inhale and exhale, watching your body move. Some practitioners find it useful to count the breaths they take, typically up to ten before repeating again. Other common methods include silently or audibly repeating a mantra or affirmation, and if you’re a kinesthetic learner or have a have a hard time sitting still, sliding the 108 beads on a traditional mala may satisfy any initial urges to move. There is no single way to meditate, so feel free to experiment with different techniques, and see which ones feel good to you.
Apps & resources.
Despite each of the ways that technology has disconnected us from each other and the world around us, there are communities of wellness like Brown Girl Self Care Co. who bring us back together. Wellness innovators have also learned how to bring tools of mindfulness into the digital sphere. For beginning meditators I always recommend the free “Take Ten” challenge from Headspace. The brainchild of Andy Pudicomb, this simple guided meditation series, divided up into ten-minute sessions practiced for ten consecutive days, is the perfect way to get comfortable with the idea of sitting, and helps dispel the common myth that meditation is all about emptying the mind. You can repeat “Take Ten” until you’re ready to move on, or subscribe for access to the Headspace library, which includes meditations on a vast array of subjects, from insomnia and coping with depression to learning how to run mindfully.
As you grow with your practice, instead of (or in addition to) guided meditation, you may develop a desire to learn to sit in silence. For intermediate practitioners, another free resource I highly recommend is 1GiantMind. Beginning with a 12-step program, you’ll learn Jonni Pollard’s signature technique, then dive into the 30-day challenge. Best of all, 1GiantMind is 100% free and doesn’t feel tedious to repeat.
If you’re looking for a simple timer with elegant chimes and mindfulness bells, Bre and I both use Insight Timer, which happens to sync seamlessly with the Apple Health app, in case you like to keep track of your mindful minutes.
Finally, what Brown Girl Self Care list would be complete without a resource from within our own community? Athlete-turned-holistic-health-coach Koya Webb has been building an incredible circle of black women both online and IRL through her platform, Get Loved Up. You can download her app, which includes yoga flows, guided meditations, and nutritional advice, or, if you’re planning a tech detox, you can pick up her recently published latest book instead.
A note on self-compassion.
Before meditation taught me how to live a more mindful life (which sometimes leads me to literally stop and smell the flowers), meditation first taught me about myself. The radical act of self-compassion that is inherent in choosing to sit day after day helped me develop self-esteem and unconditional self-love for the first time in my life.
There will be days when your practice feels less than ideal. You will skip days and maybe even take weeks between sittings, but each time you do come back to your practice, it is an act of self-care. By showing up for yourself on the cushion, you will learn to trust that you will always be there to heal, renew, and celebrate the radiant being you truly are.
May it be so.
About the author:
Selena Brown (M.A., M.Ed., RYT 200) is a professional youth speaker and leads private yoga and meditation sessions through Pramāna Wellness across the country and throughout the Americas. The section “It all begins with the breath” includes excerpts from the full-length original essay, available here. You can find Selena’s article “Putting the Om in Business W(om)an” on BlackGirlInOm.com and hear her on the pilot episode of “That Moment When With Maya Harris.” You can find her on social media via @pramanawellness, including IG, Twitter & Facebook.